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Grant County, Oregon, Starts Planning Internet Infrastructure Project

August 17, 2017

With funding from the state to jumpstart their initiative, the city of John Day in Grant County, Oregon, is working with local communities to deploy fiber to nearby Burns. The infrastructure will bring better connectivity to local residents in the mostly rural community.

Beginning Of A Plan

City Manager of John Day Nick Green told the Blue Mountain Eagle that the plan is still in the works, but representatives from the county and local towns will be part of the Grant County Digital Coalition. The group, which is still being organized, will own and manage the infrastructure. They anticipate the network will likely be some sort of hybrid design, rather than Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) throughout the entire 4,529 square mile county. “Our goal is to address the entire county’s needs, but we will start with the urban corridor,” said Green.

Green told the Eagle that average download capacity in the county is 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) and local officials want the new infrastructure to boost averages to at least 30 Mbps. There is some fiber in the region for businesses but residential access is poor.

County To County

The city of John Day received $1.82 million from the state, which will fund the project. The county will deploy a 75-mile fiber optic line from Burns in Harney County to the Grant County seat, where about 1,800 people live. John Day is the most populous community in the county, where only about 7,500 people reside. Phase 1 will deploy an additional 85 miles of fiber to connect Grant County facilities, such as city halls, schools, and the county court. For Phase 2, local communities will construct municipal networks to offer residential service in the south and east of the county seat. Phase 3 will follow with a similar effort in the northern and western communities.

Once the Coalition is formed, they will decide whether to offer services directly as a utility company or to lease the infrastructure to a private sector provider. In addition to improving residential Internet access, local officials hope improved connectivity will spur economic development. The early timeline for the Grant County Digital Network estimates local residents will be able to obtain service as early as October 2018.

The "New West"

About 63 percent of the land in Grant County is controlled by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. There are several National Forests and designated Wilderness Areas in Grant County. In recent years, the community has experience population decline, high unemployment, and an aging population. They’ve started several initiatives to reinvigorate the region in order to stimulate growth, including a focus on targeting young working families and digital commuters.

State Sen. Ted Ferrioli of John Day, who worked to obtain the state funding, referred to John Day as a “new West” community. “It could turn out to be the key piece to attracting a few new employers and growing local businesses.”

Tags: oregonjohn day orgrant county orfundingregionalrural

Voters Say "Yes!" In Lyndon Township, Michigan

August 16, 2017

In a record high turnout for a non-general election, voters in Lyndon Township, Michigan, decided to approve a bond proposal to fund a publicly owned Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. The measure passed with 66 percent of voters (622 votes) choosing yes and 34 percent (321 votes) voting no.

Geographically Close, Technologically Distant

The community is located only 20 minutes away from Ann Arbor, home to the University of Michigan and the sixth largest city in the state, but many of the Township’s residents must rely on satellite for Internet access. Residents and business owners complain about slow service, data caps, and the fact that they must pay high rates for inadequate Internet service. Residents avoid software updates from home and typically travel to the library in nearby Chelsea to work in the evening or to complete school homework assignments.

Lyndon Township Supervisor Marc Keezer has reached out to ISPs and asked them to invest in the community, but none consider it a worthwhile investment. Approximately 80 percent of the community has no access to FCC-defined broadband speeds of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload.

“We don’t particularly want to build a network in our township. We would rather it be privatized and be like everybody else,” Keezer said. “But that’s not a reality for us here.”

When local officials unanimously approved feasibility study funding about a year ago, citizens attending the meeting responded to their vote with applause

A Little From Locals Goes A Long Way

The community will finance their $7 million project with a 2.9 millage over the next 20-years, which amounts to a $2.91 property tax increase per $1,000 of taxable value of real property. Average cost per property owner will come to $21.92 per month for the infrastructure. Basic Internet access will cost $35 - 45 per month for 100 Mbps; speeds will likely be symmetrical. They estimate the combined cost of infrastructure millage and monthly fee for basic service will be $57 - 67 per month. Lyndon Township wants the network to also offer gigabit speeds for a slightly higher rate and will search for a private sector ISP willing to provide services within their chosen parameters.

The Michigan Broadband Cooperative, a grassroots volunteer driven non-profit organization focusing on improving connectivity in western Washtenaw and eastern Jackson Counties spearheaded the initiative in Lyndon Township. Now that the community is ready to move to the next phase, the cooperative hopes other communities in the state will follow their lead:

Following the vote, Lyndon resident Ben Fineman, who also volunteers as president of the Cooperative, said “This moment is bigger than Lyndon Township. Lyndon Township’s success has the potential to provide a transformative model not only to other rural townships of Washtenaw County, but also to rural communities throughout the state. I am hopeful that our success can contribute to closing the gap for the other 458,000 Michigan households who are still lacking broadband access.”

Tags: lyndon township mimichiganruralelectionbondfundingmuniFTTHgigabitinfrastructureballotreferendumproperty tax

Benoit Felten of Diffraction Analysis Talks Global Strategies - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 266

August 15, 2017
Community Broadband Bits Episode 266 - Benoit Felten, CEO of Diffraction Analysis

When policy and decision makers discuss how to improve connectivity in the U.S., they often compare Internet access in other parts of the world to connectivity in America. We can learn from efforts in other places.

Benoit Felten, CEO of Diffraction Analysis, has analyzed business models, approaches, and infrastructure development all across the globe. His company has studied infrastructure and Internet access from short-term and long-term perspectives through the multi-faceted lens of international economies. Benoit joins us for episode 266, his second appearance on the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

In addition to development of infrastructure, Christopher and Benoit get into competition, quality of services, and how it varies from place to place. Benoit has recommendations based on his years of analysis from different communities and cultures around the world. Be sure to also check out episode 21, in which Benoit and Christopher discuss Stokab.

Read the transcript of this show here.

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

This show is 40 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: audiobroadband bitspodcastbenoit feltoninternationalinfrastructureeuropepolicycompetitionopen accessdark fibermonopoly

North Carolina's WestNGN Releases Request For Negotiations: Responses Due September 21st

August 15, 2017

For the past year, six municipalities along with local colleges and universities have collaborated to lay the groundwork for fiber optic infrastructure in the greater Asheville area. The group, West Next Generation Network (WestNGN), is now ready to find a partner to begin hammering out details in order to realize the concept. They’ve released the WestNGN Broadband Request for Negation (RFN) and responses are due September 21st.

The plan closely resembles the North Carolina Next Generation Network (NCNGN) in the Research Triangle area of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. WestNGN will include the communities of Asheville, Biltmore Forest, Fletcher, Hendersonville, Laurel Park, and Waynesville - all of which belong to the Land of Sky Regional Council. The Council has helped with administration and in drafting the RFN aimed at improving local connectivity and boosting regional economic development.

Strategic Alliance Partnership

WestNGN’s RFN states that they want to establish a Strategic Alliance Partnership with a single ISP or a group of ISPs that possess an interest in both providing service and in deployment. WestNGN puts negotiation of ownership of assets and use of those assets at the top of the list for discussion points, signaling that rhey aren't set on a fixed approach. Similarly, they hope to negotiate matters such as management, operation, and maintenance of local networks; ways to speed up deployment and reduce costs; and ways to better serve low-income residents.

Goals For The Network

WestNGN plans to bring gigabit connectivity to residents, businesses, and community anchor institutions in the region. They specifically state their priority for this level of capacity, but note that their future partner will have time to gradually implement it, if necessary. They also stress the need for symmetrical service speeds. Several employers in the region have determined that upload speeds - from their offices and for their employees at home - are increasingly desirable. The consortium has recognized that home-based businesses in the region are also multiplying every year.

WestNGN states that they want to increase the amount of dark fiber available to lease to all providers. Potential partners should be willing to make those assets available and possibly plan on expanding dark fiber. Several members of the consortium have dark fiber that they would contribute to use for the project.

The Region

The Bureau of Labor Statistics sees significant job and wage growth in the region where WestNGN plans to develop the network; the population is expected to also increase. Local employers include Evergreen Packaging, BorgWarner Turbo Systems, and GE Aviation. In addition to 22 advanced manufacturing companies, the area supports a thriving tourist economy.

Home to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Centers for Environmental Information, Asheville describes itself as the center of climate data and research. The area has embraced the concept of bringing more scientists into its research-based and technical entrepreneur facilities. Venture Asheville brings start-ups, mentors, talent, and funding sources together. The Collider is a meeting place for climate scientists and entrepreneurs to collaborate and discover ways to use climate data in business ventures. Mountain Bizworks helps small businesses in the region.

