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When You Can’t Trust the Data: Broadband

May 2, 2018

At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we analyze data and explore public policies to empower local communities. Our initiative staff work on varied issues from composting to broadband, but all these issues affect our daily lives and our communities. In the Community Broadband Networks Initiative, we often analyze high-speed Internet service availability using the best data that is publicly available. Some of this data, however, is inaccurate, outdated, and misconstrued.

FCC Form 477 Fails in at Least Four Ways

The most common source of this data is the Form 477. It is designed to be standard, uniform, and provide the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) with detailed information to make sound decisions. The FCC distributes form 477 to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in order to collect data on their service availability. This form is only accessible online through a government web portal, and it has an accompanying 39-page instruction document. Some of the information is confidential and stripped away before the FCC releases the data to the general public.

The FCC Form 477 may not accurately reflect broadband availability in four main ways: 

1). ISPs may fill out the form improperly. Some ISPs may misplace key information into the form, creating havoc for those analyzing the data. They may input numbers in Kbps instead of Mbps, causing further confusion. For example, a fixed wireless ISP outside of Rochester, Minnesota, offers a maximum speed of 10 Mbps on their website, but the FCC Form 477 states that this ISP advertises a speed of 244 Mbps. Perhaps the ISP meant customers can usually expect a maximum speed of 244 Kbps? Even then, that doesn’t make sense. 

2). The data is out of date. ISPs submit the form twice a year, but the FCC takes time to process this data. By the time we produce maps and research, the underlying data may already be too old to be useful. Mergers may not yet be adequately reflected. For example, at this writing in May 2018 the most recent data currently available is from December 2016. That means the data, the maps, and the research are about a year and a half out of date.

3). The data only includes information maximum advertised download and upload speeds. What the average customer experiences is likely different. They may have bought a lower tier package (see also, broadband adoption) or the technology may get bogged down during periods of peak traffic, such as the early evening.

4). The submitted data itself overstates availability. ISPs can claim an entire census block is served if they could offer service to at least one residence. Census blocks are the smallest unit of measurement for the U.S. Census. They vary in size, shape, and population. Rural census blocks often cover more land area than urban ones.

Small Errors Add Up to Lost Dollars

We can often compensate for these limitations on the data when the maps and research we produce are small and local. In the case of Rochester, Minnesota, we can remove that ISP that only offers speeds of up to 10 Mbps from any broadband (25 Mbps - download/ 3 Mbps - upload) maps. We can further add caveats to our maps and research that what we present is a best-case scenario.

The limitations of the date can quickly compound when the maps are on a national scale. Rural providers may appear to have a larger footprint than they do because rural census blocks are large. Rural providers, however, may actually only run infrastructure along the roadways in one part of a census block, leaving a majority of the census block unserved. And then we have the real question: how does this affect funding?

The authors of the FCC Broadband Progress Report rely on this data to determine if the country is achieving its broadband goals. The results are the backbone of the FCC’s funding. The FCC's Connect America Fund Phase II Auction came under fire from Jonathan Chambers, former Chief of the Office of Strategic Planning at the FCC, when it dropped 432,302 rural homes and businesses from the program because of the most recent Form 477 data. The data appeared to show that these homes and businesses no longer qualified for the program. The Connect America Fund Auction has $1.98 billion in funding for rural broadband, but because of this flawed data these 432,302 rural homes and businesses will not see any of it.

Remaining Questions

We are left with these questions:

1). How many people are excluded from government funding because of flawed data? 

2). How many people are incorrectly marked as having broadband available? 

3). Why does the FCC not validate and verify the data?

Explore the data for yourself with this FCC database or this FCC broadband map. Submit errors to: broadbandfail@fcc.gov

Tags: databroadbandfccconnect america fundrural

The Post Road Foundation Announces Partners for New Funding, Infrastructure Approach

May 1, 2018

There are often common characteristics among communities that have invested in fiber optic infrastructure. While many of them can't get the connectivity they need from the incumbents or lack reliable Internet access, many begin their ventures into better broadband by connecting utility facilities. A new nonprofit, the Post Road Foundation, sees a valuable link between intelligent infrastructure, high-quality connectivity, and sustainability. By bringing together members of the public and private sectors, the Post Road Foundation is implementing an innovative approach to funding. With support from the Rockefeller Foundation, they've selected five partners to begin implementing their new approach to funding, connectivity, and sustainability.

Bringing It All Together

Co-founders of the Post Road Foundation, Waide Warner and Seth Hoedl, have decades of experience between them in law, policy, and leadership. Their areas of expertise span cyberlaw, government and finance, environmental law and policy, electricity, telecommunications and energy law and policy, nuclear physics, and the list goes on. Through their years of research and in consulting with both public and private entities, Warner and Hoedl both saw that many rural communities needed better connectivity for economic development, better quality of life, and to keep populations strong. They've also found that if local communities or cooperatives are able to use fiber optics to synergize multiple utilities, the community is resilient and more self-reliant.

Smart grid applications along with water and wastewater utility controls are already known to reduce waste and cut costs in places such as Chattanooga. Smart grids can quickly determine where any damage to a network occurs, allows energy to be diverted to prevent loss of service for customers, and if necessary alerts the control center where an outage has occurred. The system prevents or greatly reduce outages, reduces the number and time that trucks and technicians need to be dispatched, and prevents loss of service for customers. Fewer trucks out on the road means cleaner air and less energy consumed. For businesses, it means fewer instances of revenue loss because their operations continue uninterrupted. Smart grids can also help manage peak demands and electrify energy consumption, allowing communities to better use existing utility networks. 

Warner and Hoedl are combining their skills to help local communities which are promising candidates for fiber optic infrastructure that will serve multiple purposes beyond Internet access. The Post Road Foundation research platform will bring together private funding resources with local communities for open access dark fiber optic infrastructure.

The Projects

On May 1, 2018, the nonprofit announced that, they will partner with five diverse entities to develop local pilot programs. These infrastructure projects were chosen to delve into the possibilities and challenges of integrating high-speed Internet access, economic development, sustainable resource management, and digital inclusion. The Post Road Foundation will conduct the studies, tapping outside experts, as needed. The Foundation will also bear up to 90 percent of the cost of each pre-feasibility study; local community partners will contribute the remaining 10 percent, up to a cap of $20,000.

Warner and Hoedl said the criteria that most impressed them with the five communities they chose was their strong leadership, commitment to better services in their area, and an open mind to the Post Road approach. Other factors they considered were the need for high-quality Internet access, the need for a smart grid, and the need for economic development. They were encouraged by the way some of the interested entities were enthusiastic to find ways to use fiber to improve water, energy, and other systems.

Warner and Hoedl want the work of the Post Road Foundation to help communities that need help, so they considered a range of demographics. The Foundation sent a Request for Information to approximately 20 entities that they thought could benefit from their approach and received interested responses from most of them. They chose a combination of different cooperatives, municipalities, and community development initiatives; some are already into projects to bring fiber optic connectivity to the community. The Post Road Foundation will be working with:

  • Blue Ridge Mountain Electric Membership Corporation in Georgia and North Carolina
  • Presque Isle Electric & Gas Co-op in Michigan
  • The City of Sanford, Maine
  • Old Town – Orono Fiber Corporation, also in Maine
  • A collaboration of community groups in the Downeast region of Maine, including Eastern Maine Electric Cooperative and Downeast Broadband

We recently reported on the Downeast Broadband Utility (DBU), which is beginning with the communities of Baileyville and Calais. One of the difficulties DBU faces is that the state of Maine considers the area "underserved" rather than "unserved," which makes it more difficult to obtain grants or loans from state or federal sources. As their region ages, they see economic development dwindle and starting a downward spiral for a small rural community.

The Funding Concept

Places like DBU can apply for grants and loans from the Rural Utility Service or the USDA, but the process is competitive and drawn out. The Post Road Foundation hopes this expanded use of fiber optic infrastructure will become an investment opportunity, especially for long-term investors such as pension funds. With each project, they expect to learn more, increase the success of the future projects and heighten the investment attraction.

Warner and Hoedl recognize that state and federal grants and loans are still important to develop local infrastructure projects, but want to introduce a blended capital approach. The Post Road Foundation will provide research to support involvement of a growing pool of investors seeking social impact. An expanding list of investors will reduce the risk for other investors, making intelligent infrastructure projects more financially attractive. Project developers in rural areas will more easily find the support they need for fiber optic deployment.

Increasingly, dark fiber assets are viewed as real estate -- owned and leased out to an entity other than the owner -- such as an ISP -- that "occupies" a certain number of fiber strands. Warner and Hoedl agree and also see investment opportunities in structurally separating different parts of the fiber optic network to attract different types of investors. For example, Warner sees investments in dark fiber, an asset with a 30- to 40- year life and low operating expenses, well suited to long-term, institutional investors.

The Post Road Foundation is taking a neutral approach at this point on models their community partners should adopt. While they're not advocating against corporate ownership, Warner and Hoedl expect to see many projects develop into open access dark fiber networks owned by communities, operated by another party, with one or more ISPs providing services via the infrastructure.

The Post Road Foundation hopes that the pilot projects will also lead to the availability of communication infrastructure as a platform for technologies that are not yet deployed. Innovative models and applications, such as transactive energy exchange, are in development, but need reliable, low-latency networks for useful expansion.

The Rockefeller Foundation and Others

The Rockefeller Foundation has provided the funds to support the work of the Post Road Foundation. Warner and Hoedl are also quick to mention the help they've received from researchers at the Harvard Kennedy School and the Harvard Law School. Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society and the Initiative for Responsible Investment hosted early research that led to the establishment of the Foundation.

From the press release:

“We are very gratified by the exceptional response to our program from a number of deserving applicants around the country, but the leadership of these initial community partners was particularly impressive. We are excited to have the opportunity to work with these communities, and our research colleagues at Harvard, to explore the potential for bringing high-speed Internet to underserved areas of America. We are also grateful to The Rockefeller Foundation for the funding that made this program possible.” -- Waide Warner

Read the full press release here

Post Road Foundation Press Release, May 1, 2018Tags: post road foundationfundingruralutilityelectricwaternonprofitberkman klein center

Community Broadband Media Roundup - April 30

April 30, 2018

California

Better broadband to come to Davis by Stella Tran, The California Aggie

 

Colorado

Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado to discuss broadband at Craig meeting by Craig Daily Press

Colorado Net Neutrality Bill Tabled by John Eggerton, Broadcasting and Cable

 

Kansas

Kansas Governor Signs Bill Creating Task Force to Bring Broadband to Every Corner of the State by Erin Mathews, The Salina Journal (Government Technology)

 

Idaho

Idaho Counties Consider Banding Together to Buy New Fiber Optic Network by Kathy Hedberg, Lewiston Tribune (Government Technology)

The Lewis County Commissioners are considering buying into a five-county cooperative to construct a fiber-optic network that would upgrade emergency and public safety services.

Dave Taylor, emergency communications officer for Nez Perce County and Lewiston, met with the commissioners during their regular weekly meeting Monday to discuss the plan.

Taylor is asking commissioners in Lewis, Idaho, Nez Perce, Clearwater and Latah counties to pitch in $4,200 each to hire a consultant to determine where fiber-optic cable already exists in the region. Following that, fiber-optic cables would be installed in places where there currently are none. Taylor said he hopes the system would be completed within three years to meet the growing needs of emergency communications and support Next Generation 911 services.

 

Massachusetts

Saving net neutrality, one house at a time by Mark Howell, Washington Post

In Concord, we issued bonds to get started, and they will eventually be repaid by revenue from customers. So far, broadband revenue is covering our operating costs. The debt is financing the cost of adding about 300 customers per year, and we project that by 2020, revenue will be covering these expansion costs as well. On top of that, there are the benefits that come with being a place that offers high-quality, high-speed Internet to homes and businesses.

Hundreds of other cities, towns and counties are also providing Internet service in various ways. For communities that don’t already own their electric utility as we do, it’s harder to get started but still possible. In Leverett, Mass., which had very poor cell and cable service, the town decided to borrow funds to build a fiber-optic network to every house. To operate the service, it contracted with another municipality’s electric utility that was already providing Internet. Now anyone in Leverett can get broadband for about $50 per month.

The lesson from our experience is clear: Washington and the big telecoms are letting us down, but local leaders can protect people’s rights and expand access to quality Internet with municipal broadband.

Most in municipal broadband group agreed on need; all call for a real financial analysis by Saul Tannenbaum, Cambridge Day

In Egremont, residents 'want the future', but broadband access presently has problems by Kristin Palpini, Berkshire Eagle

Worthington to consider 3 broadband options at May 5 Town Meeting by Mary C. Serreze, MassLive

US Sen. Ed Markey, others caution FCC's net neutrality ruling could unduly hurt rural America by Shannon Young, MassLive

MA Lt. Governor Reviews Broadband Progress In Berkshires by Josh Landes, WAMC

 

North Carolina

City of Wilson lands $10,000 federal smart city grant for new app by WRAL TechWire

 

Ohio

Commission to assist residents with internet service by Steve Rappach, The Review

Commissioners in Hancock County have agreed to provide money for the set up of broadband internet service in portions of New Cumberland that now are underserved.

Last week, the commission approved a contribution of $5,000 that will serve as seed money for the installation of wireless broadband internet service through Agile Networks, which will provide download speeds of 25 megabytes per second and upload speeds of up to 3 megabytes for residents in the Hardins Run and New Manchester area.

As part of the installation of services, Agile Networks will provide a special deal for the first 28 customers who sign up for the services. The deal consists of a monthly rate of $52 for unlimited access for 36 months, which was lowered from the original rate of $75 monthly, and no installation fee, which usually starts at $150.

Fairlawn Proves This Small Town Knows How to Start Municipal Broadband by Andrea Fox, Efficient Gov

 

Virginia

Opinion/Editorial: High speed ahead for city internet by Charlottesville Daily Progress Editorial Board

While Albemarle County has been strategizing on how to improve internet connections in the rural areas, Charlottesville has been working on how to get high-speed connections for public housing residents.

