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Taking Control Through Software Defined Networks - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 338

January 8, 2019

Many of us are accustomed to Internet access from companies that own the infrastructure, offer only a few options, and are one of a small number of providers. For the most part, we've learned to accept that model, but will it ever change? This week’s guest, President of EntryPoint Networks Jeff Christensen, explains why that model is broken and how we can fix it through software defined networks (SDNs). We can turn that model around to put control in the hands of users.

EntryPoint works primarily with municipalities to develop open access networks that separate infrastructure from services. As you’ll hear from Jeff, this approach takes the open nature of the Internet even further to encourage innovation, competition, access to goods, services, information, and ideas. EntryPoint’s approach turns the traditional closed system most American’s are used to on its head.

Jeff explains how the growing use of the cloud and changes in other technology have brought us to the moment when we can change how we interact with the Internet. Moving forward, users rather than ISPs, will drive technology innovations. Christopher and Jeff discuss how cloud edge computing will drive that shift, how SDNs enable innovation, and how municipalities fill a role they are already familiar with as keepers of infrastructure. They also get into some of the considerations to keep in mind if a community is looking at SDN technology.

Ammon, Idaho, has already adopted a dynamic open access approach with a SDN; Jeff and Christopher discuss the way the community has blazed a trail for other municipalities and the benefits it is bringing. They talk about Ammon’s innovative financial approach, Local Improvement Districts (LIDs), and the way it has allowed the community to move forward with their cutting-edge approach.

For more, check out the EntryPoint intro video, Jeff’s TED Talks below, and peruse information at the EntryPoint website.

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

This show is 37 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

 

Modern Networks, Innovation, and Cities - TEDxRiverton, March 2018

The Internet Disruption Every City Needs - TedxSaltLakeCity, October 2017

 

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

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

Image credit geralt via pixabay.

Tags: open accesssoftware defined networksammoninnovationcompetitionaudiobroadband bitspodcast

Community Broadband Media Roundup - January 7

January 7, 2019

Minnesota

Update: Frontier Communications responds to MN investigation by Mike Bunge, KIMT News

Senator's View: Job skills, infrastructure can be priorities by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Duluth News Tribune

No serious infrastructure plan is complete without addressing broadband expansion. There is strong bipartisan support for including broadband funding in any infrastructure package, and that's good news.

The lies Comcast allegedly told customers to hide full cost of service by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

 

Mississippi

Expanded Internet service to rural areas a must by Dennis Seid, Daily Journal 

 

North Carolina

Eastern Carolina co-op looks to bring high speed Internet to rural areas by Ken Watling, WNCT 9 News

 

North Dakota

North Dakota bill would set new terms for telemedicine by Blair Emerson, GovTech

 

Oregon

Broadband opportunities presented at town hall meeting by Richard Hanners, Blue Mountain Eagle

Governor establishes rural broadband office by Jayati Ramakrishnan East Oregonian

 

Washington

From campaign consultant to lobbyist and adviser: The firm that has Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan’s ear by Daniel Beekman and Lewis Kamb, Seattle Times 

 

General 

Towns and cities keep ditching Comcast to build their own broadband networks by Karl Bode, Techdirt

“These areas aren't getting into the broadband business because they think it's fun, they're doing it because the US broadband market is painfully, obviously broken.” 

The FCC's restoring Internet freedom order is ignorant of and conflicts with the Internet's architecture by Scott Jordan, Benton Foundation

USDA announced $600 Million for rural broadband by Rachel Engel, EfficientGov

FCC Chairman Pai celebrates Congress failing to bring back net neutrality by Devin Coldewey, Tech Crunch

Furthermore, it’s entirely unclear whether Pai’s new rules have had any positive influence at all. Broadband investment has in fact not been affected, despite a $2 billion tax break given to cable companies and a number of other sweetheart deals. The most likely explanation for any positive effects is investment planned or made years ago, perhaps as far back as the Obama administration and the previous rules.

The FCC is closing, so hold your cell phone service gripes by Klint Finley, WIRED

US Census Bureau finds stark rural-urban broadband divide by Jason Plautz, Smart Cities Dive

So many new lawmakers love net neutrality by Dana Floberg, Free Press

Will 5G end up leaving some people behind? NBC News

 

Tags: media roundup

Indiana Electric Co-op Acquires Local ISP to Enhance Broadband Service to Members

January 7, 2019

When Indiana’s Tipmont REMC asked members about broadband in 2017, more than half said that they couldn’t access fast, affordable, reliable connectivity. The rural electric cooperative soon began establishing plans to develop a fiber broadband network. Now, in a move to bring high-quality connectivity to members sooner, Tipmont has acquired local ISP Wintek Corporation, and plans to serve all 23,000 members within the next eight years.

A Comfortable Relationship

Wintek, headquartered in Lafayette, began in 1973 and provides connectivity to Tipmont’s headquarters in Linden, Indiana. The ISP has used the electric co-op's poles for more than 10 years to mount sections of the Wintek fiber for residential and commercial connections. According to Tipmont’s announcement on the acquisition, Wintek has also served as a consultant for IT systems to the cooperative. Tipmont leaders have already established a level of trust with Wintek and vice versa.

According to Oliver Beers, co-owner and COO of Wintek, the acquisition will allow more Wintek customers to access fiber connectivity. “We’ve done as much as we can financially afford to do,” Beers told the Journal Review.

Began as A Solo Project

When the Tipmont board unanimously decided to develop a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, they had not intended to work with another entity. They commenced construction this past summer in Montgomery and Tippecanoe Counties, where they’ve already deployed 30 miles of fiber. In November, they connected a dozen households in Linden as test customers to work with the system for two months.

“It’s really important when you have a service that people depend on, like electric service or broadband service, that we make very sure that what we’re providing is highly reliable given the gravity of what’s being provided,” says [Tipmont REMC President and CEO Ron] Holcomb. “So since we are new to the space, we decided to take a slower approach and make sure as we started to ramp up, the service would meet expectations or exceed expectations.”

While the co-op had no doubt that they could finish the task at hand — constructing a network and offering service to members — they soon realized that members from all over their eight county service area wanted high-quality Internet access as soon as possible. Tipmont REMC also knew that, in learning all they needed to know to offer this new service, they faced a time-intensive learning process. By acquiring Wintek, Tipmont REMC gains knowledge about network engineering, fiber deployment, Internet access delivery, and the regulations that they need to follow.

Wintek will be able to continue the expansion to bring broadband to the region:

“We’ve done a lot as a private company as best we can, which has been great throughout our entire history,” says Beers. “But in order to help tackle these larger problems on a much greater landscape, you need scale – which is something we’ve struggled with. But moving forward, having the combined venture, that’s going to be huge.” 

Better Services in the Region

Within the eight rural counties that Tipmont serves, both residents and businesses complain that lack of high-quality connectivity is negatively impacting their ability to function. Susan Benedict owns a small business located only a fifth of a mile outside of the town of Lafayette. She’s a veteran of trying to operate a business without high-speed Internet access. 

“Well you know, trying to run a business on phone lines that were put on in the '30s and '40s is kinda like driving a car to the airport with a flat,” says Benedict. “You might make the plane, but you’re probably going to be the last to board. And that is absolutely no way to run a business.”

Households will have the option to choose between three speeds for Internet access, all are symmetrical:

  • 250 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $65 per month
  • 500 Mbps for $85 per month
  • 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) for $95 per month

The acquisition became official on January 1st; Wintek’s 22 employees joined Tipmont.

Tags: tipmont remccooperativerural electric coopindianaruralsymmetry

NBC News Looks at 5G, Expanding Internet Access, and RS Fiber Co-op

January 4, 2019

Ever since the term “5G” came on the scene, the big ISPs have dedicated themselves to expanding hype about what the technology will accomplish, especially in rural areas. In a recent NBC News Signal segment, Dasha Burns took a look at rural and urban connectivity, the digital divide, and considered the demands and limitations of 5G.

She provides a simple explanation for why 5G can only have a limited impact in rural areas. She also touches on some of the issues that create parallels between the situation for people in urban areas who might not have access to 5G when it finally arrives. To address the urban component of digital equity, Burns went to Newark, New Jersey, and met with students who, due to economic limitations, rely on public access to the Internet.

Burns visits rural Minnesota to check out RS Fiber and talks with one of the many local people in the agriculture industry, a crop consultant, that needs high-quality connectivity from the broadband co-op. We get a peek inside the RS Fiber headquarters. For more on the rural Minnesota cooperative, download our 2016 report, RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperative.

Check out the 5:25 minute video:

Tags: nbc5Grs fiber coopmobilevideominnesotanew jerseydigital divideruralurbanlow-income

Funding Available for Broadband Infrastructure in Iowa, But Don't Delay

January 4, 2019

Iowa communities that suffer from poor connectivity and want better broadband infrastructure now have another possible funding source, but they need to take action before March 15, 2019. Iowa’s Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) is now making $1.3 million in grants available to specific areas that want to improve local connectivity.

Learn more here.

In addition to Internet access providers, local governments, utilities, and “other entities that provide or intend to provide broadband service” are eligible to apply and receive funding. Projects that can receive funding must be new projects that have not started installation of broadband infrastructure. “Broadband” is consistent with the FCC’s definition of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload.

Funding of up to 15 percent of the estimated cost of a broadband project is available.

Targeted Areas

The awards are specifically meant to be distributed to projects that will serve “targeted areas” within the state. Those areas — deemed as locations where no provider offers broadband as defined by the FCC — cover large portions of the state . The OCIO has provided a map visualizing where those many targeted areas are across Iowa. With the “Open Map in New Window” option, users can submit specific information, such as addresses and census blocks, to determine if a location is within a “targeted area.” The blue areas indicate "targeted areas."

Important Info

  • Applications are only accepted through the Iowa Grants System between February 18th and March 15, 2019.
  • Applications will not be accepted prior to February 18th, 2019.
  • All questions should be submitted to the OCIO before January 11th, 2019 at ociogrants(at)iowa.gov.
  • For detailed information on the application, check out the OCIO Broadband Grants page, where the office has provided examples, guides, and checklists to help with your application.

Good luck, Iowa communities!

Tags: iowastate policyfundinggrant

Let's Connect! We're Heading to North Carolina!

January 3, 2019

If you don’t live in an urban environment, there’s a strong possibility you long for better Internet access. We’re connecting local people in several North Carolina communities with broadband experts, elected officials, and representatives from regional ISPs for a conversation on better local broadband.

Sign up online for one for one of three local community meetings and share information about the gatherings on Facebook.

If you live in or near the communities of Albemarle, Fuquay-Varina, or Jacksonville, get ready to attend one of a series of three “Let’s Connect” meetings, organized by us at the Community Broadband Networks Initiative, the North Carolina League of Municipalities, and NC Hearts Gigabit. In order to start off the New Year right, we’re bringing together people who want to improve connectivity and are ready to learn more about how to get started.

As part of the conversation, local and national experts will present information on options, you’ll be able to participate in Q&A sessions, and meet up with other locals who share your goals. The events are free and scheduled in the evening at local civic gathering places.

In addition to Christopher, you'll see local officials, such as Council Member Martha Sue Hall from Albemarle, City Manager Adam Mitchell from Fuquay-Varina, and Jacksonville Mayor Pro Tem Michael Lazzara.

Registration is free and not required, but is encouraged to help us plan. You can sign up at Eventbrite and spread the word about the event with your Facebook friends.

Mark your calendars:

Albemarle

Monday, January 28th @ 6:30 p.m.

City Hall, Council Chambers, 

144 North Second St., Albemarle, NC 28002

Map

 

Fuquay-Varina

Tuesday, January 29th @ 6:30 p.m.

Town Hall, Board Chambers

401 Old Honeycutt Rd., Fuquay-Varina, NC 27526

Map

 

Jacksonville

Wednesday, January 30th @ 6:30 p.m.

Jacksonville Youth Council Youth Center

804 New Bridge St., Jacksonville, NC 28540

Map

 

Image of people at town meeting in the public doman.

Tags: eventnorth carolinaconferencechristopher mitchellruralfuquay-varina ncalbermarle

Small Massachusetts Town Moves Closer to Muni Fiber

January 2, 2019

The small town of Windsor is joining the list of communities in western Massachusetts who are taking measures to improve local connectivity with publicly owned Internet infrastructure. The town of fewer than 1,000 people anticipates connecting all residents and businesses before the end of 2019.