In addition to the University of North Carolina Asheville, North Carolina State University is also a partner in WestNGN. Both schools, along with several other colleges, offer tech training to students and need better connectivity at an affordable rate. Local K12 schools have started one-to-one device programs for students, but poor connectivity at home (and sometimes at school facilities) limit the effectiveness of programs.

Important Dates

Read the full Request For Negotiations here and learn more about the region and the project at the Land of Sky Regional Council’s website.

Last Date for Questions: August 18, 5:00 pm 

Responses Due: September 21, 4:00 pm 

Evaluation of Responses Completed: October 19

Interviews with Respondents Completed: November 9

Selection of Potential Partners for Further Discussions: November 22

Agreements Finalized: January 31, 2018

Tags: WestNGNnorth carolinaregionalrfirfprfqpartnershipashevillegigabiteconomic developmentanchor institutions

Community Broadband Media Roundup - August 14

August 14, 2017

Colorado

Fort Collins broadband faces long road ahead by Kevin Duggan, The Coloradoan

Fort Collins voters are a step closer to deciding whether the city may provide high-speed internet service to homes and businesses.

However, there are a lot more steps to be taken before the proposed service becomes a reality.

 

Florida

Commissioner Justin Troller says he will push for action on Lakeland broadband service by Christopher Guinn, The Ledger

 

Kansas

Gigabit City Summit shines national spotlight on KC Smart City by Meghan LeVota, Startland News

 

Michigan

Lyndon Township broadband vote passes two to one by Ben Fineman, Michigan Broadband Cooperative

 

General

Broadband economic benefits: Why invest in broadband infrastructure and adoption? by Roberto Gallardo and Mark Rembert, The Daily Yonder

Maybe Americans don't need fast home Internet service, FCC suggests by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

Commissioner Mignon Clyburn objected to several aspects of the notice of inquiry, including the failure to increase the home Internet speed benchmark and the consideration of mobile as a replacement for home Internet service.

FCC faces backlash for saying Americans might not need fast home Internet by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

Tags: media roundup

Fond du Lac Band Builds Fiber Network In Northeast Minnesota

August 14, 2017

Native nations are building community networks, owned and operated by tribal governments to ensure that Indian Country has high-speed Internet access. In July 2017, the Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe announced a plan to build a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to 900 homes that only had access to dial-up Internet service.

The Duluth News Tribune reported that the Fond du Lac tribal government is putting more than $2 million towards the venture and has secured about $6 million in federal grants. We spoke with Jason Hollinday, the Planning Director, to get more details on Fond du Lac Communications and what it means for the community. 

Fond du Lac Connectivity

The Fond du Lac reservation, “Nagaajiwanaang,” covers about 150 square miles in northeastern Minnesota, and the FTTH project will encompass most of the area - about 120 square miles. The network will offer voice, video, and Internet service.

Anyone, including non-tribal members, will be able to get connected within the service area. Prices have yet to be determined, offering affordable rates is a priority. In a recent Pine Journal article, Band IT director Fred Underwood pointed out that "Connectivity is available anywhere, but is it affordable?" and added that affordability in rural areas is often hard to find. Connectivity for the FTTH network will include a program to connect low-income residents and installation fees have been waived for any subscriber who signed up before July 31st.

Community centers and public buildings will all be connected and receive two years of free Internet service. The goal is to make sure that the network will be a community asset benefiting everyone.

Hollinday mentioned how excited people are to have high-speed Internet service at home for the first time. Several have already expressed their anticipation at being able to enjoy Netflix and take online college courses. As the project got underway, the community celebrated with a groundbreaking at the Sawyer Community Center.

Making The Project A Reality

This project has been almost 10 years in the making. Hollinday described how the planning department had been laying the groundwork for this project for nearly a decade from looking for grants to preparing a request for proposals (RFP).

The plan finally came together when they received two Community Connect grants - each worth $3 million - from the federal government’s Department of Agriculture (USDA). These were the only two grants awarded to a Minnesota community through this program.

The network will be mostly buried underground, which is often more expensive than putting the fiber on utility poles. The tribal government has pulled together another $2.2 million to put toward the project, and they also intend to apply for a Minnesota Border-to-Border grant to help with the cost of building the network. Officials estimate the project will cost a total of approximately $8.2 million. 

They plan on commencing service to the reservation with a pilot area as early as next spring to work out any issues before offering it to the wider service area.

[Secretary/treasurer Ferdinand] Martineau said. "It is very important for our community to have that access and I think it's a great project. It not only benefits the Fond du Lac Band but will benefit everyone in the project area." 

Tags: FTTHfederal fundingnative americanstribal landsminnesotaruralgranteconomic developmentanchor institutions

Saturday Show: Listen to a Latticework Interview with Elliot Noss

August 12, 2017

The Latticework podcast invited Elliot Noss, CEO of Tucows - the parent company of Ting - to discuss his work at Tucows and his thoughts on the future. The conversation touches on everything from the idea of post-Democracy to how companies build Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks.

Noss previously joined us for the Community Broadband Bits Podcast in 2015. In that episode, Chris and Noss discuss Ting's approach to FTTH and wireless networks and how that intersects with community networks. That podcast is available here.

Ting has a public-private-partnership with the city of Westminster, Maryland, and has started projects in a number of other cities including Holly Springs, North Carolina; Centennial, Colorado; and Sandpoint, Idaho. We discuss the Westminster partnership in our 2016 report, Successful Strategies for Broadband Public-Private Partnerships.

Listen below to the Latticework podcast (22 minutes):

 

Tags: tingelliot nossfiberaudioFTTH

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 265

August 11, 2017

This is the transcript of episode 265 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. In this episode, Lori Sandoval the telecom and regulatory administrator of Pasadena, California, joins the show to discuss the city's fiber network and business climate. Listen to this episode here.

 

Lori Sandoval: We saw an opportunity, and it was sort of the first hints of bringing in competitive carriers and trying to get more competition locally. We started thinking about how Pasadena could implement a fiber network here.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 265 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Lori Sandoval from Pasadena California talks with Christopher in this episode about the community's fiber-optic network. In addition to serving the municipality's needs, the network offers dark fiber connectivity, and is branching into other services for local businesses and entities. In this conversation, Lori explains how Pasadena got started in fiber-optics, how they funded the investment, and where they're headed next. As a reminder, this great conversation with Lori is commercial-free, but our work at ILSR does require funding. Please take a moment to contribute at ilsr.org. If you've already contributed, thanks. Now, here's Christopher with Lori Sandoval from Pasadena, California.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, and today I'm speaking with Lori Sandoval, the telecom and regulatory administrator for the City of Pasadena. Welcome to the show.

Lori Sandoval: Oh, thank you. I'm glad to be here.

Christopher Mitchell: For people who only know of Pasadena in terms of beautiful weather, and thinking about the lovely beaches and whatnot of Southern California, how would you describe it?

Lori Sandoval: Pasadena's a really interesting community. It's a little bit city, and a little bit suburbia. We are located north of downtown, have some world-class institutions here: CalTech, JPL, Rose Bowl, of course, ArtCenter School of Design, and a very vibrant local economy and social scene. It's a fun place to be.

Christopher Mitchell: And you have a municipal electric utility, I understand.

Lori Sandoval: We do, both water and power. We do other things, like we have one of the few city health departments in California.

Christopher Mitchell: Excellent. Well, let's talk a little bit about how Pasadena got involved with fiber-optics. Where did that come from?

Lori Sandoval: You know, there were a couple of different things that came together. Back in the mid-90s was the initial consideration. Our electric utility was using copper communications lines to link its facilities for a variety of monitoring purposes, and finding that they needed to do more, and that those copper lines weren't really meeting their needs. At the same time, we saw an opportunity, and it was sort of the first hints of bringing in competitive carriers and trying to get more competition locally. We were beginning to see some of the first municipal networks or muni-sponsored network initiatives, at least in our part of California. Those things came together. We started thinking about how Pasadena could implement a fiber network here.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, let's just pause for a second. I mean, I've really looked into Santa Monica, and I was just fascinated at the level of community involvement, and the CIO at the time was just really interested in thinking about this. Was there any specific people that were driving this forward, or was this something that was just kind of -- Was it bursting out of CalTech for instance, or how did it come about?

Lori Sandoval: No, I think it was more of a behind-the-scenes or quieter initiative, with a variety of city folks driving it, looking at how this could bring benefits to the community certainly, so it wasn't solely focused internally from that perspective. But then we started reaching out to identify, were there folks at CalTech or JPL and other local institutions and businesses who were interested. We did end up garnering quite a bit of support from those quarters during that outreach.

