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Ammon Local Improvement District Vid Spells It Out

February 16, 2018

The city of Ammon, Idaho, has used its open access publicly owned network to create an environment that encourages competition for residents and businesses. In addition to giving them control over which services they use and which companies they patronize, the city is doing its best to share information. In this video, the Ammon Fiber Optic Utility explains information financing for those who decide to connect to the network.

Ammon is using a Local Improvement District (LID) approach to connect premises to the infrastructure. The city determines the boundaries of where the project will occur and property owners have the opportunity at the beginning of the process to pay for connecting to the network by attaching the cost over 20 years to their property. If property owners don’t take advantage of the opportunity during this window of time and decide later to connect, they must pay the estimated $3,000 - $5,000 out of pocket.

As the video explains, connecting one’s property to the network raises its value and makes it easier to sell. It also points out that the cost of connecting stays with the property, so if a homeowner moves before the 20-year period is over, the new owners continue the payments for connecting. The video also explains an estimated monthly cost breakdown for hooking up to Ammon’s network. 

Keeping the community informed about their options keeps residents and businesses engaged in the process and aware of developments related to their network. Check out this short video about the LID #2 options and learn more from this report from Harvard University’s Digital Access to Scholarship at Harvard (DASH).

You can also listen to Christopher interview Bruce Patterson, the city's Technology Director, who has joined us for episodes 259, 207, 173, and 86 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

We also created a video with Next Century Cities that tells the story of Ammon. They've found a way to create choice via fast, affordable, reliable publicly owned fiber.

Tags: ammonidahovideolocal improvement districtfundingmunitransparency

Peabody, Massachusetts, Investing In I-Net

February 15, 2018

The community of Peabody, Massachusetts, plans to invest in a fiber optic loop as a first step toward better local connectivity.

From I-Net To My Net 

While the infrastructure plans are in place to serve only municipal facilities, city leaders have their eyes on the long-term, which means encouraging competition for their city of about 52,000 people. Peabody's located around 30 minutes northeast of Boston in the North Shore region. Currently, Comcast offers services to residents and businesses, but the cable company doesn’t enjoy much good will in the city.

More than a few communities that now offer varying levels of service to the public began by first developing an Institutional Network (I-Net). As in Santa Monica, a city or county can reduce costs significantly and redirect those savings toward investment, which allows them to later expand both the physical network and the fiber usage into a revenue generating asset. Other communities that have used this strategy include Arlington, Virginia; Hudson, Ohio; and Scott County, Minnesota.

A Better Option

In Massachusetts, each community’s Municipal Light Plant (MLP) manages their electric utility and the municipal broadband service they may offer to residents and businesses. Typically, an MLP has over time developed a favorable reputation with the people it serves, unlike large distant cable companies that aren’t able to provide quality customer service. In Peabody, the community enjoys a good relationship with its MLP, so locals are hoping that the publicly owned fiber project will eventually expand past its original intention. Rates are reasonable in the city; the Peabody MLP announced a rate reduction at the start of 2018.

The Peabody project will first connect local schools, libraries, public safety and public works locations, and other municipal facilities. Local officials don’t have hard numbers, but they anticipate savings when the city no longer needs to lease lines or pay for connectivity from an ISP. The city is also concerned about how the repeal of federal network neutrality protections might affect the budget and contracts with private sector ISPs.

“We’re very early in the process, but we have a pretty good idea what our needs are and the city is looking at its needs,” said Glenn Trueira, the PMLP manager.

Once the PMLP and city departments determine their needs for a high speed fiber loop or loops, the project will then be put out for design before being put out to bid for the fiber and installation.

Mayor Ted Bettencourt announced the project in January. His ambition is to, at the least, put infrastructure in place to encourage new entrants in Peabody. From the Mayor's press release on the project

“High speed fiber networks are critical components of 21st century municipal infrastructure,” said Mayor Bettencourt. “Third party network providers like Comcast and Verizon have not stepped up to better serve our city users, so Peabody is taking an important first step to create our own high-speed fiber network.”

Tags: peabody mamassachusettsI-Netmunicipal light plant

San Luis Valley Rural Electric Cooperative Connecting Colorado With Pioneering Fiber

February 14, 2018

When the San Luis Valley Rural Electric Cooperative (SLVREC) decided to invest in fiber for more efficient electrical operations, they also took the first step toward improving Internet access for residents and businesses in Colorado’s San Luis Valley. The cooperative is building a network for both members and local nonmembers in some of Colorado’s least populated and worst connected areas.

Up In The Valley

The San Luis Valley in Colorado is the headwaters of the Rio Grande and a high-altitude basin in south central Colorado. There are more than 8,000 square miles within the Valley, but only about half of that is privately owned. The Rio Grande National Forest and the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve cover large swaths of land that attracts naturalists and people looking for outdoor adventure. Tourists also come to the Valley to enjoy the hot springs. The area was once populated with the Ute Native Americans; Mexican settlers have also played a part in populating the region. Mountain ranges bound the Valley on the west and east sides, luring climbers and campers. Alamosa is the most populous community as the county seat with a little under 10,000 people; Adams State University is located there.

Andrea Oaks-Jaramillo, Marketing and Economic Development Coordinator from SLVREC spoke with us about the co-op's venture into fiber connectivity:

“We want to make sure that people live in this area and are able to work and thrive here. We see a lot of our kids that go out of town for university and college and then don’t return because there isn’t a way to make a good living or to telecommute. That’s not what we want. We want to be able to have a stable and thriving economy while still maintaining what is priceless about living in a rural area.”

All Things Lead To Broadband

The cooperative's move to offer broadband started when they decided to use a SCADA system to identify and deal with outages quickly and to eventually improve metering technology for the electrical system. Members who received electrical services from SLVREC hadn’t approached the cooperative insisting that they develop a broadband network, but several of the co-op Board members living in very rural areas knew that members were in need of better options. In addition to acting as leadership for SLVREC, many Board members own and operate large farms or ranches.

SLVREC’s electric network serves the 8,000 square miles within the Valley, offering electricity in the limits of only two towns. The remainder of the cooperative electric service area is filled with rural farms, ranches, and other homes located beyond town limits. Because many of their members are farmers that need high-quality connectivity for farming operations, the suggestion to use the new infrastructure for a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network was a logical conclusion. In 2011, the co-op hired Loren Howard to replace their retiring CEO. They chose him in part because he had experience in fiber optic deployment and broadband network implementation.

SLVREC conducted a 2012 feasibility study to determine that the area held sufficient demand for FTTH. Based on their findings, they moved forward in 2013 with planning but also conducted market assessments and a financial analysis in 2014. It wasn’t until the second quarter of 2014 that the cooperative began with a pilot project located close to the main office in Monte Vista. The pilot passed 20 residences and provided the opportunity to work out potential problems and perfect the service. By early in 2015, SLVREC was ready to formally launch its subsidiary, Ciello, and develop the brand.

Building Out The Fiber To Local Communities

Through Ciello the co-op expanded to serve members in the communities of South Fork and Creede, both located in their service area. SLVREC owned the poles, so the co-op didn’t need to contend with the potential thorny issue of obtaining pole attachment agreements from other Internet Service Providers or utilities. Even though the process may have been easier on the administrative side, the mountainous geography of the landscape made the deployment the most challenging so far.

Creede is the only town in Mineral County, where 95 percent of the county is public lands. Tourism remains a large segment of the community’s economy and fewer than 800 people live there year-round. Rural communities like Creede take advantage of opportunities to reduce costs due to their small tax base. According to the county manager, service from Ciello has allowed the county to reduce their telecommunications costs by 25 percent, while simultaneously improving services. 

Officials from Mineral County also hope to attract more residents who want to live an outdoor lifestyle and work from home. They know that their ecology and geography doesn’t comport with the idea of attracting large employees, but Mineral County has room to grow and would like to bring in more families to increase the tax base. Local leaders feel that Ciello will be an economic development tool that can help.

Anyone Who Wants It

Many cooperatives focus exclusively on provide Internet access to their own members, but SLVREC has decided to take a more inclusive approach and offer connectivity to anyone who wants it. They feel that by connecting people who want it, regardless of membership status, the co-op fulfills the “pioneering spirit.” They’ve moved beyond communities that obtain electric services from the cooperative and as part of the process have obtained pole attachment agreements with Xcel Energy. Oaks-Jaramillo says that they’ve established a good relationship with the electric company and obtaining the agreements has not been difficult.

They offer symmetrical residential services for reasonable rates:

10 Mbps for $39.95 per month

50 Mbps for $64.95 per month

100 Mbps for $84.95 per month

1 gigabit for $129.95 per month

For commercial customers:

25 Mbps for $59.95 per month

100 Mbps for $89.95 per month

1 gigabit for $499.95 per month

Approximately 2,000 customers, mostly residential, subscribe to Ciello Internet access and many of their customers add voice services to their package. Because the area has a significant number of second residences, customers can subscribe with a special “seasonal” package. The seasonal package allows a subscriber to pay less for the periods when they are not at the residence, pay a lower fee to reconnect, and not need to cancel and reopen their account whenever they are not in the area.

Branching Out To Wireless

SLVREC has a staff of around 50 employees, serves seven counties, and provides electric services to approximately 7,500 members. If they were going to offer high-quality Internet access to nonmembers in a region where it was in high demand, the cooperative needed to think ahead on how best to work efficiently. In the fall of 2017, the cooperative began to consider fixed wireless as a complement while it grows its FTTH network. 

The co-op installed fixed wireless equipment at each substation and found that they obtained coverage for approximately seven miles. SLVREC will serve residents with wireless service in these locations where fiber is not yet installed until the fiber deployment. There are currently six substations hosting wireless equipment that serves residents in outlying areas on the valley floor. Customers that sign up for wireless have the same speed options with the exception of gigabit access, which is only available via the FTTH infrastructure. Approximately 19 percent of current subscribers use the fixed wireless system because they live in areas that have not yet received FTTH connectivity.

SLVREC’s plan to serve more premises sooner by relying temporarily on wireless is similar to the strategy RS Fiber Cooperative has adopted in rural Minnesota. RS Fiber also has many farms and sparsely populated areas along with a desire to get everyone the best connectivity possible.

Where Next?

The cooperative is systematically working its way through the communities in the San Luis Valley. SLVREC is currently working on deployment in La Jara and this summer they will install in Monte Vista, known for its art community. While municipal facilities in Alamosa are connected, SLVREC intends to next develop a design and plan for the rest of the town. The state’s restrictive SB 152 doesn’t preclude the co-op from developing infrastructure in any of the towns they serve, but when they enter a town that has opted out of the law, town leaders typically offer conduit or other public infrastructure to facilitate a project. Once they’ve opted out, a town or city doesn’t have to look over their shoulder if they choose to help a new entrant.

SLVREC decides where to deploy based on level of interest, but also considers practical factors, and will deploy in an area adjacent to a region where they already offer services. The cooperative also considers competition; they don’t want to lose an opportunity to get a foothold in a community where another provider serves the public. In La Jara, for example, the cooperative provides electricity in rural areas around the town but another electric company and the incumbent ISP serve within the town itself. Cooperative leadership felt it was smart to have a presence in La Jara and, with no restrictions on their broadband service, Ciello allowed them the opportunity to develop a presence in town.

Business And CAI Access

 When the cooperative enters areas where businesses tend to locate, they expect to sign up commercial accounts. Because many of the areas where they’ve deployed have been in rural areas, businesses customers have primarily been farms and agricultural warehouses that are also electric cooperative members, but Oaks-Jaramillo anticipates more nonmember businesses as SLVREC begins to deploy within town centers.