Grants Are So Good

Windsor is benefitting from a grant of more than $886,000 from the FCC Connect America Fund, to be distributed over a 10-year period. Six other Berkshire County communities will also receive funding from the FCC; Westfield Gas+Electric (WG+E) applied for the funding on behalf of the region’s communities. In total, the seven towns will receive more than $2.45 million during the next decade to improve local broadband. The Westfield utility has been working with its neighbors in recent years in different capacities, including as an ISP, network operator, and as consultants.

Community leaders originally estimated Windsor’s planned Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network would cost approximately $2.3 million. Select Board Member Doug McNally said that the community may use the award from the FCC to help pay down debt to deploy the network or may be used directly to help residents who have long driveways, requiring more individual investment to connect to the town’s network.

Windsor also received approximately $830,000 from the state in 2017 and previously approved borrowing to fund deployment. Windsor had planned to work with the WiredWest cooperative, until the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) put up several hurdles that interfered with the cooperative’s ability to realize their business model. WiredWest has revamped what it plans to offer member towns and, according to McNally, Windsor may contract with the co-op for Internet access and operate the network.

If Windsor chooses WiredWest, subscribers could choose between symmetrical packages of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $59 per month or 1 gigabit per second for $75 per month. Voice service would cost an additional $19 per month. All subscribers also pay an additional $99 activation fee.

The community could, alternatively, hire WG+E to provide Internet access but manage the network themselves. Regardless of which option they choose, the town will own the infrastructure. Windsor expects to make their decision before construction begins this spring.

Construction Highs and Lows

Choosing ISP will be an issue for a special town meeting, says McNally, possibly along with deinfing a policy to deal with those long driveways that increase the price of deployment to some properties.

While premises far from the main road are more expensive to connect to the network, McNally will propose that the town shoulder the full cost. In addition to making FTTH available to every home for equity’s sake, he notes that such a policy will increase take rate, revenue, and help boost the success of the network.

The town won’t have access to the FCC Connect America funding until 2021, but Windsor will use short-term loans to fill the gap and recent developments are helping to lower the initial construction estimate. The winning bid for construction came in lower than expected, and the town took advantage of the local energy provider’s decision to replace utility poles. When Eversource Energy contacted Windsor for approval to upgrade to taller poles, the municipality gave permission in exchange for the right to attach fiber without make ready fees. The parties agreed, which will save Windsor approximately $160,000.

"We fell into a bed of clover on that one," McNally said, "We're in very good shape."

Image credit ToddC4176 at en.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0].

Tags: windsor mamassachusettsmassachusetts broadband instituteFTTHwestfield mafundingpolesmake-ready

Vinton, Iowa, Stepping Forward on Fiber Network Deployment

December 31, 2018

It was more than two years ago when voters in Vinton, Iowa, resoundingly gave their blessing to the city to form a telecommunications utility. After study and consideration, the municipality is now ready to move from design to deployment.

In mid-December, a Notice to Bidders went out from the Vinton Municipal Electric Utility (VMEU) and the engineering firm working with the community to develop a publicly owned Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) network. According to the notice, Vinton plans to build the network “in its entirety” over the next year.

According to the media release, the city plans an underground deployment and anticipates the network will include approximately 82 miles of fiber. The Media Release indicates that several RFPs will be forthcoming throughout 2019.

Read the Notice to Bidders Media Release here.

It’s Feasible

In the fall of 2015, after Vinton voters decided 792 to 104 to put VMEU in control of the broadband initiative, it took until early 2017 for the city to hire a firm to develop a feasibility study. Many people in the community of about 5,100 people were tired of poor Internet access via slow DSL. Cable Internet access is available in some areas of town, but both residents and businesses feel that without high-quality connectivity, Vinton will lose out to other Iowa towns  that already have created municipal networks.

Cedar Falls and Waverly are both within an hour's drive north of Vinton. Other communities in Iowa have invested in fiber networks to improve economic development, including Spencer, Lenox, and Harlan.

The feasibility study presented in the spring of 2018 recommended that the city take advantage of its knowledge base within VMEU and create the telecommunications utility that the voters approved in 2015. Consultants discouraged Vinton from investing in an open access network, noting that the problems citizens have indicated — better voice, video, and high-speed Internet access — might not be solved unless the municipality take the reins and offers those services directly. They recommended that, if Vinton decided to invest in a network and offer services, they provide triple-play to the community.

Consultants that completed the feasibility study estimated that the network would cost approximately $8.9 million to connect all 2,100 residential and commercial premises in Vinton’s 4.74 square miles. They anticipated that the city will fund the project with revenue bonds and working capital.

Review the full feasibility study.

Wheels of Progress Turning

By November, VMEU had appointed a committee to look into the particulars of the project and the feasibility study, and to develop recommendations. At their November meeting, they decided to aim for early 2019 as the time to provide more information to the people of Vinton.

Locals seem ready to get the project off the ground. An October editorial from Vinton Today expressed impatience and fear of the future if the city didn’t follow through with their plan to improve local connectivity:

The public support is strong because all the small communities around us offer high-speed fiber-optic broadband service, and it’s clear that the current providers aren’t going to invest resources in Vinton.

Unless we act, Vinton’s technolgy will continue to fall further and further behind.

Vinton needs to be competitive for young families and businesses, we should also be interested in educational parity and fairness to those whose incomes don’t support high internet bills.

Vinton NEEDS to step into the next century, and now.

If all goes according to plan, 2019 will be the year that this rural Iowa community gets the connectivity they desire to protect their future.

Image of the Benton County Courthouse in Vinton by Scott Romine [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Vinton, Iowa, Notice to Bidders Media Release RFP for FTTP VMEU FTTP Feasibility StudyTags: vintoniowaFTTHmunigigabitelectricfeasibilityrural

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 337

December 28, 2018

This is the transcript for episode 337 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. It's the end of the year, so that means it's time for our annual predictions podcast. In this episode, we review what we got right — and wrong — about 2018, and we make some new predictions for the upcoming year. Listen to the full episode here.

 

 

Lisa Gonzalez: It's 2019.

Christopher Mitchell: No, it isn't! Almost 2019.

Lisa Gonzalez: Have you started your presidential campaign yet? If you haven't, you're behind.

Christopher Mitchell: I was really fearful that we would already be knee deep in people that were, you know, arguing over the next president, but we've mostly avoided that. So that's something I'm incredibly thankful for in this moment.

Lisa Gonzalez: Something else to be thankful [for] is the prediction show from the Community Broadband Bits podcast, and here it is!

Christopher Mitchell: Wait a minute, wait a minute. I actually think it's the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Lisa Gonzalez: Right you are Chris, and this year we have two new voices.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes. We're very excited to be welcoming into the studio the new voice of Jess. Jess Del Fiacco, welcome to the show.

Jess Del Fiacco: Happy to finally be on.

Christopher Mitchell: And we also have Katie Kienbaum. Welcome to the show.

Katie Kienbaum: Thanks.

Christopher Mitchell: We're missing Nick and Hannah, although we may have a special little presentation from them, just in recognition for their many years of service and how much we miss them. But we're gonna talk about what happened in the last year, what we thought was gonna happen, and then some of what we think will be happening next year.

Lisa Gonzalez: If you haven't heard one of our prediction shows before, it's a prediction show. However, it's also a review show because we always like to review the predictions we made for the prior year.

Christopher Mitchell: I predict some of our predictions will have been wrong.

Lisa Gonzalez: I predict you're correct.

Christopher Mitchell: The one that I wanted to start off with was that I made the bold prediction "No good will come of the FCC," and I was wrong. Which, I did not expect to be wrong, but I think that the CAF II reverse auction had a lot of good coming from it. It set some really important, really good precedents. So let's start with a moment of praise for something the FCC got right before we really start to trash them.

Lisa Gonzalez: Yay.

Christopher Mitchell: And in particular, if people are interested in that, the show that we did with Jon Chambers from Conexon that discusses the CAF II auction. I think we did it in September or October. I think that was one of our best shows of the year. The FCC, you know, that was sort of a joke that we did about "no good will come of it." I mean, obviously there's other things that are important that have been done. There's a number of things that I find frustrating, but we're not going to dwell on those things. Let's jump into the barriers discussion. Where Lisa was wrong, just —

Lisa Gonzalez: I was so wrong.

Christopher Mitchell: So wrong, despite having snuck through the previous year with a correct guess.

Lisa Gonzalez: That's right. And Chris predicted there would be fewer than five bills introduced at the state level that would be harmful to municipal broadband efforts, and he was correct.

Christopher Mitchell: And it's worth noting because there was a number of people that we respect who I think were right to sound the alarm that we could face many more bills given the many state legislatures that flipped to being much more conservative. And historically, it has been conservative legislators that have tried to preempt cities from building networks.

Lisa Gonzalez: I think it's also important to point out, Chris, that you are also correct, in that —

Christopher Mitchell: I agree. I don't even know what you're going to say, but you're so right.

Lisa Gonzalez: — in that you thought that there would be bills introduced to help local communities. And there was a bill introduced in California —

Christopher Mitchell: We won!

Lisa Gonzalez: Yes — that allows the community service districts to build municipal broadband networks. And in the past, they were allowed to do that, but if somebody else wanted to offer services over that infrastructure, they were obligated to sell that infrastructure.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, and our understanding is that there are at least a few that are looking into their options and could move forward. This is — it's very exciting. Many thanks to assembly member Ed Chau who pushed that bill, who was a champion for it, made it happen. There was no opposition from the usual forces that we were afraid might. I think we may see less of a push continuing into 2019. My first prediction, I guess, we'll see less of a push as the bigger carriers I think are more fighting over urban and suburban areas rather than worrying about rural areas.

Lisa Gonzalez: Right.

Christopher Mitchell: There was one other exciting development as well, which was Washington State eased some of the restrictions as well, which was on port authorities I believe. And I believe Kitsap has an emergency authority to offer retail services if necessary in some parts of its network.

Lisa Gonzalez: So then what about for this year, predictions for this year, as far as municipal broadband bills — for or against?

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I think we're quite concerned. I mean we've already seen old fan favorite Representative Hoitenga in Michigan pushing a bill that would try to make some broadband subsidies available but not available to municipalities. So there's still some movement in Michigan from her to try to harm municipal networks. We're fearful that we'll see some activity in Virginia. So I don't think it will be zero. I'm quite confident to stay below five. I don't think that's a very challenging prediction. I'm going to say we're going to see three or less.

Lisa Gonzalez: I agree. I would say that's a safe number.

Christopher Mitchell: Aw!

Lisa Gonzalez: I know. Well I can't go higher. I mean, I do have to stick with some common sense here, you know.

Christopher Mitchell: So let me our two new voices starting with Katie. You know, we're talking about these preemption bills. You haven't really been involved in a preemption fight yet. What's your sense when you've been working at this for more than six months now, in terms of the threat of the big carriers trying to preempt cities. Is it something that you worry about?

Katie Kienbaum: I worry about it, but I guess I'm more expecting that the big carriers will try to maintain the status quo in a lot of areas too instead of pushing for new preemption regulation or preemption bills — that they'll just try to keep it difficult or inconvenient for municipalities to build their own networks.

Christopher Mitchell: Sure. Yeah. I think that's what we're seeing.

Jess Del Fiacco: And I would essentially agree with Katie. I think if nothing else, it's pretty bad press for the big incumbents to make a move like that and they're going to avoid it when they can.

Christopher Mitchell: I've always secretly felt, like, annoyed when we had to deal with those bills, but man, it was nice because it was our best press months were in those months that we were being attacked.

Jess Del Fiacco: Oh yeah. Because it's us taking on the empire, right?

Christopher Mitchell: Exactly. Yeah. Related to that, we had a prediction from Hannah last year that we would see more state legislation to help co-ops expand in rural areas. I don't think that really happened, although we are seeing a discussion in Mississippi that maybe they should do that and I would think that probably it will happen.

Lisa Gonzalez: I think that's correct. However, this year I'm pretty confident that right now in Mississippi, there is a bill out that will change the law that will allow co-ops to offer broadband service because the way the law is written right now, this is the only state in the union that doesn't allow electric co-ops to offer broadband service. And we wrote about that recently.

Christopher Mitchell: Which again, I've tweeted about this a fair amount — and there's nothing better than a podcast host talking about tweets — but this is a very easy challenge under section 253 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. If the co-ops actually wanted to do this, they've had a route. It's a very easy case to say federal law does not allow you to stop us, as private institutions, from serving Internet access if we'd like to. They've just chosen not to do that. So to some extent, Katie, I think, you and I have talked about this before, but there is, I think a tendency of people in power to say, "Oh, I would love to make that investment, but I just can't. I'm not allowed to, so you can't blame me if I don't do it.