Christopher Mitchell: Were there kind of public meetings about it then, or was this more of like, "Hey, we're thinking about doing this. Let's just get together and chat about it"?

Lori Sandoval: We did a formal business plan, not the traditional community meetings, but lots of one-on-one interviews and discussions. Then we did present the business case for the network to the city council, so that was a public forum for discussion. Less community-focused than some initiatives, but that was an element there.

Christopher Mitchell: What was the business plan then? What was the focus that you were proposing to do?

Lori Sandoval: What we were looking at, from a business perspective, could we make an investment in this infrastructure and create a return on investment, and satisfy some needs of the city internally? There was definitely a cost offset aspect to it. A big factor underlying that business plan was the assumption that we would be leasing fiber to the private sector, to a competitive carrier, and that that would bring revenue in for the project, but it would also foster competition locally and support what we were hearing from the business community about needs that may not have been met.

Christopher Mitchell: You were looking primarily at connecting some municipal anchor institutions and hitting some key areas of town, but you weren't proposing to actually go to residents an things like that, right?

Lori Sandoval: That's correct. What we ended up doing was a 25-mile network that passes along some major corridors of the city, primarily in commercial areas, and of course picks up all of the power substations, for example, across the city, but it did not have a residential focus.

Christopher Mitchell: Well then I would guess that you probably do a fair amount of water monitoring too. I think people like us up here in Minnesota tend to forget that water's pretty important to keep track of down there.

Lori Sandoval: It is; however, unlike power, revenue on the water side is more constrained. I would have to say, on the water side we're doing less from a fiber-connected perspective than we do on the electric side.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, yeah. I'm not too surprised to hear that because it seems that that's true of a lot of places, and sometimes I hear people complaining that the tools uses to try and track the water aren't nearly as good as have been developed for the electric side. But I guess I'm curious, would you say that that network that you moved forward with, I mean, it's going on 20 years, was that a success?

Lori Sandoval: I would say so, yes. We've accomplished much of what we set out to accomplish in that initial kind of business plan, and in terms of facilitating self-reliance for city operations, but also filling some needs that were not being met in the community. That ranges from bringing that competitive carrier in and making a wider variety of services available to businesses locally, but also meeting some of the dark fiber needs of our local institutions, and offsetting a variety of expenses at the city level, or improving connectivity by moving to fiber and off of copper.

Christopher Mitchell: To clarify, when you talk about the competitive carrier, that's a company that basically wanted to try to deliver services to some of the businesses in your community but it needed access to municipal fiber to do it because they didn't want to build their own fiber. Is that right?

Lori Sandoval: That's correct. Yeah.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay. I think it's always worth noting that, because those of us advocating for municipal networks are sometimes accused of being anti-business, which I find deeply ironic since the reason most local governments have gotten into this is specifically to support local businesses and give opportunities to other businesses to try and connect them.

Lori Sandoval: Yes.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the reasons that we wanted to have you on was to talk about where the network is going, because as you said, the network has succeeded, and now it sounds like you're getting a little bit more ambitious.

Lori Sandoval: Yes. I think we initially installed our network in 1998 and 1999, and we built incrementally but very slowly over another 15 or so years. But starting in about 2015, we've really tried to expand our view of what the network can do and where we can go. This falls in a couple different areas. One is just a recognition of the number of things, or targets, that we might connect to fiber that would be of benefit to city operations, and that reflects a evolution of technology. We're doing a lot more connecting of devices in the field, and we need to get fiber to more places to do that. The other aspect of it is that competitive carrier meets some, but not all, needs in the community, and there was an opportunity for us to use fiber in a creative way, as a creative tool to facilitate economic develop and to assist with business attraction and retention. That's sort of the area that we're moving into now, with a focus on a lot of new fiber installation over the past two years.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that we've seen with cities that started off like yours is that the focus on dark fiber gets you so far. There's some businesses, often more data-intensive businesses, that they are looking for dark fiber, but a lot of businesses are just thinking, "You know, I just want a basic connection." Is that what you're doing more of now is you're starting to offer some of that -- I guess in some ways you might think of it as -- It's obviously a lit service, but I think of it as more just a basic connection to folks that don't want to have to deal with dark fiber.

Lori Sandoval: That's correct. We are looking now more at how we can provide a transport service, so we're leveraging a DWDM, or dense wave division multiplexing, network that we have up and running to meet city needs. We're leveraging capacity in that to carry traffic from businesses that may not be getting what they need from other providers, and partnering with an ISP that has a local data center, so really providing an alternative Internet connectivity for businesses, particularly those that may not be able to get that currently from another provider.

Christopher Mitchell: Are you also seeing the need for businesses that aren't even really looking for Internet, they just want to connect themselves to different branch locations maybe?

Lori Sandoval: We typically have provided a dark fiber solution in those instances, and aren't seeing as much of a need for a lit connection, but to create a campus network. We tend to be serving entities like CalTech and JPL and the local ArtCenter College of Design with dark fiber.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that I'm always curious about is some of the numbers around this in terms of the revenues that you have been seeing from leasing the dark fiber and the cost of expanding the network.

Lori Sandoval: I'm going to go back to the beginning of our network development. Something that was important for us was that we didn't go out, and didn't issue bonds to finance the network. We looked at some internal reserve funds that were essentially loaned to the project. It was very important for us to, when we did the dark fiber lease to that competitive carrier, to be able to pay back that loan. Our initial budget was 1.8 million. We were able to pay back that internal loan within about 13 months of leasing the fiber. Our revenue stream was very heavy on the front end, and at this point we are bringing in revenues of about 480,000 annually. It's a fairly steady revenue stream right now. We are looking at some of the things that we've just talked about of growing that revenue stream over time again.

Christopher Mitchell: What kind of expenses are you seeing to do the connections that you were talking about adding on to it today?

Lori Sandoval: We've budgeted about 600,000 a year for a network expansion program, where we're looking at essentially a five-year program that will increase capacity within our existing ring, and then also extend fiber to places that it isn't currently within the city. That covers really the kind of backbone and mainline installations. Then we really budget on a connection-by-connection basis when we bring on new commercial buildings or additional city facilities and the like.

Christopher Mitchell: When you bring on a new building, let's assume it's a commercial building, do you charge that to them right away up front, or do you try to make it up over time? How do you work that out?

Lori Sandoval: Typically we do try to make it up over time. You know, in order to make this a feasible business proposition for a local customer, they're typically not in a position to pay the full installation cost up front, and so we are recouping that over time.

Christopher Mitchell: Do you have them in a contract then? The reason I ask is this is a common question, because I think one of the things I've seen is cities say, "Well, we'll just expand it at their expense," and then they find that many businesses, even if they have a sense they're going to make that money back, they're still unwilling to make the commitment.

Lori Sandoval: Yeah. We're not going to expand the network by getting customers to pay up front for all of those extensions. Particularly if it's a commercial building where there's the opportunity or the possibility of serving multiple customers, then we would look at, how can we look at this creatively so that we're not essentially killing the deal up front, you know? We want to make it feasible for businesses to proceed with our service. To answer you question about an agreement, we do capture the kind of the terms and conditions under which we're providing the service in a standard city agreement. We know that the revenue stream is going to be there over time, even if we're not getting the upfront costs right at the beginning of the arrangement.

Christopher Mitchell: I'm curious if you've looked into any low-income housing issues, like if you have any public housing or anything, using your fiber to try and connect them at all, or if there's a different solution?

Lori Sandoval: We've looked at it to some extent. The city does not own any low-income housing developments, but we're very active in working with other entities that do. We explored a grant program that helps fund infrastructure development basically to extent connectivity to low-income housing developments. Through that evaluation, I learned that there are locally-managed low-income housing developments that have applied for those grant funds, but there didn't seem to be a direct city role in that process. It really needs to be the owner of the building that leverages those funds.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, that makes sense, and most of the activity that I think we're seeing where cities are getting involved in this directly, whether it's in San Francisco or Wilson, North Carolina have done it, it's generally to publicly-owned housing stock. If you don't have that, you're options are certainly more constrained.

Lori Sandoval: One thing that we have focused on, sort of in contrast, is, is there a way for us to leverage fiber and other resources to provide connectivity to the public in general, so not necessarily in housing, but in community centers and parks? That's also an area where we've been trying to do more, and have been gearing up to push out a Wi-Fi service that is backhauled over fiber, but supporting public Internet access in that fashion.

Christopher Mitchell: Great. Well, is there anything else that we should know about what you're working on to improve Internet access in Pasadena?