Both are worthy endeavors. But the city may have the edge in actually being able achieve its goal sooner rather than later.

Charlottesville has a couple of advantages. Its population density and compact geography simply make it easier to distribute internet infrastructure.

Plus, Charlottesville has a partner that expresses interest on the project. Internet provider Ting is described as already deeply invested in supporting the community.

Broadband networks to expand to Accomack County by Brandon Bossert, WMDT

 

Washington 

City mulls internet provider choice for fiber network by Jacqueline Allison, Go Anacortes

 

West Virginia

Partnership will expand high-speed internet in Garrett County by Joseph Hauger, The Garrett County Republican

 

General

How County Governments Can Step Up their Broadband Game and Benefit Rural Broadband by Drew Clark, Broadband Breakfast

Ajit Pai hasn’t finalized net neutrality repeal—here’s a theory on why by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

RIP Net Neutrality Unless Resurrected By Legislation Or A Court by Larry Magid, Forbes

Map: As Net Neutrality Officially Ends, States Rush to Pass Workarounds by Dawn Kawamoto, Government Technology

With portions of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) net neutrality repeal order officially taking effect earlier this week, some states are facing pressure to get workarounds up and running.

Nearly two dozen states are not wasting time. Since the FCC voted in December to repeal the 2015 Open Internet Order, 28 states have introduced bills that require Internet service providers to adhere to some of the net neutrality provisions that were previously enforced by the FCC, reports the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Of this group, only Oregon and Washington state have had success in passing net neutrality laws.

Tags: media roundup

Research Associate Needed; Apply By May 11th

April 30, 2018

Interest is booming in cooperative and municipal Internet infrastructure and related issues. We're looking for someone passionate about working to develop policies related to Internet access, network neutrality, and publicly owned broadband. If that's you, let's talk. Are you our next creative Research Associate? Applications are due May 11th.

RESPONSIBILITIES:

Write compelling, well-researched documents:

  • Articles
  • Policy Briefs/Reports,
  • Fact Sheets

Manage data projects:

  • Data cleaning and analysis
  • Map design and GIS
  • Background research for coworkers or reporters as necessary
  • Collaborate on Initiative-wide projects
  • Assist with outreach on large projects
  • Support other projects as assigned

Perform administrative tasks:

  • Take notes at staff meetings
  • Organize and purchase office supplies

QUALIFICATIONS:

  • Effective writing and communication skills
  • Background knowledge of public policy and economics
  • Able to work independently and juggle multiple tasks
  • Experience with a statistics program (Examples: R, Stata) or ability to learn quickly
  • Some experience with GIS (Examples: ArcGIS, QGIS) or ability to learn quickly
  • Innovative with publicly available databases
  • Comfortable making cold calls to public officials
  • Creative: graphics, video, audio, interactive maps, etc.

BENEFITS:

Salary is commensurate with experience. Position includes employer-paid health plan, retirement match, generous vacation, a laptop for work use, and a dynamic workforce of dedicated and friendly policy wonks trying to make the world a better place.

HOW TO APPLY:

Send your materials by May 11th. It never hurts to try after that date but the ship may have sailed.

Submit all materials to broadband@muninetworks.org with the subject line “Research Associate Application”

  • Resume
  • Writing Sample and/or Creative Work
  • Cover Letter

Please do not call.

You can also view the posting on Idealist.

Tags: jobsresearchinstitute for local self-reliance

Rural Maine Towns Join Forces With Their Own Broadband Utility

April 27, 2018

Nestled along the south eastern border of Maine are Baileyville and Calais. As rural communities situated next to Canada in the state's "Downeast" region, neither town is on a list of infrastructure upgrades from incumbents. With an aging population, a need to consider their economic future, and no hope of help from big national ISPs, Baileyville and Calais are joining forces and developing their own publicly owned broadband utility.

Baileyville and Calais

There are about 3,000 residents in Calais (pronounced "Kal-iss") and 1,500 in Baileyville, but according to Julie Jordan, Director of Downeast Economic Development Corporation (DEDC), many of those residents are aging and younger people find little reason to stay or relocate in Washington County. The community recognizes that they need to draw in new industries and jobs that will attract young families to keep the towns from fading off the map.

Most of the residents in the region must rely on slow DSL from Consolidated Communications (formerly Frontier), while a few have access to cable from Spectrum (formerly Time Warner Cable); expensive and unreliable satellite is also an option and there's some limited fixed wireless coverage in the area. A few larger businesses that require fiber optic connectivity can find a way to have it installed, but Julie tells us that it's incredibly expensive in the area and most can't afford the high rates for fiber.

Economic Development Driven

Organized in 2015, the nonprofit DEDC came together with the focus on recruiting new businesses to the area and to support existing businesses. As DEDC quickly discovered, unless the region could offer high-speed, reliable Internet infrastructure, attracting new businesses and helping existing businesses expand would be extremely difficult. They also determined that new families would not be interested in Baileyville or Calais without high-quality connectivity. "It was a no-brainer," says Julie, "you have to go fiber."

One of the largest regional employers, Woodland Pulp, need fiber in order to operate and as Julie describes, "they pay up the nose" for connectivity. All their equipment is computerized and they require highly skilled employees that sometimes need to tend to the equipment during off hours. Woodland lost key employees because the only place where connectivity was adequate enough to service the equipment from offsite was within the city of Baileyville. Connectivity in the more affluent lake areas, where Woodland's highly skilled technicians live, isn't adequate enough to allow servicing of Woodland's equipment. When had to choose between living out of town living within Baileyville to keep their jobs with Woodland, they chose to transition out of the company. 

Is It Feasible?

DEDC commissioned local telecommunications company to complete a feasibility study, which they completed in October 2016. The company recommended that the two communities deploy a dark fiber network to allow ISPs to offer services via the infrastructure. 

Over the next several months, DEDC reached out to businesses and other members in the community to gauge interest in the project. Councils from both communities endorsed the project and interest from residents and local businesses was intense. They spoke with smaller ISPs that might be interested in delivering services via the fiber. In June 2017, DEDC hired Pioneer to help them develop an 87-mile network to serve both communities. Soon after, state elected officials from the districts expressed their support for the project.

Funding

While the folks in Baileyville and Calais suffered through slow DSL and new businesses averted the community due to the lack of high-speed connections, the communities still could not qualify for state funding. Because they're considered underserved, rather than unserved, both communities had to take a back seat in funding to the many other rural locations in Maine where Internet access is even worse.

The DEDC, a quasi-municipal entity, had the authority to issue bonds, but had no assets to support them. They approached the USDA, but learned from the agency that the process to obtain a loan would take at least a year. If they chose to participate, Baileyville and Calais would be competing with other communities from around the country that were more likely to receive loans. Competing communities had higher percentages of lower-income households, more unemployment, and more unserved premises. Rather than spend the time and energy to compete for federal loans they didn't think they could get, community leaders discovered funding closer to home.

Estimates for the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) project to serve just under 3,000 premises came in at around $2.7 million; DBU plans to bring fiber to every premise. Local banks, interested in taking advantage of the new infrastructure and aware of the economic development possibilities, offered to provide loans for the project.

DBU has obtained a two-year line of credit at 1.99 percent interest for $2.9 million with all principal payments deferred for two years. The costs will cover construction of the network and central offices. At the end of two years, when they expect the network to be completed, they plan to renegotiate the amount due into a 20-year loan.

In order to accept the debt, however, both communities needed to approve the project and authorize the borrowing of the funds. The Town of Baileyville required that residents attend a special town meeting to hear the proposal and then to vote on authorizing the borrowing, which they finalized in August 2017. Organized as a city, the Calais City Council had the authority to vote on building the network and borrowing the funds. In October, they unanimously finalized their decision to participate and guarantee the loan.

Interlocal, Superlocal

In order to create the regional broadband utility as a public entity to own the resulting infrastructure, Baileyville and Calais entered into an interlocal agreement. Interlocal agreements can be used for almost any collaborative project between communities. Places such as Morristown and Newport in Tennessee and several local governments in the Austin, Texas area use this form of contract for connectivity projects.

Drafting an interlocal agreement that satisfies all parties can be a challenging and drawn out process. Often officials involved with multijurisdictional projects look back and see that achieving this step was a significant milestone. In November 2017, DEDC filed the Articles of Incorporation for DBU, establishing the entity as nonprofit corporation organized for public benefit.

New Rules Expedite Project

Julie notes that, while the project received support among both communities, changes in state law gave DBU the boost they needed to feel secure in moving ahead. One of those rules involved pole attachments.

Similar to many other projects that involve a publicly owned entrant into the Internet access ecosystem, DBU faced the challenge of attaching their poles on the incumbent's utility poles. Incumbent providers can take advantage of their position by delaying negotiations for pole attachment agreements and  delaying make ready work.

Regulations involving utility poles include strict requirements for where on the pole particular types of cables can be connected. Each company adjusts the location of their own wires on the location of each pole, which must be done in succession in order to make space for the new entrant's wires. By dragging their feet and waiting until the last moment as dictated by state regulations to complete the work, incumbents can delay the new entrant's project, increasing costs and damaging momentum. Big national providers such as AT&T and Comcast use the tactic as often as possible to prevent competition.

In Maine, however, the state's Public Utilities Commission (PUC) amended rules regulating attachments to utility poles and the procedure in which the parties determine and allocate costs. The change to the rules will allow DBU to attach their cable below other lines currently on the poles or on the back of the poles. According to Julie Jordan, the change has allowed DUB to plan on a quicker deployment. Make-ready costs will be much lower and easier to predict because now fewer lines need to be repositioned on each pole.

Ready To Roll

After issuing an invitation to bid in early 2018, DBU announced in April that they had decided to award the contract to oversee construction of the network to Pioneer Broadband. They plan to begin construction some time between July or December, depending on how quickly they can access the poles. As the project progresses, DBU will make the infrastructure available to ISPs that are ready to begin using it to offer Internet access. DBU will also release a bid to find an operator to manage the network.

DBU has spoken to six providers, including the incumbents, and four have expressed an interest in delivering services via the network. The large incumbents weren't interested in partnering in any way, but the remaining smaller, local ISPs were all interested in developing arrangements to use the fiber.

In order to prepare for any negative misinformation that may come from the incumbents, DBU has already hired a marketing firm. "To help us keep control of our message," describes Julie Jordan. DBU plans to focus on the quality of the service, the fact that it's good for economic development, and that participating is helping the community. They've already been "assured" by the incumbents that they should "just wait" and the incumbents will "get to them," but the people in Baileyville and Calais are tired of waiting for services that will never come -- they're ready to take care of the problem themselves.

For more on the project, check out the DBU Facebook page and website.

Image credit Chuck Murphy and Downeast pictures.

Downeast Broadband Utility Article of IncorporationTags: calais mebaileyville memaineregionaldowneast broadband utilityutilityeconomic developmentpolespole attachmentsfundingloanlocalruralFTTHnew englanddark fiberleaseopen accesscompetition

Broadband Communities Summit 2018 Next Week! Still Time To Register!

April 27, 2018

Is it here already?! Next week is the 2018 Broadband Communities Summit in Austin, Texas. Will you be there? You can still register online for the the event; this year the discussions will concentrate on FIBER: Putting your Gigs To Work.

Check out the agenda for all the scheduled panels, lectures, and discussions.

There's still time to get there so you can see Christopher and other experts, such as Jim Baller, Joanne Hovis, Catharine Rice, and Deb Socia. This is an opportunity to ask experts the questions you've been pondering and hear opinions from different perspectives in the industry.

On May 1st at 3p.m., Christopher will be part of the "Economic Development Track Blue Ribbon Panel" along with Nicol Turner-Lee, Ph.D., from the Center for Technology Innovation Brookings Institution and Will Rhinehart, Director of Technology and Innovation Policy at the American Action Forum. Lev Gonick, CIO from Arizona State University, will be leading the discussion.

Look for Christopher to participate in other discussions and sit in on other panels. You can also check out who else will be speaking at the Summit; it’s a long list that covers a broad range of expertise.

If you're able to arrive by April 30th, you can make the Coalition for Local Internet Choice Special Program (CLIC). CLIC will to bring community leaders from different organizations and entities across the U.S. to discuss the growing importance of local authority. There will be a panel discussion on local authority and preemption featuring a talk about Westminster and their award winning partnership with Ting Internet. Christopher will also be part of the CLIC program - look for him.

The Summit only comes around once a year and it's a great time to get caught up and connect with new people. So much has happened in the past year, it will be a challenge to take it all in, but you'll definitely have fun trying.

Register online and see you in Austin!

Tags: eventbroadband communities magazinejim ballerjoanne hovisdeb sociacoalition for local internet choicechristopher mitchell

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 303

April 26, 2018

This is the transcript for episode 303 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Christopher Mitchell and Lisa Gonzalez discuss recent state action to improve broadband access and increase local control. Listen to this episode here.

Lisa Gonzalez: Hello everybody, this is Lisa Gonzalez. I have booted Christopher out of the host chair. You're listening to episode 303 of the community broadband networks, pi---

Christopher Mitchell: Podcast. We're going to talk about pies today. Strawberry Rhubarb.

Lisa Gonzalez: Cherry Pie. Anyhow, what we're going to talk about today involves state legislation. We've got quite a bit to cover some not so great, some good and bad, and some that we really like a lot.

Christopher Mitchell: But the trends are in the upward positive direction.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is true. This is true. It's a good thing to hear. Let's start with something that's not so great we can eliminate the things that we don't like and end with the things we do like.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. We're talking about two pretty significantly different states that have done things that we strongly disapprove of. Wyoming, Minnesota has not done something we strongly disapprove of, but there is something on the table that would be really dumb,

Lisa Gonzalez: Right? Let's start with the really down the thing in Minnesota here where we are,

Christopher Mitchell: The person who is the chair of a, of a relevant committee that broadband related things have to go through in Minnesota to get into law, happens to be a Republican who serves my parents' district. My parents live in his district, I should say. And we find him really, really painful to deal with. He's what -- he drives a Tesla. He thinks he's super advanced, but he makes all these crazy claims and so he's carrying a bill that he wants to push into law that would allow Minnesota's broadband program, which has been subsidizing high quality broadband connections to start subsidizing slow satellite connections that are unreliable and very high cost.