The Rio Grande County courthouse in Del Norte is one of the government facilities that connect with Ciello. With better connectivity, counties such as Rio Grande can make operations more efficient and reduce costs. Ciello is also providing services to several public schools, especially in the small rural towns. Local schools are using the fiber to plug into distance learning opportunities with the university in Alamosa and between communities.

Access In The Valley

Ciello is one answer to a looming problem in the San Luis Valley. Internet access in parts of the Valley has been described as “The Worst Internet In America.” Expensive satellite with its poor upload and data caps are the only thing available in some areas; CenturyLink serves subscribers in spotty locations with DSL. There is also another local ISP the offers fixed wireless in some areas. Charter Spectrum serves within Alamosa, one of the large towns in the region.

SLVREC recently received a $770,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) to improve connectivity in remote areas near Creede where premises have no Internet access. DOLA has for several years provided funding to local entities, including municipalities, for broadband projects; often those projects connect communities with the worst Internet access or no access at all. SLVREC has been funding the rest of their deployment incrementally and has received no other grants for the project.

Oaks-Jaramillo expresses excitement to be part of a rural solution that will improve living in the Valley:

“We recognize that we serve rural America and we recognize that there is a need for this — it’s not a fringe benefit…for people to be competitive on a national and global level. We need to have access to Internet, to education, to telemedicine, to telecommuting. Those are necessities at this point.”

Check out this video on the network:

Image of the Great Sand Dunes courtesy of Sascha Bruck CC BY-SA 3.0, Link.

Tags: san luis valley rural electric cooperativecoloradorural electric coopFTTHfixed wirelessruralcooperative

Arlington Expands Internet Access for Low-Income Households - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 293

February 13, 2018
Community Broadband Bits Episode 293 - Katie Cristol and Jack Belcher of Arlington, Virginia

In Virginia, Arlington has found new ways to use its municipal network to reduce the digital divide. Katie Cristol, Chair of the Arlington County Board, and Jack Belcher, County Chief Information Officer, join us for episode 293 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast to explain what they are doing.

We discuss how a new residential development, Arlington Mill, will feature affordable Internet access delivered via Wi-Fi for low-income families. It was financed in part with Tax Increment Financing and required a collaboration between multiple departments to create.

We discuss the challenge of creating such collaborations as well as some of the other benefits the ConnectArlington project has delivered.

Remember to check out our interveiw with Belcher from 2014 for episode 97 of the podcast, when we discussed the decision to begin offering connectivity to local businesses.

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

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

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

Tags: arlingtoncountyvirginialow-incomedigital dividetax increment financingfinancingpolicyI-Neteconomic developmentcollaborationhousing authorityaudiopodcastbroadband bits

Louisiana Net Neutrality Proponents Urge Senator Support

February 13, 2018

After the FCC chose to overturn federal network neutrality protections on December 14th, 2017, open Internet advocates and elected officials that favor network neutrality have sought avenues past the Commission to reinstate the policy. In Louisiana, four groups of citizens organized together to form Team Internet and stage Louisiana rallies in four cities in January. Their goal was to bring attention to the overwhelming opinion that network neutrality benefits Internet users and to convince Senator John Kennedy that he should vote to block the harmful FCC decision.

Fight for the Future (FFTF), Free Press Action Fund, and Demand Progress worked together to form Team Internet, which organized protests in Lafayette, Shreveport, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans at Kennedy’s offices. At the Lafayette office, a group of advocates led by Layne St. Julien presented petitions with more than 6,000 signatures to Kennedy’s deputy state director, Jay Vicknair. The petitions urged Sen. Kennedy to use his vote to overturn the FCC action.

According to Vicknair, constituents have called and emailed the office in numbers rivaled only by last year’s healthcare debates.

Advocate Tool, The CRA

Proponents of network neutrality — mostly people, companies, and entities that aren’t big ISPs — consider the FCC’s order harmful. In order to regain network neutrality protections, which would remove the threat of paid prioritization and better ensure an open exchange of ideas online, advocates hope to use the Congressional Review Act (CRA). Under the CRA, Congress can reverse the FCC decision within 60 legislative days of it being published in the Federal Register as long as there is a majority vote. At last count, 50 Senators had committed to supporting a reversal. Public Knowledge has created a quick video describing the process:

At the recent Team Internet protest, attendees called on Kennedy to “be a hero” and be the 51st.

In A Net Neutrality Zone

Kennedy’s Lafayette office where St. Julien and other activists met Kennedy’s staff, operates in a community where the publicly owned network has already committed to network neutrality. LUS Fiber has been offering Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) since 2009 after several years of delays, lawsuits, and restrictive state laws impeded progress and tried to stop the community’s project. In 2005, the community voted to move forward with the project in order to spur economic development and to bring Internet access to the entire community.

Before AT&T acquired BellSouth, it did all it could to stop the FTTH project, including teaming up with Cox Communications and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The group exercised significant influence on the state legislature to push through a bill that discouraged future local investment in publicly owned municipal networks. Later ALEC influence over state laws interfered with Lafayette’s timely deployment because legislation paved the way for more litigation. The city ultimately prevailed, but the delays were costly.

ALEC and its political influence has also interfered with local government’s ability to require ubiquitous cable service, reducing local revenue from franchising and allowing providers to serve only the most profitable areas. As a result, the digital divide has grown in lower-income neighborhoods. Big ISPs like Cox and AT&T also fueled then Governor Bobby Jindal's decision to reject $80.6 million in federal stimulus funds for rural broadband in 2011.

Layne St. Julien, who worked with her husband John on the Lafayette campaign, remembers the effort well:

“The fiber fight gave us all a good grounding in technology and network issues,” St. Julien told 50 States after delivering the net neutrality petitions to Kennedy’s staff. “We understand the power of networks here. We’ve benefited from the presence of network competition in our community. We’d like to see the rest of the country see those benefits, as well.”

John passed away in 2016 but Layne continues the efforts to protect the Internet access local communities depend on for opportunity, education, and economic development. With Layne’s permission, we archived many of the posts from the “Lafayette Pro Fiber Blog,” which John used to help educate the community in order to dispel misinformation put out by the big ISPs trying to block the project. 

We encourage you to also listen to John talk about community action during a 2014 MAG-Net Cohort Call and during episodes 94 and 19 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. 

You can also learn about Lafayette’s journey from idea to implementation of their LUS Fiber system by downloading our report, Broadband at the Speed of Light.

Next Big Action Planned

On February 27th, Fight for the Future, Demand Progress, and the Free Press Action Fund as Team Internet are planning Operation:#OneMoreVote. They’ve enlisted a large collection of websites to encourage their visitors to take action. Participants include Tumblr, the ACLU, and Consumer Reports. Operation:#OneMoreVote provides script for alerts, links to apps, banner ads, suggested social media content, and other tools to help with the campaign.

Team Internet hopes and believes that constituent pressure can help federal officials with unsteady support for network neutrality. They may only need some indication that voters consider the issue a priority.

When Team Internet marched in Louisiana, Laila Andelaziz from FFTF commented:

“Weeks after the FCC’s wildly unpopular vote to repeal net neutrality protections, Internet users throughout the U.S. are still angry and they’re looking to their members of Congress to overrule the FCC’s repeal,” Abdelaziz told 50 States in an email. “Senator Kennedy has made it clear that he knows how important preserving the open Internet is to all Americans so that’s why small business owners, educators, students, and people from across the political spectrum came together in Louisiana today to ask Senator Kennedy to be an Internet hero and publicly support the net neutrality CRA vote. We know that Senator Kennedy is listening, now we hope he responds.”

Tags: network neutralityelected officialsfccpaid prioritizationfree presslafayettefederalcongress

Community Broadband Media Roundup - February 12

February 12, 2018

Alabama

Mediacom takes shot from Alabama mayor by Daniel Frankel, FierceCable

 

California

San Francisco seeks universal fiber broadband with net neutrality and privacy by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

 

Colorado

Loveland City Council: Decisions ahead on broadband recommendations by Julia Rentsch, Loveland Reporter-Herald

Boulder broadband: Imperative for prosperous future by John Tayer, BizWest

Loveland City Council votes to move ahead on development of municipal broadband network by Julia Rentsch, Loveland Reporter-Herald

 

Massachusetts

A clarion call by Lynn Item News team

 

Minnesota

Dig Once policy would encourage affordable broadband by Mike Schlasner, Rochester Post Bulletin

 

Missouri

Of course a mystery website attacking city-run broadband was run by an ISP. Of course by Kieren McCarthy, The Register

 

New Jersey

Murphy makes net neutrality the order of the day by Carly Sitrin, New Jersey Spotlight

ISPs must follow net neutrality in New Jersey, governor declares by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

New Jersey is enforcing net neutrality with a new executive order that requires ISPs to follow neutrality rules if they sell Internet service to state agencies.

The executive order announced today by Governor Phil Murphy is similar to ones previously signed by the governors of New York and Montana. States are taking action because the Federal Communications Commission repealed federal net neutrality rules.

 

New York

Editorial: Broadband options needed by Albany Times Union Editorial Board

 

Oklahoma

Candidates discuss vision for the future at final forum by Mack Burke, Norman Transcript

Scott said she believes municipal broadband is a good avenue to explore, as are stormwater utility fees and sidewalk fees. She said the city should also invest in public storm shelters.

 

Texas

Holston Electric Cooperative forms new broadband subsidiary by Rogersville Review

 

Virginia

#NetNeutrality: Virginia lawmakers vote against creating open Internet protections for their state by Monique Judge, The Root

 

Washington

Let's take a look at municipal broadband | Letter to the editor by Cooper Campbell, Bainbridge Review

There’s been much discussion and debate in the news around municipal broadband.

These internet access services, funded by local government, could be key in preventing large ISPs from using and abusing their customers in an era without Net Neutrality protections.

On Bainbridge Island, there’s really only one option for island residents; and that’s Comcast. CenturyLink simply does not offer speeds appropriate for this decade (in most areas of the island, not even enough to stream HD video). Other options, like wireless home internet from cell phone carriers leave customers with high bills and restrictive data caps.

 

West Virginia

WV broadband council chairman blasts FCC report, says data isn't correct by Max Garland, Charleston Gazette Mail

Numbers in a federal report about West Virginians who have access to broadband internet services are “not even close to being correct,” the chairman of the state’s broadband council said Thursday.

The Federal Communications Commission released the report last week. It claims, among other things, that seven West Virginia counties have 100-percent access to a fixed broadband connection.

The report could hurt West Virginia’s chances to get money to help improve internet speeds, said Rob Hinton, chairman of the West Virginia Broadband Enhancement Council, which oversees broadband expansion and access in the state.

The FCC’s 2018 Broadband Deployment Report says 82.2 percent of West Virginians have access to fixed, or non-mobile, broadband internet speeds.

 

General

To expand rural broadband, President Trump and Congress should listen to local leaders by Deb Socia, The Hill

There's a much smarter way for cites to plan their future by Valerie Vande Panne, Alternet

At the same time, many cities, in favor of business models that can move those traditional indicators, have “discounted their local business community and local economic development,” says Olivia LaVecchia, research associate at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR). “Some cities haven’t realized how important [local small businesses] are for an economically resilient city” and continue to put their eggs into the baskets of massive corporations, like GE or Amazon.

ILSR approaches cities more as nation-state communities, says Christopher Mitchell, director of community broadband networks at ILSR. They help cities “do their best with what [they] have.” A fundamental question they ask is, “Are resources staying in the community or are they leaving the community?”