Katie Kienbaum: Yeah, I think, especially with a lot of the rural electric cooperatives, especially the smaller ones in small towns, you know, they have a lot of potential for creating this great change and bringing broadband to their members, but they also are a source of entrenched local power in a place where there's not a lot of outlets for that. So I think they can be, like most utilities, really risk adverse but also just kind of lazy. I don't know if that's too strong to say, but um —

Christopher Mitchell: Let's talk about this briefly because you have real experience with this. And this is not in any way to minimize the importance of electric co-ops, the way that they have done a tremendous job historically of providing this difficult infrastructure in areas that are difficult to serve, but there are some trends among some co-ops often in areas, I think more like in the Appalachians, for instance, we've seen it a fair amount, where you were working before you came here. But tell us a little bit about what you saw with that because I think there is a sense — and we're going to talk about our prediction [of] how many co ops would be offering services this year — you know, there's a sense that a lot of them are getting on board, but some of them continue to resist very strongly despite the fact their communities seem to be greatly harmed by not having the service.

Katie Kienbaum: So a of the co-ops kind of — I don't know if I'd say a lot, I don't know if I can really put a number on it.

Christopher Mitchell: More than one.

Katie Kienbaum: [laughs] More than one. Multiple, one may say, co-ops kind of just want to keep doing what they've always been doing, which is provide electric service often at a reasonable cost to their members, which is great, but a lot of them don't want to branch out, try broadband. Ideally, their members would be able to influence that by talking to their representatives at the co-op, voting for new board members at the co-op, but in certain areas — you know, you see it in the Appalachians, I think in the southeast in general, co-ops may not be as democratic as they're supposed to be and they may have barriers in place for voting and sometimes they have really crazy voting systems. Some co-ops make it really difficult for folks to vote and for their vote to be counted. So I think we're going to see probably some co-ops that give up after extended member pressure to bring better broadband. But I think that's gonna be a struggle, and I think just making the way as easy as possible for co-ops to deploy broadband and not have any concerns about its legality is a really good thing for legislators to consider.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. And I should say as well that even though we strongly believe that those cases are easy, that these co-ops don't have a ton of extra resources to go hiring lawyers and get opinions and that sort of thing. We're going to stick on rural for a couple more minutes because we made a prediction that more than 100 of the electric co-ops would be offering fiber service by the end of the year. We've got little less than — a little more than two weeks left. Katie, are we gonna make it?

Katie Kienbaum: No.

Christopher Mitchell: So I was wrong, but more importantly, Hannah was really wrong, so I can feel better about myself. Hannah predicted more than 150.

Katie Kienbaum: Yeah. So I think the real number is probably about about 68 electric cooperatives are currently providing service to at least one person. Um, I think there's probably about another 20 that have announced that they're going to begin providing service or have started construction of a fiber network but haven't started servicing their members yet.

Christopher Mitchell: What are you thinking for next year. You got 12 more months, what number are you going to stick on?

Katie Kienbaum: I might go for . . . 90? That sounds really sad.

Christopher Mitchell: No, I'm going to say 150. I think we're gonna see a continued resurgence, and I think we're going to see a bold construction period here and, you know, I think we'll have 150 who will be serving a member or be very close to that, I think I might say. There's a little bit of wiggle room, but you can't blame a co-op in Pennsylvania that is ready to put the shovel in the ground but can't in November. So that's where I would stick it. And either one of you want to jump in, Lisa or Jess?

Lisa Gonzalez: I think that your number of 150 is way too high. I think that those 20 projects that Katie mentioned are going to be done and will be serving people. And there may be a few more, but I think the process is too long and cumbersome for many more to have already started serving people.

Christopher Mitchell: I think that's a good critique. I think there's many more than 20, we just don't know about them, who are working their way down that pipeline.

Lisa Gonzalez: It's very possible.

Christopher Mitchell: So yeah, I'm going to be bold, and I'm no stranger to being wrong in these predictions.

Lisa Gonzalez: Boy, ain't that true.

Christopher Mitchell: So the last piece is, and this is my favorite prediction from last year — Lisa, do you know which one I'm talking about?

Lisa Gonzalez: The network neutrality one?

Christopher Mitchell: No, no.

Lisa Gonzalez: The cities one?

Christopher Mitchell: No, my quote was that the federal government would tell rural America —

Lisa Gonzalez: Oh yeah, yeah — that rural Americans could suck it.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, and I would stand by that. I think the federal government has told rural America, in not as many words, you can suck it.

Lisa Gonzalez: And they've done that in so many things, not only broadband.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, and so I think this is one of those things. A lot of people, when Donald trump was becoming president, they had this hope that — many people who voted for him in rural areas did it because they had a sense that no one was looking out for them, they would take a big gamble, and Donald Trump and the people around him immediately forgot about them, about rural America, to the extent that they ever really cared about them. And I think this is really embodied in a program that was passed this year that we critiqued that was gonna give the USDA more money to get out to the most underserved areas. I think it was $700 million dollars or so was appropriated. None of that money is available yet, and from what I understand, they don't even know what the rules are going to be. Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget for the Trump administration basically said, "Yeah, we're not in a hurry to disperse this. You know, we're developing the rules but USDA still has mone, they haven't gotten out the door, so, you know, we don't really care that much about it." And I think that's the attitude of the federal government, frankly. There's a lot of good people in the federal government, you know, whether are Democrats or Republicans, whether they're Trump republicans or the sort of historic Republicans or whatever. They do care about rural America, but as a whole, the federal government is not doing much to increase the quality of life or the economic opportunities in rural America.

Katie Kienbaum: But aren't they trying to appropriate even more money for the USDA grant, in addition to the money they have that they haven't spent?

Christopher Mitchell: No, I think congress is trying to make some more money available, but it has to go through this whole process at USDA in order to be spent. But there is a bottleneck in the agencies, and federal government is not doing much. I mean, there's no real hearings on it. Frankly, the way in which the Republican Party has tried to hold the executive branch accountable is incredibly frustrating. I've said this before, and this is getting a little bit on a rant but I think it's worth saying, are the founders of our country envisioned presidents like Donald Trump. They did not envision a congress that would refuse to hold a president accountable for his actions or for the actions of the executive branch. The failure of our country right now is squarely in the legislative branch. And so that's where I think we should be frustrated. But at any rate, rural America continues to be ignored and let's hope that that gets better. Jess, do you wanna jump in?

Jess Del Fiacco: Yeah, I just wanted to add that I do think people are just sort of shocked and appalled at the way the federal government has treated them, especially people in rural areas. And that is really bringing the focus back to, you know, what people can do with local movements and I think broadband is going to be a big part of that.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes. And so this is one of the things that we're tackling and as we move into more of our predictions for next year, I think it's worth noting that I thought that we'd see more organizing at this point. I myself have failed, in terms of a hope that we had with the Broadband and Beers. I know that several of you have worked hard on getting that ready. We have not actually launched it or are tried to make this more of a movement. But we are seeing more organizing. I'm just not as much as I'd hoped we'd see at the local level.

Katie Kienbaum: Why do you think that is?

Christopher Mitchell: Well I think in part because people are distracted by a lot of other issues. These things do tend to be a little bit slow moving and people like me need to actually make it easier for people to jump in, get informed, get inspired and that sort of thing. And so that's our job and I think we're going to try and do better at it in 2019.

Jess Del Fiacco: Broadband and Beers coming soon.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes. Lisa, you were wrong about AT&T and Time Warner. You said that they would just walk away.

Lisa Gonzalez: Yep. I was wrong.

Christopher Mitchell: It's exciting though. The Department of Justice has stood up and said, "We're going to fight for this,' that Judge Leon got so much wrong in that awful decision in allowing them to merge. The Department of Justice is fighting on, and it's actually, I think in some ways, a continuing sign of the way in which the courts have been corrupted by the power of big corporations because the Department of Justice is basically like, this is gonna be awful for everyone if we allow these companies to merge. And the courts are kind of like, as I used to say, you've got to find a leprechaun riding on a unicorn before we'll accept your arguments because you haven't riden that camel through the eye of the needle yet to demonstrate the case you have to make.

Lisa Gonzalez: I guess the desire for a mega-conglomerate was just stronger than I expected it to be.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. Well, I mean if I was AT&T I would certainly be pushing on because the courts are basically saying no, the Department of Justice hasn't proven that this will end the world, and even though it will probably inconvenience just about everyone and raise prices and really harm the overall market, the law doesn't say we can stop it for those reasons.

Lisa Gonzalez: So along those lines, you had predicted there would be more consolidation and you were —

Christopher Mitchell: You're going to pick on me now.

Lisa Gonzalez: No, you were right.

Christopher Mitchell: No, I was wrong. I predicted five.

Lisa Gonzalez: I guess maybe I don't remember part. I just remembered you had said there were more.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, yeah, we were deeply disappointed to see Opelika is privatizing. I understand why. The state legislature refused to allow them to expand to serve their neighbors.

Lisa Gonzalez: Yeah, they've pretty much been a target since they started.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. From what we can tell, they've certainly been successful in achieving what they want to, but they need to serve their neighbors. Their region needs better access, and the state will not let them serve outside of their boundaries. And as we know with these networks, if you can expand, the economics looks a lot better. And frankly, we need these networks to be able to expand because their neighbors need better service.

Lisa Gonzalez: So in terms of predictions for privatization, what do we expect to happen? Do you think that we'll get more this year?

Christopher Mitchell: I do think we'll have a few more; I don't think we'll have a lot more. You know, I think what we're seeing from HBC, the private company that was bought by Shurz and consolidation is a bit concerning. It's still a company that, from what we can tell, really wants to meet its mission. But we're sensing that there's interference from the larger entity that owns it now, and that's deeply concerning. I think, again, our job will be to make that clear to people that if you sell your network and lose local control that you're going to suffer. And that's something that we're seeing more of — is that understanding. When I see people, the arguments that they're making for municipal broadband now, that argument is changing. I'm really curious to get a reaction from Jess and Katie on this who are a bit newer to it. But you know, when I see the arguments people are making for municipal broadband, it's not just, "Oh, our speeds are too slow." I see net neutrality, which we'll talk about in a minute, I see concerns about customer service, prices, and just this general idea of local control seems to come up more and more.

Jess Del Fiacco: Yeah, I would definitely agree. And I think the customer service is actually a big aspect that I've just noticed in a lot of stories in the past couple of months that people are really, really mad at the service they're getting from Comcast. Not just prices and not just speeds, but that, you know, you're just getting that "they don't care about you" attitude and people don't want to live with that.

Christopher Mitchell: Rightnd, a I think we're going to see more of that, Jess, just stick with this for a second, because I think we're gonna have more people hitting their caps. You know, my family, we have a 4K tv. I've wanted one for so long. We finally got one this year, and now every Netflix stream is 25 Megabits rather than five Megabits a second, and that adds up. My family was already on the order of 500 to 600 gigabytes of data per month. I'm guessing we're going to be over 800, closing in on that Comcast cap. [We] may have to switch to a business service that doesn't have a cap. But I think we're gonna see more Americans coming up close to that cap and then they're just gonna be more frustrated at these carriers.

Katie Kienbaum: I agree. I think, you know, a lot of people, it's not just — especially in maybe medium-sized towns and smaller towns that do have service from a telephone company and a cable company, I see a lot of stories mentioning just wanting to have options and wanting to have, you know, good local service.

Lisa Gonzalez: I think you guys are completely correct when it comes to customer service as being one of the issues that rankle people the most. Oh, as an example, here at ILSR, we had a situation that went on for 96 days regarding customer service, and that was when we were trying to get a phone cord for one of our phones from CenturyLink.

Christopher Mitchell: Specifically a power cord.

Lisa Gonzalez: That's correct. A power cord. And if you'd like to read about it, you should read about it. It's on MuniNetworks. And we got caught up in a maze of customer service. We finally got some traction and some results when we took it to Twitter, and even then —

Christopher Mitchell: For like, the third time.