Lisa Gonzalez: Very, very dumb.

Christopher Mitchell: Incredibly dumb. One of the best parts of Minnesota's Border-to-Border Broadband Fund is that it can only be used on, on infrastructure that will have a long life and be very useful. Not some kind of just like paying someone's monthly bills, but putting high quality infrastructure that will be used for many years into the ground or into the air. You know, the -- the -- it has to be technology that is scalable to 100 Mbps symmetrical to make sure that taxpayers are getting a good return on their money. He wants to take that and take taxpayer dollars and just throw them at a few satellite companies that have a miserable track record. I think it's as bad of an idea as you can get. And the frustrating thing is, is that he probably will not pay a price for it. And this is something that I have to say, I have yet to hear of a legislator across the country in which we can credibly say, this person lost or this party lost seats because they stood in the way of better broadband for rural America.

Christopher Mitchell: From what I can tell, if you're representing rural America, you can just go out there and say you want better broadband for everyone and then you can vote against it consistently. I mean, the Republican Party in Minnesota has had some people on the rank and file who have been on the side of angels for trying to improve rural broadband. But the leadership of both parties has been largely against spending real money on it. And the actual, um, speaker of the house who's a Republican is on record in a public event saying, Hey, my mom has satellite service, it works great for her. What's the problem with that? So you have rural areas represented largely by Republicans who are basically saying, hey, satellite is good enough, why don't you just suck it up? And I don't think a single one of them will pay any political price for just stopping broadband, which is one of the highest priorities of rural America, we hear over and over again. So I just, I find it incredibly frustrating and it touches all these different points for me where you have someone who's just year after year saying, ah, you know, if these people need something, we'll just give them some satellite and I'm going to ignore the economics of what a waste of money that'll be year after year. But there's no price to be paid by anyone in this caucus for these kinds of actions.

Lisa Gonzalez: It is frustrating and I wish that people would get over this false impression that things without wire are the future.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes, you're so right. It's like it has. It doesn't have a wire. How could it not be the future? Well, let's just look at one thing for this, right? One of the things that is great about the Minnesota investment is that we make an investment and you know maybe a few hundred people or a few thousand people get high quality Internet access. The state does not have to make additional investments to improve service for those people. Those people have access Pat Garofalo wants to give money to the satellite companies to -- what you're going to give him money this year and then what happens next year? You have to subsidize them again. It's the classic give a mouse a cookie kind of situation that we should be avoiding if we care at all about fiscal responsibility, but. But no, and then we have to hope that more sensible people will stop this from happening in the watering down of what is a pretty good rural broadband expansion program.

Lisa Gonzalez: Maybe we should do a fact sheet based on give a mouse a cookie?

Christopher Mitchell: I think there will be very popular. There's also give a moose a muffin and give a pig a pancake. I believe those are ones that my son enjoys reading.

Lisa Gonzalez: Shall we move onto another dumb idea?

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. The other, the other thing that really sort of, you know, was disappointing was Wyoming where there was a bill to try to improve access in Wyoming.

Lisa Gonzalez: I believe that was Senate File 100, correct?

Christopher Mitchell: I actually don't know. What I know is what happened and that was that a rather reasonable bill to try and get money to localities to improve service was rewritten by CenturyLink, a major provider in the west, the big telephone company, the third largest telephone company in the United States, and the author of the bill who actually cares about getting money to improve broadband service, not just throwing money at CenturyLink. That author was very disappointed and frustrated because there was no role in the process for anyone except for CenturyLink. Apparently CenturyLink just said, no, we have a better idea. They wrote it and it got to the governor, governor signed it. And that's basically how that works in Wyoming. I guess the, the big incumbent providers who have failed the state over and over and over again are still writing policy for the state. It's incredibly disappointing. But, I can get over that because of the great news that came out of Colorado.

Lisa Gonzalez: The great news that came out of Colorado, so that news was limiting this power of the big incumbents.

Christopher Mitchell: And I would actually just say that if we're going to talk about this trend, which, which we should do a little bit. The trend in some ways started for me in Virginia. Virginia where for years, the state of Virginia -- Virginia took its marching orders from first Verizon, and then Frontier. And this is a state that has very poor broadband access. It's a very difficult state to serve, but nonetheless, they, you know, they, they threw their lot in with the big incumbent that had very little interest in actually serving the state. And last year, the state finally said, no, Frontier, we're not going to listen to you anymore. We're going to do our own thing and we're going to figure out ways of incenting broadband that will be better and will not involve you because we've given up the thought that you would actually do something positive for our state.

Christopher Mitchell: Now Colorado has said something very similar to CenturyLink where CenturyLink had been gaming some of the broadband subsidy funds, so that places that could have had a high quality network that would have been subsidized by the state instead ended up with the state giving CenturyLink some money to do slightly better DSL, which was a very bad investment for state money. So in Colorado, they basically again told CenturyLink, hey, we don't, we don't work for you. We work for the people of the state and that's a conversation that we have not seen in very many states.

Lisa Gonzalez: So they did that by eliminating the right of first refusal.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, so Lisa, if CenturyLink, and I am an upstart provider,

Lisa Gonzalez: Hey, get out of here, upstart provider!

Christopher Mitchell: I go to the state and I say, Hey, I have a great plan to serve this, this town that has very poor service from CenturyLink. And previously what could you do as CenturyLink to stop that?

Lisa Gonzalez: We'll take care of it. We're going to take care of it,

Christopher Mitchell: Right? And maybe you would, maybe you wouldn't. Maybe you would get some money from the state to -- to do it in terms of you stopped my proposal and you probably wouldn't get as much money as I did, but you'd probably get some money from the state to do those improvements. Now everything's different if you -- if you want to stop me, CenturyLink. if I'm a new provider and I want to serve a small town in Colorado or even a larger town in Colorado, you have to meet the specifications that I was planning to build to. You don't just have to build a higher quality network like I was going to, offering very high speeds. You also have to meet my pricing points. So there's much more of a cost now associated with an incumbent provider trying to stop someone from investing in a high quality network in an area that they had been serving poorly.

Lisa Gonzalez: Right. And another advantage to

this is: it raises the bar. So even if an incumbent does decide to go ahead and end deploy in that area, they have to deploy something better than they were probably planning to deploy in the first place.

Christopher Mitchell: Exactly. And in fact, it would be, in many cases, this would be areas that CenturyLink has never deployed fiber and before, right? I mean CenturyLink has no history of deploying fiber to rural America, whereas many local companies and cooperatives, and municipalities certainly have built fiber out to rural America because they've recognized it's an important economic development tool. There's a good business case for it if you're not a, a big blundering incumbent that's trying to, you know, make all the money in the world. This is a much better right of first refusal in terms of requiring what's best for the community rather than just what's best for the big company that has all of the lobbyists in Denver.

Lisa Gonzalez: Right? And there was another bill in Colorado that did something else that considers what's best for the community.

Christopher Mitchell: So Governor Hickenlooper just recently signed several bills about broadband and one of them tightened the a right of first refusal. I believe that was 10-99 and there was another 02 that also had some major benefits, but the thing that I really love about it is how they defined broadband, but I mean, let me take that back. They got one piece of how to find broadband really good. You know, if you or I were to define broadband, we would say it is a measurable speed and that's the part the Colorado got right. Not just some advertising crap that anyone can claim, but that it is a measurable speed, using technology that actually can deliver the speeds and I think you and I would peg the definition to the FCC even though we don't know that the FCC always gets it right. The fact that states don't always update these laws as frequently as the FCC means that I think that the state is best served by referencing a definition from the federal communications commission rather than making up its own thing.

Christopher Mitchell: There's two components that we'd like to see, and Colorado got one of them which was measurable speeds. Unfortunately, they stuck by 10 megabits down by one megabit up, which is a much slower definition, and I think is inappropriate for the, you know, the country that we want to live in, where everyone has adequate access to modern applications, but the fact that it's measurable will do a lot to improve the definition of broadband in Colorado. Now, Lisa, I've been talking about most of these because I'm --

Lisa Gonzalez: Talk Talk.

Christopher Mitchell: I'm the one with a big mouth and I'm the one that-- that has been out sort of talking to people about this a little bit more, although frankly you do a lot of the research. There's one that I know very little about, so I'm not going to pretend to know more than you on it as I have these other issues. It's Washington where they have done something to encourage a rural ports to be able to build networks.

Lisa Gonzalez: Well, I have to correct you there because now it's not only rural ports, it's just ports in general.

Christopher Mitchell: Ports is ports.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was the thing about the bill that was one of the issue is they took out the word rural. Ports, have used fiber optic infrastructure in their areas and they even have fiber optics outside of their districts to connect facilities and things like that.

Christopher Mitchell: Well let's just step back for one second. That's, you're absolutely right. But I have always had this issue of what the heck is a port like, like I just think of it as a physical place where you unload goods but, but obviously ports have more significance than that,

Lisa Gonzalez: Right? Well, in Washington they have these port districts and what they are is they're like an economic development corporation almost. And it does involve places to unload big ships, but they also use funding to encourage business in other ways. And one of the things that they have often is fiber optic infrastructure because of the geography in Washington. It's one of the places where they have a lot of these port districts,

Christopher Mitchell: Right? They've got a big river or two that runs right up through the state.

Lisa Gonzalez: Right? I mean there's even ports in Idaho, you know, it goes all the way across Washington. So these ports use their fiber optic infrastructure to provide their own connectivity in districts and also outside the district, that geographic location, and they've been limited that way in the past will now, because of this change in the law, they're able to use that fiber optic infrastructure to work with a private sector partner in order to offer connectivity in areas outside their port district. So that had a lot of people excited, especially in places like Bellingham, you know, they have Comcast I believe, and they felt like the connectivity was expensive and they've also felt like their customer service was really bad and so they've wanted some options and they feel like this will give them the ability to have other providers come in and use the existing fiber optic infrastructure and possibly even build off it.

Christopher Mitchell: I think it's a, it's a good deal because one of the things that we've long worried about is that state legislatures would be limiting investment. I mean this is something we've been arguing about year after year after year, is watching states go backward. I think it's exciting to be talking about states like Washington where they're moving forward. It may not be a giant leap forward. It would be really great to see, like for instance, Kitsap Public Utility District be able to invest in a rural network. You're looking at me like I should know something.

Lisa Gonzalez: There's something that I just discovered that maybe you already know about Kitsap. is there was a bill that was passed in March that allows Kitsap to offer retail services when they cannot get a private provider to use their infrastructure.

Christopher Mitchell: Wow. Well, hey, that's the sort of thing that I'm talking about. I mean that's, I was not aware of that. I knew that it was proposed.

Lisa Gonzalez: I wasn't either until today. I saw that.

Christopher Mitchell: So let me just, let me point out to listeners. Listeners might think from listening to this show and reading your writing, Lisa, that we know everything in the world, but

Lisa Gonzalez: we do Christopher, we just pretend that we don't.

Christopher Mitchell: But we can always use tips to make sure we're not missing these things. And to be fair, someone may have already given me a tip and I might have missed it, but, but that's what I'm talking about. This is exciting. I mean, you know to have some of these ports. That's going to be several communities that will be able to move forward with better networks, you know, it's not going to solve the whole state's problem and no single one solution will solve all the problems of estate. But it's exciting to be talking mostly about positive things. I mean, even the things that I'm frustrated about that we started off the show with aren't, you know, nearly as bad as the things we've seen in previous years, you know, it is worth revisiting predictions show four or five months ago, whenever the, whenever the new year was and you know, we're talking about whether we'd see a number of bills that would try to limit local authority.

Christopher Mitchell: I haven't seen any.

Lisa Gonzalez: Isn't that amazing? We've been seeing bills that put money in broadband,

Christopher Mitchell: Right? I just wanted to knock on my formica desk. You know, hopefully we won't see any bills that limit authority. But it's been a pretty good year. There is a new bill that we just learned about this morning in New Hampshire and the fact that that is going to the governor for signature and I suspect will be signed. So Lisa, maybe you can just remind us what the situation is in New Hampshire and why there are few municipal networks there today.

Lisa Gonzalez: Well a local communities in New Hampshire have been able to invest in Internet infrastructure but they haven't been able to bond for it. So finding financing has always been a problem.

Christopher Mitchell: Right? It's like you're allowed to spend money, you're just not allowed to raise money.

Lisa Gonzalez: Exactly. So this new bill, supposedly, hopefully, we think, will help with that.

Christopher Mitchell: Right? So this bill is quite limited and we've covered on the MuniNetworks.org. Many times all of the fights in New Hampshire recent history to allow cities and towns to bond for open access networks. The argument being that they felt that it was a more politically realistic to try and get the authority to bond for open access if they weren't providing direct retail service. But the big incumbent providers have stopped that year after year, this year it looks like a bill has gone through and will be signed into law that will allow cities and towns to bond for networks that can only be used in areas that are unserved by the federal broadband definition. So that's 25 / 3 and there's a process that cities and towns will have to go through in order to use that bonding. But it appears to be kind of like Michigan where there's a set of rules that they have to do an RFP, they have to try and get buy in from the local providers, but at the end of the day, if they feel that the local providers aren't giving them what they need, they can do it themselves, how they wish.

Lisa Gonzalez: So we are cautiously optimistic.

Christopher Mitchell: We are, and we're also not experts in New Hampshire law. So. So there's possible that we've misread parts of this.

Lisa Gonzalez: Again you're telling people that we don't know everything, Christopher.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes, I like to-- I like to feign arrogance and admit to being very limited in my actual knowledge. But the trend is good. The trend that we're seeing in states is good. And I think part of this is from the furor over net neutrality, I think the big providers, the big monopolies are a bit freaked out at just how angry people are and how states like Washington and Oregon are passing laws about net neutrality. California may be about to pass one, New York, Montana, New Jersey have done executive actions on this

Lisa Gonzalez: Also Vermont. Hawaii

Christopher Mitchell: Thank you. Are there any others?