Lori Sandoval: We also are looking at how we can work earlier in the development process. We are having something of a develop boom here in Pasadena, seeing a lot of new projects being implemented, and so always trying to look for, is there a way that we can get involved in those projects early on to establish paths for the future, both figurative and actual paths? So can we accommodate, or can we incorporate, conduit for potential future fiber links into commercial spaces and institutional spaces so that we're not trying to do that down the road when it's more expensive to do so, and also creating those relationships so that developers and the folks that they have assisting them in projects understand that the city is a potential provider, whether it's for dark fiber or other Internet or Internet-related connectivity. I know that there's one development in particular, and possibly others, in Pasadena that are pursuing wired certification. They're looking for that redundancy and resiliency in their building's connectedness. That's something that we're trying to explore at this point in time.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, I think those relationships are important, more important than people sometimes realize. Do you have any requirements in code to, for instance, have a nice demarcation point where you can get into the building once you're ready with the fiber?

Lori Sandoval: No, we don't. We have been working on a more informal basis, so trying to share information, both within departments that interact with developers and others who are implementing new projects, as well as with contacts with the developers themselves.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, that's something that I've seen up here in a suburb of Minneapolis where they're working on getting something into code, but in the meantime, they've had really great experience just developing those discussions with the companies that are building properties, in this case mostly apartment building type properties, to make sure that the wiring is good enough to support multiple providers that may be available in the future. Thank you so much for coming on and telling us more about what's going on in Pasadena, and good luck.

Lori Sandoval: Oh, thank you, and I enjoyed the opportunity to share about the Pasadena network.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Lori Sandoval describing the City of Pasadena's foray into fiber-optics. We have transcripts for this and other Community Broadband Bits podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/BroadbandBits. Email us at Podcast@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. Follow MuniNetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other ILSR podcasts, Building Local Power 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 by also subscribing to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and thanks for listening to episode 265 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcriptdark fiberI-Netpasadenacaliforniaanchor institutions

Internet Association's Video Looks At Network Neutrality And What ISPs Are Really Saying

August 11, 2017

With the FCC taking another look at the advancements in network neutrality rules passed during the Obama administration, the topic has been on the lips of many segments of the population. Many of us consider a free an open Internet a necessity to foster innovation and investment, but the words from the lips of the big ISPs are changing, depending on whom they’re talking to.

The Internet Association, who went on record in 2015 in support local authority for Internet infrastructure investment, recently released a video about the fickle financial reporting of Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon. 

The Internet Association describes the situation like this:

In our latest video, Internet Association takes a look at what Internet Service Providers (ISPs) told the government about net neutrality’s impact on investment and what they told their investors about its impact. They don’t quite match up.

Something to keep in mind: when companies like ISPs talk to their investors, they’re legally obligated to tell the truth.

The question of infrastructure investment is an important one because network investment helps the entire Internet economy grow and thrive. Innovative websites and apps fuel consumer demand for the Internet, which in turn fosters further network investment, which then fosters further innovation by websites and apps.

At Internet Association, we believe that the only way to preserve the free and open internet – and this cycle of innovation – is through strong, enforceable net neutrality rules like the ones currently on the books.

Check out the video and hear the contradictions from the lips CFOs who head up these big ISPs. What’s the real story here?

Tags: internet associationnetwork neutralityinfrastructurecomcastverizonvideoliesfinancial

Cooperatives Connect Rural America on ILSR’s Building Local Power Podcast

August 10, 2017
Building Local Power Episode 26 Connecting Rural America

Electric cooperatives have the potential to build next-generation networks to provide high-speed Internet service, and they are stepping up to the plate. In episode 26 of the Building Local Power podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), Nick Stumo-Langer sits down with Christopher Mitchell and Hannah Trostle to discuss how electric cooperatives are improving Internet access in rural communities. 

From Washington to Missouri, many rural folks already have high-speed Internet service through cooperatives. Hannah describes how the cooperatives did that, and then Christopher dives into some of the barriers to local investment. Check out a summary of their research on the resource page Cooperatives Build Community Networks -updated monthly. 

This conversation also builds on Building Local Power podcast episode 12 with Karlee Wienmann. Hannah and Karlee discuss how cooperatives work on both Internet access and renewable energy. That episode is available at ILSR.org along with all the other Building Local Power podcast episodes.

Listen to Nick, Hannah, and Christopher in episode 26, Connecting Rural America: Internet Access for All.  

 

Tags: ruralcooperativerural electric coopchristopher mitchellinstitute for local self-reliancepolicylocal

Burlington Considers Bid Process for BT

August 9, 2017

The clock is ticking as the city of Burlington examines bids from entities to buy or partner to operate Burlington Telecom. The community has narrowed down what sort of characteristics they want in a buyer, but there is also some debate about the process as city officials move toward the final process.

On To The Next Step

The community received eight bids, none coming from large national telecommunications companies. Early in July, the Burlington Telecom Advisory Board (BTAB) reported that the highest bid was two and a half times the lowest, but they did not make dollar amounts public. They’ve eliminated some of the bids and on July 31st, the finalists are scheduled to make presentations to the City Council in an executive session. 

While price is a factor that the city and the BTAB are considering, it isn’t the only criterion that matters. Last year, the BTAB released a report based on community input, recommending the city first look for a locally based entity. Many people in Burlington like BT as a locally controlled asset and fear it may eventually be swallowed up by one of the large, distant carriers. 

Keep BT Local formed when city residents banded together to create a cooperative. They started in 2012 and have recruited members committed to keeping BT in the hands of local residents. Keep BT Local was one of the entities that submitted a bid.

How Much Public Input?

Keep BT Local is the only bidder that has publicly acknowledged its decision to bid on the network and city officials are still undecided about how much information to release to the public about bidders. Mayor Miro Weinberger has indicated he would prefer the bidders and their bibs remain confidential until after city officials make a final decision.

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

Keep BT Local’s chairman Alan Mattson, understands the reasoning, but also believes releasing the information would allow the public to be more engaged in the process.

The upside to engaging the public is that it would create greater support for whomever is eventually selected, Mattson said, while helping city officials make a selection that’s truly in the public interest.

Mattson pointed to the process by which City Market was selected to build a grocery store at its downtown location as an example. Public input swayed that process by showing that residents preferred the co-op to a Shaw’s.

“We should all put our cards on the table, and let those cards play,” Mattson said.

A recent VT Digger article pointed out a potential conflict of interest based on the city’s relationship with Dorman & Fawcett, the firm which has helped manage BT and will received a share of the final sale price. Mayor Weinberger says, “We are very aware of that potential conflict and working to make sure it doesn’t become an actual conflict.”

Concern has developed because the firm could be in a position to sway public officials’ decision regarding the process. 

“Mr. Dorman of course is used to a completely private kind of sale, and here we have a public that feels strongly vested in this decision and rightly so,” [City Council President Jane] Knodell said. “We need to take that into consideration while also acknowledging that disclosure in some cases could be adverse to the public’s interest.”

It's Been A Long Road

In 2014, Burlington came to a settlement with Citibank, which required the city to sell the municipal network either in whole or in part. A previous Mayoral administration hid major cost overruns from the public for years and the city eventually owed Citibank approximately $33 million. After a drawn out lawsuit, the parties settled. They city would pay $10.5 million to the company and a share of BT’s future value.

Burlington had to turn to a local business owner for the bridge funding, who agreed to provide much of the funding in exchange for transfer of ownership of the network to Blue Water LLC, a company created specifically for this purpose. The city then leased the network from Blue Water.

If Burlington sells BT by January, the city will keep more funds from the sale, under the terms of the settlement agreement with Citibank. Burlington officials say they’re on track to meet that date; any final deal must be approved by Vermont’s Public Utility Commission.

Tags: BurlingtonBurlington TelecomVermontpublic v private

Pasadena Benefits From Municipal Fiber - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 265

August 8, 2017
Community Broadband Bits Episode 265 - Lori Sandoval, Pasadena Telecom & Regulatory Administrator

It shouldn't be surprising that the city that is home to CalTech and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory needs high-quality connectivity. Those institutions are part of the reason Pasadena began investing in its own fiber network.

To learn the other reasons and how they went about it, Pasadena's Telecom & Regulatory Administrator Lori Sandoval joins us on Community Broadband Bits podcast 265. 

The original business plan focused on connecting community anchor institutions and leasing dark fiber to private sector providers. They wanted to facilitate more private sector investment and competition in addition to meeting the internal needs of the city and the municipal electric utility.

Read the transcript of the show here.