Lisa Gonzalez: Yes. And even then it was difficult to get any sort of help, and we had to go to the escalation team in order to get help then too. So it's not just, you know, Jane and John Doe in their home without any help. It's —

Christopher Mitchell: It's us. It's us with business class service. I mean, we're sitting here with fiber, we've got fiber in our office, and in part to pay for it we got the voice service which all penciled out to something that we could work out on. But the fiber service is great. We have no complaints. CenturyLink is doing a great job. 100 Megabits symmetrical. Having that extra upload is everything we hoped it would be. It makes a difference. It's wonderful, but it's a reminder that it's not just about the technology because we don't want just the technology. We're waiting for US Internet to bring their fiber here, which with any luck will be next year. At that point, we'll be able to have both the fiber but a good company that actually is responsive. You know, with a company that's local, whether it's municipally owned or privately owned, but if it's in the community, I could have gone there to get the cord, right? They know where that stuff is. It's not like I'm talking to somebody who's in South Carolina who's trying to get a warehouse in Colorado to ship out something and people in Washington state are getting in the way. I mean, you know, there were times when I felt like the CenturyLink employees were more frustrated than we were because of their inability to solve this issue.

Lisa Gonzalez: Yes, because they said that what we should do is buy it off eBay.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. They did at one point. I think maybe they suggested Amazon as well. Here's my prediction regarding net neutrality. I think Disney's going to introduce this streaming service next year. That's not a prediction. That's something that everyone's expecting. And I think they'll be announcing deals with like Comcast and Spectrum where if you sign up for that streaming service — maybe it will be billed through Comcast, maybe it'll be billed directly to Disney — but it won't count against your cap. I mean, already Comcast did this thing where they called me up and they were like, "Hey, you know, for an extra, like, $7 or something, we'll give you this streaming stuff and Cloud DVR." And I asked them, I was like, well can I use Chromecast? And the guy said yes — turned out to be a lie. And so I can watch certain programs now using an Internet connection, using my computer or phone or other devices, and those do not count against my cap. And so I think we're gonna see more of these sorts of games, and I think it's going to squeeze Netflix. Here's the key point: when that is announced, if it is, I think you see Netflix's share price drop and there you see the economic harm from not having these policies, from basically having AT&T and Comcast take over the market because there are no protections from the federal government. So that's a prediction that I think we'll see at the end of 2019.

Lisa Gonzalez: Okay. We'll check that when it happens.

Christopher Mitchell: Hey folks, there's a few days left before the end of the year, and that's a few more days in which you could send us a check. We really appreciate and need your help to keep us going. We're a nonprofit 501(c)(3), which means that it's tax deductible because we engage in education; we tend not to do direct lobbying. And so, you know, as a nonprofit organization, we really depend on people to support us so that we can keep our doors open. And even, you know, it's one of those things where you might be thinking, "Oh, is this amount of money really going to be helpful?" Yes, it is, because when our funders see us getting more small donations — our big funders like the Ford Foundation, for instance — when they see that we're supported by by people who are using our resources, that helps them to know that we're a smart investment. So please do make some contribution. You can go to ILSR.org/donate. That's ILSR.org/donate. And we really appreciate any support you can give us. You know, additionally, you can also really make sure all your friends are aware of our work, our resources, our podcasts, things like that. Spread us around on social media. Please do what you can to help us win in 2019. Thank you so much. And now, back to the predictions.

Christopher Mitchell: Let's talk about digital equity. Jess, what do you see happening?

Jess Del Fiacco: So digital equity, I think it's going to continue to kind of grow as a movement as, you know, more and more people acknowledge that broadband is a universal need for everyone, just like electricity. We need it.

Christopher Mitchell: Jess, let me ask you, how does this set it apart from maybe in previous years? I mean, I feel like we could have made that prediction every way. What do you see specifically happening, or what's going to manifest from that?

Jess Del Fiacco: I think it's going to be broader support for municipal networks. Speaker 2: So you think people will increasingly build municipal networks for digital equity reasons? Because historically, people have built them for jobs, for economic development reasons.

Jess Del Fiacco: Yeah, that's what I think. I think it's just expanding the argument for them.

Christopher Mitchell: Great. I really hope that's what happens. I think that's a good prediction.

Katie Kienbaum: For example, Chris just did an interview with some folks out of Portland, Oregon who are organizing for a municipal network. One of the big drivers and kind of reasons they're doing it is to increase digital equity in the region and to make it easier for folks to access the Internet.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. Muni Broadband PDX is, I think, a really good follow on Twitter and on social media. They're very creative, they've done a video, and they're going to be a campaign to watch, for sure. Let's talk about bigger cities, and I'm curious because Katie and Jess, you both started I think after the San Francisco effort clearly had declined. This was something that I expected. I don't think we really talked about it much in the previous show, but I felt like there was insufficient grassroots organizing and activity. I felt that the mayor, Supervisor Farrell, had his heart in the right place but didn't have an effective campaign to really make it happen. Gut what do you see happening in major cities? Are you seeing any trends in terms of what you predict to happen in a major city in the next year?

Jess Del Fiacco: I would be surprised if we saw a whole lot of new movement there just because things move slowly in big cities. I think it's a lot harder to get stuff off the ground without, like you said, a really good campaign behind it.

Katie Kienbaum: Portland, Oregon, is the only one that's really on my mind for that, and they do have a lot of grassroots support there. I think we're going to see small things maybe and just small efforts to fight the 5G order, like in San Jose, and maybe some attempts to try and address digital redlining or those kinds of equity issues. But I'm not expecting a giant municipal network anytime soon.

Christopher Mitchell: I think we're going to be surprised. I think there's going to be a larger city than Chattanooga that announces. It may not be a citywide effort. I think we're gonna see some larger cities coming forward, and then I continue to hope that Seattle will do something. I think Seattle has really been harmed by this focus on trying to go citywide all at once, and I think Seattle could have long ago been a real model for a large city if they had chosen a more incremental strategy. In fact, by now they would have some service in low-income neighborhoods if they'd targeted them with a modest investment that Seattle's budget could handle. Instead we continue to see this fight over trying to do it all at once. And, you know, I'm skeptical of that, but I certainly admire the passion and the skill with which those folks have brought this issue to the forefront in Seattle.

Jess Del Fiacco: Is there anything in particular that you think would help kind of launch the big city effort?

Christopher Mitchell: Perhaps, you know, a mayor that wants to become a president or governor or something like that. I mean, that's one of the things that's a bigger deal, but I think a number of these cities are recognizing that if they don't take action, we're going to see businesses and people being pulled out of the bigger cities. Because, you know, there are some pockets of bigger cities that are getting investment from private companies, but it's these midsize cities and smaller towns even that are getting this better access, maybe better served by a co-op or something like that, and I think the market's going to notice that.

Katie Kienbaum: Yeah, I keep seeing articles about the resurgence of the midsized American city and I think, you know, that's for a variety of reasons: housing costs, style of living, and just generally the resurgence in cities with, like, arts, culture, food. But I think municipal networks and connectivity could have a role to play in that kind of trend that we're seeing.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, I mean, if you gave me $100,000,000 and said you can build anywhere in Minnesota, I would probably go to Rochester or Duluth because it would be lower cost to build there. Building in larger cities is difficult even for any entity, frankly, and so I think the bigger cities are going to have to take action. Otherwise, they may be left behind. And they'll still have cable. I mean, they're gonna have good download speeds. They're going to have, you know, the customer service. It's not going to be the end of the world, but I think they'll be frustrated and it's not where they want to be. Lisa, one of the cities I just want to note, you've been working on a case study of Newark that will come out in 2019, and so some of those cities are moving forward quietly.

Lisa Gonzalez: They are bringing better connectivity to lower income people.

Christopher Mitchell: And businesses.

Lisa Gonzalez: And businesses, yes. And you know, when you were talking about larger cities, I was going to on some levels agree, on some levels disagree. I believe that there will be larger cities who are more inclined to offer municipal network connectivity to businesses, but I don't see it for residents yet. There's going to be more of them who are offering their I-Nets, expanding them out to businesses and testing the waters and maybe developing some finances to then go to residents. But I don't think they're quite there yet for residents.

Christopher Mitchell: What do you think is going to happen on open access?

Lisa Gonzalez: We are going to see more communities that are investing in open access networks. You know, with places like Foresite, who are actively going out and working with communities.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. EntryPoint is doing a great job of this too. Jeff Christensen's all over the place. I see him.

Lisa Gonzalez: Yeah, and I think that there will be more communities that are interested in that model. I'm not sure that the communities that are doing it are the right places for it simply because the number of people who live there might not economically support an open access network. However, I'm not an expert on open access networks. Maybe I will be someday, but I do think that we will see more of them. I do think there's a pretty big future for open access infrastructure, and I expect to see more of that at different size communities, including large cities.

Christopher Mitchell: I think our budding open access expert Katie wanted to jump in.

Katie Kienbaum: Yeah. I wouldn't be surprised if some of these places where maybe open access isn't the right choice, where it turns into more of a quote-unquote "partnership," public-private partnership type of model, where they really only find one provider to operate in their open access network and it turns into something more like that.

Christopher Mitchell: Well hold on — Katie's trying to push the microphone away from her face. When you say it doesn't work out, I'm curious, what do you mean by that? What is your fear?

Katie Kienbaum: I guess my fear is that if a place doesn't have, you know, the subscribers that are ready to subscribe to that and take services off of it, it won't attract enough providers to really make it an actual, like, marketplace over the open access network, so then it will turn into either a de facto, you know, one provider network or the municipality will work out some type of agreement with a provider, either before they even get to that point or after they've tried it for awhile and it doesn't quite work out. I don't think that's going to be necessarily, like, a significant number, but I wouldn't be surprised to see it happening in some places.

Christopher Mitchell: We have seen some evidence of this. You know, Powell, Wyoming, was going to be open access, but ended up having one provider, a local co-op, that it felt strongly with. I think [it] may still be the only provider on it. But Rio Blanco in northwestern Colorado, they have multiple providers and they only have a potential I think like 3,500 subs or less. So, I would say, I think it's a good concern and people need to be aware of it, but I wouldn't take away from this any sense of doom or anything like that.

Lisa Gonzalez: In my dreams, I have this wonderful, wonderful concept that we'll see more of these open access networks and things will go back to the way it used to be when there were, like, all these smaller providers all over the place. Wouldn't that be great, if we had, like, new entrants to the market? I would love that.

Christopher Mitchell: I mean this is what Susan Crawford's calling for in her new book, which will be out in early January. It's a book called Fiber, and she's very much calling for cities to be building open infrastructure that is available to launch all of those ISPs. I think it's a great vision. I'm incredibly hopeful for it.

Lisa Gonzalez: And we do get queries from people once in a while, people who actually want to start local ISPs and they're asking us, "How do I do it?" So the interest is out there.

Christopher Mitchell: So, Lisa, you have a few more predictions.

Lisa Gonzalez: Well, just a couple more, and one of them is —

Christopher Mitchell: You're not getting a raise.

Lisa Gonzalez: Well, then I'm leaving.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay, okay, okay. We can't have that. This is a good moment for our podcast listeners: We need you to chip in to make sure that we keep the hardest working member of staff employed here.

Lisa Gonzalez: I believe we'll see more broadband co-ops. RS Fiber has been in place for awhile.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. Not electric co-ops, not telephone co-op, but a new co-op that just does broadband.

Lisa Gonzalez: That's right. There's another one that we've seen lately that's taking form in Wisconsin called 3C. It's near the community of Seneca, and it's just taking form right now. I predict we'll see more of those, and I would love to see that happen. I think we'll probably see at least two more this year.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay, that'd be wonderful.

Lisa Gonzalez: Also, 5G. Somebody had mentioned it earlier, I think it might have been Katie, and Katie had also mentioned fighting 5G rules that the FCC had put in place. And I've noticed that there have been quite a few local communities that are creating these emergency local ordinances, either for esthetic reasons or because they're concerned about what 5G is doing to their health.

Christopher Mitchell: Next Century Cities has a great toolkit for communities that are trying to figure out how to navigate this new world, in which the FCC gave about $2 billion of potential revenue from cities to the big carriers, and the big carriers went to Wall Street and said, "Yeah, we're not changing our investment plans. This is pretty much what we expected and, you know, we're not going to speed anything up. We're going as fast as we can anyway." So a totally unnecessary limit of what cities can charge for being in the Right-of-Way, limiting city's ability to negotiate effectively and certainly limiting the ability to do zoning of where you might be putting 50 foot poles, which is pretty large for a pole to be in a front yard of someone's house. So yeah, these are pretty big issues.

Lisa Gonzalez: Yeah. And I see a lot more of those local ordinances. You know, there are places that have put a lot of time, a lot of money, and a lot of thought into historical districts. And so, they're passing these ordinances, and I think we're gonna see a lot of them, especially the first part of the year. I don't know if the FCC is going to try to do anything about that, but I think it'll be interesting to watch.