States, cities turn to tech in bid to preserve net neutrality principles by Juliet Van Wagenen, StateTech Magazine

One way that cities are seeking to stay in control of networks is through city-owned broadband options. Several cities, such as San Francisco, are already in pursuit of citywide municipal networks. Now, as part of the procurement process for the affordable fiber network that will blanket the city, the city has asked that its vendor partners enable a neutral network in its Request for Qualifications.

"We will provide an alternative [internet option for residents] that favors the general public and San Francisco values, not corporate interests," Interim Mayor Mark Farrell said in a press release.

Fort Collins, Colo., is also pursuing city-owned internet with the help of a municipal broadband utility called NextLight, which assures customers that the offering will remain equitable despite the FCC's recent repeal.

"Municipal networks will be an excellent way to reclaim your privacy as well as net neutrality," Glen Akins, who helped lead the Fort Collins Citizen Broadband Committee, told Government Technology. "The large internet companies are willing to sell your data and throttle, block and sell fast lanes. With a municipal network, there's no financial reason for the city to sell your info or to block other people."

Here's Ajit Pai's "proof" that killing net neutrality created more broadband by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

Today's rural news in 3 words: Broadband, Broadband, and Broadband by Tim Marema, Daily Yonder

Senators introduce 'Dig Once' legislation by Andy Szal, Wireless Week

American needs more fiber by Susan Crawford, Wired

Second, in the past we have always relied on and incentivized private companies to build basic shared networked communications infrastructure in this country, subject to public obligations that the corporations serve everyone at reasonable prices. The bugaboo of "nationalization" is beside the point: right now, we don't have a shred of the framework required to lead the world in competitively-priced information transport. As a result, the private companies can do whatever they want; left to their own devices, they will upgrade their networks (and charge us a lot) only where it makes economic sense to do so. This rational behavior on their part has left us with the worst of both worlds: little competition and few upgrades to fiber.

Cities to federal government: Don't tell us how to build our Internet by Lydia DePillis, CNN Money

The debate centers on how much authority cities should have to regulate the broadband providers that want to string up lines and install wireless communications equipment on telephone poles and underground. Companies say that municipalities are slowing them down through permits and fees, which mayors argue are necessary to help fund access for their poorest citizens.

For years, cities have struggled to maintain control over the internet's infrastructure in their jurisdictions. At least 19 states have passed laws limiting cities' ability to launch publicly-owned broadband networks, which companies like AT&T and Comcast say represent undue government interference in the marketplace. Mayors have turned to the courts to win back their rights, with some success.

The least connected people in America by Margaret Harding McGill, Politico

Sorry, FCC: Charter will lower investment after net neutrality repeal by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

This doesn't mean that Charter boosted investment because of the presence of net neutrality rules or that it is now lowering investment because of the repeal. That would be an overly simplistic conclusion, when the reality is that ISPs make investment decisions based on a variety of factors such as changes in customer demand and the peaks and valleys of technology upgrade cycles.

But the opposite, equally simplistic conclusion—that broadband investment falls because of net neutrality rules and rises when net neutrality rules are repealed—is exactly what FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and his staff have repeatedly claimed despite what the evidence shows. This argument is what drove the FCC's public defense of its decision to eliminate popular rules that prevent ISPs from blocking, throttling, or speeding up Internet traffic in exchange for payment.

Tags: media roundup

West Virginia Awards Community Development Block Grants To Improve Rural Connectivity

February 12, 2018

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provided Community Development Block Grant funds (CDBG) to West Virginia as in other states. This year, the Community Development Division of the West Virginia Development Office that distributes CDBG funds will provide $1.5 million to local broadband projects that include planning and infrastructure.

Big Demand

Last July, the state’s Development Office announced that it would accept applications for broadband projects. The decision was a departure from past practice of focusing only on water and sewer infrastructure. By the time the application period was closed, 12 potential projects had been submitted for consideration; those projects touch 27 counties and reach about 300,000 premises, many located in the southern part of the state.

All twelve projects will receive some amount of CDBG funding.

One of those applications was from the Region 4 council, in the hopes of obtaining $125,000 for planning to improve connectivity in Webster, Fayette, Greenbrier, Nicholas, and Pocahontas Counties. The state will provide the funding, which will potentially affect future planning for six more counties. Region 4 will collaborate with a similar initiative by Region 1, which will also receive $125,000.

Another multi-organizational application came from Clay County, which plans to work with Calhoun and Roane Counties on a feasibility and business plan on how best to move forward to improve connectivity. Fayette County wants to use its award to map out where best to place fiber for maximum effect and Gilmer County will focus on planning to involve a local industrial park along with exploring other funding strategies.

Other planning projects that will receive CDBG funding include a countywide efforts in Morgan County and a Mingo County initiative to improve Internet access in the town of Gilbert, which local officials consider critical for the local economy. Taylor County will be working with Doddridge, Harrison, Marion, Monogalia, and Preston Counties to update their 2013 Broadband Strategic Plan, which will include a new assessment of where locals lack coverage. Tyler County will use its $30,000 CDBG award for a broadband study.

Not Only Planning

Several communities will receive CDBG funding in order to begin or expand broadband infrastructure projects. Hampshire County deployed a fiber backbone, but they now want to expand to reach other areas of the county; they will receive approximately $403,000. People living in the Hinkle Mountain and Little Laurel areas in Nicholas County will benefit from better broadband and a water extension project. The community will receive CDBG funds for both projects.

Jackson County will also receive funds for broadband infrastructure, in part due to an issue with lack of cell coverage for public safety first resopinders in the Sandyville area.

In a February 1st press release, Governor Jim Justice said, “If West Virginia expects to be competitive with the rest of the world, we must have high speed Internet connectivity, and this is going to help see this through."

This is the first time that West Virginia has dedicated CDBG for boadband projects, but we've also reported on projects in Virginia, where the state provided funding for a Nelson County project and the Eastern Virginia State Broadband Authority (ESVBA) to develop a rural project. Pasadena took advantage of CDBG for some of the advancements of their network.

Local Communities Closer To The Action

Just last week, the Chairman of the state’s Broadband Enhancement Council took issue with the FCC’s 2018 Broadband Deployment Report. The report, based on FCC Form 477 data submitted by Internet Service Providers, states that more than 82 percent of West Virginians have access to fixed Internet access at the speeds the Commission defines as “broadband”— 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload.

“To me, this goes beyond having inaccuracies,” Hinton said. “It’s just disappointing. That’s all it is. At what point next year are they going to say West Virginia has 100 percent coverage?”

Because the FCC relies on census block data to map out what areas of the country have broadband access and rural census blocks are large due to less population density, maps are flawed. Even the FCC in its Broadband Report acknowledges that coverage is likely overstated.

Hinton told the Gazette Mail that the council’s West Virginia Speed Test revealed that approximately half of participants’ results were less than 10 Mbps download. Hinton didn’t mention upload speed test results, but upload is typically a fraction of download from ISPs in rural areas, unless Internet access comes from a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network.

Hinton expressed concern that the FCC’s overstatement of coverage can negatively impact local project chances of obtaining funding. According to the 2018 Broadband Deployment Report, several counties that applied for and received CDBG have 100 percent fixed broadband coverage, but people living in those places dispute that conclusion.

Jeff Campbell, president of the Gilmer County Economic Development Association, said there are “plenty of people” without home broadband access in the county. That’s why his group applied for the grant funding, he said.

“Depending on where you live, you think you would have access to the internet, but you don’t,” he said. “Gilmer County is not unlike many counties in West Virginia, or most of the rural U.S.”

Tags: west virginiacommunity development block grantfundingfccmapping

2018 Broadband Communities Summit April 30 - May 3 In Austin, Texas

February 9, 2018

Spring is the season for the Broadband Communities Summit. This year, attendees will be able to shake off the cold weather in Austin, Texas from April 30th - May 3rd at the Renaissance Hotel. The theme is FIBER: Putting Your Gigs To Work; online registration is open.

Organizers are still finalizing the agenda as they add interesting content to panels and workshops, but you can view it as it develops here

CLIC On It

Note that on the afternoon of day one, the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC) will present a special preconference session. Their experts, including our Christopher Mitchell, will discuss the need for local authority as it relates to local broadband infrastructure. There will also be a discussion that looks into the public-private partnership between Westminster, Maryland, and Ting Internet, an arrangement that reveals shared risk and reward.

We will continue to help members of CLIC and our allies to be as effective as possible in opposing barriers to local Internet choice.  Emphasizing the positive, we will showcase successful local initiatives reflecting the benefits of local control for the community’s economic and broadband future. We will discuss the factual and legal arguments that work best in refuting the new wave of objections to community broadband and public-private partnerships. And we will finish with a deep dive into the experience of a small rural community that furnishes – an excellent example of how the public and private sectors working together can build a great community and an inclusive and advanced workforce. 

Variety

Christopher will be presenting at several other panels, including as part of the Economic Development Track Blue Ribbon Panel, which kicks off the economic development track on Tuesday, May 1st at 3.p.m. central time. 

As with every Broadband Communities Summit, there will be a wide range of topics and guests. Look for discussions on:

  • Electric Cooperatives
  • Open Access
  • IoT
  • MDUs
  • Rural Broadband
  • Healthcare
  • Smart Policies to Encourage Deployment
  • Legal Issues that Affect Broadband Deployment
  • 5G
  • Telecommuting

Many Voices, Many Thoughts

Speakers are still being added to the list, but in addition to Christopher, you can expect to run into some favorites such as:

  • Deb Socia from Next Century Cities
  • Will Aycock from the city of Wilson, North Carolina
  • Joanne Hovis from CTC Technology & Energy
  • Jim Baller from Baller Stokes & Lide, PC
  • Lev Gonick from DigitalC
  • Nicol Turner-Lee from the Brookings Institution

Here’s the list of speakers that continues to grow. Check out the agenda and register for the event. See you there!

Tags: eventconferencebroadband communities magazinejim ballerjoanne hoviscoalition for local internet choice

Loveland Leaps Forward At Last; Moving Sans Vote

February 8, 2018

In a series of decisions, Loveland, Colorado’s City Council voted earlier this week to take the next step toward developing a municipal broadband network. In addition to allocating funds to develop a business plan, city leadership established an advisory board, accepted task force recommendations, and voted to amended current code to allow the electric utility to handle communications activities.

No Public Vote

The council addressed whether or not to ask voters to approve efforts to establish a municipal broadband network, even though the issue was not part of the agenda. City staff drafted an amendment during the meeting to require a vote, but after prolonged discussion City Council members voted 5-4 against including it.

Last fall, the city of Fort Collins needed to bring the issue before voters in order to amend their charter so community leaders could move forward with a municipal network. After spending more than $900,000 through a bogus citizens group to try to stop the measure, Comcast was unable to persuade Fort Collins to defeat it. Nevertheless, most of Loveland’s council members don’t want a repeat of the expensive hassle in Fort Collins.

Councilman John Fogle said that, prior to the Fort Collins election, he supported the idea of a vote on the issue, but he feels different now. "It's not an even playing field when incumbent industries will spend $900,000 at the drop of the hat to perpetuate ... a monopoly," he said at the February 6th Council meeting.

Other council members who voiced opposition to a vote said that they’ve heard from constituents since 2015, when the city voted to opt out of the state’s restrictive SB 152. Since then, residents have contacted them to express their support to move the project forward. "I'm tired of being beaten," said Councilor Rich Ball, "Let's step up."