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

This show is 21 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: dark fiberI-Netpasadenacaliforniaaudiobroadband bitspodcastanchor institutionsutility

Orange County And Its Schools Work For Fiber In Virginia

August 8, 2017

With a growing need for fast, affordable, reliable connectivity, an increasing number of schools are constructing fiber optic infrastructure to serve their facilities. In some cases, they partner with local government and a collaboration eventually leads to better options for an entire community. Schools in Orange County, Virginia, will be working with county government to build a $1.3 million network.

Quickly Growing Community

Orange County’s population of approximately 34,000 people is growing rapidly, having increased by 29 percent between 2000 and 2010. Nevertheless, it’s primarily rural with no large cities. Gordonsville (pop. 1,500) and Orange (pop. 4,800 and the county seat) are the only towns. Another community called Lake of the Woods is a census-designated place where about 7,200 people live. The rest of the county is filled with unincorporated communities. There are 343 square miles in Orange County of rolling hills with the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west.

Manufacturing and retail are large segments of the economy with 65 percent of all business having four or less employees as of 2013. Agriculture is also an important part of the community, including the growing local wine industry.

Working Together To Connect The County

The county and schools have teamed up to commence a multi-step project that begins by connecting the Orange County Public Schools’ facilities. A 33-mile wide area network (WAN) will connect all eight buildings. Federal E-rate funds will pay for approximately 80 percent of the deployment costs and Orange County and the school district will share the remaining costs from other funding. The partners plan to deploy extra capacity for future uses.

Once the first phase of the network is complete, the county hopes to use the excess capacity to improve public safety operations. Sheriff, Fire, and EMS services need better communications so the county intends to invest in additional towers, which will also create an opportunity for fixed wireless and cellular telephone providers.

The OCBbA wants to eventually use the new infrastructure to improve access for residents and businesses. The network will be made available to ISPs interested in offering services in the area.

“Orange is a very under-served area when it comes to Internet connectivity. This will allow them the backbone and the ability now to come off the backbone and get the internet to our citizens,” Darell Hatfield, Orange County Public Schools director of technology said.

Starting At The Beginning

The Orange County Broadband Authority (OCBbA) formed in the spring of 2016 and established the initiative to develop an open access network aimed at improving rural connectivity. While the first two phases of the network that will serve educational and public safety needs seem assured, the OCBbA’s plan to do more is not a certainty. They also want to expand the network across the northern section of the county, but do not have an implementation date or funding yet.

The county hopes high-speed Internet serves as the gateway to attract new businesses and create a better quality of life.

“We're pretty confident we're on the right path of getting the infrastructure in place, and then it's just whatever the mind can be creative about how to apply that technology,” Bryan David, Orange County administrator, said.

Check out the OCBbA presenation about Strategic Priorities here.

Tags: orange countyvirginiaschool districtschoolpartnershipe-rateopen accesspublic safetyrural

Community Broadband Media Roundup - August 7

August 7, 2017

California

LA's lack of high-speed Internet options hinders students, studies show by Jason McGahan, LA Weekly

 

Colorado

Atteberry: Reliable Internet necessary for Fort Collins' future by Darin Atteberry, The Coloradoan

In today’s digital economy, reliable, high-speed access is a necessity, not only for the tech industry, but also for our health care systems, educational institutions, and thousands of other companies and their employees who work here.

 

Maine

For Maine islands, Internet means opportunity by Fred Bever, National Public Radio

Belfast to develop a community technology plan by FreePress Online

 

North Carolina

Rural broadband: How long must Orange County wait? by Bonnie Hauser, Durham Herald Sun

 

General

Cable lobby claims US is totally overflowing in broadband competition by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

Connecting across the digital divide by KBIA Editor

Broadband & healthcare - just what the doctor ordered by Craig Settles, The Daily Yonder

The digital divide between rural and urban America's access to Internet by CBS News Staff

Last year a federal court defined it as a basic utility like running water or electricity, but in rural areas across America, high-speed internet often ends at the county line.Just 3 percent of people in urban areas lack access to broadband, but in rural areas, 35 percent of people have no access.

That's about 22 million Americans.

Tags: media roundup

Two Publicly Owned Networks Move To Privatize

August 7, 2017

If you’re a regular reader at MuniNetworks.org, listen to our podcasts, or if you simply follow publicly owned network news, you know an increasing number of communities have decided to invest in local connectivity solutions in recent years. We’ve watched the number of “pins” on our community network map multiply steadily, but every now and then, a network drops off through privatization.

FastRoads Sold To N.H. Optical Systems

New Hampshire FastRoads received America Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which combined with state funding, created the open access fiber optic network in the southwest section of the state. Over the next several years, the network expanded with private donations and local matching funds. Many of the premises that connected to the network had relied on dial-up before FastRoads came to town. But in part because state law makes bonding for network expansion difficult, Fast Roads will no longer be locally controlled.

The Monadnock Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), a nonprofit organization whose purpose is working to see like projects are completed that will improve economic development prospects in the region managed the project. MEDC contracted with another entity to maintain the network, which cost approximately $15,000 per month. Since they had achieved their core goal - the construction and launch of the network - MEDC had been looking for another entity to take over the network or to partner with them. They recently finalized a deal to sell the network to New Hampshire Optical Systems

Back in 2013, Christopher spoke with Carole Monroe, who was the FastRoads Project CEO but has since moved on to ECFiber in Vermont. She described how the introduction of the network inspired incumbents to lower prices - a win for everyone, whether they connected to FastRoads or not. She also told us how community anchor institutions (CAIs) were getting better pricing and the services they needed, which meant saving public dollars. Even though the network wasn’t finished yet, it was already providing local benefits.

When the network was complete in 2014, it was 250 miles long and serving some businesses and households in 19 rural towns and more than 230 CAIs. Approximately 1,300 homes obtain last mile service through providers that offer Internet access via FastRoads infrastructure in several communities and in other areas it serves as a middle mile network only.

The project encountered about 18 months of delay during construction due to difficulties that arose when other entities would not cooperate by moving their cables on utility poles. The State Public Utilities Commission and the NTIA had to step in to broker a deal so the project could move forward. The delay hurt the network’s ability to expand quickly, which put it at a financial disadvantage. These pole attachment problems are a standard way existing providers harass new network builders.

NHOS purchased FastRoads assets and name. Having built an ARRA funded middle mile network that spans the state, NHOS has significant experience and resources, 

Consolidation: Defeating A Purpose Of FastRoads?

One of the purposes behind FastRoads was to improve services for residents and businesses in the region who were grossly underserved, some with antiquated dial-up connections. Another reason for the infrastructure was to increase competition in an area where there was almost none. But consolidation as again come knocking.

186 Communications is the majority owner and operator of NHOS and, according to a July 12 press release, FirstLight is acquiring 186 Communications. Over the past several years, FirstLight has acquired assets from other local companies, including segTEL, TelJet, G4 Communications, Oxford Networks, and Sovernet Communications. It’s difficult to predict what will become of FastRoads and its subscribers once it is part of a large private entity, rather than the publicly owned community network developed for the people who live in the region.

We touched base with Carole Monroe once more to get her thoughts. She pointed out how challenging the process was for the MDEC, partly because rules in New Hampshire don’t favor public investment:

New Hampshire is a difficult place for municipal broadband of any kind. There is little support at the state level and no state financial support at all. Municipalities are prevented from bonding for broadband infrastructure. This situation makes it difficult for the municipalities connected to FastRoads to assist in a rural FTTH expansion.

The state legislature has taken up bills to change the bonding restriction, but legislation typically gets stalled in committee. Until financing to put better connectivity is put in place, New Hampshire's rural regions are severely limited in their options to improve connectivity.

Leesburg, Florida, Considering Selling Fiber Utility

The state of Florida also discourages municipal Internet infrastructure investment, but Leesburg invested in fiber before the law came into play. Leesburg’s communications utility offers connectivity to CAIs and businesses in Lake County over a 300-mile fiber optic network. The city also uses the network for municipal needs.

Leesburg has had the infrastructure in place since 1993; it invested in the infrastructure originally for smart grid purposes. Last year, city officials announced that they were interested in selling the communications utility but only received one offer for $1.5 million, which they deemed unacceptable. This year, they received an offer from Summit Communication for $8 million. Pending resolving all the details, the transaction may close as early as September. One of the important details that need to be worked out is how much of the infrastructure needs to be retained by the city to serve as its I-Net.

According to a recent Daily Commercial article, the budget for the fiber optic utility is $2.2 million and it contributes $100,000 to the general fund each year. City Manager Al Minner describes the utility as “not really a core business for us.” 

Residents and businesses should remember that if the network takes the path many others do - going from owner to owner, increasingly to owners well outside the community that raise prices and refuse to invest in needed upgrades. 