Christopher Mitchell: So I think my last prediction has to do with preemption more generally, which I just learned from a focus group, most Americans don't know what the word means, but it's where a higher level of government tells a local level of government or a lower level of government that it cannot do certain things. And I'm expecting to see more knowledge and awareness of preemption in the coming year because it's becoming more and more favorite tool of very big corporations to limit local authority. Because if you're trying to do something as a big corporation, it's easy to do at the federal level. It's somewhat easier to do it at the state level than at the local level. As we saw from the referenda in 2018 here, if you spend a ton of money on a state referendum, you can win almost no matter what the issue is. If it's a fair fight, then it's a little bit more mixed as to how the outcome will be. But at the local level, what did we see in Fort Collins? We saw an ungodly imbalance of money — almost more than $900,000 versus $25,000, and $25,000 won. I mean really the people pushing the issue, they won. And so big money can win at the federal level, it can win at the state level, but it does not have nearly as power at the local level. And so we're going to see big corporations pushing to preempt that local power more and more, and I think we're going to see it on a range of issues. And I'm hoping we'll see more of these people who are getting preempted on these issues working together to raise awareness about it. And, you know, in 2013 there was a sense like no one's ever going to know what net neutrality is. My friend's parents ask me about net neutrality now. So we educated people on net neutrality, we're going to educate them on preemption, and it's going to be harder to push these things through in a few years. Jess and Katie, thank you very much for joining us on your first episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Jess Del Fiacco: Happy to lend our expertise.

Katie Kienbaum: Glad to be here.

Nick Stumo-Langer: Hey, Community Broadband Bits family. I'm missing your dulcet tones in person but I'm getting them through my ear buds here, and I just wanted to say hey and make a couple of predictions for this next year. I looked back at my own predictions, and some of them really panned out and some of them really did not. I think the one that I'm most impressed with myself is, is the kind of attitude about the big corporate mergers that the trump administration kind of let through. And I think there has been a sea change in the media and in the way people are talking about these as really harmful for democracy and our economy. So I'm going to take credit for that one and just kind of ignore all the ones I got super wrong, but I'm sure you'll litigate during the show. My prediction for this next year — and I'm interested to hear on the episode what you guys say about this — I predict that our good friend, Ajit Pai, our wonderful Verizon lobbyist and FCC chair, is going to have some kind of media attention put on him as one of these other kind of commissioners or people in the Trump administration that has kind of inappropriate ties to the lobbying and the industries that they been a part of,and that that's going to be a big media story this year, which hopefully will clarify some of the different things that he's been doing in the FCC. And on the state level, I'm super interested actually to see in the legislative session, I hope that there's going to be maybe three or four or five different legislatures kind of taking up this issue of how to get broadband access to their kind of most rural and sparse areas. So that was my prediction for those things.

Lisa Gonzalez: If you have listened to other podcasts from the Community Broadband Bits podcast, and we know you have, then you probably remember Hannah Trostle's voice. Hannah Trostle used to work at ILSR as a research associate, and she's authored several reports for us. Well, she's back. She's been in Arizona doing graduate studies and she's just come back to visit us, and while she's here we grabbed her to give us her predictions for 2019 and beyond. Hey Hannah!

Hannah Trostle: Hey Lisa. Thanks, it's so good to be back.

Lisa Gonzalez: So, we have all given our predictions. We wanted to get yours for 2019 and beyond.

Hannah Trostle: Yes. I haven't listened to any of their predictions, so I don't know what they said.

Lisa Gonzalez: They're fascinating

Hannah Trostle: But my prediction for 2019 is that technically, in 2019, about half the US population will have access to Fiber-to-the-Home.

Lisa Gonzalez: That's pretty ambitious. Are you sure you're going to go with that, Hannah?

Hannah Trostle: Yes, I'm very sure. And my next prediction is even going to be even more ambitious.

Lisa Gonzalez: And what is it? Drum roll please.

Hannah Trostle: My prediction is that, in the next five years, technically everyone in the U.S. will have access to broadband, not via satellite.

Lisa Gonzalez: Everyone?! Are you sure you want to stick with that, Ms. Pollyanna?

Hannah Trostle: Yes, I'm a very, very optimistic person about the next five years.

Lisa Gonzalez: Wow. Graduate school must have really done something to your brain.

Hannah Trostle: Maybe. I did just finish finals. It maybe melted it a little bit.

Lisa Gonzalez: So tell us how it's going anyway.

Hannah Trostle: Graduate studies are going very, very well. I am getting a masters in urban and environmental planning. I just finished up a tribal community planning course, and I am currently working on a small little paper that I'm going to give to my Cherokee nation council member to discuss, like, broadband and libraries within the Cherokee nation. Because the areas with population — so around the outskirts of Tulsa and Tahlequah — have good broadband access and then the other areas do not, but they have a lot of access to libraries. And so, finding ways to use libraries to boost people's access to Internet service is really important.

Lisa Gonzalez: Wow, that sounds really great. We are looking forward to when you come back again next year to give us more predictions, and maybe this summer you'll be around and, you know, we can have you on the show again to talk about your paper or other things that are going on.

Hannah Trostle: Yes, I should be back in Minnesota during the summer.

Lisa Gonzalez: Great. Thanks Hannah.

Hannah Trostle: Thank you. See you around.

Lisa Gonzalez: Thanks to Nick Stumo-Langer, former communications manager, for sending in his contribution and to Hannah Trostle, former research associate, for stopping by the office to record her predictions. 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 podcasts from ILSR, Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them anywhere you get your podcasts. Don't miss out on original research from all our initiatives. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org, and while you're there, take a moment to donate. We'll be taking a break next week in observance of the New Year holiday, so our next podcast will be published on January 8th, 2019. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and thank you for listening to episode 337 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast and for tuning in throughout all of 2018.

Tags: transcript

Phase Two for Rock Falls

December 28, 2018

After finishing its first phase of broadband build out covering businesses and industrial parks, Rock Falls, Illinois, will begin focusing on residential customers in early 2019. While residents living close to business areas will have early access to the gigabit fiber network, the city of 9,000 will use the fiberhood approach to reach its remaining residential areas.

Growing a Gigabit City

The plan to invest in citywide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) began taking shape when Rock Falls residents became increasingly frustrated with the incumbent cable provider Comcast. Mayor Bill Wescott called for support for the project during his 2017 State of the City address, saying “The time is now to advance Internet in Rock Falls.” Later in April, the City Council approved the use of a $5.3 million general obligation bond issuance to fund the first phase of the build out, and an overall cap of $13 million for the duration of the project. The estimated cost of the project ended up being significantly reduced because the Rock Falls Electric Department (RFED) had already installed extra fiber-optic cable to connect substations as early as 2004.

By using GO bonds to finance their infrastructure deployment, Rock Falls departs from the typical funding approach. Most municipalities issue revenue bonds or employ interdepartmental loans and money they've saved from avoided costs when ending expensive leased lines to telecommunications companies. In recent years, other methods of funding fiber optic build outs have become increasingly popular as broadband infrastructure has obtained utility status in local communities.

Nine local businesses are already using FiberNet, which offers gigabit connectivity, a huge upgrade from the 10 - 20 Megabits per second (Mbps) download previously available from Comcast. Wescott hopes that the new speed will help bring growth for jobs, education, innovation, public safety, and government in the city. Once the city moves into the second phase of the project, residents will also be able to take advantage of the service. 

Fiber in the Neighborhood 

In the fiberhood approach, the residential service areas of Rock Falls will be divided into 14 fiberhoods that each contain about 200 homes, with each area’s build out cost estimated at $250,000. In order to reduce financial risk, residential fiberhoods will require 45 percent of prospective customers to sign up prior to construction. Customers will pay a $100 installation after the target percentage is met, but the city is currently waiving the $100 deposit required with sign-up.

As the city moves on to the second phase of the project, both businesses and residents alike will be able to enjoy reliable high-speed Internet access. Wescott hopes that the new service will help provide jobs, new businesses, and economic development opportunities. Even more important, the investment allows community members to keep dollars local rather than sending them to a distant national provider.

Image of Rock Falls park trail courtesy of visitrockfalls.com.

Tags: rock fallsillinoisFTTHgigabitexpansionincrementalfiberhoodbond

Morning Call Examines Internet Access in Pennsylvania

December 27, 2018

A recent piece from The Morning Call examined Internet access rates in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley using recently released American Community Survey (ACS) data. Christopher Mitchell, director of ILSR’s Community Broadband initiative, provided some context for the importance of closing the digital divide. His contributions are below: 

The cellphone, however, isn’t a good option for schoolchildren who need the internet to complete assignments, said Christopher Mitchell, director of community broadband networks for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a nonprofit that helps communities use the internet to improve the economy and quality of life.

“If you are a 10th-grader trying to do a term paper using a cellphone, that’s very difficult. It results in you having to work so much harder for much less gain than a well-off person,” Mitchell said.

“It affects society as a whole and impacts the achievement gap and the opportunity for young people to do better than their parents,” he said.

...

The internet also has become an essential tool for adults. Without it, people may pay more, as their shopping choices are limited to brick-and-mortar stores, Mitchell noted. And they certainly will spend more time filling out paper applications for jobs and government services.

...

When communities hover around 30 percent in lack of internet subscriptions — as Portland, Bangor, Easton, Nazareth and Wind Gap do — that’s “worrisome,” Mitchell said. It works against any effort to grow.

“If you are in that situation, one of the concerns is you are going to have much less investment, and so your community is going to struggle in the future. As a local leader, you need to figure out how to fix that. Whether it’s housing value or economic development, better internet access makes all those things better to solve,” Mitchell said.

...

According to Mitchell’s Institute for Local Self-Reliance, more than 750 communities across the country have built their own broadband networks to compete with large, established internet providers.

...

The only municipality in Pennsylvania to build its own internet network is Kutztown, which started a $4 million network in 2002 and paid for it with taxable bonds, according to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

Read the full story here.

 

Tags: press center

Predictions for 2019, Year in Review for 2018 - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 337

December 26, 2018

We left our crystal ball, tarot cards, and astrology charts at home, but that won’t stop us from trying to predict what will happen in 2019 for this week’s annual predictions podcast. Each year, we reflect on the important events related to publicly owned broadband networks and local connectivity that occurred during the year and share our impressions for what we expect to see in the next twelve months. As usual, the discussion is spirited and revealing.

This year we saw the departures of Research Associate Hannah Trostle and Communications Manager Nick Stumo-Langer as both decided to head off to grad school. This year, you’ll hear our new Communications Specialist Jess Del Fiacco and Research Associate Katie Kienbaum keeping those seats warm. Hannah and Nick take time out of their schedules to offer some predictions of their own at the end of the show.

In addition to recaps of last year's predictions for state legislation, cooperative efforts, and preemption, we get into our expectations for what we expect to see from large, national incumbent ISPs, local private and member owned providers, and governments. We discuss federal funding, local organizing efforts and issues that drive them, concentration of power, our predictions for digital equity, efforts in big cities, open access, rural initiatives, and more. This podcast is packed with good stuff!

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

This show is 45 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

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

Image of John Dee’s Crystal ball by Vassil [CC0], from Wikimedia Commons.

Tags: podcastbroadband bitsaudiopredictionsfcccooperativeslegislationorganizingopen accessdigital dividemonopolyfederal fundingstate lawsrural

It's Christmas Eve and We're STILL Thinking of Muni Fiber!

December 24, 2018

As authors at MuniNetworks.org have the opportunity to add to our growing cache of holiday-themed, broadband-centric writings, we try to remember to share classics like this one from 2015. “Twas the Night Before Muni Fiber” was crafted by Tom Ernste and Hannah Trostle. Both have moved on to the next phases of their careers but their contributions to ILSR’s work, including this poem in the style of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement Clarke Moore will be appreciated for many years to come.

Enjoy, share, and thank you for your support!

 

 

Tags: funnymunisatireincumbentcomcastdslcabletime warner cable

Donate to ILSR and Help Us Continue Our Work

December 24, 2018

The year 2018 is almost behind us. We hope that you've learned a little from your time at MuniNetworks.org and will consider donating to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Your donation helps us continue the important work of raising the profile of broadband networks that bring fast, affordable, reliable connectivity to local communities, encouraging economic development, local savings, and a high quality of life. Go to ilsr.org/donate to help.