Being Decisive

The City Council passed an ordinance that appropriates $2.5 million from the Power Utility Fund to the City budget for the municipal broadband project. Approximately $2.2 million will be used to develop a design for a gigabit symmetrical fiber optic network; the remaining funds will be used to obtain professional services to help the city with a business plan, outreach and education, and to consider financing.

Loveland’s Broadband Task Force made several recommendations, which the City Council adopted. One of those was that Loveland pursues either a retail model in which the city offer services to subscribers or a public-public public-private model. While the council accepted their advice, they also left the door open for other models, depending on developments as the project progresses.

Council members also voted to establish a Communications Advisory Board with nine members, each to have three-year appointments. Members of the Task Force were all appointed to the Advisory Board.

Slow Progress

Loveland’s been working toward better local connectivity options for several years now. They’ve asked residents and businesses to complete surveys and they've conducted a feasibility study, hoping that a private ISP would be willing to enter the community to compete with Comcast. The city is plagued by poor customer service and high rates because the cable company has control of the local market. 

Resident Susan Collins is ready to move forward:

“I don’t want the Council to spend even five minutes entertaining Comcast’s circus of lies and distortions. I hope those TV ads run last fall in Fort Collins...taught our state a lesson on what cable monopolies will do to protect their monopoly. They’ll do whatever it takes and you can lose if you play their game. We already had a vote when we elected our City Council. If people don’t like what they are doing, they can vote them out again.”

Tags: lovelandcoloradofundingbroadband advisory committeeratescustomer serviceretailpartnership

Incumbent Unmasked As Fake Citizens Group In West Plains, Missouri

February 7, 2018

In an attempt to negatively influence public opinion, the incumbent cable ISP in West Plains, Missouri, was recently caught masquerading behind a phony citizens group. A real group of locals who support the community’s efforts discovered the astroturf connection and, with no way to deny their involvement, Fidelity Communications tried to rationalize away their subversive tactics to poison the project.

The Needs Of West Plains

About a year ago, we connected with City Administrator Tom Stehn, who described the situation in the south central town of about 12,000 people. Stehn told the story of how in 2015, the city decided to connect its municipal facilities with fiber and how, when word got out about the project, people in the business community approached the city. Even though local businesses could get cable Internet access, rates were up to three times higher than similar services in urban areas. There were also reliability issues that interfered with local commerce.

West Plains had also experienced significant job losses in recent years when several employers left town or closed shop. The city considered a fiber network an economic development tool and a way to keep the local hospital and MSU campus connected with high-quality connectivity. Stehn told Christopher that when new businesses considered moving to West Plains, one of the five questions they always asked was, “What kind of Internet access do you have?” It made good sense to expand the original plan to offer local businesses access to the publicly owned network.

West Plains was offering symmetrical connections to local businesses early in 2017 and had even started offering gigabit service.

The Pilot And The Incumbent

The city’s effort to bring better connectivity to a wide range of businesses and residents included a pilot project in West Plains’s Southern Hills district. In the fall of 2017, the city offered gigabit Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connectivity to approximately 80 businesses and 14 residences as a way to work out potential issues and refine their services.

Around the same time, incumbent cable ISP Fidelity Communications announced that they would be upgrading services in West Plains to offer gigabit download Internet access with 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) upload. Fidelity’s offering isn’t as useful to commercial customers without the robust upload speeds, but their willingness to respond to the city’s efforts shows the value of competition.

The Threat Of Competition

By the end of 2017, the StopCityFundedInternet.com website appeared, claiming to be a group of “fiscally conservative Missourians” that adhere to the belief that West Plains is “leveraging taxpayer funds on high-risk endeavors that compete with services already provided by the private sector.” In reality, the website is funded by Fidelity Communications, who hired an out-of-state marketing firm to build the website and maintain their Facebook and Twitter accounts.

With a strategy much like Comcast’s failed Fort Collins effort last fall, Fidelity’s astroturf campaign takes aim at the contention that the city would better serve citizens by spending money on other infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, public safety, and schools. The website also lists a few examples of other communities that they describe as failures, some of which are far from it and others which are the same few that the anti-muni lobby rely on for their typical shaky arguments.

Fidelity didn’t take into account Isaac Protiva, a real West Plains citizen and some one who sees the network as a benefit to the city; he heads up the group Internet Choice West Plains. Protiva did some investigative work, and he walks us through his discoveries in a video he posted online, which shows that the image paths from StopCityFundedInternet.com are linked to Fidelity. Oops.

 

 

The firm maintaining the website disabled the ability for the Internet Archive to preserve snapshots of the code on the page, of course.

For more on Comcast's investment on the Fort Collins election and why they decided to spend over $900,000 in the guise of a citizens group check out our report from the fall of 2017 and our follow-up story from after the election, when all totals had been reported.

The Response

Protiva published his video on January 31st and by February 3rd, Fidelity Communications felt the need to respond with a lengthy, unsigned letter on the StopCityFundedInternet Facebook page. The letter includes and admission that they hired the firm to put together the anti-muni campaign in the name of “telling the other side of the story.” They claim that, since they are headquartered in a town about 125 miles away and employ 16 people in the region, Fidelity Communications is also "a citizen” of West Plains. Mostly they complain that the city, after losing confidence and trust in Fidelity, decided to take steps to boost economic development. 

Fidelity Communications writes that the city “seems intent on pushing us out of town” indicating that they have no interest in competing with another provider.

The Data Errors, The Slanted Reports

As in the case with similar attempts by Comcast in Fort Collins last fall, StopCityFundedInternet.com and its FB page attempt to persuade West Plains with reports that are fraught with errors from questionable sources. They quote the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, a group that is a front for the cable industry, and the New York Law School, the darling of the anti-muni cable industry complex. They lean heavily on 2017 report from UPenn that we examined in depth. Even though one of the authors acknowledged several errors, Fidelity’s campaign continues to push its incorrect narrative.

In short, nothing we haven’t seen before.

Forging Ahead

West Plains will continue to provide the connectivity local businesses needs and, based on the results of the pilot project, may go on to offer services to residents. Whatever they decide, they’ve already made progress for the people of West Plains simply by giving the incumbent a reason to offer better services.

When Tom Stehn spoke with Christopher during episode 244 of the Community Broadband Bits back in March 2017, one of his strongest concerns was customer service. He felt that, if the city was going to offer Internet access to the community, success depended on good customer relations. Fidelity Communications reviews on Yelp reveal that customers are especially frustrated with poor customer service, which might account for their average score of only 1 1/2 stars. These reviews were submitted by Fidelity customers in Lawton, Oklahoma; there were no reviews from West Plains customers.

Protiva’s discovery has brought come attention to Fidelity’s dishonesty, West Plains, and the municipal project. The city has cut public costs, in part by reducing telephone lines, and now the city advertises business connectivity on its website. Stehn and his staff press on and don’t seem interested in pushing anyone out of town, just in welcoming more by offering better connectivity.

Tags: west plains moastroturfmissourifidelity communicationseconomic developmentpilot projectcompetitioncustomer serviceincumbent

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 292

February 7, 2018

This is the transcript for episode 292 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Ernie Staten of FairlawnGig in Fairlawn, Ohio, joins the show to discuss what the city's learned from running its own municipal fiber network. Listen to this episode here.

 

Ernie Staten: We've heard from many of these younger families coming into our town, saying this is the reason why we're moving here is FairLawnGig.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 292 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. When we last checked in with Ernie Staten from Fairlawn, Ohio, it was May 2016 and the community near Akron was getting started in building out their fiber optic network. The town has been deploying networks since then and is offering services to both businesses and residents. In this interview you'll hear Christopher and Ernie talk about Fairlawn's approach and how they're driven to provide the best infrastructure for the community. You'll also hear how the network has been received so far and the many ways it's paying off. Ernie shares some of the challenges they've encountered and how they've used outreach to overcome them. Now, here's Christopher with Ernie Staten from Fairlawn, Ohio.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell up in Minneapolis, the Bold North, Institute for Local Self-Reliance office where we just hosted the Super Bowl and we had a crazy new slogan as a part of that, but today I'm torquing about Fairlawn, Ohio, with Ernie Staten the deputy director of public service in Fairlawn. Welcome back to the show, Ernie.

Ernie Staten: Thanks for having me, Chris.

Christopher Mitchell: Ernie, you are one of the more interesting projects I think that we've talked with in the past because you have built a citywide municipal fiber network without the electric utility. How have things been going for you?

Ernie Staten: You know now that we have it off the ground to customers we're putting customers on as quickly as we possibly can. And I would say overall this has been a big success. We're pushing that 50 percent mark here in this city. Customers that are actually on our network and we're installing more and more every day with everyone doing a lot more streaming now and that type of bandwidth that we can put out. It's really starting to grab hold. So I think this was a huge success and a good project for the city.

Christopher Mitchell: Now if I remember correctly you're a modestly sized city part of the Akron Metro that has quite a lot of people that commute in for work.

Ernie Staten: That's correct. Our population is 7,400 during the evening and during the day and working hours we swell to 30-40,000 people. We have quite a bit of office space here in the city. And we have is a good balance of office and retail that's here in the city. So during the day 30-40,000 people this is about the average.

Christopher Mitchell: And so you are seeing a good uptake from both residents and businesses. I mean how long has it been since you've finished the service? And then let me just ask you about how it's been going a little more in detail.

Ernie Staten: We finished the actual fiber build about two months ago and we put customers on as we build. So that's probably a little different than most applications. We felt it was necessary as we went by a house that we grab that customer we show the effort since this is a municipal network and there's tax money that go into it from from our general fund. It made sense for us to connect people as we went by. Right now we're pushing the 2000 customer Mark. We have about 2500 residents and about 500 businesses that are on our service. And really at the end of the day the businesses came along just a little slower. And I think the reason why they came along a little slower was contracts that they were and making sure that our service was as reliable as we had touted. And then just getting a feel from the residential piece whether they had whether we had given the type of service that we claimed. So now fast forward we're starting to get businesses more and more and more and then residential is starting to drop off because we we connected with the residential customers a week every week from the moment that we started the project. So really the project started in January of 17 and we ran the entire year of building the network and putting customers on at the same time and get to the end of the year we're into the new year and 18 were certain to slow down on the residential. But again the businesses seem to be picking up right.

Christopher Mitchell: That's something that's very common because of those contracts. I think a lot of small businesses that includes nonprofits like mine. We tend to get into two 3 year contracts and so those will be up. And then when they're up you know we'll switch over. So it's something we see in a lot of places. One of the things that you said that I wanted to make sure people heard was that you did put money from the general fund this you're treating this much like infrastructure as a city. You're not trying to replicate the cable model. And if I remember correctly from our previous call you would very much like for the network to pay for itself but your number one focus is creating community benefits the stronger economy more keeping more money in people's pockets. That's your number one focus right.