Lisa Gonzalez: I think there's a total of five.

Christopher Mitchell: So there's a lot of actual motion here and I think the providers are a little bit freaked out at the fact that they're losing control, that they don't get to write the legislation automatically in state after state. Sometimes they actually have to compromise, sometimes they don't get what they want much at all.

Christopher Mitchell: Although that's still pretty rare and that's exciting. It's because of the pressure people are putting on their elected officials. And I hope that this only increases that people really need to make sure that they're holding their elected officials accountable because those lobbyists are going to be there and in greater numbers year after year. And if people aren't sort of keeping attention on this issue and making sure it's a high priority. Then we'll go back to the status quo ante, let's throw in some Latin, we'll go back to where the incumbents are, are writing all the legislation again, just one last thing. And this isn't quite there yet, but it's another promising sign. That's Ohio. What's happening in Ohio

Lisa Gonzalez: They have introduced a bill that was modeled after the Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband program. I believe it's $100 million over the next two years.

Christopher Mitchell: Right? It's a good chunk of change, but I think we, when you say they introduced, it's actually in some it passed the house.

Christopher Mitchell: And what's interesting is it passed the house. It's in the Senate, but nearly the entire house sponsored it in the end. I mean it had a lot of hearings I give -- I want to give incredible respect to the people in Ohio that had been organizing around this. I believe it's the Connect. Ohio group has been quite active in pushing this. The incumbents I think didn't take it very seriously, but ultimately when you have so many in the house having sponsored it, it's really moving. And, and again, this is one of those things where, you know, I can understand how someone listening at the beginning of the show might think I was overly partisan against the Republicans, but in, in Ohio, it really seems like it's, this is something that both parties are moving forward and that's ultimately what I'm looking for. I'm never telling anyone you should vote for Republican or you should vote for a democrat. I'm telling people you should demand better from whoever is elected, whoever, whoever is representing you,

Lisa Gonzalez: But you should vote regardless of who you vote for.

Christopher Mitchell: If you want to vote libertarian or if you want to vote blah blah, blah. Like, I'm not going to, again, I'm not telling people how to vote. You need to be active. But this is turning into a civics lecture I guess. But my main thought is that, you know, there's a lot of people who desperately wish that they had the small amount of power that we have in terms of holding our elected officials responsible and we need to do the best we can with that power. You should be organizing outside of the vote. You certainly shouldn't be thinking that that's enough to just vote. You need to be involved with your, your fellow citizens and whatnot, and many businesses or trade groups or churches that you're involved with should be involved in trying to ensure that you know, we have government that's representing us

Lisa Gonzalez: And if you want to make broadband an issue that you want to be active on, which you should, which you probably already are because you're listening to this podcast at our website because we have tons and tons of resources.

Christopher Mitchell: Right? And if you're in Ohio, let's get this thing through the Senate. I mean, you know, I'm sure there's going to be a continuing fight, but the important thing is that it gets passed by the end of the year. At the end of the year, um, you lose the option of being able to carry it on. A lot of that work will have been, you know, I wouldn't say for not because people were more educated. The incumbents are going to be trying to kill this thing. I think. You know, it's a bill that again, it has the right of first refusal that I think is not strong enough, but anything the incumbents can do to preserve the status quo they're trying to do.

Lisa Gonzalez: And then as far as the status quo goes, I think we're done.

Christopher Mitchell:

Lisa Gonzalez: I think we are. So then we'll end this on a status quo.

Christopher Mitchell: The Latin just for me, I remember a Latin teacher I had, he always loved the term Ecce which was Hark. I could be remembering that incorrectly. I'm sorry, Mr Grasso if I am, but --

Lisa Gonzalez: Do you think Mr Grasso listens to our podcast?

Christopher Mitchell: That would be a lovely surprise. I'm thinking he's probably not one of the tens of people we have regularly tuning.

Lisa Gonzalez: You're gonna get an email from him though.

Christopher Mitchell: Um, you know, you never know. I think, I'm sure that he cares a lot about broadband so that people can learn all about Latin on their own. So thanks for tuning in. We wanted to cover some of these state issues because there's a lot of things that have been happening and we just thought it'd be worth rounding it up. Always feel free to let us know if you liked. This was a good use of our time, your time, you know, maybe we'll do this again. Maybe we won't. Kind of depends on what happens in the states.

Link: Tags: transcript

We're Hiring! Intern at ILSR!

April 26, 2018

We're looking to hire a Public Policy Research & Map Intern at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. If you're interested in helping us shape positive policies that affect Internet access, network neutrality, and municipal broadband, read on...

The internship is available to undergraduate students, graduate students, and other interested individuals who can commit to 20 - 40 hours per week. Course credit may be available with approval from an academic department. We would like the position to start by May 15 but can be flexible.

Please use the subject line “INTERNet Application” when sending your materials. Applications are due Friday, May 4, 2018. Feel free to apply after that date - if you are incredible, we may create another position. Never hurts to try. Please do.

RESPONSIBILITIES:

  • Write compelling, well-researched, and concise articles on a short deadline
  • Create informative maps using public databases
  • Compile statistics on Internet access in defined geographic areas
  • Do ongoing research for longer reports and projects
  • Other projects as assigned

QUALIFICATIONS:

  • Effective writing and communications skills
  • Familiarity with statistics and GIS (some experience preferred, but not required)
  • Background knowledge of public policy and/or economics (preferred, but not required)
  • Comfortable making cold calls to public officials
  • Creative - graphics, videos, audio, maps, etc.
  • Ability to work independently and juggle multiple tasks

You do not need to know much about broadband policy or telecommunications. You do need to be passionate about public policy.

HOW TO APPLY:

Submit all materials to broadband@muninetworks.org with the subject line “INTERNet App”

  • Resume
  • Writing Sample and/or Creative Work
  • Cover Letter (3 Paragraphs about why you are the ideal candidate)

Applications are due Friday, May 4, 2018.

You can also view the posting on Idealist.

Tags: jobsresearchinstitute for local self-reliance

You Can Be A Film Producer! This Is A Project Worth Funding

April 25, 2018

Everybody likes to watch a good film and if it involves drama, government at its highest level, and the deep pockets of corporate America, there's sure to be intrigue. We've found an independent film project that people interested in telecommunications policy and the Internet should consider backing. "The Network," a documedia project directed by Fred Johnson will take a look at how the Internet has come to be controlled by only a small number of large and powerful corporate entities.

There are only a few days left to contribute to the IndieGoGo account so this project can move forward and we encourage you to consider adding "independent film producer" to your resume. We occasionally produce videos and have worked with Fred, so we know that he is committed to a quality result. And, hey, a movie about Internet policy? How cool is that, amIright?

And check out this cool trailer!

From Fred:

We have interviews lined up with former FCC Commissioners, Nick Johnson and Michael Copps, former FCC Special Counsel Gigi Sohn, writer and professor, Fred Turner, author of From Counterculture to Cyberculture and The Democratic Surround, and activist Anthony Riddle, Senior VP of Community Media, BRIC TV, Brooklyn. More to come.

The Trump Federal Communications Commission’s decision to do away with Net Neutrality protections makes it very clear we are in the midst of real crisis in U.S. communications policy: the underlying public interest agreements between the public, government and U.S. commercial communications corporations have broken down. The Facebook hearings in Congress marked the moment when the failed free market communications policies of the last 4 decades have revealed their ultimate logic: we now have monopoly social media platforms surveilling our networks, and unregulated monopolies (that are really utilities) selling us overpriced access to our networks. With no government oversight of any significance.

I know you are probably thinking we are knee deep in crises right now, but, if we can't find a way to control our communications infrastructure as a utility, it's going to be far more difficult to solve any of the many problems we are facing. Our democratic communications values – of privacy, accessibility, equity, and affordability -- and our government’s underpinning economic assumptions regarding communications policy are now completely at odds. This documentary is telling the story of how this unfortunate situation has come about.

Please note that with the flexible crowd funding strategy we will receive all the funds that anyone commits to this project, even if we do not reach our stated goal of $10,000 dollars. That means it is a surety that donations backing this project will immediately be put to use interviewing present and former FCC Commissioners, local and national policy activists, academics and policy wonks, business people and information scientists.

Contribute to this film here and help spread the word about corporate control over our Internet.

Tags: videofccmonopolyfederal government

Anacortes Hosts Potential Partners in Washington

April 25, 2018

Anacortes, Washington, has been working toward a publicly owned fiber optic network for several years. They’re now at a point in development when potential partners are visiting the community to present proposals for collaboration. There are still details to decide, but Anacortes is well on its way to fast, affordable, reliable connectivity to the entire community. 

Building On The Water

Anacortes wanted better connectivity between water treatment plants and pumping stations, which were previously communicating via radio. Nonprofit Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet) began working with Anacortes in 2016 to help them design the network to meet the needs of the water utility. As part of preparation for the new infrastructure, Anacortes decided last year to take advantage of existing water pipes as conduit, adopting a new approach in the U.S. 

The fiber system for the utility communications will serve as the basis for the citywide network. Anacortes has already deployed a fiber optic backbone in the eastern half of the city by aerial and underground means and plans to continue to the western half this year.

Last fall, community leaders reached out to residents and businesses to find out their needs for better connectivity and to gauge interest in a publicly owned network. They asked the community to complete a survey. Respondents indicated that speed, reliability, and price are major concerns for them.

Frontier DSL, Comcast, and Wave Cable now offer Internet access in the community of 16,800, but the community wants to prepare for the future and know that they need fiber optic connectivity in Anacortes for economic development.

In January, the city released a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to find an ISP to manage and operate its infrastructure and offer Internet access to the community. While they had considered an open access model in the past, they’ve now decided to choose one entity to partner with while considering opening up the network to more providers in the future. Westminster, Maryland, has taken a similar approach; the city has an exclusive agreement with ISP Ting Internet for a limited period of time. After the contract period is over, they have the option to renew with a similar arrangement or engage other ISPs to also operate via their infrastructure.

Read the full RFQ here.

ISPs Come A Courtin’

At a recent meeting of the City Council, three ISPs presented their proposals for working with Anacortes to bring fiber optic connectivity to residents and businesses. NoaNet and iFiber offered a joint proposal, Rock Island Communications, and Wave Cable also presented their plans.

As an incumbent provider that already serves about 4,000 customers in the county and operates some of its own fiber optic infrastructure, Wave told the Council that it’s ready to partner with local communities. Wave Resident Product Manager Amy Thompson told the Council, “This conversation is happening with other (cities) as well...And we’re open to the idea of being part of it.”

Rock Island Communications already partners with the Orcas Power and Light Cooperative in the San Juan Islands. Their Executive Vice President suggested connecting premises close to the existing infrastructure first and setting up fixed wireless temporarily to attract subscribers:

The wireless option would work for Anacortes to get customers on board while they wait for fiber, he said.

"You don’t want to leave people behind in this effort, which is key to the project,” he said. 

iFiber partners with fiber optic infrastructure owners - public and private - to offer services to subscribers. They and NoaNet presented a proposal that would involve the latter as the network operator and iFiber as the ISP, offering Internet access, phone, and video.

No Business Plan...Yet

The city invested $1.7 million to deploy the fiber backbone that will be integrated into the larger network. Community leaders still need to answer the question of cost, which may be easier to estimate once they’ve chosen a partner. Anacortes appears to be firm on keeping the infrastructure publicly owned.

In January, Public Works Director Fred Buckenmeyer told the City Council that the next phase of the project will include pilot programs in two neighborhoods to test the system. Connecting both neighborhoods will cost approximately $78,000; they hope to get both pilots up and running this summer. In January, city officials were unsettled about who should bear the cost of installation, about $1,000 per premise. They’ve considered an option in which property owners would pay the connectivity fee, but do so in monthly installments. 

“We go back and forth on how to fund this,” [Council Member Bruce] McDougall said. “If you tell neighborhoods or individuals to come up with a big upfront construction cost of $1,000, that’s going to reduce the amount of people who sign up significantly.”

...

“It’s a relatively new business model,” McDougall said. “The operation is going to be a challenge, and I expect hurdles.”

As community leaders move forward with their business plan and considering the proposals presented by each of the potential partners, clarifying their vision will be a key element to establishing the network the community wants.

“The ‘why’ has more to do with strategic goals about controlling our technological future,” [McDougall] said. “We’re going to need to talk about what that means to us and make sure what it means to us lines up with what it means to the community.”

RFQ for Network Operator, Anacortes, WashingtonTags: anacorteswashingtonmunipartnershipeconomic developmentconduit

State Legislatures Take Action On Broadband - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 303

April 24, 2018
Community Broadband Bits Episode 303 - Christopher and Lisa on State Legislation

We’re a little off kilter these days when it comes to state legislation. Typically, we spend our efforts helping local communities stave off bills to steal, limit, or hamstring local telecommunications authority. This year it’s different so Christopher and Lisa sat down to have a brief chat about some of the notable state actions that have been taken up at state Capitols.

We decided to cover a few proposals that we feel degrade the progress some states have made, bills that include positive and negative provisions, and legislation that we think will do nothing but good. Our analysis covers the map from the states in New England to states in the Northwest. 

In addition to small changes that we think will have big impact - like the definition of “broadband” - we discuss the way tones are shifting. In a few places, like Colorado, state leaders are fed up with inaction or obstruction from the big ISPs that use the law to solidify their monopoly power rather than bring high-quality connectivity to citizens. Other states, like New Hampshire and Washington, recognize that local communities have the ability to improve their situation and are taking measured steps to reduce barriers to broadband deployment.

While they still maintain significant power in many places, national corporate ISPs may slowly be losing their grip over state legislators. We talk about that, too.

For more on these and other bills, check out our recent stories on state and federal legislation.

This show is 24 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

Read the transcript for this show here.