As he reflected on 2018, Christopher shared his thoughts:

As 2018 draws to a close, we are seeing the rising anti-monopoly movement gain strength and visibility. This is an exciting time as people turn toward local solutions and recognize the need to build local power to improve their lives. 

We are seeing the increased threat of preemption - where states are limiting local authority - across the board. But on matters of broadband Internet access, our coalition has stopped new efforts to stop municipal networks and even rolled back minor barriers in California and Washington. We will be working to further restore local authority in the coming year but will undoubtedly face new threats to preserve the cable and big telco monopolies. 

As I write this, I am staying with family in northern Minnesota... and though I am stuck on very slow DSL, I passed thousands of homes with fiber-optic service from cooperatives on the drive up here. Our team was among the first to recognize the power of cooperatives to build the high-quality networks rural America needs and we have elevated those efforts in local communities, state capitals, and DC. 

We need your help to extend these victories in 2019. Though cooperatives are the single best solution in rural regions lacking local providers, too many policymakers haven't yet learned that lesson. Metro regions are increasingly flirting with municipal fiber options, but face powerful cable monopoly lobbyists that are determined to protect the status quo

Please support our work with a donation in any amount. We operate on a shoe-string budget and your support provides both material benefits and a psychological boost in knowing you value our work. Thank you so much!

 

Tags: institute for local self-reliancechristopher mitchellsupport

A Holiday Favorite: The Grinch Who Stole Network Neutrality

December 21, 2018

As our readers begin their holiday celebrations, some may remember our spin on the classic Christmas tale, "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" by Dr. Seuss. Although several states have passed or are considering legislation to combat Grinchy-Pai and the other FCC Commissioners who erroneously repealed federal network neutrality protections in 2017, their decision has still left millions unprotected.

We decided to share the poem again this year in the hopes that, perhaps, it will be the last time! Enjoy!

 

The Grinch Who Stole Network Neutrality

A holiday poem in the style of "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" by Dr. Seuss.

 

Every American online liked network neutrality a lot

But the FCC’s Grinchy Pai, former lawyer for Verizon, did not!

 

Pai hated net neutrality! He despised it, he dreaded it!

And on December 14th, he and his cronies, they shredded it.

 

It could be, perhaps, that he wanted more dough.

ISPs could make more with lanes fast and lanes slow.

 

But whatever the reason, cash or prestige,

His choice pissed off subscribers by many degrees.

 

Americans cried out in anger and dismay!

“We like net neutrality! Don’t take it away!”

 

“It’s good for free speech and new businesses too! Selling, reporting, and artistic debut!

We need it for school kids who have tests to take.

We need it for far away doctors with prognoses to make.

We need it so businesses can hit the ground running.

We need it for working from home, for homework, for funning.

We need it to save money. To get good Internet service.

We don’t want ISPs to decide what to serve us.”

 

“You have market protection,” he said with a snort.

But ILSR elves proved there was nothing of the sort.

 

The elves showed very little, almost no competition.

But Grinchy Pai didn’t care for the net neutrality tradition.

 

He wouldn’t listen to pleas to stop and investigate.

Even millions of fake comments didn't make him hesitate.

 

His planned to kill net neutrality completely.

His overlord ISPs would reward him so sweetly.

 

“Pooh-pooh to subscribers!” he was grinchily singing

In a video taunting us, our ears loudly ringing.

 

“Tough cookies for them! There’s nothing they can do!

They’ll complain and they’ll cry for a week or two!

Then subscribers will go back to what they always do!

 

“They’ll pay up the nose if the ISPs demand!

Companies will pay lots of cash for the fast lane of broadband!

 

“If Comcast streams a show that they want to do well

People will see it first, others can just go to hell!

 

“Verizon likes FOX News? That’s what subscribers get!

With no net neutrality, ISPs get to decide the media outlet!”

 

“Innovation? Bah! Creativity? Boo hoo!

I’ll pull off a telecommunications coup!”

 

So Grinchy Pai did as he vowed long ago.

He killed net neutrality with one swift blow.

 

With a gift of more power for Verizon and AT&T

And a card that said “Happy Holidays from Pai, Carr, and O’Reilly.”

 

But then Grinchy Pai heard a sound that started in low.

And as Grinchy Pai listened, it started to grow.

 

Fahoo forays, dahoo dorays

Network neutrality is our dream

Fahoo forays, dahoo dorays

We want a net that's open and free

 

Welcome, welcome, fahoo ramus

Welcome, welcome, dahoo damus

Free and open like the sky

We won’t be stopped by Ajit Pai

 

Millions of communities P.O.ed by the decision

Came together to share their power and vision.

 

It started right away with planning and grassroots

Their next job, they realized, was to put on their boots.

 

Grinchy Pai, next, wanted to redefine broadband speeds

From 25/3 to 10/1, which just didn’t meet America’s needs.

 

He wanted satellite and mobile to be listed as broadband.

American's said, "No way! This is getting out of hand!"

 

They met in coffeehouses, shared beer, and joined forces.

Locals harnessed the power of ten million horses.

 

Some ran for office while others built munis

Local folks realized they were powerfuls, not punies.

 

They won elections at the federal, state, and local level.

And tossed out that Grinchy Pai, the mean old devil.

 

They reversed his bad policies every last one.

They passed better ideas to fix the harm that he’d done.

 

The ISPs were surprised, they expected more congeniality.

After all, it was only network neutrality.

 

Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, and the rest

Decided net neutrality would be for the best.

 

Local communities and co-ops who built networks so fast

Went on to prosper with benefits that last.

 

States saw the wisdom and changed bad laws.

They took away Florida’s, they took away Utah’s.

 

Net neutrality was restored; Americans shared a collective hug.

And a sad little man cried into his giant Reeses mug.

 

“I was wrong to take net neutrality!” Grinchy Pai groaned,

“Now everybody knows the power of publicly owned!”

 

The Community Broadband Networks Team at ILSR wish you Happy Holidays and we look forward to continuing our work in 2018! Thank you for all your support!

Tags: funnyajit paimunisfccnetwork neutralitylocal

Minnesota Counties Help Fund Cooperative Broadband Projects for Economic Development

December 20, 2018

Even if a local government isn’t ready or able to build its own broadband network, there are still ways they can help bring the benefits of better connectivity to their community. Over the past few years, several counties in Minnesota have partnered with local electric and telephone cooperatives to expand high-quality Internet access as an economic development strategy. In many instances, county governments have offered financial support to the local co-ops, in the form of grants and loans, to connect their rural residents with high-quality fiber networks, often supplementing federal subsidies or statewide Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband Development grants.

Projects Across the State

Minnesota counties have taken a variety of approaches when it comes to helping cooperatives finance broadband deployment projects.

Some, such as Cook County in the far northeastern corner of the state, provided grants to local co-ops. Cook County began its partnership with Arrowhead Electric Cooperative back in 2008 when both entities contributed to a broadband feasibility study. At the time, the county suffered from the worst connectivity in the state, and many people still relied on dial-up. In 2010, Arrowhead was awarded a $16.1 million combined grant and loan from the stimulus-funded Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP) to build a fiber network in Cook County. The county government offered Arrowhead a $4 million grant for the project, funded by the voters’ reauthorization of a 1 percent sales tax that was due to expire. In return, Arrowhead agreed to provide services such as Internet access to county buildings at no cost.

Yet more local governments have opted to loan money to co-ops to expand broadband access in their county. Both Big Stone County and Swift County chose this route after Federated Telephone Cooperative received a $3.92 million grant and a $4.95 million grant from the Border-to-Border program to build fiber networks in each county. To help the co-op finance the local matches, the counties issued bonds and loaned the proceeds to Federated. In 2015, Big Stone County loaned the cooperative approximately $4 million, funded by tax abatement bonds, which Federated will repay over 20 years at roughly 3.8 percent interest. A year later, the co-op accepted a $7.8 million loan from nearby Swift County, which the county financed with general obligation bonds.

County governments don’t necessarily have to make large financial commitments to have an impact. After establishing a revolving Broadband Development Fund in June 2017, Fillmore County loaned a total of $150,000 to telephone cooperative AcenTek for two fiber deployment projects in the county. These loans will supplement the almost $4 million of grant funding that AcenTeak was awarded by the Border-to-Border program. The co-op will pay back the loans over the next three years at zero percent interest, with payments returning to the Broadband Development Fund.

In some cases, counties choose to work with cooperatives after other providers turn them away. The Lac qui Parle County Economic Development Authority established a partnership with Farmers Mutual Telephone Company to build a fiber network after Frontier Communications ignored the county’s outreach attempts. EDA director Pamela Lehmann explained:

“[Frontier] said they didn’t have the funds available for a project like this. When they are looking at the big picture a small county in west-central Minnesota was not their priority at that time.”

In 2010, the partners were awarded a $9.6 million combined BIP loan and grant to construct a Fiber-to-the-Premises network in Lac qui Parle County. The network would be owned and operated by Farmers, but both the county and the co-op would be jointly responsible to repay the federal loan. To finance the remaining costs of the fiber project, Lac qui Parle County chipped in an additional $1.5 million and loaned Farmers $1.5 million at zero percent interest for the first ten years.

Counties, Co-ops, and Communities Benefit

These kinds of partnerships offer perks for both counties and the cooperatives. By leaving ownership of the broadband infrastructure to the co-op, county government can rely on cooperatives to handle the operation or maintenance of a network. Telephone and electric cooperatives often already have access to utility poles, trained staff, and equipment that facilitate operation and deployment of a broadband network. For local governments with no experience developing or operating a broadband network, cooperative partners fill a void and have the tools and knowledge to get high-quality Internet access up and running posthaste.

County governments have access to low interest financing and can issue bonds or leverage tax revenue to help cooperatives finance broadband projects that wouldn’t have been feasible otherwise. Keven Beyer, general manager of Farmers Mutual Telephone Company and Federated Telephone Cooperative, told the West Central Tribune that the low-interest loans provided by the counties were essential to expand high-quality Internet access to rural households. In addition, the promise of county financing can make grant applications stronger. For instance, the Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband Development grant program prioritizes applicants that can show community support and provide a greater local match.

Despite their different approaches to financing cooperative broadband projects, all of the counties hope to reap the economic development benefits of improved Internet access. Across the state, county officials recognize that better connectivity can help attract new residents and businesses. When explaining his support for extending the loan to Federated Telephone Cooperative, Swift County Commissioner Eric Rudningen said, “It will be great to be able to look at my constituents and know that we provided the opportunity to be competitive in the world.”

Image of the Gunflint Lodge in Cook County by Tony Webster from Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Tags: minnesotacooperativerural electric coopfarmers mutual telephone coopcook countylac qui parle countyacentek mnpartnershiprural

Cortez, Colorado, Looking for Private Sector Partner

December 19, 2018

In early December, the city of Cortez, Colorado, released a request for proposals in their search for a private sector partner to help bring last mile fiber connectivity to premises throughout the community. The city is seeking a way to bring high-quality Internet access to the entire community, but will not expand it’s municipal fiber infrastructure. They're looking for ways to overcome some of the same challenges other small communities face as they attempt to improve local connectivity to every premise.

At A Crossroads

Smith told us that the city is at a crossroads and community leaders think that a public-private partnership (P3) might be the quickest way to get the people of Cortez better services they’re looking for at the affordable rates they deserve. The city faces the challenge of funding the expansion. Approximately $1 million from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) funded the Cortez middle mile infrastructure and connections to community anchor institutions (CAIs), including schools, healthcare facilities, and municipal facilities. Cortez is not able to obtain more grant funding from DOLA for last mile expansion.

When we spoke with Smith in June 2018 for episode 310 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, he described how the city was contemplating a sales tax to fund the expansion, rather than the more common revenue bond funding. Smith explains that, if Cortez decided to go that route, their decision would trigger Colorado’s Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights (TABOR) regulations. Due to the time requirements, any ballot measure on such a funding mechanism could not be voted on before 2020. Once the measure is on the ballot, the city would not be able to promote it in accordance with Colorado law. If Cortez decided to ask local voters to support funding Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) with a sales tax, says Smith, the city would have to wait 4 - 5 years before they could promote the service. A survey in Cortez revealed that 64 percent of respondents supported a sales tax to fund expansion of broadband infrastructure to households and more businesses, but community leaders aren't comfortable waiting so long to bring better connectivity that is so desperately needed and feel that any services offered by the city would need more marketing to attract enough subscribers.

Smith also referred back to the feasibility study that Cortez commissioned earlier this year. The study recommended a single provider model due to the small size of the community. The study also revealed that the network would take approximately $10 - $14 million to deploy and might not become cash positive for up to 25 years if Cortez chose to using revenue bonds to fund deployment. Read the full feasibility study.