Ernie Staten: That's correct. So your memory is great. But the idea here was that we were going to build a utility and we were going to treat it just as we do any of the infrastructure that the city has. So if you live in the city of Fairlawn you're fortunate enough to have new roads built without assessment water lines built without assessment's sewers built without assessment or any additional tax for any of those items. So the whole idea was that we would build this network the same way we would not raise taxes. We would not assess for the work that's done in front of the homes and we witnesses to go to the homes. So residential wise we go all the way from the data center here at the service department all the way to the home place. Oh Auntie inside the home. All of that work is 100 percent free and we paid for that out of general fund the services that we have. Those services pay for basically our operation and any upgrades. So operation not meaning the debt the operation is only what it takes to run front line gigs so it's our upstream providers. It's electricity for the the data center. It's the consultants that we use to help us run the data center and the services it pays for the actual installers to do the work of installing in the home. That's the operation side and then upgrades obviously everyone knows that these networks are constantly you constantly need to upgrade and watch over them so that that is paid for by services. That said we hope someday that we do well enough with services to start paying some towards a debt. But that was never our intent from the very beginning. And really the main idea that we try to focus on and try to explain to all of our people is we were hoping for the sauf costs so that's what we call the soft costs. We're hoping that we we generate more taxes. People spend more money at the restaurants more money at our mall more businesses come in to Fairlawn and the businesses that are already here we hope that they stay and grow within the city and having this type of infrastructure allows a lot of businesses to grow and just become more viable for the area. So at the end of the day that was our concern was making sure that those soft costs that our taxes keep going up. There's there's all sorts of bonuses coming out of this network that the latest bonus is the mayor's state of the city. I did a report for him from the real estate group in this area is called nor DACs and basically they just give you an overall of how your real estate is doing it within the city or the state or whatever location you're at here in Ohio it's called nor DACs nor DACs gave me information that from 2016 to the end of 2017. The housing market has gone up eight point five percent. Inside the city of Fairlawn now the economy is doing well. That I believe it does say that their gig had something to do with getting the home values here in the city much higher. Eight and a half percent. And a little more than a year is a huge jump.

Christopher Mitchell: This is another way to show that that's what these networks are doing when you've gone a little above and beyond the traditional approach by having an ambitious wireless component to your network using Wi-Fi. Can you tell us a little bit about that I know that it's not complete yet but you certainly have a sense of where you're going and what's available already.

Ernie Staten: The idea behind the wireless network that we were going to put in for the entire city. We could call it a net. We're going to try to net the entire city with a wireless component. Our thought was we have so many visitors that come into town there has to be a way to capture what the visitors do and help visitors out so that they didn't have to use a big data plan with their phones or tablets whatever they would bring in the town they could use the wireless network and we would have really three levels of network so we would have one that is just a guest network just like you would get from a Starbucks or a McDonald's or maybe even a hotel. Then we would have a second level that would be a paid level and it would be a 100 percent secure and it would look a lot like getting it from an airplane but we would sell a monthly plan on that so you could come into Fairlawn and get a monthly plan. And what we are looking at doing was ten dollars a month and you could get a 30 by 30; 30 Mbps by 30 Mbps package for the month on your wireless device. Then the third piece of the wireless was if you're already a good customer you live in Fairlawn or you have a business and for one you would then have a right to use the network at no cost to you and you would have a password and it would be secure just as it is for the network inside your home. So there would be three components to that network. Right now we have placed access points on all of our city infrastructure whether that is buildings traffic signals tornado warning sirens and a few other polls that we have here in the city and we're currently working through negotiation with our local electric provider to put some of these excess points on the electric poles. Then we'll have a basic infrastructure for the entire city along with this. We're probably going to put in a few monopoles and hopefully that will help with the cell carriers also. But we're going to put monopoles into areas where all the infrastructure is underground and we don't have utility poles to put access points on. So we hope at the end of the day we're looking at by the end of 2018 that we would have a good net over the city where we could start offering service. We have an offer service as a paid service yet we allow the guest service and we allow our friendly good customers to go ahead and use the access points in the coverage that we have now. But again that's not throughout the entire city. We hope to have that done by the end of 2018.

Christopher Mitchell: Aside from the benefits from the rising property values what are some of the other benefits have you seen any local employers that are really excited about this or any new employers coming to down.

Ernie Staten: We have 18 new businesses that have actually come into Fairlawn that have made the statement that they came here for FairlawnGig. So most of those businesses are small business that are attorney firms engineering firms maybe small I.T. firms. We did just have one company come in with 72 employees. That's an I.T. firm. They have a very good payroll they'll be a great tax payer for the city. So that was you know again one of those driving forces that we were hoping to see happen. On the flip side of that we set up meetings every single month to meet with the business owners and we set up a small lunch in hoping that that we get to hear from businesses that are currently in the city and we have. We've heard from many of them that they're growing their business and they're growing it because they have such better conductivity. So in our area they just didn't have the kind of activity that is needed to really build your business. So we've seen that and then we've also heard from a lot of young professionals that are looking for a place to live here in the city and here at the service department we have a unique situation. We actually have a trash compactor here where people bring their trash to us which is an unheard of probably anywhere. But what it does for us it gives us the ability to meet with almost all new homeowners. They come in we can explain FairlawnGig and we can explain the trash service. So when that happens we've heard from many of these younger families coming into our town saying this is the reason why we're moving here is FairlawnGig so loser.

Christopher Mitchell: Those are really great stories and it's terrific to hear that through word of mouth so much is happening. Are there any other benefits you wanna tell us about.

Ernie Staten: We have a financial group here in the city. It's a fairly large firm that was looking to grow their business before we ever started Parentline gig. And this gentleman I met with him that owns a business explained what we have. We have him as a customer so he has decided to build a new building and when he went to our planning commission which I guess every every city every town has a planning commission. When he came into the planning commission his speech to the Planning Commission was he could have gone anywhere. And he looked at a land that was even less expensive that he was very enticed by. But what he found with Parentline gig was this is the reason to stay in our town. It's a reason why his business can grow. We found that financial businesses accountants really love this type of bandwidth because of all the heavy information that trying to get out so having a system that's symmetric gives him the ability to send large files out that pertain to customers and the speed that gives that he can use with Wall Street or any other trading.

Christopher Mitchell: And if I had to guess from my experience the reliability is probably a very strong factor also because you know I use some professional work. I know several people that engage in professional small business work. They're using a product that tracks their finances and things like that locally on their computer but then are accountants can access it at any time. If you have a service that's down occasionally well you may not be able to do your job. So you know I'm going to guess with your network you're probably really reliable and that's yet another benefit that you have.

Ernie Staten: That's right. We've heard that over and over again you know to speak about reliability a few things that I can say. You know we're we're a hundred percent underground network so that's already more reliable. We're a fiber optic network which makes everything more reliable. And then city owned. You know we're doing this for the businesses for the taxpayers. So our service level that we go out and repair or take care of our network is a much higher level than the incumbents because these are not only customers but they're taxpayers here so that that does make a difference.

Christopher Mitchell: Ernie, when we last talked you were planning on working with a provider that's also from Ohio from the Dayton area. I believe a local company called extra mile fiber but now you're running the network yourself. So tell me what's going on there.

Ernie Staten: Once we started the network what ended up happening is that both extra mile and the city mutually bought that it was in the best interest of FairlwanGig for the city to to run the network. So. So we've parted ways with the extra mile fiber and they did a great job. But will we. We had decided that there was a different path that we were going to go and so right now all services run out of the service department they run out of really my shop here. We hired a few employees. We hired a few consultants to help us out. And we've now taken on the entire data center all the way to the home or all the way to the business. A few things that I think that helped out with the city. You know obviously we had a revenue share with the extra mile. Now all that revenue does go to the city. Obviously that revenue is somewhat offset by the fact that we have employees and there was a service level that we were after and now we can offer that service level without really having a anything to hold that back.

Christopher Mitchell: Were you intimidated by the thought of doing that. I mean I think one of the reasons that holds communities back who are considering what you've done is they look at it and they think well you know we might only go into this if we have someone that's really able to hold our hand and that we can rely upon. But it seems like you got into it and then decided that you felt confident enough to go ahead and you know hire consultants but nonetheless you know if something went wrong it's you that has to answer those questions.

Ernie Staten: I mean personally I'm guessing actually I would say that in the very beginning it was intimidating and that's something that I believe extra mile helped us with the is that that we worked together on it and we realize that this is something that the city could take on and it could you know could come out of here. Farallones really unique and it's been unique for years so there's a lot of lot of ways that we service residents. Now that just felt like another piece of servicing residents now a few things that you brought it up earlier that we didn't have an electric heater at the city or we really didn't have a utility. So we have a private electric company. All of our utilities are private except for water and sewer and water is actually run by the City of Akron and the sewer is owned by the city but we actually saw that out so we didn't have a billing platform that was probably one of the most difficult pieces to this was to put that bundling platform in place. So we did. We now have a billing person that takes care of you know the monthly bills for us with customers and handles all the contracts with customers or businesses. So we now have a handle on it and I think that that helped us step over. Now I can tell you that I'm the service director so you know I have to handle everything from snowplowing our roads to handling our sewers or managing our sewers too. Now this network. So I don't know everything with a network like this but hiring those consultants to help me through some of this one gentleman that watches over that data center that is was a very important piece and I wouldn't have felt comfortable doing it without knowing that I could bring someone in that had that ability.

Christopher Mitchell: The final question I'd like to ask is just you know have you had any challenges in terms of not offering television service youth league that's holding some people back from subscribing or how have you dealt with that.

Ernie Staten: As someone who's focused on high quality data and phone service I do believe television just getting customers. And here's why the community is split about 50/50 with people over 60 years old. I believe some of the older residents still have a hard time going away from TV and streaming cable TV and going to streaming is what I should say I guess. So that that has hurt a little bit. But what we've noticed is this uptick on how streaming is working and people are just now starting to understand streaming and they are calling us for this incredible network. One thing that we did from the very beginning is on our Web site every week we send out a newsletter and in that newsletter is a different way to stream a different way to see TV. We always hit the streaming beast so anyone that would like to look at our Web site to get information on streaming. I mean it's for everyone obviously but we're pushing it towards Fenelon residents. That has helped. We've had many streaming events where we allow people to come and update like 75 people get to come in and learn about streaming. I have a group of people that help help teach our seniors through our. We had a special meeting just for our council members. We've had meetings for just certain areas of the city where we've tried to help them through the streaming piece. I do believe by the way everything looks it's streaming is obviously the future and that's why we stayed out of the TV business from the very beginning.

Christopher Mitchell: Great. Well I have to say that I'm enthusiastic. I really hope that you're able to keep racking up these wins. I certainly hope that your neighbors I know that you serve a little bit outside of town but it sounds like you're ready to share it with your neighbors. And I hope that that's something that's able to continue so that more of northeastern Ohio gets better service.

Ernie Staten: Yes we do too. We're actually in discussions with almost all of our neighbors and even even with people or communities that are quite a ways away. So there's a few communities near the Columbus area that have reached out to us and ask if there's a way that we could help them through if not run it at least give them really the game plan on how to do it. So I think I think it is starting to branch out and I'm with you I hope this takes over Northeast Ohio

Christopher Mitchell: Great well thank you for coming on the show.

Ernie Staten: Thank you.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with Ernie Staten talking about the network and Fairlawn, Ohio, to go back and listen to our other interview with Ernie. Check out Episode 201 from May 10th 2016. We have transcripts from 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 handlers @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other ILSR podcasts --Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules. podcasts you can access them on Apple podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research. You can subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. We want to thank Arnie Huseby for the song "Warm Duck Shuffle" licensed through Creative Commons, and we also want to thank you for listening to episode 292 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Link: Tags: transcript

FairlawnGig Keeps Businesses in Town, Attracts More - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 292

February 7, 2018
Community Broadband Bits Episode 292 - Ernie Staten, Deputy Director of Public Service in Fairlawn, Ohio, on FairlawnGig

We are checking back in with Ernie Staten, Deputy Director of Public Service in Fairlawn, Ohio now that their muncipal Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network - FairlawnGig - is built out and they are still building the citywide Wi-Fi network that will accompany it. We previously talked with Ernie when the network was being built two years ago in episode 201.