Tough Times In Tough States

Bristol, Virginia, has been coping with the impending loss of its celebrated BVU OptiNet, the municipal FTTH that served Bristol, saving the community millions while producing thousands of jobs. When several BVU Authority officials were indicted and found guilty of corruption, Sunset Digital Communications made an offer to purchase the network. While local officials may be looking forward to shedding the responsibility and the negative fallout from the past, BVU’s partner Cumberland Plateau Company (CPC) has expressed misgivings about privatization.

At one point, CPC considered litigation against BVU because they felt they had not been adequately consulted and they questioned the legality of the deal. The CPC is an entity established by the state legislature to improve economic development in the region and, according to their arrangement with BVU, they had a right of first refusal to the network assets.

After months of conversation and wrangling, the three entities seemed to come to an agreement, but recently local leaders are vocally speaking out against privatization. Ron Peters is a member of the Dickenson County Board of Supervisors, a past Chairman of the CPC, and a current member of the Virginia Coalfield Planning District Commission, which is the parent organization of the CPC. He feels that the public deserves better.

“What bothers me is that folks should really be alarmed that you’re throwing everything into one company,” he said.

The State of Virginia has crippled BVU by implementing state laws that limit expansion, serving big cable and telephone companies instead of the people of the state who need better connectivity. The ultimate goal should be expanding infrastructure, but legislators have been more concerned with keeping the big cable and telephone companies happy by restricting competitive investment.

Privatization Is More Than Just A Sale

Even though public investment is outpacing privatization of publicly owned assets, it’s important that potential harms be weighed against what a community gains if they choose to sell a community network to the private sector. If a community wishes to rid itself of debt by liquidating a valuable asset, they may be tempted to sell a fiber optic network and free themselves of the responsibility.

Once a network has been sold into the private sector, there is nothing to prevent one of the large ISPS, such as Comcast or AT&T, from buying it. Often local communities invest in Internet network infrastructure when these absentee corporate providers woldn't invest in a community. Privatizing a network removes accountability. Cooperatives and municipal networks look at a community holistically rather than as a simple profit center.

Each community must examine their unique situation and determine what is best for residents, businesses, and public facilities. If, however, local businesses and residents have come to depend on the quality of service and consistent rates that typically generate from publicly owned networks, they may be in for a rude awakening when once again dealing with absentee ownership of essential infrastructure.

Map of the New London service area courtesy of the FastRoads website.

Tags: fastroadsnew hampshireleesburgfloridapublic v privateconsolidationstate lawsbondinfrastructurenonprofitutilitysmart-grid

"Net Neutrality Has Rural Impact" : Mountain Talk And Mimi Pickering

August 4, 2017

As the new administration’s FCC re-examines Network Neutrality rules, rural communities are wondering how any changes may affect areas in the U.S. that already have difficulties obtaining fast, affordable, reliable Internet service. In a recent Mountain Talk podcast, Mimi Pickering tackles the question by talking to several knowledgeable guests.

In addition to Christopher, Mimi talks with other guests who offer insight into why Network Neutrality is critical to rural areas as we move forward. Rural areas tend to feel impacts harder than urban areas. The show includes audio from past interviews, news reports, and events.

Making Connections News describes the show:

The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) move to repeal Net Neutrality and classification of Broadband Internet as a Title II Telecommunications Service could have significant impact on rural America, where the digital divide is already the largest. 

In this edition of Mountain Talk, host Mimi Pickering explores potential impacts with economist Roberto Gallardo from Mississippi State University Extension Services and Christopher Mitchell, Director of Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. 

We also hear from a 2015 interview with Edyael Casaperalta, representing the Rural Broadband Working Group of the National Rural Assembly, on the 2015 reclassification of Broadband as a Title II Telecommunications Service and its potential to reduce the digital divide, increase competition, and protect consumers. 

Finally, FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn talks about her work on the FCC to increase access and affordability for people of color, low income, and rural communities. Her term at the FCC will soon end but she promises to continue to speak for those who are not typically represented and calls on all folks to make their voices heard at the FCC at every opportunity.

Christopher joins the interview at around 30 minutes into the show.

Tags: christopher mitchellinterviewaudioruralappalachiansnetwork neutralityeconomic developmentpress center

The Broadband Market is Broken: Don't Fall for Lobbyist Lies

August 3, 2017

We’ve all been lied to, but when we’re lied to by those we rely on, it’s the worst. Right now, we are all subject to a lie about our Internet access. That lie is rooted in the idea that the best way to move forward is to allow the free market to dictate our access to the Internet, along with the quality of services, privacy protections, and competition.

The big ISPs try to tell us “it’s a competitive market,” then they tell their shareholders competition is scarce. They tell legislators they fear competing against relatively small municipal networks and cooperatives that only serve singular regions but they have subscribers in vast swaths across the country. Federal decision makers tout the benefits of competition, but approve consolidation efforts by a few powerful companies that are already behemoths. This reality is The Big Lie.

What can we do about it? First, understand the cause of the problem. Next, share that understanding. We’ve created this short video to explain The Big Lie; we encourage you to share it and to check out our other resources. Our fact sheets and reports are a great place to start if you’re looking for a way to improve connectivity in your community. Don't forget to check out our other videos, too. 

Tags: videocompetitionconsolidationcomcastverizonfccfederal governmentlocalfree marketregulationnetwork neutralityprivacy

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 264

August 2, 2017

This is the transcript for episode 264 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Mason Carroll and Preston Rhea join Christopher Mitchell on the show to talk about their work at Monkeybrains, an urban wireless Internet Service Provider. Listen to the audio here.

Mason Carroll: Every single person needs to have their own Internet connection. This is not just like, "Oh, I can sort of get the building-wide Wi-Fi as I stand near my front door." No. You should have your own Internet connection that you can plug in, and watch TV, or set up a computer, or to do your work. That's really what digital quality is.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 264 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Episode 264 takes us to San Francisco, home to the Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars, and Monkeybrains. Preston Rhea and Mason Carroll from the Internet service provider are here to tell us about the local company, the services they provide in the Bay Area, and the work they're doing to chip away at the digital divide. Learn more about the company at Monkeybrains.net. As a reminder, this conversation with Preston and Mason is commercial free, but our work at ILSR requires funding. Please take a moment to contribute at ILSR.org. If you have already contributed, thank you. Now, here's Christopher with Preston Rhea and Mason Carroll, from Monkeybrains.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Joining me today is Preston Rhea, Senior Field Engineer for Monkeybrains, an ISP in California. Welcome to the show.

Preston Rhea: Thanks Chris, a pleasure to be here.

Christopher Mitchell: And we also have Mason Carroll, Lead Engineer for Monkeybrains. Welcome to the show as well.

Mason Carroll: Yeah, thanks a lot.

Christopher Mitchell: So, I think the first question is, monkey brains, I remember running into those in a Harrison Ford movie a long time ago. What is Monkeybrains in San Francisco?

Preston Rhea: Monkeybrains is a local Internet service provider. We're a wireless ISP, or WISP, and we're basically entirely within the city of San Francisco just providing Internet for everyone from residences to businesses to large buildings.

Christopher Mitchell: When you say wireless ISP, does that mean you're delivering things over Wi-Fi? Or, how exactly does it work, Preston?

Preston Rhea: Our primary mode of delivering the Internet is through wireless point-to-point, and point-to-multipoint rooftop antennas, so that's terrestrial point-to-point and we'll go up on a rooftop and set up a dish, and align it to a dish that's somewhere else, and then ultimately everything, of course, goes back to fiber and to the greater Internet, but those wireless links allow us to be really flexible and they do quite a bit of bandwidth as well.

Christopher Mitchell: We've previously interviewed people from netBlazr which is a similar effort in Boston, and Webpass, which is a competitor of yours in San Francisco. Is there anything really different about Monkeybrains, Mason, that other WISPs may not be doing?