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

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

Tags: broadband bitsaudiopodcaststate lawschristopher mitchellcoloradonew hampshireohiominnesotawyomingwashingtonlegislationhb 378 ohhb 2664 wahb 1099 co

Mapping The Urban-Rural Digital Divide In Georgia

April 24, 2018

Internet access isn't effective when it takes forever to load a single webpage or when subscribers spend hours babysitting their computers to ensure files make it through the upload process. At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we create maps analyzing publicly available data to show disparities in access and highlight possible solutions. We've recently taken an in-depth look at Georgia and want to share our findings with two revealing maps. According to the FCC's 2018 Broadband Deployment Report, 29.1 percent of the state's rural population lacks broadband access, but only 3 percent of the urban population shares the same problem. Cooperatives and small municipal networks are making a difference in several of these rural communities.

Technology Disparities Across the State

The map below shows what kinds of technology Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are using to offer Internet service to homes or businesses in Georgia. To differentiate areas of the state, the lines represent the subdivisions within counties. Our analysis focuses on wireline technologies, specifically fiber, cable, and DSL. Satellite and fixed wireless services are too dependent on the weather and the terrain for our analysis.

In rural Georgia, premises with wireline access most often rely on DSL; cable and fiber tend to be clustered around towns and cities where population density is higher. Google, for instance, operates a fiber network within Atlanta, Georgia. The large amount of fiber in the eastern half is the Planters Rural Telephone Cooperative, one of the many rural cooperatives that are taking steps to help rural communities obtain the access they need to keep pace with urban centers.

Although DSL service is widespread, it's the least reliable and slowest of the three technologies. It often relies on old copper lines. Cable is more dependable than DSL, but typically slows down significantly during peak web traffic times, such as early evening in residential areas or business hours in downtowns or other areas where businesses cluster. Sometimes called the gold standard of Internet service, fiber is the most reliable and ISPs that offer fiber connectivity sometimes provide speeds of up to 10 Gbps - about 10 times the fastest speeds available to cable - to large businesses or institutions.

Home Broadband Available to Some

For comparison, the map below highlights broadband availability within Georgia. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) defines broadband as 25 Mbps (download) and 3 Mbps (upload). Many areas in Georgia with only DSL lack broadband access. Also noteworthy, some areas that have fiber do not offer home broadband service, indicating that fiber may only be available to businesses or to other ISPs.

Both of these maps use data from the FCC’s Form 477 and may overstate coverage. ISPs complete this form to show which census blocks they serve or could serve. Census blocks are the smallest unit of measurement for the U.S. Census, but they vary in area and population. Rural census blocks usually cover more landmass than urban census block, but in order to mark an entire census block as served, ISPs only need to be able to offer service to one premise in a census block. The FCC launched an interactive map with this data, and you can submit corrections for the underlying data to broadbandfail@fcc.gov.

Community Networks Provide Broadband Service

Community networks are filling in some of the gaps in Georgia’s urban-rural digital divide. There are twelve publicly owned networks that offer service to homes or businesses: one dark fiber network, three cable networks, and eight fiber networks. Chattanooga, Tennessee’s fiber network also serves some Georgia communities on the states’ borders. Four cooperatives have also built fiber networks that provide high-speed Internet service to their members.

Community Networks in Georgia Cable Networks Elberton, Ga. Monroe, Ga. Community Network Services   Dark Fiber Network Tifton, Ga.   Fiber Networks LaGrange, Ga. Cartersville, Ga. Calhoun, Ga. Dublin, Ga. Dalton, Ga. (citywide) Sandersville, Ga. SGRITA Rural Last Mile Infrastructure Project Last Mile (a collaboration of towns) Columbia County Community Broadband Utility (C3BU)   Cooperatives Blue Ridge Mountain EMC Habersham EMC Georgia Communications Cooperative Planters Rural Telephone Cooperative

In 1998, 32 cities and counties created the Georgia Public Web, a fiber network that connects the public entities’ facilities to each other. The network offers Internet service to homes directly, focusing instead on connectivity for businesses, government facilities, and carriers. Learn more about the Georgia Public Web in Community Broadband Bits episode 156

Planters Rural Telephone Cooperative started on a fiber network back in the mid 2000s and has slowly expanded to all their co-op members. The electric cooperatives, Blue Ridge Mountain EMC and Habersham EMC first collaborated to build the North Georgia Network to serve schools and hospitals. The collaboration went on to create a separate cooperative called the Georgia Communications Cooperative to serve homes and businesses outside of the electric cooperatives’ original territories and now operate the Trailwave network. Listen to the Community Broadband Bits Episode 92 to learn more.

State Government Recognizes Community Networks

In 2016 a joint state legislative committee released Solutions for Broadband Availability in Rural Georgia, a study that determined that publicly owned networks could solve Georgia’s broadband disparity. The Georgia Joint House and Senate Study Committee on High Speed Broadband Communications Access for All Georgians explored the work of these networks and provided the following recommendations:


“Reaffirm the state’s approval of competitive telecommunication markets by continuing to permit locally-owned and operated government broadband services...” and “Amend existing law to provide Georgia’s Electric Membership Corporations statutory clarity to provide telecommunication and broadband services.”

Tags: georgiageorgia communications cooperativegeorgia public webcooperativeFTTHmapmappingfccdigital divideruralurban

Community Broadband Media Roundup - April 23

April 23, 2018

Colorado

Report: Municipal Broadband Could Protect Consumer Privacy by Eric Galatas, Public News Service

As Congress considers remedies for large-scale privacy breaches by Cambridge Analytica and Facebook, a recent report suggests that local municipalities could play a key role in protecting consumers.

The American Civil Liberties Union study says if cities and counties build out their own broadband networks, they could ensure privacy protections and keep the internet open for all residents who depend on access for health care, employment and other essential services.

 

Kansas

Utility funds may be used for fiber cable by The Gardner News

 

Massachusetts

Easthampton committee may explore high-speed internet options by Mary C. Serreze, MassLive

Three years into a ten-year cable contract with Charter Communications -- now known as "Spectrum" -- a city committee could start to research other options for consumer broadband service.

"I have had a number of constituents request that the city research the possibility of taking a more active role in ensuring fast, affordable, net-neutral internet access," wrote Precinct 3 City Councilor Thomas Peake in a recent memo.

 

Missouri

Broadband coverage push for rural areas by Waynesville Daily Guide

State Senators Consider Bill to Fund Broadband Expansion by Jason Taylor, MissouriNet

Rural internet access a priority by Robert Cox, Perryville News

 

New Mexico

Panel tackles lack of high-speed internet in Indian Country by Associated Press, The Herald Journal

 

New York

New York City Report Blasts Lack of Broadband Competition by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

New York City has released a new "truth in broadband" report the city claims provides a more accurate picture of broadband availability in the city than traditionally provided by incumbent ISPs. The full report (pdf) notes that two thirds (69%) of NYC homes and nearly three quarters (72%) of small businesses have the choice of just 1 or 2 broadband providers, while 14% of small businesses have no choice of commercial fiber provider. Gigabit broadband also remains hard to come by, with nearly half of New York City small businesses lacking access to gigabit speeds.

 

North Carolina

North Carolina Counties Work to Identify Broadband Service Gaps by Rachael Riley, Henderson Daily Dispatch (GovTech)

Entrepreneurship and innovation at heart of new downtown center by Brie Handgraaf, Wilson Times

 

Ohio

Ohio Broadband Grants Would Total $50M Annually, Joins Growing State Level Focus on Broadband by Joan Engebretson, Telecompetitor

Ohio could be the next state to implement a broadband grant program if a bill that passed the state House of Representatives this week becomes law. The proposed Ohio broadband grants would total up to $50 million annually to cover some of the costs of deploying broadband in unserved or underserved areas, with individual grantees receiving no more than $5 million. Those eligible to receive funding include private businesses, political subdivisions, nonprofit entities and cooperatives.

Among the other states that already have created broadband grant programs are Colorado, New York,  Minnesota  and Massachusetts.

Dennis Kucinich Is Back in the Running by John Nichols, The Nation

Kucinich recognizes the real issue: “We have growing broadband monopolies which threaten the economic growth of our state and widens the digital divide.” And he’s proposing a real response: “a not-for-profit public utility in Ohio, a new broadband service which will dramatically reduce the cost of broadband, and provide a powerful high-speed platform for business growth while establishing net neutrality.”

While municipal broadband networks have been developed in cities across the country, statewide initiatives represent something of a new front in the fight for a free and open Internet.

 

Tennessee

Square One a new space for business starts by Sue Guinn Legg, Johnson City Press

 

Texas

Legal Shootout at the Broadband Corral by Timothy B. Clark, Route Fifty

 

Virginia

City seeks broadband survey responses by Fredericksburg Today

 

Washington

Kitsap Public Utility District authorized to sell retail internet access by Nathan Pilling, Kitsap Sun

Under a new state law, the Kitsap Public Utility District can now retail internet access directly to customers on top of its fiber optic broadband network.

Previously, PUDs throughout the state were only authorized to roll out internet “backbone” infrastructure that other internet service providers could use to sell access to customers. Homeowners could petition PUDs to roll out that service to their neighborhood and assess themselves for the infrastructure improvements, but would have to hope that an ISP would pick up the retail side of the equation.

Two Views: Broadband should be open to all by Breean Beggs, Spokesman-Tribune

Imagine, Spokane: one fiber optic line to your home or business that every private internet service provider (ISP) could use to compete for your internet business. Just like the one system of city streets that lets you choose which company brings you packages (FedEx, UPS, or a local company) a publicly owned broadband infrastructure opens up the market to multiple private companies that must compete for your business by offering better service and lower prices.

The goal of Spokane’s Broadband Workgroup is not to create a new city-owned ISP, but to look for ways that the city can open up and expand its broadband infrastructure that already exists under our streets. Advances in software technology can allow one fiber optic cable to provide access to your home or business from multiple networks and providers, meaning that customers would no longer need to depend on one company to provide both the physical line to your home and the internet content.

 

West Virginia

Net neutrality's repeal has unclear affect on rural broadband by Jake Jarvis, West Virginia News

 

General

Feds Charge One of Ajit Pai's Broadband Advisers for Alleged $250 Million Fraud Scheme by Tom McKay, Gizmodo

What It's Like to Live in America Without Broadband Internet by Kaleigh Rogers, Motherboard Vice

The agony of rural America's inescapable broadband gap by Jared Keller, Pacific Standard Magazine

Telehealth -- The ideal marketing tool for rural municipal networks by Craig Settles, The Daily Yonder

Ajit Pai’s ‘Broadband Advisory Panel’ Plagued by Corruption Accusations by Karl Bode, Motherboard Vice

The FCC loses a fierce consumer advocate as Mignon Clyburn resigns by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

"Mignon Clyburn will go down in history as one of the best FCC commissioners of all time," former FCC official and consumer advocate Gigi Sohn said today. "For nearly nine years, she has been a vocal and passionate advocate for the public interest and defender of the most vulnerable in our society."

Clyburn advocated for expansions of the Lifeline program that helps low-income Americans buy telephone and broadband service, Sohn noted. Clyburn has also been a leader on lowering prison phone rates and the issues of media ownership and net neutrality, Sohn said.

Tags: media roundup

Fredericksburg, Virginia, Asks Locals To Complete Broadband Survey

April 23, 2018

When local community leaders choose to make improving connectivity a priority, they first need to reach out to residents and businesses to discover the extent of the problem. In Fredericksburg, Virginia, the City Council has launched a survey and asks that businesses and residents take a few minutes to complete it.

The city is about 45 miles south of Washington, D.C., and known for its historic quality, which extends to architecture in the downtown area. Large employers in the area include GEICO, the University of Mary Washington, and Mary Washington Healthcare — all industries that need access to fast, affordable, reliable connectivity. About 28,000 people living in Fredericksburg, and unemployment is less than 4 percent. The Rappahannock River runs along the city’s northern border.

In their announcement about the survey, the City Council wrote:

City Council has established a priority to create more focus on broadband and to strive to be the fastest City in Virginia for broadband. To further that goal, we’d like to find out more about your broadband access and needs. Our focus is on residents and businesses within the City limits.

There are two separate surveys for residents and businesses; the survey will remain open until May 18th, 2018

It Starts By Asking Questions

A survey may or may not lead to public investment in Internet infrastructure, but it helps community leaders move past anecdotal information about local connectivity. By asking people in the community to share their experiences and opinions, city leaders are better able to determine if there is a problem, discover options that may help solve the problem, and get a sense for how the citizenry feel about potential investment.

Sometimes a survey leads a community to consider taking up a feasibility study for deeper examination of the potential solutions. Other times, news of a survey inspires local private sector ISPs to improve services. In places like western North Carolina, regional officials launched a survey hoping to correct inaccurate FCC data. West Virginia has taken up a similar initiative, asking residents and businesses to complete a survey that focuses on accessibility and speeds; they also see the problems with faulty FCC data.

A few other local communities that have asked their residents and businesses to complete surveys in the past year include Ely, Minnesota; Manhattan Beach, California; and Loveland, Colorado. Often communities ask locals to take more than one survey to engage citizens and get an accurate picture of the status of connectivity in the community.

Take This Survey

If you live in Fredericksburg or own or operate a business there, take a few minutes to complete the survey. If you aren't able to complete the survey online at home or at work, public officials ask that you go to the Central Rappahannock Regional Library (1201 Caroline St) or the Social Services Office (608 Jackson St) where you can take the survey.

Learn more at the city website.

Tags: fredericksburg vavirginiasurvey

Business Leaders, Sign This Letter Before May 2nd To Save Network Neutrality!

April 20, 2018

At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we recognize the power of small businesses in local communities. As federal lawmakers consider where they stand on the issue of network neutrality protections, small businesses can join forces to let Congress know that they need network neutrality to stay strong. Fight For The Future (FFTF) has launched a campaign that takes advantage of “Small Business Week” and its proximity to a crucial vote involving the Congressional Review Act (CRA).