The city also wants to provide ample opportunity for private sector providers to develop the connectivity Cortez needs. According to Smith, “the fiber network is not going away,” and the city has no rigid plan for a type of partnership. They’re going to review the proposals that come to them and decide what’s next. “It gives us an opportunity to see how we can get this network built quicker and possibly without a sales tax and still – I call it a win-win – and still provide the level of service and services that fiber can offer,” Smith said.

Learning from the Pilot

Earlier this year, the city announced that they were developing a pilot project, as many communities do, in order to determine interest, challenges, and logistics of operating a FTTH network. When we spoke with Smith last summer, Cortez was fully engaged in their pilot to a limited number of premises. The experiment was a success, says Smith —  it gave the city the information they needed as they move forward. They now know what back office systems and staff are required and have insight into what is needed. They’ve also shown to any potential partner that people are interested and want the service.

Listen to episode 310 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast to learn more about the pilot and the network.

Funding Always Seems to Be the An Issue

With around 8,700 people, the large national incumbent providers won't invest in a community with low population density, but many federal grants are now going to areas that have even lower populations than Cortez. In a follow up article in the Journal, executive director of Colorado’s Southwest Council of Governments Miriam Gillow-Wiles addressed both the critical need for high-quality Internet access in places such as Cortez and the frustrating lack of funding to develop those networks.

“How not having broadband impacts communities and citizens is much wider ranging than most people think,” said Miriam Gillow-Wiles, executive director of Southwest Colorado Council of Governments. “We think of broadband like, ‘Oh I want to do email, I want to watch Netflix,’ things like that. ... But it is also access to education, it is access to workforce, it is access to the justice system in a lot of ways.”

Without fast internet access, economic development could stall.

“Everything you think of, some aspect of it is based in connectivity,” Gillow-Wiles said.

Gillow-Wiles helped the city obtain the initial $1 million from DOLA to build out the existing infrastructure, but feels federal funds awarded to large companies such as CenturyLink would be better spend in places like Cortez.

“We give a lot of money to really big companies that don’t necessarily know what the challenges on the ground are or are not invested in the communities,” Gillow-Wiles said. “We just need more infrastructure to bring access to people’s residences and businesses. The hard part is the cost and the willpower.”

Cortez City Manager John Dougherty agrees:

“If the federal government would step up and say, ‘We have subsidies for providers,’ and not just give them to the cable providers who already don’t do the service anyway but they’re taking the money, we’d all be better off,” Dougherty said.

Responses to the Cortez RFP are due January 18th.

Cortez Broadband Feasibility Study ReportTags: cortezcoloradopartnershiprfpfundingfederal fundingpilot projectpilotstate laws

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 336

December 19, 2018

This is the transcript for episode 336 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. In this episode, Christopher speaks with industry analyst and podcast host Craig Settles about telehealth. The audio version of this episode is available here.

 

 

Craig Settles: Come to Danville because we have excellent healthcare, thanks to our broadband and our healthcare facilities' use of the broadband. So that becomes an economic development tool.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 336 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. This week, industry analyst and host of the Gigabit Nation podcast, Craig Settles, takes some time to talk to Christopher about telehealth. For the past few years, he's been focusing on the ways communities can use high-quality Internet access to make high-quality healthcare available to folks in rural and urban areas. In this conversation, Craig and Christopher discuss how telemedicine has evolved into telehealth and the differences between the two. They also discuss the way telehealth improves the quality of life for people with access to it and the way access to telehealth creates economic development opportunities. They also discuss the perks of telehealth to network owners because the ability to use the infrastructure for these applications increases interest for patients, healthcare providers, and investors. Craig also explains how local communities can approach specific challenges related to healthcare regulations. You can see more of Craig's work at CJSpeaks.com. Now here's Christopher and Craig Settles on telehealth and economic development.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, talking with my friend Craig Settles out in Oakland. Welcome to the show, Craig.

Craig Settles: Ah, thank you. I'm very happy to be here, and we've been talking broadband stuff for like, what, eight, nine years and stuff, so . . .

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, 12. Well, I guess I've been in it for 12. I've probably known you for eight or nine. You know, it's a funny thing because there's a number of people who I think, just because I'm so loud and obnoxious, that they assume I've been around since the beginning. But you — you go way back. Well before I got started in this business. How did you get into this?

Craig Settles: It was a fluke. I was writing a book where I was interviewing CIOs to talk about wireless technology, and the Philadelphia announcement that they were gonna build Wi-Fi citywide caught my attention because Philadelphia generally is not on the leading edge of technology, you know, at that time. And I'm from Philly and so I said, well, why don't I just include the CIO for the city of Philadelphia to talk about the process of how they built their plan for Wi-Fi. Right, so it was all about the planning thing — how do you make this thing work? And that was such an interesting story, I felt, that I wrote a book about just that. And I have been in this business since 2005 with the launch of, you know, how do you do the planning for citywide — at the time it was citywide Wi-Fi, but it just basically morphed into broadband across the board and whatever kind of technology that you use to get that Internet connection to as many people in your city or town as possible.

Christopher Mitchell: And you've been doing this as part of your own company — CJ Speaks, right? You're the official president of it.

Craig Settles: Right. At the time, it was Successful.com. I was primarily working with private sector companies, and I had moved from software and general kinds of high-tech to wireless in 2001. And I got really interested in the concept of citywide wireless or broadband because of a company I worked with that was called Ricochet, and they had the concept of hanging these Wi-Fi transmitters on telephone poles throughout the city. And that whole concept really caught my eye, and through a couple of weird changes and so forth, I got into the broadband, as I mentioned, with the Philadelphia announcement. And so here is where I've been.

Christopher Mitchell: More recently, you've been focused on telemedicine, doing some research on that. That's what we're gonna be talking about today. Let me ask you, what do you mean by telemedicine? When you're researching it and writing your articles about it, what does it mean?

Craig Settles: So right now, we're talking about telehealth, right? When we were talking about just the treatments and being able to talk to your doctor and so forth, that was telemedicine if you will, right? But people have now realized that broadband, basically, can affect various aspects of healthcare, including obviously treatments and so forth, but [also] using the broadband to facilitate radiology — you know, your MRIs, your x-rays and so forth. Being able to get information from a crash site or some sort of major activity where it makes sense to get medical data from or about individuals to some other hospital or clinic, and [there] can be a number of ways that they can do that. And then also just like passing the knowledge of medical practice and so forth that the average person can pick up. So when you look at all of these aspects of healthcare and knowledge about healthcare and so forth, and you put a nice little label, call it telehealth, and then you add in the broadband element of it, where you're basically trying to get people to understand that the Internet is a great way to transport all types of medical data, and so that becomes a sort of discipline called telehealth. And you know, why this makes sense is that telehealth, or healthcare if you want to look at it that way, that can be impacted by these community networks. Just about everybody at some point is going to be a recipient of healthcare, or you're going to know somebody, you're going to be responsible for someone, and so healthcare and telehealth is a integral part of life as we know it. So if I can use the broadband network to facilitate that healthcare delivery or just the knowledge of healthcare and medical terms and so forth, there's a value for that. And that's what I've been trying to focus on and educate people about in the last year in particular.

Christopher Mitchell: Let me get a little bit provocative. I feel like a lot of people, they hear it and they think, oh, talking to your doctor over video chat. That's like the obvious one, it strikes me. What else? Like, is there anything in your research where you're thinking, oh, interesting — I didn't think of that as telehealth, but we can do this interesting thing that will have major health outcomes.

Craig Settles: Well, for example, I had a stroke a couple of years ago, and when I went to the hospital — well, the take-in — my neurologist that runs the Alameda hospitals stroke center, she was at her home half an hour away. But she was able to see everything that the emergency doctors saw, all the stats and so forth, and she was able to start treatment within 35 minutes. And so what got me to thinking was that if I didn't have that Internet connection, I wouldn't have been able to survive, right? So if I look at all of these rural areas, low-income urban areas, and so forth, the ability to get needed medical care is crippled by just the fact that they're at a distance. They're somewhere in, you know, Appalachia or what have you, where they don't have good medical care. Well broadband can be the instrument that facilitates not only your doctor visit, which is the more common thing, but chronic care — being able to have a people who are elderly being able to live at home rather than being in an institution because if they have the broadband connection, they can get their various medical care that way. You have a lot of chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, where there's a regimen that you have to follow, right? It's easier to do that when you can do it from home with your access to medical personnel, whether it's a specialist, whether it's a local doctor or what have you. But it affects more than just your random visit for a cold or strep throat. We're talking changing our method of healthcare so that it is enabled by broadband, high-speed Internet access, and that's the driving force, I think, for why you'd want to build one of these networks, you know, besides the obvious. There's all kinds of healthcare practices that can be facilitated by having all of your people [connected], whether it's wireless or fiber or some variation thereof, that has significant financial impact. It has an economic development impact, a quality of life [impact]. So we talk about, you know, all the entertainment aspect of broadband, but there's some serious healthcare types of practices that can be done that improve your overall quality of life in a small town — or a big town even, for that matter.

Christopher Mitchell: Of that I have no doubt. I think we're gonna talk in a few minutes about aging in place, where there's obvious, you know, tremendous implications for that, and local economic benefits and things like that. But let's take the perspective of the network owner. How does telehealth — how does that help me raise the capital and pay off the debt to operate and build my network?

Craig Settles: Well, one, if I am building a network to just deliver connectivity, that has a value, and you can go find money for it and so forth, right? But if you are saying to potential investors or even like government agencies, we're going to transform the quality of healthcare in our city by having a broadband network, where the endpoint is the improved medical care, a lot of people get really excited about that, both from a government standpoint, but also philanthropic organizations, community foundations, and so forth. So from an aspect of raising money, I think you can get more "umph" for your effort if you're telling people that the primary reason we're doing this is that we're going to improve the quality of healthcare in that area. The second aspect is, it becomes an economic development issue. Like if I look at Danville, Virginia, right? So they built a network initially to drive issues of unemployment. So that was their initial goal, but the hospital got together with all of the clinics and so forth, and they created sort of a sub network, if you will, where all of their services were connected and so forth. And so they were able to market this aspect of, you know, come to our town — whether you're talking about an individual or a business coming into town — come to Danville because we have excellent healthcare, thanks to our broadband and our various healthcare facilities' use of the broadband. So that becomes an economic development tool.

Christopher Mitchell: I like the point about Danville because there's something that they can do as the network owner. I presume that in connecting their healthcare facilities, for instance, they can connect them to each other using basically a private network. You know, they're not sending that traffic over the public Internet, I'm guessing, in part because HIPAA has all kinds of regulations as to how you treat this data. But what I'm really curious about is, if you're a community that wants to get a lot of enthusiasm, perhaps from community foundations, to demonstrate that you can improve local health outcomes, are there things you have to do that are different from what you would normally do if you were just building a business model to operate a fiber network?

Craig Settles: I would look at it as very similar to hooking up your hospitals in general. The applications that you would use for telehealth — those and those vendors would address the issues of HIPAA security and so forth. And so, I wouldn't necessarily expect the community network owner to be responsible for that, right? They would basically put the connections together. I think in the case of Danville, they created separate strands specifically for customers that wanted to have a private network within the bigger Danville network. When it comes to the specific application, there are the requirements for the provider of those applications. Or maybe in a better way to explain it — in Arkansas, they have a public, statewide network. They have vendors that work with one of the main hospitals to create a telestroke application, but in that build out of the application, all of these issues related with HIPAA and so forth [are] addressed there, not necessarily [by] the infrastructure owner.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. That makes sense.