Mason Carroll: I think traditionally, WISP is generally a solution for people in rural areas. In rural areas generally there has not been a lot of, maybe is not high-capacity infrastructure, so you can deploy a radio link over any distance and get connectivity. Monkeybrains is a little bit different where we're an urban WISP so we're only in the city of San Francisco. We actually have a few links in Oakland. The value that wireless provides in San Francisco, for example, is that it's quite challenging to add fiber in the streets due to permitting issues and just the fact that it's a dense city so you can't just dig up the street to add fiber. So you have an economy like San Francisco where the economy is booming, and if someone moves into a warehouse building, there's no high speed Internet available. Or maybe they have a DSL capability there but they need a full gigabit per second. So what's nice about the wireless technology of what Monkeybrains can do is in a matter of 48 hours if necessary we can come out, install a licensed radio link, in a point-to-point topology, and we can deliver full gigabit speed really, really quickly. It's a great solution if pulling fiber to the building isn't really feasible. Also, our customers tend to find that -- a lot of times we have customers who, say, "Oh, we're ordering fiber to our building, we're just going to get Monkeybrains for three months until the fiber comes in." We deliver the Internet and then three months later their fiber's not in. Six months later they're -- hit more delays, and then a year later, they're like, "Actually, this service that Monkeybrains has been providing is extremely reliable. This fiber contract is exorbitant and they've been missing deadlines, so we're actually just going to stick with Monkeybrains as our primary uplink."

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I've certainly heard a lot of good stories over the years about Monkeybrains, but the reason that we wanted to have you on now, finally, what pushed me over the edge, was seeing Preston, your name, as someone I'm familiar with from having been with the Open Technology Institute at New America, and seeing this really interesting project in Hunters Point with the low-income housing units. Preston, can you tell us what's going on there?

Preston Rhea: Sure, there has been a lot of redevelopment of public and affordable housing throughout the city and county of San Francisco, and a program called RAD, and this program has sort of opened up some possibilities for reassessing how services are provided at publicly supported housing. So, the Hunters Point East/West Apartments, which is spread across two sites in the Hunters Point neighborhood of San Francisco, came to our attention a little over a year ago in February of 2016 thanks to Kami Griffiths, the Community Technology Network who pointed out that the Housing Authority there, the San Francisco Housing Development Corporation, was looking to use some grant money they got from the mayor's office to provide Internet, basically. They wanted Wi-Fi at these, at the housing that they were renovating. When we got wind of it we decided to do something really interesting and different, because just like a lot of providers, if the Internet is an afterthought because they think of the Internet of course as something that another provider will come in and provide, and oftentimes privately in some way, or they think that we'll just throw up some Wi-Fi access points and everyone's going to have service and it's going to be great, we decided to do something that utilizes our expertise and hooking up direct end customers and saying, well actually, if the infrastructure is right we could provide extremely high speed Internet directly to each unit of Hunters Point without managing access points you could actually provide just a plug in your own router and you could get a gigabit of Internet just like that. So we worked out what that would look like, and we've been doing that work for some time now. There's like phase redevelopment that's occurring across the 27 buildings at Hunters Point, so just the other week, finally after a lot of wrangling of the infrastructure and working with the folks who are doing the reconstruction there, we managed to light up the first several dozen units in Hunters Point, and that's really exciting to see those really fast Internet speeds coming out of their walls.

Christopher Mitchell: I saw in an article about it that you'll ultimately be doing 212 units, which is more than 300 people in just this kind of phase, but that in time you're going to be actually servicing more than 1000 units.

Preston Rhea: Yeah, that's right. So at Hunters Point East/West there's 212 units, but we also managed to get in on a grant series called the California Advanced Services Fund that the state Public Utilities Commission offered, in order to work with a couple other housing providers to provide very high speed Internet to a bunch of other properties in the city. So I think we've already completed a couple of those properties, a couple of women's shelters, and we've got a whole bunch coming online through the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation, which has property throughout the Mission and through the Civic Center and Tenderloin area in San Francisco.

Mason Carroll: What's really different about those, Preston kind of hit on it but I wanted to just bring it home, is that a lot of times in these public housing projects, they want to set up wireless access points, but we really believe that in order to properly address digital right issues, every single person needs to have their own Internet connection. This is not just like, "Oh, I can sort of get Wi-Fi, the building-wide Wi-Fi, if I stand near my front door." No. You should have your own Internet connection that you can plug in and watch TV or set up a computer to do your work. That's really what digital quality is, especially in the low-income housing, there's building-wide Wi-Fi but some of -- no matter what kind of wireless solution you deploy, there's going to be dead areas. If you can deliver proper broadband you actually give people the ability to cancel their expensive cable TV packages and whatnot. If the people that live there, if they can save 100 dollars a month and not order a cable connection, that 100 dollars a month makes a really big impact on that communities.

Christopher Mitchell: To remind people, you're running very high-capacity links to the roof and then using the structured wiring to deliver individual circuits to each person so that if you had that shared campus Wi-Fi as you're discussing, a neighbor that may have three kids that are all streaming could really put a dent into that Wi-Fi capacity whereas the approach that you're discussing, you would not have that problem because the congestion would be occurring basically, if it did at all, on the highest capacity links where I'm guessing you'd want it to occur.

Mason Carroll: Yeah, and I think generally, when people are having problems with getting on the Internet, I think a lot of times they say, "Oh, my neighbor is using up all the bandwidth." Then in reality the issue is more likely to be just based on their location and their proximity to the wireless access point and other noise factors and whatnot. They just have a bad connection to the wireless access point and those kind of problems are just extremely hard to troubleshoot. I mean, everyone probably has had problems, just bizarre problems with Wi-Fi in their own homes or in their offices that they work at, and it's really as much an art as a science, setting up Wi-Fi and if you actually have your own ethernet connection, your own ethernet port, you actually have the ability to, if you're having connectivity issues, you actually have the ability to work on it yourself, and at the end of the day, if you could plug your computer directly into it.

Christopher Mitchell: How much is Monkeybrains charging the people in these units for service?

Mason Carroll: It's going to be zero dollars per month for all residents.

Christopher Mitchell: And, Mason, how long is that going to last? Is that kind of forever kind of thing? Or is this a trial basis, or what's the expectation?

Mason Carroll: Well, for the Hunters Point East/West, the property management company is committed to paying us ten dollars per month per unit for I think, a couple years, and then after that we may end up just donating bandwidth. I'm not really sure about the financial aspect of that. Maybe Preston remembers that better.

Preston Rhea: Yeah, to speak to that, that's right, and also because we got to upgrade the -- we were originally just going to do Hunters Point sort of on our own contract using that grant money from the mayor's office that SFHDC has, but thanks to getting a CAFS grant from the state, they're able to extend more of that money into paying for service for more years, but it will be charged at that rate to the housing provider for five years, which is the term that the CAFS grant requires. It has to be the same cost, basically, to residents, for five years, and then after that, a lot changes in five years but I think that we definitely have, as a company, a commitment to providing an affordable housing rate, and we're targeting that rate depending on the situation, at 10 dollars, or free, per unit per month.

Mason Carroll: Yeah, I mean, really, Monkeybrains is prepared to do it for free but we're hoping to continue to try to apply for some grant money to help fund it. Obviously we're not really making any money on this project be we really think it's important to be good citizens and also, we're hoping to, moving forward, just get a seat at the table in the discussion about broadband in the future of San Francisco and I think we're getting a lot of attention and good will.

Christopher Mitchell: I've never built or run a network like this, but I've been trying to get a better sense of the costs involved and my impression is, and I'd just like you to correct anything that I get wrong, but my impression is, is that when you do have this kind of one-time grant funding that 10 dollars a month is going to basically cover your costs, and so Monkeybrains would be able to do this at a loss, as you said, if you charge nothing, but if you're able to recover a reasonable fee per household, then this is something that could work and is not going to really be a drain on your business such that it would be unsustainable, and that's always my fear. I mean, I'd love it if we could do it for free, but my concern is always, can we make this work indefinitely, and at 10 dollars a month, if you can get some grant money to build the up-front infrastructure and perhaps some amounts to refresh it. I'm curious if that works out.

Mason Carroll: Well, also, yeah, and what's really important for the success of these projects is, we call it in the industry, uniformity of service. If we're managing 1000 Internet connections you want them all to be more or less the same. So, in order to do that, it's really important for these housing authorities to go ahead and install Cat5s in every single unit, so there's a cat, there's a RJ45, a little ethernet port in the unit, and that wire runs to a panel in the telecenter of the building where we can just install an ethernet switch. It's easy to understand, it's easy to troubleshoot. It's reliable. If the housing authorities invest in that infrastructure when they're renovating the building, it actually enables us to deliver the service for really cheaply, whereas we work at a lot of older buildings where for example, there's no modern wiring, so we have a lot of tricks up our sleeves to deliver Internet over old wiring but, I mean, to be honest, it's not as reliable and easy to manage and there's a lot more cost and hassle with supporting it, so, if they invest the money up-front to build the modern wiring, it allows us to provide a phenomenal gigabit Internet product for very low cost, regardless of who pays for it.