Sign, Host, Deliver, Speak

FFTF encourages business owners to express their support for network neutrality by signing a short letter they’ve prepared that succinctly addresses the issue for small businesses:

Dear Member of Congress,

We are companies who rely on the open Internet to grow our business and reach customers online. We are asking Congress to issue a “Resolution of Disapproval” to restore net neutrality and the other consumer protections that were lost when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to repeal the 2015 Open Internet Order in December 2017.

Users and businesses need certainty that they will not be blocked, throttled or charged extra fees by Internet service providers. We cannot afford to be left unprotected while Congress deliberates.

We will accept nothing less than the protections embodied in the 2015 order. Please ensure the FCC keeps its tools to protect consumers and business like ours.

Thank you for considering our views.

Sincerely,

Fight for the Future

Thousands of businesses have already signed on to the letter to be delivered to members of Congress on May 2nd, the high point of “Small Business Week.”

FFTF also offers suggestions, resources, and media materials for local folks who want to attend an event happening in their area or who want to organize a local event. If you want to organize a letter delivery, FFTF offers a package of resources that includes steps to take, graphics and media for outreach, recruitment ideas, and points to consider when talking to the press. It’s all you need in one place — you add the energy.

With strong bipartisan support for network neutrality, efforts like this can undo the mistake the FCC made when it revoked network neutrality protections in December 2017.

Tags: network neutralitypetitioncongresssmall businessfcc

Deb Socia Receives Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion Award

April 20, 2018

Deb Socia has been working on equity for others in a variety of ways throughout her career and so it was no surprise to us that she received this year’s Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion Award. Deb received the award on April 18th in Cleveland at Net Inclusion 2018.

Before serving as Executive Director of Next Century Cities, Deb spent three decades working in education as both a teacher and school administrator. While working in the Boston Public Schools, she acted as founding principal of the one-to-one laptop initiative at Lilla G. Frederick Middle School, an award winning school. Her continuing efforts in digital equity included a role as Executive Director of the Tech Goes Home program, also in Boston, that connected students, parents, and schools to technology resources.

We Love Deb

We’ve spent many hours working with Deb in her capacity at Next Century Cities. Her ability to bring local communities together to share victories and voice common concerns make her ideal for this role. She’s able to see a broad spectrum of issues related to digital inclusion that influence local communities’ ability to improve economic development, enhance public education, and improve their quality of life. Her personable leadership qualities at Next Century Cities and throughout her career inspire trust and confidence.

It’s no surprise that Deb has received a long list of other awards, including the Community Broadband Hero Award from the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA), the Pathfinder Award from MassCUE, “Leadership and Vision” from CRSTE, Frederick Community Advocate Award, and an NTENny award. Be sure to check out this profile of Deb from Motherboard; she won a Humans of the Year award in 2017.

Adrienne B. Furniss, Executive Director of the Benton Foundation, presented the award to Deb at Net Inclusion 2018 in Cleveland. The event is organized by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) and brings together advocates, policymakers, ISPs, academics, and practitioners to discuss digital equity. Attendees and presenters talk about ways to improve digital inclusion, relevant research, and a range of other relevant topics.

When she presented the award to Deb, Adrienne quoted one of the people who nominated her:

In every role she takes on, in every fight she champions, and in every community she serves, she is first and foremost an educator. What does that mean? She is a revolutionary, a passionate advocate - to her absolute core, she has devoted her life to ensuring that the next generation will have more opportunities than previous ones… It means that she loves her work, that she tackles challenges with unbridled passion… That she empowers, believes in, and changes the lives of individuals and their families. That she takes what’s at her disposal to diminish isolation, build bridges, improve quality of life, and foster agency and resilience within communities. That she is an unsung hero, and one unquestionably deserving of recognition.

We agree 100 percent and want to say well done, Deb!


via GIPHY

Tags: awarddeb socianational digital inclusion allianceeventdigital dividenext century cities

Folks In Alford, Massachusetts, Finally See Bright End Of Crappy Internet Tunnel

April 19, 2018

On April 14th, folks in Alford, Massachusetts, gathered at their fire house to attend a presentation about the bright future of their connectivity. After a long journey to find better connectivity in the small western Massachusetts town, residents and businesses are now subscribing to Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) Internet access from AlfordLink, their own municipal network.

Years Of Work

With only around 500 residents in Alford, it’s no surprise that big incumbents decided the lack of population density didn’t justify investment in 21st century connectivity. By 2012 and 2013, the community had had enough; they decided to pursue their own solution with a municipal network. Alford voted to form a Municipal Light Plant (MLP), the entity that that manages publicly owned networks in Massachusetts.

In addition to the $1.6 million the town decided to borrow to spend on fiber optic infrastructure, the town will also receive around $480,000 in state grant funds. The Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) is handling distribution of funds to Alford and other towns that have decided to use the funding to invest in publicly owned Internet infrastructure.

Alford, Blandford, and Shutesbury, are a few of the hilltowns contracting with Westfield Gas+Electric (WG+E) in Westfield. WG+E’s WhipCity Fiber began by serving only Westfield, but now contracts with other small towns to either assist them as they establish their own telecommunications utilities or to provide Internet access and operate a publicly owned network. In very small communities like Alford, they may not feel they have the resources or expertise to manage a gigabit network, but don’t want to relinquish control of their connectivity to an untrustworthy corporate incumbent.

Last year, Charter offered to take MBI funds and build a network in Shutesbury that the company would own and control. The town rejected the offer for the hybrid fiber coaxial network, choosing instead to borrow funding to pair with grants from MBI to build a network the city will own. Western Massachusetts communities have been treated poorly by Charter and others; they’d often rather cease doing business with them entirely.

Places like Shutesbury and Alford also understand the other benefits of public ownership. They want economic development, better connections for their schools, and the ability to control costs.

In the March 2018 Alford MLP Newsletter, the Board wrote:

The MLP has executed an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) with Whip City Fiber (WCF), the broadband arm of Westfield Gas + Electric (WGE), to operate AlfordLink and provide Internet service. Whip City Fiber plays this role in Westfield and has similar IGAs with a growing number of towns in Western Massachusetts that are building municipally owned FTTH networks. We are confident in their ability to serve Alford. 

Check out our interview with Aaron Bean and Sean Fitzgerald from WhipCity Fiber back in 2016 for episode 205 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Alford On Fire

In January, WG+E installed a hut next to the fire house where the network equipment is housed and where AlfordLink connects to MassBroadband123, the state’s middle mile network. In order to allow residents to get a taste for their future service, they’ve lit up the network at the fire house and installed a Wi-Fi router.

"The hut is lit," said Peter Puciloski, the town's new chairman of the Municipal Light Plant. "We put in a router, so you can go and experience 1 gigabit. I've seen a bunch of people there downloading software rather than waiting at home."

At the April 14th open house event, WG+E representatives introduced the AlfordLink website, explained the steps to subscribe, and provided details on what services will be available. AlfordLink won’t include video services — only Internet access and phone — and part of the presentation discussed streaming versus cable TV.

They had a discussion about the expected roll-out plan, as many people are eager to sign-up. There’s been an issue with some of the poles in Alford because Verizon is dragging its feet on make-ready work and pole agreements. About 60 percent of make-ready work; as long as there are no “major catastrophes,” WG+E officials estimate the network to be completed and serving the community this fall.

Regardless of the delay, people in Alford are signing up. At last count before the open house, 102 premises had signed up. There are a total of 350 premises in Alford. 

At this time, symmetrical gigabit service will be the only speed tier available for $110 per month. Subscribers can add voice service for $12.95 per month.

Watch a video of the open house presentation from folks at WG+E:

Image of Alford town hall courtesy of Just the Berkshires.

Tags: alford mamuniwestfield mamassachusettsmassachusetts broadband instituteFTTHgigabit

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 302

April 18, 2018

This is the transcript for episode 302 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Gary Evans from Hiawatha Broadband Communications joins the show for part ii of a conversation on rural connectivity.  Listen to this episode here. Go back to part I here.

Gary Evans: Generally speaking, you can find the money to get it done. If I had my choice between vision and money, I'd take vision.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 302 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. A few weeks ago, Christopher sat down with his old friend, Gary Evans, who's the retired president and CEO of Hiawatha Broadband Communications. They had a great conversation about the company and life as a small independent ISP for episode 297, but there was still so much to cover. Gary and Christopher are at the mics again to continue their conversation about Hiawatha Broadband Communications. They're talking about the challenges that companies face and overcome and prospects for the future. Once again, this interview is a little longer than our usual podcasts, but we know you'll be glad we kept it that way. There's lessons to be learned and interesting stories to hear. Now, here's Christopher with Gary Evans.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome back to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance up in Saint Paul, Minnesota. I guess our office is in Minneapolis, but I'm a Saint Paul, boy myself, I'm here with Gary Evans once again. He's still the retired founder of HBC.

Gary Evans: Thank you Chris. It's good to be back.

Christopher Mitchell: We talked a few weeks ago and you said you have a habit of not staying retired for long, but thus far--

Gary Evans: I'm, I'm doing some work that I'm really loving for a private equity firm in New York City that's concentrating in the area of fiber optics and so another way hopefully to help rural America because we're going to be looking at markets that the big players don't seem to have much interest in today.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I think that's a good place to pick up where we left off last time. We mainly talked about the history of HBC and one of the key lessons that we took away is that there is a very strong business model in connecting the areas that Wall Street has tended to overlook the smaller towns in America. Not necessarily the tiniest ones, but the decent sized ones that are very common.

Gary Evans: You know, that's, that's exactly right. And, and for me at least, it seems you can make a case even for the tiniest, if you have a nucleus of the not so tiny not the tier one markets, but the Winonas at 35,000 and the Red Wings at 20,000 allow you to pick up a community like Minneiska, which when we built it was 68 dwelling units, they had a problem. They didn't have any emergency warning system that was effective. And so one of the things we did there was to collaborate with the city to put warning devices connected to the network in each of the homes.

Christopher Mitchell: So last Wednesday, as we're recording this, two days ago, the first Wednesday of the month in Minnesota, they probably got some kind of a warning there.

Gary Evans: They probably did because everybody got dumped on, at least in this part of this.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, those are also the tornado warnings I was thinking of, which I think is a very big deal.

Gary Evans: Yeah, it's huge. And that was, that was actually the motivating factor that drove them. And I was really pleased when we were able to work that out. We had fiber running from Winona to Wabasha and dropping off at Minneiska for instance, was not a difficult thing to do, probably an afternoon job. Right, right. And because we were leveraging resources back in Winona as well, we were able to add that without, you know, more than the cost of the connectivity to the home. So it was a nice thing to do.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, if anyone missed our first episode, I strongly encourage you to go back and listen to the episode in which we started talking about HBC because I'd like to pick up with one of the things we didn't get to, which is how HBC has helped to run other networks. And I think it makes sense to start chronologically with what I think was the first one of the store, which was Monticello, which is a community northwest of Minneapolis. It's a little bit of ways from your home territory. But they wanted to build a municipal network. They did not have a municipal electric department, which is very common amongst citywide and municipal networks, and they reached out to you. You are essential in helping them to get educated, get inspired, pass the referendum was 74 percent support and get the network built.

Gary Evans: We enjoyed our association with Monticello even though I suppose everybody would look and say, well, it certainly didn't end in a place where you expected. And while that's true, I think we learned a couple of things. We learned some very valuable things there. I'm in an interesting way enough. Sometimes the things you know best you, you can forget about. You know, as, as we built Winona it was extremely important that we were local and our successes were based largely on the fact that, you know, our friends and acquaintances became our customers as we got north of the twin cities that wasn't quite so evident. And I'm finding the employee base that could take on the HBC culture was difficult. Even that far from home, you know, we're sitting here in Cannon Falls and In Cannon Falls, the bank that we're in has an affiliation with the bank and Winona and, I remember the Merchants CEO saying to me once, you know, when we're able to install our own person in the banks we acquire, we do really well. When we have to go with someone who isn't familiar, we don't do as well because it's a cultural issue. And so I think some of the problems we had in Monticello that ultimately resulted in our withdrawal from the project and, and sort of a difficult transition for Monticello, I wish could have been avoided. It probably made sense for both areas. And I'm pleased that the network is seemingly running well today.

Christopher Mitchell: I think that it's -- it shows the character of a person when you take a project that came to unsatisfactory conclusion. One in which I know from personal experience had both what you might call endogenous problems and exogenous problems as, as the fancy economists like to say, which is to say problems on the inside with what you and Monticello, jet and problems on the outside. That's correct. One of the biggest problems Monticello faced was that charter came in and as I understand and some numbers that were provided to me back in the day, charter began offering an insane deal, the best deal that they've offered anywhere. To my knowledge, they took a product that was a hundred and $45 a month everywhere else in this state. And they reduced it to $60 per month. It was every channel, the fastest broadband speeds they had available, $60 a month, guaranteed rate for two years. Clearly losing money on every single subscriber who took that every month. Now you could have said that first, but instead you, you noticed some of the things that you said because I know the growth really dropped off a cliff at that point.

Gary Evans: Well, it did, that started as we were there, but really accelerated after the decision for us to away, you know, I expect when that started, charter might have been worried about, well, what are they going to do next? We obviously hurt them badly in Winona and we were about to hurt them in Red Wing. That was kind of interesting to me, you know, charter close to Oliver, it's local offices and the first one to get opened again was in Red Wing as we were building that network. So yeah, there were a lot of, of those problems, but I also think that we were some of the problem and, and when I say we, it's because local knowledge is critically important to. I don't think we had as much of that as we should have. There was another thing too, and that is because we didn't have it, the city was more interested in providing advice than we were interested in listening. I'm hindsight being what it is. We probably should have listened more and they perhaps should have given less advice. I'm, but I'm pleased that the network is still operating and and seems, I think to be doing well. Why also retain some friends from Monticello, including Jeff O'Neil, who was the city administrator there.

Christopher Mitchell: Anywhere that I would live, I would-- I would like to have him as a city administrator. He puts his heart and soul into it.

Gary Evans: He really does. He's a very good man. I'm pleased that I got to know him.