Fairlawn is located near Akron and a city without a municpal electric utility. Though they started expecting to work with a local partner ISP, they quickly decided it would be better to both own and operate the network. 

Though the network is quite young, it has already helped to boost property values and has attracted new businesses. FairlawnGig was also the primary reason one local business expanded in Fairlawn rather than moving to another location. In short, the network has provided a strong, positive impact almost immediately. 

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

Read the transcript for this show here.

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

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

Tags: audioWi-FiWirelessohiofairlawn ohpartnershipextra mile fibergigabitFTTHmunieconomic developmentjobsbillinglessons learnedfinancingtaxestelevisionvideoover the top videovideo streamingpodcastbroadband bits

South Central Indiana Expects More Co-op Fiber

February 6, 2018

As one electric cooperative in Indiana is engaged in a project to offer broadband, another project close by is in the works. As rural cooperatives take steps to offer broadband, local communities want to help local co-ops deploy in their areas. 

Jackson County Project Moving Ahead

Last summer, Jackson County Rural Electric Memberships Corporation (REMC) announced that they had finalized a plan to deploy Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to every service member within their 1,400 square mile service area. 

With the strong support of Jackson County leadership, the cooperative started work on phase 1, a plan to establish a backbone through most of the ten counties where REMC members live and work. The first phase of the extensive $60 million project is about one-third finished. This phase will also allow the co-op the chance to connect the first 990 premises in order to work out any issues and refine services before reaching more homes and businesses. As they finish up the first phase, REMC is beginning to plan phase 2.

At a January meeting that involved community leaders in the region and cooperatives, REMC General Manager Mark McKinney provided an update:

“We are in the process now of evaluating where phase two will be. We’re about a third of the way through phase one, which was approximately 330 miles of fiber optic cable being installed. When this is all said and done, if everything goes as planned, we’ll be looking at over 2,000 miles of fiber being installed. This is not fiber to the curb, this will be fiber all the way into the home.”

REMC expects to start serving approximately 1,000 customers in the Brownstown areas in February.

When the State Legislature passed SB 478, REMC was able to deploy fiber easier and faster. The bill, also known as the Facilitating Internet Broadband Rural Expansion (FIBRE) Act, updated existing law for cooperatives. Prior to the FIBRE Act, easements existed for electrical infrastructure but did not extend to fiber optic lines. SB 478 allows electric cooperatives with existing easements for electrical lines to apply those easements to fiber optic infrastructure. The change removed was described by the bill’s author as “a major impediment.”

McKinney reiterated that the project will reach every member of the cooperative with affordable broadband that offers a minimum of 50 Megabits per second (Mbps) download. He likened the project to rural electrification by cooperatives. “That’s the same mentality we’re using with this,” he said.

Meeting Up In Brown County

The expansive project will potentially serve about 1,000 members in Brown County who current receive electricity service from REMC. Brown County leaders were at the January meeting and expressed their enthusiasm for the project and for another broadband deployment in the works by another electric cooperative, South Central Indiana REMC (SCI-REMC). Brown County Council President Keith Baker:

“We’re so excited about it. We want to be on the cusp of what’s happening….

Whatever it is you need in talking with your board, or whatever decision you make, you’re going to find a very, very eager audience in Brown County for high-speed Internet. I can’t tell you how much we love having you guys here.”

In Brown County, SCI-REMC provides electricity to approximately 6,000 premises, which are a large percentage of the homes and businesses in the county. CEO of SCI-REMC, James Tanneberger, told attendees at the January meeting that his cooperative is in the planning phase of a FTTH project much like the Jackson County REMC project. SCI-REMC plans to announce in March where the four-year project will begin deployment. One of the challenges SCI-REMC faces includes heavily wooded state forest land, but they are also considering expanding to nonmembers in the future.

Local government boards from Brown County requested that SCI-REMC put the county near the top of the list. The co-op received similar requests from other entities, including the school board, a town council, and the county health board.

Brown County’s population is around 15,000 over approximately 316 square miles. There’s a state forest in Brown County along with a State Park and the county seat of Nashville is a tourist attraction. In the early 1900s, an art colony sprang up there and the town is still known as an art center.

At the January meeting, county officials and the local Broadband Task Force let SCI-REM know that the County was willing to help in any way they could to speed along the deployment. Lack of high-quality connectivity has interfered with home purchases in Brown County and community leaders are looking for economic development tools. SCI-REMC sees mutual benefit from collaboration.

“In a world where your load isn’t growing, that can get challenging when your expenses continue to grow. So we see broadband as important to economic development and important to the survival of rural Indiana, and important to [SCI-REMC], also, because of the economic development aspect of it,” [Tanneberger] said.

Tags: jackson remcindianacooperativerural electric coopFTTHruralsci remceasement

Community Broadband Media Roundup- February 5

February 5, 2018

California

Wave sticks it to Comcast in Santa Maria, California, with muni broadband network by Dave Frankel, FierceCable

California’s net neutrality bill is vulnerable to legal attack, EFF says by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

 

Colorado

Fort Collins starts hiring process for broadband leadership by Nick Coltrain, The Coloradoan

Internet providers pitch municipal broadband partnerships to Loveland City Council by Julia Rentsch, Loveland Reporter-Herald

The Loveland City Council heard presentations from representatives of six internet providers during a study session Tuesday. The presentations were requested by a council rule of four Dec. 12 due to concerns about a pro-municipal broadband slant to the information they have received to date.

Members of the council and city staff said repeatedly that they want a deal that will tend to the needs of Loveland internet customers who say they are being underserved by incumbent companies. Some councilors have also cited concerns about the city entering the business and competing with those same providers.

In 2015, over 82 percent of Loveland voters approved a ballot measure that allowed the city to provide a retail fiber-to-the-premise broadband utility. The ballot question stipulated that the city cannot raise taxes to fund it.

Colorado lawmakers hope for 2018 solution on broadband for rural communities by Marianne Goodland, Colorado Springs Gazette

Do you want broadband fiber for Loveland, or the status quo? By John Fogle, Loveland Reporter-Herald

 

Iowa

Muscatine Power and Water: Fiber optics should be completed by end of 2018 by Charles Potter, Muscatine Journal

 

Louisiana

Harvard report: Lafayette Fiber tops nation for saving customers money by Angie Simoneaux, KATC-3 ABC

 

Maine

Lawmakers Mount Federal Effort to Block Bans on Municipal Internet by Colin Woodard, Portland Press Herald (Government Technology)

Last year a legislative panel unanimously rejected a bill drafted by a secretive group that would have made it nearly impossible for communities to build their own high-speed Internet networks, even when cable and telephone companies declined to do so. Now, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree is co-sponsoring legislation in Congress that aims to make sure there isn’t a repeat of the measure and to overturn laws passed in recent years in 17 other states.

“We should be rolling out the red carpet to communities that are trying to meet the big challenge of having high-speed Internet, rather than have the state try to restrict them on behalf of the big utilities and cable companies,” said Pingree, a Democrat who represents Maine’s 1st District. “It seems very anti-American and anti-entrepreneurial spirit.”

 

North Carolina

The Fight for High-Speed Internet Continues in Burlington, N.C. by Bill Cresenzo, Burlington Times-News (Government Technology)

 

Ohio

Broadband access still lacking in region by Janelle Patterson, Marietta Times

 

Rhode Island

R.I. lawmakers enter ‘net neutrality’ battle by Katherine Gregg & Patrick Anderson, Providence Journal

 

Tennessee

Marsha Blackburn on wrong side of net neutrality debate by Dan Hogan, The Tennessean

Scott County Co-op gets $1.9M to install broadband in Hawkins County by WYCB Newsroom

Tri-County receives $1.35 million in broadband grant by Chris Gregory, Hartsville Vidette

 

Virginia

Rural co-ops and a path to broadband access by Go Dan River.com Editorial Board

And it’s on that peg that leaders of the Central Virginia Electric Cooperative (CVEC), based in the Nelson County community of Arrington, believe they’ve found a way to address the biggest challenge facing rural America in 2018: the unavailability of access to broadband internet services.

We have argued many times that broadband access is as critical an issue for rural America today as electrification was 80 years ago. Broadband access, with speeds surpassing 100 Mbps and more, is rarely given a second thought in a city like Lynchburg or Danville. But in surrounding counties, thousands of residents can only dream of such access.

That’s why the CVEC board of directors recently voted to form a subsidiary to do what its own predecessor did in 1937 with electricity: constructing broadband on-ramps for members in its 14-county service area.

 

West Virginia

12 state broadband programs share $1.5 million, Taylor County awarded $125K by Westy Marks, West Virginia News

 

General

The FCC Hopes its Empty Dedication to Rural Broadband Will Make You Forget it Killed Net Neutrality by Karl Bode, Motherboard Vice

Since taking office, Pai has routinely insisted that his top priority is closing the digital divide and improving broadband speed and availability. Unfortunately, for those stuck without adequate broadband, his actual policies often undermine this goal.

Since taking office, Pai has eroded programs that bring broadband to the poor, gutted media consolidation rules, helped dismantle broadband privacy protections, killed efforts to bring more competition to the cable box, rushed to the defense of prison monopoly price gouging, passed rules protecting business broadband monopolies, and gutted net neutrality.

And he’s only getting started.

Deeper Dive—Is Comcast now working with conservative think tanks to astroturf muni broadband? By Daniel Frankel, Fierce Cable

What Is Community-Built Broadband? By DariusZ, The Merkle

 

Tags: media roundup

Field Trip To Oklahoma's Lake Region Electric Cooperative

February 5, 2018

Several rural communities have high-speed Internet service in Oklahoma, thanks to the hard work of the local electric cooperative. Headquartered in Hulbert, Oklahoma, Lake Region Electric Cooperative is already laying the necessary infrastructure for an extensive Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network.

Lake Region Electric Cooperative offers FTTH service to more than 1,000 homes in the rural communities around the city of Tahlequah, Oklahoma. As with electrification, the cooperative is once again providing a much needed utility where no private company would go. This is the internetification of rural America.

Grounded In Community

Lake Region Electric Cooperatives is rooted in rural Oklahoma: it serves the rural communities east of the city of Tulsa and north of the city of Muskogee. The land is rocky, covered in trees, and surprisingly hilly. To get to the headquarters, one must go up a short dirt drive off the main road heading into the town of Hulbert. I dropped by the office to learn more about how the project started and spoke to Communications Specialist Larry Mattes and Fiber Coordinator Eshwar Prasad Beemraj.

For years, the Lake Region Electric Cooperative sent out a survey to its members, and each year, the co-op members wrote back that they needed Internet service. The large private provider in the area had not updated their infrastructure in decades. Like many electric co-ops, Lake Region had helped make Exede satellite Internet service available to their members, but it wasn’t enough. People came to board meetings and annual meetings to voice their concerns.

The co-op had to act and the staff developed a plan to bring the fastest Internet service that they could to the co-op members. They created pilot projects in two areas near the center of their service territory; both were a success. To manage demand for the service, the co-op uses the CrowdFiber platform to track which areas have the most interest. Members can pre-register for the service on the Lake Region Electric Crowd Fiber site and put down a small deposit of about $50.

A Natural Extension Of Service

The electric system is already a network of wires that transmit electricity from generation plants through substations to people’s homes. Lake Region Electric Cooperative had installed fiber to their substations in order to improve communications internally and co-op leaders realized that their existing infrastructure could be repurposed to provide Internet service.