Craig Settles: So I think that that's the important thing to keep in mind. You know, what I'm advocating is not that the network owner get into the business of telehealth, but they want to facilitate getting all of these components pulled together in some organized way. Now, you may have a telehealth vendor, such as Docity, which is D-O-[C]-I-T-Y, where they will work with a city's network owner to create a marketing or a joint marketing activity, right? So they might provide a discount specifically for the network subscribers, so anytime they use Docity's product, the network owner — you know, the city — gets maybe some "spiff," I think, is the sales term, and then the network subscriber may have some sort of bonus or a discount or what have you. So in that respect, it's a partnership, again, not the city getting into the business of telehealth. But I think that what is important is I would look at it the same way doing a needs analysis and a plan for an overall general network. I do a similar kind of needs analysis and say, what is it that the constituents would like? You know, are they interested in aging in place? Are they you concerned with being able to access specialists and so forth? And by getting that need on paper and how many people have that, then you as the network owner can say to the telehealth community, we have 2,000 users. We have 40 percent [who] are concerned with aging in place and all that means. We have 20 percent that are concerned with getting in touch with their family doctor and so forth. And now you can then draw the telehealth community in because you've done the research to figure out what it is that people need. You can figure out also, you know, should we be doing a telehealth in the schools using the school nurses? The small businesses, would they be interested in having telehealth at their premise? As you get all of this type of information, you can help, number one, figure out how to build your infrastructure, the broadband infrastructure, but also what kinds of partnerships and other activity that you want to either encourage or actually do more hands on. For example, Chattanooga, they did a pilot using a particular vendor's product, Docity, and they did six months of testing that product with several of the local doctors in Chattanooga and also some set of subscribers. Chattanooga saw a value in telehealth as something that they could facilitate in one way, form, or fashion with their network.

Christopher Mitchell: And this is not something that's primarily an engineering or a networking challenge then. It's really social. It's talking to businesses, to hospitals, to your subscribers, and things like that it sounds like.

Craig Settles: Well it is, but like for example, I had a conversation with Dublin, Ohio. They have a network that primarily goes to businesses and institutions, right? For a network such as that, and there are a lot of those in the U.S., if the constituents said, you know what, we really want to do telehealth. We want to make it easier. We want to make it affordable. We want to make it reach all of our citizens in our particular area. At that point, then you have to figure out, well, do you use fiber to get to those homes? Do you do a fixed wireless infrastructure and so forth. So there can be, indeed, an engineering component depending on, you know, what you're starting with and what is that you want the network to be able to do. If you're concerned about getting people on board for telehealth, you might want to have some additional engineering to make the redundant infrastructure to make sure that — like you and I just experienced, where CenturyLink went out. You don't want to have people doing healthcare, and all of a sudden, the network doesn't function at that particular time. So you want to have probably some element of redundancy as part of the engineering process, but probably built in more so than, you know, we want to build a separate network.

Christopher Mitchell: Craig, as we're wrapping up here. I think, you know, we see this a lot in the press. Mental health is increasingly a concern. How does that intersect with what we've been talking about?

Craig Settles: If you're going to facilitate that type of telehealth, you've got to make sure that your network can handle, among all the other things that the home might be doing, a video connection, right? So if you're planning for like maybe there's two main applications that people are gonna do, like Netflix and something else — you know, education. Well now you've got to figure out, if you have a lot of people doing mental health types of telehealth, then you've got to make sure that you have that infrastructure in place that will support those types of activities. I think that's really what you're looking at is that if I want to have different types of applications that are telehealth focused, then I've got to have an infrastructure that can handle that for half of your population, two-thirds of your population. You know, you have to sort of do research to figure out, you know, how much of your population would be affected by this kind of application, but you want to build accordingly, is what I think it comes back to.

Christopher Mitchell: Craig, let me ask you, for people who are interested in learning more, where should they go? Where are you writing about this? And we'll get to your podcast in a second, but where are you writing about this?

Craig Settles: On my website which is CJSpeaks.com. There are two reports on telehealth and broadband. My text blog talks a little bit about telehealth, and then I have a number of articles that are in my section on columns and articles. I would say as a general resource, many of the states have a telehealth resource center, and you can talk to them about the telehealth world within that particular state. And I think it would be a very good way to get an education on telehealth but also understand how it's being used or how it's being applied in your particular state.

Christopher Mitchell: And then let's close by just noting that you are also a podcast host. What's been happening with your show lately? I see episodes popping up in my feed from time to time.

Craig Settles: Yes, I do have Gigabit Nation, and in fact there is an interview I did with one of the doctors that is involved with the Chattanooga pilot program. And so that's actually really good, if you're interested in telehealth from the doctor's perspective or a doctor within a place where you have a community broadband network, that would be a good interview to listen to.

Christopher Mitchell: Great. Well thank you, Craig. I really appreciate you coming on to share your research with us.

Craig Settles: Glad to be of assistance.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with analyst and speaker Craig Settles on telehealth and economic development. 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 podcasts from ILSR, Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them wherever you get your podcasts. Don't miss out on our original research; subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org, and while you're there, please take a moment to donate. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and thanks for listening to episode 336 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcript

Telehealth: Promoting Healthier People and Stronger Local Economies - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 336

December 18, 2018

Many of our regular listeners will recognize this week’s guest voice. Craig Settles has been operating as an industry analyst and consultant since 2006. He’s also host of the Gigabit Nation radio talk show and Director of Communities United for Broadband.

In recent years, Craig has focused much of his attention on telehealth and the ways communities large and small can use their broadband infrastructure to implement telehealth applications. The ability to use high-quality connectivity to deliver healthcare has expanded as access to broadband and innovation has increased. Craig describes the ways “telemedicine” has evolved into “telehealth.” In this discussion, Craig and Christopher discuss the ways that telehealth positively impact residents and their healthcare providers. Communities are also discovering that access to online medical care and related applications can spur economic development in rural and urban settings.

While exploring different approaches to implementing telehealth via publicly owned infrastructure, Craig also discovered some of the challenges facing local communities. In this conversation, he and Christopher talk about some of the different issues that may arise and how local communities have addressed those issues. He also has words of advice for those who want to be sure to develop infrastructure that is capable of providing the kind of connectivity that can provide this increasingly critical feature. Craig has some suggestions for resources for people interested in learning more and for local communities also interested in making telehealth a widely available service.

Check out more from Craig at cjspeaks.com.

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

This show is 28 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

The transcript for this episode is available 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: tele healthtelemedicinecraig settleseconomic developmentpodcastaudiobroadband bits

O'Rielly Gets Defensive When Experts Call Him Out

December 18, 2018

When he spoke at the “Free Speech America” Gala in October, did FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly think he would still be explaining himself almost two months later? After trying and failing to justify his false claim that munis violate the First Amendment, he’s once again on the defensive. He's getting no help from the big national ISPs he's trying to support.

“Flirting With A Perverse Form of Socialism"

In October, O’Rielly’s accused municipal networks, including Chattanooga’s EPB Fiber Optics, of violating the First Amendment by limiting subscribers free speech. Journalists and organizations who know better were quick to correct him. In a December 13, 2018, blog post, he lashed out at his critics and tried to defend or explain his earlier comments, but once again missed the mark.

In his newest commentary, O’Rielly dramatically describes local decisions to invest in broadband infrastructure as “flirting with a perverse form of socialism.” He goes on to state that publicly owned networks deter private entities from entering the market. He’s correct if we only consider the large, corporate ISPs that refuse to compete with anyone on order to preserve the characteristics monopolies created through concentration of power: shoddy customer service, unchecked rates, and lackluster Internet access.

If we look at private ISPs more interested in serving the local community than in boosting share prices, however, we see some healthy competition. As in the case of Grant County, Washington, where more than a dozen ISPs offer services via the Grant County PUD open access network, if a private provider doesn't perform to subscriber standards, there are others to try.

Contrary to what Commissioner O'Rielly claims, when local communities invest in infrastructure, it often encourages private invetment. In Longmont, Colorado, incumbents Comcast and CenturyLink upgraded their services to keep up with the local publicly owned NextLight. In West Plains, Missouri, the local cable Internet access company upgraded their services to offer gigabit connections when the city developed a pilot project, and in Huntsville, Alabama, Comcast upgraded services to compete with Google Fiber, which had just entered into an agreement to operate via the city's dark fiber network.

It’s in the AUP

O’Rielly argued that municipal networks violated the First Amendment because they, like ISPs in the private sector, require subscribers to adhere to certain acceptable use policies (AUPs). In an article published soon after O’Rielly made his October speech, ISP OTELCO, which is now offering services via Leverett, Massachusetts’s municipal network, addressed O’Rielly’s concerns with AUPs.

OTELCO compares the language of AUPs from Verizon, the town of Islesboro (also providing municipal high-quality Internet access), and OTELCO. The company writes:

As you can see for yourself, there is very little difference in these AUPs, private or municipal. All of these AUP’s are asking the same things from their users: don’t break the law, don’t say cruel things to others, and don’t prevent other people from using the Internet. Most of these things are just basic human decencies.

OTELCO also took a critical look at O’Rielly’s source to back up his claims that municipal networks are likely to infringe on subscribers’ First Amendment protections, Professor Enrique Armijo from the Elon University School of Law. Neither gentleman could or did provide an example of a municipality that suppressed subscribers’ speech either purposely or through error.

It’s also important to remember that local governments don’t abandon all their own rights when dealing with First Amendment matters. Municipalities still have the ability to put some limits on time, place, and manner of speech -- for example, loudspeakers aren't typically allowed in the middle of the night in a residential area -- and there are specific limitations, with defamation, fraud, and child pornography being a few.

This legal precedent is often haughtily debated in courts of law. Unfortunately, racist, sexist, and bigoted speech are not covered by this. That is probably why municipal AUPs don’t directly mention those types of speech, whereas private ISPs do. A clear effort being made on the municipality’s part to uphold its citizens First Amendment rights.

OTELCO goes on:

The fact that O’Rielly is suddenly concerned about this so-called threat to the First Amendment would be laughable if it wasn’t so concerning. Studies done on the supposed threat to freedom of speech posed by municipalities are full of speculation. ISPs need to create acceptable use policies to protect their users and their network. Municipal owned networks are not doing anything that a normal ISP wouldn’t do, and they clearly have a right to do so.

Protecting the First Amendment?

Throughout his October 24th speech and his follow-up blog post, O’Rielly states that he’s motivated by the desire to protect the First Amendment. As Next Century Cities Executive Director Deb Socia points out, he’s expending his energy in the wrong direction:

If Commissioner O’Rielly and the FCC were more focused on fixing known problems with broadband internet access across the U.S., the responsibility would not fall on cities to take action.

Commissioner O’Rielly cannot identify a single instance of a municipal broadband network infringing on anyone’s freedom of speech. He dances around the issue with examples of national governments around the world, but the Mayor of Chattanooga is not comparable to the Prime Minister of some national government on another continent.

Local government officials have a Constitutional obligation to uphold free speech. Mayors and council members are accountable to their constituency – they live and shop and attend events with the residents in their communities. If they are not adhering to the expectations of that community, they will be held accountable on election day.

In a recent Communications Daily article on O’Rielly’s reply to being called out about his misstatements, our Christopher Mitchell offered a similar sentiment on local power:

O’Rielly is conflating local governments with national governments, said Mitchell. “I’m probably with Commissioner O’Rielly in not wanting the federal government to control my broadband network, but I trust my local government." Local citizens have more of an ability to influence the behavior of their local government than they do to influence a large, national ISP, Mitchell said.

Lack of Influence

How fortuitous that this lack of influence on CenturyLink led to their decision to block the Internet for their Utah customers within just a few days of the year anniversary of the FCC’s end of federal network neutrality protections.

The large, national ISP took it upon themselves to disable subscribers Internet access, only allowing people to get back online after acknowledging an opportunity to purchase kid-safe filtering software. Those who were blocked all resided in Utah, where the state recently passed a law requiring ISPs to notify customers “of the ability to block material harmful to minors.” It was, however, CenturyLink’s idea to force people offline to do so. The law allows ISPs to put notification in with a monthly bill or in some other “conspicuous manner.”

Ars Technica wrote about the incident, reported by CenturyLink subscriber and independent journalist Rich Snapp. On his blog, Snapp described how, while streaming video, his TV went blank; all other devices confirmed that his Internet access was not available. When he checked his phone, he was directed to a website that required him to acknowledge that CenturyLink had offered him the chance to purchase the filtering service before he could return to his online activities. He soon discovered that other Utahns had been having the same experience.

When reaching out via Twitter to the sponsor of the legislation, Senator Todd Weiler confirmed that the bill did not require such drastic action. Weiler also replied that no ISP had blocked subscribers; he is, of course including the multiple ISPs that operate on the publicly owned UTOPIA network. This type of behavior is unique to the large, national Internet access companies that Commissioner O'Rielly appears to put so much faith in as gatekeepers of free speech.

We’re not sure whether or not to expect another explanatory response from Commissioner O’Rielly. In his December 13th blog post, he expressed deep concern that municipal networks would block subscribers from content protected by the First Amendment. He didn’t offer his opinion, however, about those big, national ISPs that block subscribers from ALL online content.

Maybe in his next blog post he’ll enlighten us.

Tags: fccmuninetwork neutralitymisinformation