Christopher Mitchell: It's worth noting that the project did not succeed financially. There was a struggle with the bonds. On the other hand, from the perspective of local businesses prior to you and Monticello doing this, they were sending their employees home in the afternoons to work from home because their offices were incapable of supporting in 2008 a modern workforce.

Gary Evans: That's absolutely correct.

Christopher Mitchell: Now they have far better connectivity than I can get anywhere in St Paul.

Gary Evans: That's an advantage of the vision. You know, people always talk about money and to me money is not nearly as important, is vision. If you will have the vision to do something that is critically needed and no one has stepped up to do. Generally speaking, you can find the money to get it done. If I had my choice between vision and money, I'd take vision. Maybe that's because I don't have money.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, it's worth reminding people. I see. I think some people might hear that and cynically think, well, government is always going to find the money by picking someone else's pocket would be the most uncharitable way of saying it. But you're saying that as a perspective of a business owner as well. The vision is the most important thing.

Gary Evans: Absolutely. You know, I, I think back to the first stage of HBC and the first of all call I got from the founder of fashion all saying I think we should look at this new thing called fiber optics and you know, it demonstrated to me that a good business person is very much aware of the things happening. Even if it would appear that there would be no help in it for that particular business. Interesting.

Christopher Mitchell: So if we move on a little bit, and actually this, this is happening concurrently. You started working with city of North St Paul, which is a small suburb. It's really has it's own independent character in north of St Paul, Minnesota. And there, I'll just briefly summarize, I think Comcast may have done you a bit of a favor because you hadn't yet learned the lessons from Monticello. The city of North St Paul was very arrogant, almost very confident in their capacity to pass the referendum to move forward with a project with you and Comcast when all out there was buses that seemed to have been sponsored by Comcast. My understanding to taking people to the polls and the only thing that, those people knew what they were supposed to vote. No, and I don't know what they got in return, but it must've been nice.

Gary Evans: Obviously the no vote care eight the day. But again, that too was, was an interesting project. We were very interested in seeing if the formula that we thought could succeed would work in a metro area. I'm Monticello was almost that because it was on the fringes of the twin cities of North St Paul would have been deeper into that hub. But we didn't get the chance. I'm it too though, was an interesting exercise because issue say they were very confident that, that the referendum would pass and we had done a lot of work in the expectation that it would to so we learned that probably shouldn't count chickens before they're hatched as the old saying goes and took away from it some knowledge that would, I suppose play a part in future developments. But, I wish we could've done that project.

Gary Evans: I think you're right in saying that Comcast did us a favor. I'm not sure we could've been successful there given the attention the project would have gotten. You know, nibbling at charter from were known and red wing is, is different than nibbling yet. Comcast in north St Paul almost on top of the capital. Well, right. And, and I'm sure everybody had Comcast saying, well, nobody in their right mind would just build north St Paul. There's got to be here to move on right now. Quite frankly, there had been some synergies between Roseville in north St Paul. Yeah, we were looking at Roseville. So Comcast, I think wisely thought we can't really allow this to happen. So the next one that I'm aware of is, is Renville Sibley, is that the next one? Well actually we had two others. Well, three really that the first one that we did, which was an outside the box maneuver, was to provide ace communication a far southeastern Minnesota at telephone co op with video signal.

Gary Evans: And it was, for us a very good partnership. I thought it was a good partnership for them to, we cooperated on the purchase of equipment that was needed to read, digitize signal to send it over a long haul. Although people probably wouldn't see went on it to Houston as a long haul, but by today's standards and in return, ace was getting free signal until we paid off their share or the share that they expended for some reason unexplainable to me. And I think in many ways totally unexplainable. They terminated the agreement long before they had managed to get their equity out of the project and when it went to mediation, the finding was on the side of HBC. We would have much rather the project continued, but that was the first one, ironically. And you're probably going to laugh at this.

Gary Evans: The, the second one was CenturyTel we became a video provider for CenturyTel in Lacrosse. Yes, we actually, we did cover that in a previous interview and, and so we help them get started in video. I think always knowing that if the experiment was successful they would do something that would not encourage using HBC. And they did that. And, and we also helped ace, another small cooperative on the Wisconsin side of the river, a cochrane telephone to provide video signal. So those were all in the mix before the RS fiber Renville Sibley project began. But that one I'm appears, at least from my vantage point to be cranking up. Well I think HBC is doing the things it needs to do for that project to be successful. There's a pretty sizable, HBC workforce in residents in those communities now and that's pleasing to me too. So, another way I guess to grab the local knowledge that we might not otherwise have had.

Christopher Mitchell: You seem to have spent a lot of time helping Wisconsin communities through someone that I've seen enthusiastically tailgating Minnesota football game.

Gary Evans: I know. This is interesting because the first year I was married, I was watching the sports that are in Albert Lee and I'm at the Wisconsin Minnesota game was coming along and both my wife and I had the flu and the marriage almost ended during the game, because Ellen was aggressively cheering for the badgers. So yes, and doing a great job of ribbing me because unfortunately the badges won the game as they have almost every cabinet in my lifetime. That's correct. And I was cheering for the gophers. I'm happy to say that a lot today is just as big a goal for a but yeah. I grew up in Wisconsin though, and so there's, you know, there's not much difference except for the river that runs the, a, the strips of land on either side are comprised of people who are much the same. Those are the best rivalries though they surely are. 

Christopher Mitchell: The Renville Sibley project, which listeners may be more familiar with as RS fiber, ended up being a cooperative and so the cooperative owns the physical assets and HBC is providing services over it. And I think you're a bit modest. The, the feeling I get in talking to people about RS fiber is that HBC has gone above and beyond, in terms of making sure that things would happen correctly. I'm really, really going beyond what would be expected of a partner.

Gary Evans: Well, and you know, Chris, I -- the project started under my tenure, but Dan Pecorino, the new CEO is really the shepherd of what has happened. But to me that's what all we should happen. And I would like to think that it's an HBC habit to try and go above and beyond. It's part of Minnesota Nice. I sink and, and it's part of the program that makes for a successful ventures. I always felt that we should pour into projects all of the knowledge we had and as many resources as who would legitimately be spent. And, HBC is more capable today than it was during my tenure. It's a much more successful company now and I'm, I'm, I'm glad to hear you say that. That's very pleasing because I bumped into a Toby Brummer. Toby was the head of a construction company, a tiny construction company that we purchased and toby is the resident manager. He lives, I think in Winthrop, Toby's a happy guy. He's always been a happy guy even when things were going wrong. And he loves it over there. He loves the people. He's a farmer which fits very well. And so yeah, I, I am very pleased that the project is going well.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that I feel like I've learned in watching, particularly from Monticello, I mean, I'll just, I think as we look back at these different partnerships, these networks are hard to build on their own. You know, there's some companies that that make it look easier than others, but they are hard projects. And when you do a partnership, sometimes there's this naïve belief that that will make it easier because you're working with a with someone that has experience or is better at raising capital, whatever the partnership is, based on my experience, when the going gets tough, which it inevitably does at one point or another for one reason or another. Maybe it's technical, maybe it's competition. Who knows? That puts stress on the partnership and I feel I've seen many more partnerships fold then then many of the boosters of partnerships when I admit, because one side wasn't willing to say, you know what, the contract isn't really clear on this, but we're going to make it work. We're going to go beyond is that.

Gary Evans: I think that's a very accurate statement. We thought we had learned some things in Winona that could be helpful in Monticello. Monticello, people trying to put the best spin on this weren't in agreement. I mean the one thing that we didn't want to do was get into a price war. Agreed. Yeah. Because we thought that there was absolutely no way to survive it and I don't think there is a way to survive that against the charter or Comcast.

Christopher Mitchell: They could give their product away for free and the investors wouldn't notice a thing,

Gary Evans: absolutely the case. And it became difficult to try and serve the knowledge we had at the same time that we were trying to keep a partnership happy. And ultimately the best decision was probably made for both parties.

Christopher Mitchell: So when to talk about Burlington major lessons learned podcast here, Burlington, which, if people are listening to this, having heard my interview with Stephen Barraclough, who was instrumental in, in working with Burlington during this time period, it may be some important context, but, Burlington got into trouble. My read on it is that, you had a mayor that came in after, through as being built, you're in a difficult period of expansion than, and the mayor put in someone to run Burlington Telekom that I think was very, I'm not transparent, was very opaque and there were some problems and that administration chose to hide those problems. And they got worse and worse until it spills out in the public. And you have a need to invest more in the network. You have a network that didn't have enough customers and you have a lot of frustration from the public when they learn about the problems that had been hidden from the city council.

Gary Evans: Yeah. And I'm going to take you back just a little bit. There was a gentleman that we both know, tim knoll pay was the first CEO of the company. And I'm not sure, Chris, that I could exactly pinpoint for you the earliest problems with the system, but I remember we were asked to come in after money that the city didn't realize or the city council didn't realize had been spent, had been spent. And the city capital lease money had also all been spent.

Christopher Mitchell: So tim notes he had been booted out more or less than 2007. You were brought in. I May, 2009, 2009.

Gary Evans: And Bob Kiss was still the mayor, but he was to lose the next election because what happened shortly after we were brought in, he has the city defaulted on its capital lease with Citi.

Christopher Mitchell: Which is a terribly named company and I'm always struggling to explain to people, so Citi C-I-T-I, right? Citibank was then labeled itself Citi and, I think, lend money to Burlington without doing its proper due diligence in retrospect.

Gary Evans: Yeah. The first thing as we looked at it, there were three of us who went to Burlington. We were to do a study of the network.

Christopher Mitchell: You've got blue ribbons for it was a blue ribbon committee was my recollection.

Gary Evans: Yes, you're right. But in any event, what we discovered was a network that no one in their right mind would have built, in our opinion, a networked that costs several times too much. I'm that exhausted the limited funds and they're laid a network that may have had the greatest potential for success of any I've ever seen that was built in a way that no one in my opinion have a right mind would have. Bill, there was almost a home run, if you will, to every dwelling in Burlington. So what we're talking about in home run as a dedicated line from the head end facility to the customer, which is not something that you'll find anywhere that I'm aware of. Maybe

Christopher Mitchell: there's a few, I mean usually usually in a, in a city the size of brilliant you would expect that even if you are using tape technology would be to an aggregation point in a neighborhood or something like that. And I think the main concern is the incredible cost of fiber versus using some kind of technology in which you would oversubscribed more in the fiber by using a passive optical networking or something like that bag.

Gary Evans: So just as we finished our study, the mayoral election took place and we had a new mayor, a to work with and made a bad mistake. And my first meeting because I, I told the mayor that in my opinion, he had a magnificent asset on his hands that could become successful if it were managed and operated correctly. And I don't really think the mayor wanted to hear that because I think that there was a great frustration in Burlington that, led to an opinion that the best thing to do with the network was to sell it, if in fact it could be sold and just get out of the business.

Christopher Mitchell: Tim Nulty, who I still consider a friend. I think Tim would have said that, yes, he built it in that way to be future proof. And, and, he would justify that and say that the network would have been fine under his tenure if they had had a proper marketing campaign and things like that. One of the things that I understood during the Kiss administration, and this is a quote that I, when we were investigating trying to figure out what had happened because we have a very strong interest in learning when municipal fiber network struggle, we want to know why. So we're investigating it. And someone told me that you could have moved into many parts of Burlington over the course of several years and never have even known that that was an option to get Burlington telecomm fiber. So I think like many things there was -- there's root causes that different people can point to and then they all conspire together to create a real big problem.

Gary Evans: That's correct. Burlington, Burlington Telekom had done little to attract customers to the network and that was a critical missing link. You know, I wouldn't have built the network that Tim built, but on the other hand, we could sit across the desk from each other and carry on a very friendly argument about the situation.

Christopher Mitchell: It is worth noting that I have yet to find two people that would build the same network. There are extremes. I think HBC has found ways to building networks at as low a cost as possible. And that's been a part of your success. And I think, you know, tim tends to build them in his way and he has his reasons. There's a lot of people in the middle of that have still different ways of building networks. So, people who are listening to this shouldn't be surprised when they hear these kinds of disagreements, but you should be aware that if you commit to a very expensive network, you sure have to find a way to bring in customers onto it,

Gary Evans: which means that you had better plan marketing expenditure is very carefully because you're going to need them. You know, at the time we got there, the 17,000,000 fiasco had broken. The Citi Bank fiasco was out in the public. Every thing that you could imagine going wrong was going wrong. And if you walked into the bto office, you saw a group of people with their heads down, reluctant, quite frankly, to look up and, you know, Steven, came to the party after we had concluded our first run. And then Steven asked me to come out and spend a couple days with him talking about our analysis. And I'm then asked if we would stay on and help. There were so many hurdles to cross. And I'm pleased to see the company now upright, it still has a way to go. You and I disagreed on who should buy it, when they, when they sold it, but like the things we agree amicably and we had both desperately hope that it succeeds and expense.

Gary Evans: I do indeed. And you know, I must say that, that you probably weigh, you clearly knew more about your choice than I did and I am not going to suggest that I know know more about my choice then you did. But I think with the right leadership that can be a successful property, I think what it needs and they're going to need a fair amount of resource they've got. They're sitting in the middle of a wonderful situation. I mean, you know, you have a hundred and 50,000 people in the county of which Burlington is the mighty Chittenden County, Chittenden county and am so when new ski, you know, South Burlington, all of those communities could be come part of that network that these are people that do not like global corporations. Like, yeah, that's absolutely the case. And so I think the right leadership will take them a long way and ultimately will make the city hold again and we'll also demonstrate business viability at the same time that the right kind of leadership will have customer satisfaction as a key goal, you know, I don't think you can go into a competitive situation and operate like the incumbent and expect to succeed. 

Gary Evans: No, no. The incumbents win by inertia. Absolutely. And, and so you have to identify every flaw that, that competition has and you have to work to exploit every single one of them.

Christopher Mitchell: But one of the things that we've been wondering about is how many small companies and municipalities really advertised like their difference in privacy policies. For instance, like when was the last time HBC sold customer data to a third party? Yeah, exactly. 