Co-op employees map out where Lake Region fiber is and identify demand for FTTH service. They note if the co-op has access to the utility poles and what easements may apply. In some cases, they've gone door-to-door to update the easements that the co-op formed with property owners years ago. These easements gave the cooperative access to a section of the property in order to provide electric service, but these must be re-written in order to apply to fiber optic cables and Internet access. Then the fiber coordinator determines where to put the Point-of-Presence (POP) that will connect homes to the rest of the network. Lake Region Electric also serves small offices and businesses, including Cherokee Nation Businesses, owned by the Nation.

Lake Region Electric has always focused on building an affordable, reliable network for the members. The co-op took out about $20 million in loans through CoBank, the national cooperative bank, to support the Phase 1 of the project. CoBank has funded several other electric cooperatives fiber network projects. Lake Region Electric started its pilot project in 2012, and spent the next 6 years determining the best way to build forward throughout the entire service area. Lifelong members swear by top-tier Internet service offered by the co-op at reasonable prices.

Read about them in the CoBank 2017 report “Making the Move Into Broadband: Rural Electric Co-ops Detail Their Experiences.

Residential Internet Service

(Download/Upload)

Price

(Monthly)

50 Mbps/50 Mbps $49.95 75 Mbps/75 Mbps $69.95 100 Mbps/100 Mbps $99.95

Lake Region Electric also offers video and telephone service. 

Explore the entire project at https://register.lrecok.net/#Zones

Electric Co-ops Moving Forward

Lake Region Electric is just one of the many electric cooperatives that have taken on the challenge of providing high-speed Internet service. At MuniNetworks, we currently track about 60 electric cooperatives with fiber projects. Some have received loans from CoBank; some found support through the U.S. Department of Agriculture; and others have gone into the project alone.

These cooperatives offer tremendous opportunity for rural areas, building new networks in areas that are underserved or not served by large private providers. Fiber networks from coo-ops may “monopolize” the rural market, but they are entirely controlled by the members, the rural people who take Internet or electric service from the co-op.

These fiber networks may nevertheless continue to avoid regional economic centers because rural electric cooperatives often do not serve smaller cities. Lake Region Electric, for instance, goes around Tahlequah, Oklahoma, which has its own municipal electric utility. Some cities are trying to work with the nearby electric cooperatives in order to extend these next-generation networks. For instance, Morristown, Tennessee, is forming a partnership with Appalachian Electric Co-op. Learn more about the proposed plan on Community Broadband Bits Episode 203. The work of small municipalities and rural cooperatives may close the digital divide between rural regions and urban areas.

More Information

Explore more MuniNetworks.org research on our Rural Electric Cooperatives page or in our 2017 report "Electric Co-ops Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model for the Internet Era." Listen to our interview with Mel Coleman from the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) on the fiber project from North Arkansas Electric Cooperative in Community Broadband Bits Episode 243

Want more of our original research? Subscribe to our newsletter.

Image of the Tahlequah © Caleb Long [CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0, via Wikimedia Commons].

Tags: lake region electric cooperative okoklahomaruralrural electric coop

New Video Advocates for Better Connectivity in Colorado

February 2, 2018

The Colorado Communications and Utility Alliance has released a new video detailing the urgent need for fast and reliable Internet in rural Colorado. The Alliance argues that Colorado's state and local government can help solve the problem and highlights local initiatives that improved connectivity and drove economic development.

The video profiles Cortez, a small town that has incrementally built an open access fiber network to increase economic vitality while also improving community services, education, and residents’ overall standard of living. It emphasizes the ongoing problems of minimal IT infrastructure investment in rural areas and exorbitant ISP prices for unacceptable speeds. The CEO of Osprey backpacks and bags discusses how the community's fiber network was critical to the company's ability to develop its thriving online business.

The Chief Information Officer of Lincoln Memorial Hospital in Hugo, Colorado, explains the importance of telehealth for aging populations and expresses his frustrations with regional Internet monopolies and restrictive laws.

Just because we’re rural doesn’t mean we should be taken advantage of. The word fair doesn’t even compute at this point, it’s just the right thing to do. And if you’re unwilling to do it, then leave and let someone else come in and help us — or let us help ourselves.

Many communities have begun to do exactly that. Last November, 19 Colorado communities opted out of the restrictive SB 152 law that prevents municipalities from offering advanced telecommunications services to the general public, either on their own or with a partner. Since 2008, almost 129 Colorado local communities have voted to opt out of SB 152.

Watch the video and learn more in an interview with Cortez's General Service Director Rick Smith on our Broadband Bits Podcast here. For more on Colorado communities' decisions to opt out of SB 152, listen to podcast 178 about local efforts in the state in 2015.

Tags: coloradosb 152videocortezsteamboat springsruralelection

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 291

February 1, 2018

This is the transcript for episode 291 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Will Aycock joins the show to discuss the Pay-As-You-Go program in Wilson, North Carolina. Listen to this episode here.

Will Aycock: So it's a Pay-As-You-Go way to consume broadband, making it more like putting gas in the gas tank so if I need one days worth of broadband I can pay to keep that service active. Other times we can just let the account draw down.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 291 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. For about 10 years. The community of Wilson, North Carolina, has been served by its own publicly-owned fiber optic network Greenlight Community Broadband has brought fast, affordable, reliable connectivity to residents and businesses throughout the community of approximately 49,000 people. Along the way, the utility's attracted employers, kept local dollars in the community, and instilled a sense of pride of ownership. Now Greenlight is experimenting with ways to connect residents who might have difficulties connecting to traditional carriers due to credit or income limitations. In this episode, Christopher talks with Will Aycock from Greenlight about their inventive program to get more people online. In the interview, you'll hear Christopher mention the nearby community of Pinetops, where Wilson extended Greenlight service in 2016. After a court decision that reversed an FCC order and a state law that carved out a shaky exception for Pinetops. The tiny community is on the verge of losing Greenlight service. There's a lot of history there and we discuss the situation in episode 226 of the podcast back in November 2016. You can learn more about Wilson, Greenlight, and Pinetops at MuniNetworks.org. Now let's get on with the interview. Here's Christopher with Will Aycock from Wilson, North Carolina.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minneapolis where it's probably a lot colder than North Carolina where my guest Will Aycock is the general manager of Greenlight Community Broadband. Welcome back to the show, Will.

Will Aycock: Thanks, Chris. Happy to be here again.

Christopher Mitchell: I'm really excited to talk to you about something that I first learned about from a column that Susan Crawford did, talking about how Wilson has done tremendous things in terms of connecting low-income folks. But let's start with just a quick reminder for folks. Wilson Greenlight Community Broadband, what is it?

Will Aycock: So Greenlight Community Broadband is an operating department of the city of Wilson and we operate our community's Fiber-to-the-Home network. We've been around since 2008 and we provide residential, commercial, institutional services, but broadband as well as video. But with metronet services.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. And we're not going to talk today about the situation with Pinetops but people may have seen Do Not Pass Go, a wonderful video, short documentary, about your efforts there to connect some of your neighbors. But that's sort of not the subject today. We're talking more about the urban stuff.

Will Aycock: Right.

Christopher Mitchell: So what we're going to come to a new program or at least new to my knowledge program in which people can pay ahead to connect and we'll talk about why that's important. But I think it's worth starting more generally. Why is it important for the city of Wilson to drive connectivity to folks who might not have the means of, of middle class folks to just go out and connect? Why is it important to bring everyone on the network?

Will Aycock: Well really it's about driving more return on the community's investment in the fiber-optic network. And so the more people were able to connect, in particular, the more people who traditionally not been able to have access, were able to connect the more benefit we'll realize. Of course, the obvious benefit of more revenue being generated by the network itself. And probably the more important benefit which is, you know, connecting folks have been on the wrong side of the digital divide to next generation broadband and enabling them to participate in the modern economy which we are confident helps with workforce development and, generally speaking, helps grow the economy of our community.

Christopher Mitchell: It's interesting that you you phrase it that way. In some ways, I mean, this gets into some common misconceptions, but the community certainly built a network in terms of your utility that's owned by the community, but taxpayers didn't pay for the network. You didn't use any taxpayer dollars?

Will Aycock: No, we did not. No. We were originally funded through COPs or Certificates of Participation. And since then we've been operating on the revenues the network has generated.

Christopher Mitchell: But yet you still have this sense of we're all in it together and it's very much a community driven kind of process.

Will Aycock: Right it's the nature of public infrastructure whether you're talking about you know water, roads, broadband, or electric. The purpose is to serve the community and help the community to prosper.

Christopher Mitchell: So will as we move back into the main reason I wanted to talk to you here. Can you tell me a little bit about this program that Susan Crawford noted in which I think has not gotten enough attention. The ability for people to take service from Greenlight who may have a low or very poor credit rating.

Will Aycock: Right. One of the things that we've identified that you know credit rating can be a barrier to getting access to broadband service. One of the things we wanted to do is to remove that barrier and we found that prepay was an effective way to do it. So essentially someone can come in and establish an account. And as long as they keep a very minimal balance only account and prepay status, they're able to maintain the service. So it's a Pay-As-You-Go way to consume broadband making it more like, you know, thinking about in terms of putting gas in the gas tank so if I need one day's worth of broadband. I can pay to keep that service active, perhaps because my job has a big project and they need to work on. And then importantly other times when maybe you know there are other budgetary priorities, you can just let the account draw down the service becomes inactive, but it's still there. It does nothing to damage their credit. There's no collections and there's no fundamental disconnect process they go through, simply sitting there waiting to be recharged if you will. And again people can pay for as little as they want really, down to even just one day's worth of service. One of the other benefits of the program is that if someone had a pass due balance with us the program could be set up so that back balance can be slowly drawn down over time, each time they make a payment a portion of that payment goes to the past due amount, while continuing to keep service enabled. So again, it provides access and helps people to begin to even potentially help improve their credit over time.

Christopher Mitchell: And how has the response been from the public to the service?

Will Aycock: Well it's certainly something that we've seen grow pretty rapidly. Something that as word of mouth gets around the community and as we begin to market it people are very eager to sign up for the service particularly when they learn that there's no deposit and no credit checks required. They can gain access and then don't have to go through that disconnect reconnect process. That is typical with most service providersIf the account does end up pass due or drawn down.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I think it's really worth just dwelling on that for a second because many of us who have had the good fortune not to have significant employment interruption or or other medical challenges that we are unable to deal with. You know it's important to note that in many cities if a person becomes past due on the one provider or the two providers that they're effectively locked out of future communication services. Right?

Will Aycock: Right. And that's one of the things we hope to overcome here in the community by offering this program. People can always have access and just have that account there, in essence, waiting for when they're able to and desire to recharge the account and re-enable their Internet service.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that I think many municipal networks find when they're starting is that it's one of the challenges you face in the first several years is this issue of credit. And I'm curious you know for other municipal networks some might be listening and getting ideas. Is this the kind of thing that you need to wait a little bit until you're more mature with your cash flow to be able to do? Because I mean I'm assuming that I want to, I don't know what your numbers are exactly, but I'm guessing that to connect a new home is probably like a thousand dollars. And to do that on a pay ahead plan it might be difficult for a newer network to handle.

Will Aycock: When we first launched one of the things that we realized there was a certain amount of churn in the network where people would connect and disconnect. And of course part of that was due to payment issues and the result of this churn was we had many installed locations across the community that were not active. And so one of the reasons we went out and found this idea of prepay was to remedy that problem wanting to make sure that each installed location has every ability to continue to generate revenue for the network and allow the residents to be connected to broadband.