Gary Evans: Never, and never wouldn't happen. I'm convinced. Well certainly shouldn't say never, but

Christopher Mitchell: I know it's hard to imagine why would. Yeah, absolutely. Because for a small company like that, your reputation is everything and the little bit of money you would make from it is not that much. But if you're a Comcast and you have 18, 20 to 30,000,000 customers, however many you can make a lot of money and most of your customers don't have another choice. So. Correct. So I wanna -- I wanna round off by talking a little bit more widely about policy. Minnesota has the Blandin Foundation which is somewhat unique and has been tremendously positive and I think there's been a couple of negative side effects to the overwhelmingly positive benefits of Blandin. But, but you've been on the Blandin Board for probably forever.

Gary Evans: Well, I'm no longer a member. I was from the earliest days

Christopher Mitchell: and this was a Blandin Broadband Board.

Gary Evans: It was, it was not, not the Foundation Board.

Christopher Mitchell: What did, what did they do? Well, I mean, tell me a little bit about the beginning of that and the strategies for how to set the stage. Blandin is a foundation that is very focused on greater Minnesota, the non metro regions. They helped send my wife to college and I met her in Grad school, so I'll be forever indebted to Blandin for that.

Gary Evans: And they had a leadership program that had at least in our area of the state, made their name no one they identified the broadband area as an area of potential for Minnesota and I think most of our early efforts, Chris, were expended on trying to convince state government that had want to be active in the broadband area as government usually does. It can move as fast as we hoped it would. Some of the things that we lobbied hard for, we'd, we'd get a sliver, but certainly not the whole pie. And so ultimately Blandin switched strategy to trying to do it. I'm more with the people who would benefit. I thought that was a very good move. It constant traded mostly on planning and helping communities plan initiatives.

Christopher Mitchell: That's, that's where I really wanted to dig in a little bit. I mean, I think when I look at Blandin, there's a number of things that they have done. One is I think an sees work on the bland and blog is tremendous. And I don't think a lot of people appreciate how important it is to have a place that is cataloguing on a daily basis talking about these sorts of things so people can understand what's happening and, and, and has been coming from a family of librarians. You can tell she's, yeah, she's wonderful. So one of the things that when people sometimes ask me for advice about what other states should do, I often say that Blandin has been incredibly successful in the planning part by offering matching grants. Their communities have to commit something, but it gives a real edge to those in the community that once something that happened because they can say, look, we're getting this great deal from Blandin and they're going to match the cost of this study and that is going to help convince the city councils to appropriate a little bit of money to do what we're talking about.

Christopher Mitchell: Usually on the order of $10 to $15,000, which is then matched by Blandin.

Gary Evans: Right? I had to look at the broader issue and be aware of sweeping generalities, but I think that many of our city governments are populated by people my age are not too much younger than I am and we didn't grow up with the connectivity that we have today and we didn't grow up understanding it or carrying much either. And I, I think that victimizes us, I think there's a problem in Minnesota today I think gets that too few young people are really getting involved in the governmental activity in their local communities. Preach. And, and the fact of the matter is it, it hurts us in many ways, but I think it hurts us particularly in the broadband area and you know, I, I think bland. It's wonderful. I remember Heather Gold talking to me once about she had just come to her position in the broadband association. I suggested she looked at Blandin as a model and now there is a toolkit that was very similar to the Blandin toolkit that's being used nationally.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. This is the Fiber-to-the-Home Primer for which was just updated in late 2017. Correct. Terrific.

Gary Evans: Yes, absolutely. Terrific. And Blandin's impact has been solid, but quite frankly should be much greater.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, this is where when we sat down and started warming up the mix, before we recorded, I said something I wasn't sure how you would react to it and that is. I feel that we are. We are. You were mentioned. We start talking about the rural electrification, Red Wing, Minnesota being one of the first being the first ray site and my impression from studying that period is electrification happened quickly and in such a great way with these co-ops that have been so good for rural America because local communities organize them and I still see in my greatest criticism of Blandin not just, I just don't want to center us on Blandin, but everyone in Minnesota working on broadband issues is it's so focused on getting the state to do something. There's not enough focus on getting communities to do something so that when state monies available, it could be put to good use.

Gary Evans: We were also talking about the value of vision versus money. If I had to look at, at your statement, I would say you're right, clearly you're right, but it might be that Blandin concentration has been where it's been because it determined that it wasn't going to have the kind of support out there, if you will. That may be, it could find in four or 500 legislators in St Paul. It is a real worry because as we went to the tiny communities, if you will, to receive franchises that there was only one thing that people wanted to talk about and that was cable TV pricing. We sell it to us for less money and nobody was thinking about what this could do for their community and how to make it just as powerful as rural electrification was.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I want to, I really want to reiterate that that Blandin has been a -- not just net positive but incredibly net-positive. And I don't want to say that because it's worth noting. Lyndon was right on open access, I think 12 years ago when they started pushing open access. The carriers really resisted it. I think that would've been very good for Minnesota. I continue to be a believer in open access approaches. A Blandin has had these conferences and I'm employed Bill Coleman to really educate communities on what these words mean and the importance of economic development and broadband, his head of events that it has put on despite the opposition and undercutting of the rural telephone companies in Minnesota, which I find really dismaying. I understand that we have some differences of opinion of opinion, but we all have to work together to solve this problem. So I would say that in terms of we want to talk about what might be able to do better or differently if anyone from Blandin is listening to this, they should take heart that they've done a tremendous job of moving Minnesota forward.

Gary Evans: Absolutely. You know, I might think about painting with a brush, not so broad, if you will. I mean, if you could identify in advance through some process to communities committed to doing something, then the relatively small resource you have might be deployed more effectively. You know, I would go to communities and I would say to them, folks, every community where there today is an HBC network is larger than it was when the network was bill. Now don't you think that message would resonate with people and, and then you know, those who were not interested would, uh oh, but it costs too much and where we're going to get the money and it always came down to that. And, and you know, and the St Charles Lesson to me was absolutely incredible.

Christopher Mitchell: The community, not just the people that we haven't mentioned it yet, this episode, the St Charles was one of the first HBC towns. You moved out here

Gary Evans: and, and we had no interest in doing that until their economic development association came to us and knew clearly why you wanted us there. They wanted us there because they wanted to be the number one bedroom community to Rochester to suggest that they have been unsuccessful in that goal would be absolutely wrong. Now, are they the number one bedroom community to Rochester? Well, I'm sure Byron would argue pine island might, or an Oco might, but the fact of the matter is that St Charles is significantly larger today than it was. It has more business that it is than it did then.

Christopher Mitchell: It doesn't have the geographical advantages of all the other places that are closer. I think,

Gary Evans: You know, St Charles has done a magnificent job. And once again, it was the issue of vision.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I would, I would just say we talked about Renville Sibley without mentioning Mark Erickson. Mark, here's someone who talked about vision in, in, in stamina for five years, against struggle after struggle where one, one pathway was closed off after another. And, and he, I think, I still think of him as the heart of a, of a, of a group of people that all deserve endless praise for the work that they did. Mark, I just feel like we, he wasn't gonna give up

Gary Evans: how it started. It didn't start in Renville Sibley county. Mark, as the city administrator wanted his community to succeed. I remember him dragging me to Seattle and Microsoft early in the HBC existence. And this was back when Mark worked for HBC. Mark, was the city administrator in Fairfield or close to there yet was it was south of Wind Wyndham? MMM. Yeah. And Mark ultimately was dismissed as city administrator because of people being disappointed with the fact that too much activity and money was being spent on connectivity. Then he came to work for HBC. Then he got interested. He wanted to go back to his roots and he moved to Winthrop as city administrator, then became economic development director and stepped out as city administrator

Christopher Mitchell: Now he's somewhere in Europe, I think right this week touring

Gary Evans: He promised me a call when he got back. But it's been awhile since his retirement party. But you know, Mark was tremendous. He, he was absolutely untiring in his efforts to get his communities to understand the importance of broadband. And the Renville Sibley project is exclusively due to him. It is worth noting that, again, this wasn't just the disappointment. Occasionally have a plan not working out. There were people that were undermining him. There's still a whisper campaign that he's getting paid under the table, millions of dollars from you or from HBC, which is ridiculous. That was also a rumor at that time, that HBC or that ace backed away from our partnership and you know, it's so ridiculous. Apparently people just like to look for things to complain about, but Mark is someday going to be recognized by those communities as having done them an enormous favor. Yes. And a lot of people already credit him with that and it. And I do want to note if Mark was here, he would be both blushing and stammering and saying, no, it wasn't me, it was other people, other people were essential to making it happen.

Christopher Mitchell: But I, if you had to pick one person that the keystone, I just. No question. It was Mark. Yeah. Yeah. Well this has been another great addition of the Minnesota history, I think of, of, of how we've moved forward a bit. The role that HBC has played, the role that you've played in-- in your own personal role in some cases.

Gary Evans: Well, you know, I was raised by my grandmother who used to have her hands full, shouldn't have had to raise another generation after her own, but grandma always told me that the only thing I needed to worry about was always leaving the things I touched better than they were when I found them. And I hope someday somebody will say, you know, he did that. I hope some day when I see grandma, she'll tell me, chances are she'll find some fault with how I did things.

Christopher Mitchell: Always room for improvement.

Gary Evans: Always.

Christopher Mitchell: Well thank you gary for another hour of your time. I greatly appreciate it and I'm looking forward to finding more things to talk about in the future. Good.

Gary Evans: Chris, as always, it's a pleasure. I had more fun than you had.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with Gary Evans, former president and CEO of Hiawatha broadband communications in southeastern Minnesota. For more about the company, visit HBCi.com, you can also check out our coverage on MuniNetworks.org at the HBC tag. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/Broadbandbits. Email us at podcast@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets follow Muninetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other ILSR podcasts: Building Local Power, the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them on Apple podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research, subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. Thank you to Arnie Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and thanks for listening to episode 300 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

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RFP For Network Construction In Sanford, Maine: Responses Due May 2nd

April 18, 2018

When the announcement came out in 2015 that Sanford, Maine, would invest in the state’s largest municipal fiber optic network, media outlets were abuzz with the news. The situation has quieted down as the community has been working to plan for the project. Earlier this month, Sanford released its second Request for Proposals (RFP) for Fiber Optic Construction for the network; responses are due May 2nd.

Read the RFP here.

Second Shot

Back when the city began the process of investing in publicly owned Internet infrastructure, they conducted an original RFP process and selected a construction firm. Before the project began, however, Sanford won a significant award from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) and, according to the EDA, the city’s RFP process did not conform to EDA bid process requirements. In order to accept the award, the city needs to re-run to RFP process.

The project will cost approximately $1.5 million and, with the federal grant slated to pay for around half at $769,000, Sanford officials see the benefit of taking the time to release a second RFP. The city will use proceeds from the sale of a former school property to fund the remaining. They anticipate construction to begin in July and estimate the project will be completed and the network will be ready to operate by November.

As the RFP states, the project will connect approximately 85 community anchor institutions (CAIs) to a network of about 40 miles of fiber and to the state’s middle mile Three Ring Binder. In addition to City Hall, they intend to connect schools, healthcare facilities, libraries, and public works buildings. There are also a significant number of business locations on the list of addresses that Sanford officials want connected to the network. The community has already chosen Maine’s GWI to operate the open access network. 

You can listen to our conversation with CEO Fletcher Kittredge in episode 176 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. He and Christopher discuss Sanford and other projects in Maine.

Sanford And The Region

Until the 1950s, the community’s modern economy centered on textile manufacturing. The population has held stubbornly at around 21,000 for the past 20 years and community leaders want economic development. Like many other communities with manufacturing histories, they see the need for high-quality connectivity to retain existing manufacturing in the community while also hoping to attract diverse high-tech employers that require fast, affordable, reliable connectivity.

The city is located in York County, near the southern most tip of the state and the region has been growing. The area attracts people who want to take advantage of hiking trials, mountain biking trails, and downhill skiing, and there are several golf courses that bring in golfers from other areas of the state. With about a dozen lakes for recreation and the ocean within a 30 minute drive, the population in the region swells in the summer to around 60,000.

Due date for response to the RFP is May 2nd.

Questions and comments should be directed via email to:

Mark Buxton or David Radin Tilson

16 Middle Street, 4th Floor

Portland, ME 04101

SanfordNet(at)tilsontech.com

SanfordNet Request for Proposals for Fiber Optic Network ConstructionTags: sanford memainerfpgwiopen accesseconomic developmentruralpartnershipfederal grant

HBC Spreads The Know-How: Working With Others To Improve Rural Connectivity

April 17, 2018
Community Broadband Bits Episode 302 - Gary Evans, Former President and CEO of Hiawatha Broadband Communications

For episode 302 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, Christopher carries on his conversation with Gary Evans, retired President and CEO of Hiawatha Broadband Communications (HBC), an independent ISP in Minnesota. This is the second opportunity for Christopher and Gary to talk about HBC’s historical role in bringing high-quality connectivity to rural areas. Be sure to listen to episode 297, when Gary and Christopher concentrate on the history of the company.

In this conversation, Gary and Christopher focus on the idea of connecting smaller communities in order to bring high-quality connectivity to America beyond its urban centers. As part of the conversation, they discuss how HBC has worked with other systems, including networks in places like Monticello, North St. Paul, and Renville and Sibley Counties in Minnesota, Wisconsin providers, and Burlington, Vermont. There have been some rough patches along with some great successes and Gary addresses both. He talks about connections he’s made, lessons he’s learned, and partnership approaches that work.

Gary also dedicates a few moments to his time and the great work done by the Blandin Foundation, one of Minnesota's most active organizations to bring better Internet access an adoption to Greater Minnesota.

We want to preserve Gary’s experiences and advice, so once again we kept this episode longer than most; it runs about 53 minutes.

You can play the show 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.

Read the transcript for this show here.

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: hbcminnesotaruralpartnershipeconomic developmentaudiobroadband bitspodcastsibley countyrenville countyrs fiber coopmonticelloBurlington Telecom