Christopher Mitchell: That's great. I mean it's actually kind of funny in some ways that a program that seems almost to be more social work is actually driven by good business sense in some way.

Will Aycock: Oh absolutely. One of the priorities is keeping all the assets you have deployed in productive utilization both generating revenue and providing the benefit to the residents. It's pretty basic business principle.

Christopher Mitchell: So if I remember correctly which is seems more and more of a problem lately. It's been about a year since you and I talked about the program where you were installing public housing areas developments with a low cost service. How is that working out.

Will Aycock: It's working well. It continues to be popular. I'd say we have just over half of the residents in our public housing developments opting for the service. So we continue to see lots of adoption there and people enjoying the program benefiting from it. That's a ten dollar a month 50 megabit symmetrical approach right and we actually are providing service to the housing of ready themselves so that 's the bulk contract said they just tell us how many units they want and have active and then they handle the billing to the resident themselves that we have one customer and they manage the relationship on the other side.

Christopher Mitchell: Well I guess that's one lesson learned. Are there any other lessons learned for other folks who might be thinking about doing something like this.

Will Aycock: Well I think just being open to those types of partnerships being able to sit down and explore things with various stakeholders like public housing it's how you derive these novel solutions.

Christopher Mitchell: And one other one that we've written about in the past with the help of Catharine Rice who's no doubt listening to this show, hey Catharine, is the SPOT program which gives kids an opportunity after school to learn some more skills and to have a place to go for some who may not have a better choice.

Will Aycock: Yes. Sharing Positive Outcomes together is what it stands for. And it's essentially a youth oriented program Friday after school care and educational opportunities for children here in our community. We also have held our first hackathon here this year. Coincident with our whirligigs festival in November and interestingly the housing authority is now working with the Kramden Institute to provide training for their residents and once they get through the training with Kramen, they're actually being given devices. So it's really a comprehensive solution in our public housing now.

Christopher Mitchell: So you know I have to say as someone who's gone back and listened to some of the arguments back in the late 2000s when, you know, there were some doubters some people who have since become big fans of the network. This in my mind seems like it's been a bigger success than, than many people even hoped for. You know it strikes me that when this network was built it was a time in which people were hoping to have some more stability in pricing and a better option and that sort of thing. As we're almost 10 years on from when the network launched, do you have any reflections on what's been different than you expected when you took this project on?

Will Aycock: Well you know just seeing all the new ways that we continue to uncover that we can bring value to our organization and to our community by leveraging the network. Clearly when you look at what's on the horizon in terms of the Internet of Things, 5G technologies, the continued push around smart cities and what does that mean for micropolitan communities. The potential of the network is just now beginning to be realized and there's much more to come. And of course, when you look at the clear trend towards over-the-top delivery of video content you can see how this whole entire industry segment has evolved and evolved in such a way that really brings technology closer and closer to our network.

Christopher Mitchell: Well I just have to say I mean I find it inconvenient and many times to refer to Chattanooga and others because people are very familiar with it. But for anyone who's listening to this who, if this is your first introduction to Wilson, I strongly encourage you to take a look. The impact on jobs on, helping the community out, have been tremendous and I can't say enough about what you've done down there. Will, I know that Eastern, Eastern North Carolina is facing some hard economic times but I think you're providing hope to a lot of folks and showing a real path forward. I really hope that that you can, you can continue it and be great if we can see some expansion and whatnot because well I've got to tell you, you've done great job.

Will Aycock: Well thank you very much. Again it's always a pleasure speaking with you.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with Will Aycock from Greenlight the municipal fiber network in Wilson North Carolina which has been on the podcast before. Check out episodes 236, 226, 110, and 70. We have transcripts from 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 handlers @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other ILSR podcasts --Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules. podcasts you can access them on Apple podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research. You can subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. We want to thank Arne Huseby for the song "Warm Duck Shuffle" licensed through Creative Commons, and we also want to thank you for listening to episode 291 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcript

Joanne Hovis Testifies In DC; Keep Local Efforts In The Game

February 1, 2018

On January 30th, the House Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee held a hearing to learn from experts about how to shrink the digital divide and expand Internet access. The committee invited Joanne Hovis, owner of CTC Technology and Energy, to testify.

Make Investment Attractive

Hovis also heads up the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC) as CEO. She shared a plan that focused on creating an environment that will encourage infrastructure investment by the private and public sectors. The CLIC website shared the six main components of the plan:

Support public-private partnerships that ease the economic challenges of constructing rural and urban infrastructure;

Incent local efforts to build infrastructure — ones that private service providers can use — by making bonding and other financing strategies more feasible;

Target meaningful infrastructure capital support to rural and urban broadband deserts, not only to attract private capital but also to stimulate private efforts to gain or retain competitive advantage;

Empower local governments to pursue broadband solutions of all types, including use of public assets to attract and shape private investment patterns, so as to leverage taxpayer-funded property and create competitive dynamics that attract incumbent investment;

Require all entities that benefit from public subsidy to make enforceable commitments to build in areas that are historically unserved or underserved; and

Maximize the benefits of competition by requiring that all federal subsidy programs are offered on a competitive and neutral basis for bid by any qualified entity.

Hovis began her testimony by assessing our current approaches to shrinking the digital divide. She examined current belief in D.C. that local processes such as permitting and access hold up infrastructure investment and frankly told them that such a belief is incorrect.

From Hovis’s written testimony:

In reality, the fundamental reason we do not see comprehensive broadband deployment throughout the United States is that areas with high infrastructure costs per user, particularly rural areas, fail to attract private capital. This is not surprising. Nor is it a value judgment. It is simply how private investment works. If return on investment is low or nonexistent, the investment will not be made.

She went on to explain that the current strategy, to reduce and streamline local permitting processes from the federal level doesn’t encourage more investment in places where lack of infrastructure has created a digital divide, such as rural areas. Lobbyists from big telecom companies have convinced many lawmakers that the costs of doing business discourage their clients from investing in rural areas, but eliminating local control will only create higher profit in already profitable areas. 

Reducing those requirements does not fundamentally change the economics of broadband deployment in areas where return-on-investment is challenging— because the local processes and environmental and historic protections are such a small part of the economics of reaching and serving a rural area. Rather, at best, these efforts tinker at the margins of broadband economics; at worst, they distract from the key issues and misdirect resources.

Hovis argues that we need a strategy that targets areas of the country where there is little deployment and lower incomes. We also need to adjust our strategy rather use the cookie cutter approach because communities differ.

She goes on to address the current fervor over 5G and unrealistic expectations that it will solve the connectivity problem in rural areas. She says, ‘…it’s critical to know that no credible engineer, market analyst, or carrier is claiming that 5G deployment is planned or technically appropriate for rural areas.”

Let The Public Sector Provide

Hovis addressed the fact that local communities are just as, perhaps more, motivated and capable to improve local connectivity. She provided numerous examples in which cities and counties worked with private sector ISPs in partnership and alone and described how places without restrictions tend to find creative ways to bridge the digital divide. Along the way they boost economic development, reduce public spending on telecommunications, and improve connectivity for schools and other public institutions. Hovis spent time sharing the benefit of competition that has arisen in places where local governments have addressed the connectivity issue.

Hovis says:

Blaming localities for the digital infrastructure divide ignores these and thousands of other local efforts. At the same time, tying the hands of localities reduces their ability and incentive to work creatively with partners of all sorts to solve these problems. And preempting local authority over infrastructure assets such as light poles removes from the local toolkit incentives that localities can use to attract and shape private broadband deployment. 

In short: Preempting local efforts and authority is not a winning strategy; it simply removes from the playing field one of the most important players: local government. Let me suggest that the urgency of this task, bridging the infrastructure digital divide, calls for all players to take the field.

You can read her full testimony online and watch her testimony here:

Tags: joanne hovisctc technology and energyfederal governmentvideodigital divideinfrastructure5Glocalcoalition for local internet choicepermitting

Wilson Tackles Digital Divide with Pay Ahead Option - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 291

January 31, 2018
Community Broadband Bits Episode 291 - Will Aycock, General Manager of Greenlight Community Broadband in Wilson, North Carolina

It was just a year ago that we highlighted a nation-leading digital inclusion effort from Wilson's Greenlight municipal fiber network in North Carolina. That was their fourth time on the podcast, owing to the many ways Wilson has developed in ensuring its fiber network investment is benefiting the community. See also podcast episodes 171, 110, and 70

Will Aycock, General Manager of Greenlight Community Broadband, is back once again to discuss another new program they have developed - a new billing option that unlocks broadband access particularly among low-income households with low credit ratings. 

Greenlight has developed a pay-ahead option that allows households to pay ahead of connections so their lack of credit will not deter them from accessing the Internet service they may need for education, work, or other uses. It also allows households to more easily pay down past debts - an important approach in dealing with the financial reality of low-income households. We hope to see more municipal networks developing billing options like this to ensure everyone can have the connections they need.

Though we focus on that billing approach in our interview, don't miss the recent developments in Wilson's ongoing efforts to share the benefits of its network with its neighboring communities, many of whom do not have broadband access. 

This show is 15 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

Read the transcript for this show here.

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

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

Tags: wilsonnorth carolinadigital dividedigital inclusionbillinglow incomeinnovationaudiopodcastbroadband bitshousing authority

UC2B Partner Moves Ahead With Ambitious Expansion Plans

January 31, 2018

I3 Broadband, the private sector partner working with Champaign-Urbana to deliver high-quality connectivity, continues to expand throughout the region and announced that it will aim to offer services to 3,000 more premises during 2018.

One Step At A Time

The company has mapped out the community into neighborhoods and decides order of deployment on several factors, including proximity to areas already being served and level of interest. Residents can indicate their interest online at the company’s website or request the company send them a form to fill out and mail back. I3 will consider bringing the network to a neighborhood when 30 - 45 percent of households express interest in signing up for the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service.

I3 serves premises in 24 neighborhoods in Champaign-Urbana, which includes neighborhoods that UC2B built out with fiber and areas where iTV-3 deployed fiber.

When the communities of Champaign and Urbana began looking for a partner to offer services via the publicly owned UC2B network, they first chose iTV-3 because the ISP was a local company with a community minded approach. In 2014, they began working with iTV-3, but within two years, iTV-3 decided to sell its assets to Countrywide Broadband. 

The UC2B leadership chose iTV-3 in part because the company had expressed a commitment to keep expanding the network to other neighborhoods. The sale raised concerns because Countrywide was a larger entity taking over a local interested provider, but the community hoped that Countrywide would be better able to expand the infrastructure because it held considerable assets. Champaign-Urbana chose not to exercise the right of first refusal to purchase fiber assets that had been deployed by iTV-3, but they retained ownership of original UC2B assets. Countrywide began serving customers under its subsidiary i3.

As part of their five-year plan to build out the network, i3 announced in the spring of 2017 that they aimed to add 2,500 homes to the network each year. Over the past 12 months, the company has added 2,750 to the network.

More About UC2B

Back in 2013, Christopher spoke with Carol Ammons and Brandon Bowersox-Johnson about the project in episode 42 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Later, Bowersox-Johnson came on the show again along with Levi Dinkla from iTV-3 to talk about the first partnership agreement. You can read more about the journey from stimulus to partnership in Champaign-Urbana; we’ve followed the story since 2012.

Be sure to also check out our report on municipal networks and partnerships, in which we look at UC2B and discuss lessons learned and the elements that make a true partnership. The report is titled Successful Strategies for Broadband Public-Private Partnerships and you can download it here.

Tags: uc2bchampaign-urbanaillinoispartnershipexpansionFTTH