Christopher Mitchell: I think the Housing and Urban Development folks under the Obama administration in 2016, I think they just recently, toward the end of the administration, made that a requirement, and I think that still stands. Let's hope so 'cause the more we can make it easy for ISPs to solve this problem, the less we would need to do in terms of public funding. Now, I'm curious, Preston, have there been any surprises? When you talk about Hunters Point being an area that's being redeveloped, are these new units that are being built, or are they rehabbed, or has there been any issue in terms of any challenges that were unexpected?

Preston Rhea: They're rehab units, Chris. I think that originally the Hunters Point East/West Apartments were built as Navy housing because there was a big naval base in that area. They were turned into public housing afterwards, so what's happening is that basically folks that have lived there for a while, and then they are relocated while the renovation is done, which takes us to maybe less than six months, and then they're moved right back in. There's not like a new building's going up. The same buildings that have been there are being redone, which is also sort of gotten us to look at exactly these infrastructural nuances that Mason was talking about, like, what is the level of service, and what is the level of infrastructure that makes it feasible for an ISP to provide a regular level of service like that, at that sort of lower cost.

Christopher Mitchell: That is very interesting, and it's really great to hear that these decisions are being made, that we're giving really high quality service for people who we want to make sure have all the educational opportunities, abilities to apply for jobs, and access government services. I want to turn now, though, to what San Francisco is discussing openly, which is perhaps building a significant amount of fiber that would be ideally open to multiple ISPs such as yourself, around the city, and I'm curious if you have anything you'd like to share in terms of thoughts about that process.

Preston Rhea: Yeah, I know that there is sort of several efforts happening right now to discuss, once again, the question of publicly funded or publicly supported broadband network. Of course, San Francisco infamously had an effort through Earthlink back about 10 years ago that did not work out so well. But they're looking at it again, both the supervisors and the Department of Technology and I think that we don't know what final form their work is going to take, or their recommendations are going to take, but I believe that from our perspective it is good to have more infrastructure. It is good for the city to have more modern and well-managed infrastructure and fiber, of course, certainly closer to the core, is the right thing. I would personally think it's great for residents when there is more effective ways for them to get service, because it improves choice and can lower costs as we of course saw in Chattanooga when eventually incumbent providers after the city offered gigabit fiber, started saying, "Well, we'll, give us the fiber," and then that, that's kind of a virtuous thing. But I believe that ultimately what we would like to see for Monkeybrains as well as for residents, is an opportunity for existing providers like Monkeybrains to plug in with a publicly supported fiber network that will improve our ability to sort of do what we do best, which is the last mile, end-customer management, going directly to people, managing the relationship with them, providing them a hand-off right at their house or at their business, and using really well-supported public infrastructure in order to do ultimately the connection back to the Internet from some point in the neighborhood or on the block.

Christopher Mitchell: You want to add anything, Mason?

Mason Carroll: I think the city basically has a lot of fiber assets. They're not really utilized for the public use. So they basically have a decision. They're like, okay, are we going to go with option one, essentially just create an ISP and just sell Internet to individual customers and businesses and institutions, or, since they already have the fiber, they've already been managing it for public safety, do they just lease that fiber to local ISPs and then you maybe have only seven or eight customers all leasing fiber from the city of San Francisco. It might be a little bit easier for them to manage a project like that without having to deal with supporting thousands of individual customers. It's essentially a little business within the Department of Technology, so either way they go, I think it's great. If they build all the fiber and never do anything with it then it's money poorly spent. But if you can provide cheap service to residents either directly or by lowering the costs for ISPs and increasing competition for ISPs, I think that's only going to benefit residents in the long term. So, we support whatever effort, in whatever form they decide to go with on it.

Preston Rhea: I want to jump on something that Mason just said as well, like when he pointed out that all these fiber assets -- and of course we saw a letter from Supervisor Mark Farrell, that he requested sort of an analysis maybe about a year ago of what the city's fiber assets are, and of course, you've heard this story before across cities, across political entities that manage infrastructure like fiber. It turns out it's hundreds of miles that are spread across many difference departments own, in some way, or are responsible for that fiber, and all of them don't necessarily know at the moment exactly where it is, where it goes, because maybe even a lot of it was pulled decades ago, and where that fiber is, sits in some deep archival vault. It hasn't been digitized where it is, so I want to also emphasize that there's sort of a parallel issue here, like, who was the infrastructure for? This is at the crux of why I'm really excited about what Monkeybrains is doing at Hunters Point and trying to in, also at these other public housing projects, in trying to expand our work for residents who live in affordable housing. If there's an amount of money to be spent, especially in the public interest, when that money is being spent it's an investment in the way that that infrastructure's going to be used for a very long time. If that money is spent of fiber that will go nowhere, or that will go a lot of places but never gets lit up, never actually serves people, or maybe say, only serves businesses and certain city functions but doesn't serve the 15 percent of San Franciscans that don't have a regular access to an Internet connection, then that hardens the digital divide. There was an investment made in hardening the digital divide, and the same is true if the infrastructure that is being redeveloped at these public housing sites or really in any sort of place where people live and work and play, if the investment is made in such a way that the infrastructure is not modernized with an eye at enabling everybody, especially those who lack access now, to have a meaningful top of the line and affordable or free at the point of use access to a free and open Internet, than that has also hardened the digital divide. What we're trying to do here, and we are really lucky to be able to do this in the San Francisco broadband infrastructure market, we are trying to influence the development and the investment of these funds into making sure that modern infrastructure is built so that we think of the people that live in affordable housings at the same level, or even primarily above the people who have some means of getting fast Internet access right now. In businesses and in private homes.

Christopher Mitchell: It's really great to hear you saying that, because that's the kind of spirit we want to have in terms of being focused on solving the ultimate problems. I think for people who are listening from other areas, it is important to know San Francisco has more ISPs than almost any other city in terms of really credible ISPs that are making important investments. This discussion about San Francisco may not apply to all other cities, but I'm very glad to hear that you're in the mix and I certainly hope that the investments will be well-made and enable firms like yours to do well. Preston, I just wanted to ask a totally unrelated question, which is you -- I became aware of you when you were working with OTI, the Open Technology Institute. A program that I was fascinated by, because one of the things that I wondered if it was doing was basically giving an opportunity to people who wanted to figure out how to use their technical skills to really make the world a better place, and giving them a place to sort of meet other people and then expand. And I'm just curious if you can say, did OTI have an important role in terms of moving you into a place where you're able to do these kinds of investments and work for a company like Monkeybrains?

Preston Rhea: I'm really pleased you asked that question, Chris, because I've thought about that a lot as we've been doing this work at Monkeybrains, and I think the answer is absolutely. I feel like I gained through the work that we did at the Open Technology Institute, and we did a lot of work directly with communities who were eager to build their own infrastructure and Detroit, and in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and with a lot of BTOP grants in Philadelphia, to be present developing a pedagogical approach to understanding, building and controlling infrastructure, and recognizing what's important to people at those points, so the Internet is not thought of something that like, I'm going to pay somebody some money just like that and it's there, but like a deeper question of like what is my relationship to this infrastructure and what do I want to get out of it? I'm really thankful that I was able to take a route of gaining that perspective in education doing that organizing and then take that to a place where the infrastructure gets built every single day. Like, quite a bit of it gets built every single day. I really am just thankful that I'm able to be at a place like Monkeybrains where we can take those values and sort of apply them to the built environment. I hope that we continue to do that and at greater scale as time goes on.

Christopher Mitchell: Great, well, thank you both for taking the time and for this work. I think we'll hopefully see a lot of other ISPs seeing that you can make this work, and making it happen. Thank you both.

Preston Rhea: Thank you so much.

Mason Carroll: Thank you, Chris.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Preston Rhea and Mason Carroll from Monkeybrains, a San Francisco based Internet service provider. We have transcripts for this and other Community Broadband Bits podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email us at podcast@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. You can follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. You can also follow MuniNetworks.org's stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other ILSR podcasts, Building Local Power, and the Local Energy Rules podcast. Access them on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and thanks for listening to Episode 264 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcriptWirelesspoint to pointWi-Filow-incomehousing authoritysan franciscowispcalifornia public utilities commissionfixed wirelessopen technology institutenew americagigabitgrant

Watch How Longmont, Colorado, Built the Community Network of the Year

August 2, 2017

Longmont, Colorado, shows off its award-winning fiber network through a series of short videos. On July 18th, Longmont’s NextLight network took home an award from the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA). The network won 2017 Community Networks Project of the Year. 

A Network For the Whole City

The city of Longmont started actively building this Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network back in 2014. Now, nearly all of the 90,000 residents of Longmont can get gigabit (1,000 Mbps) service. These videos walk residents through construction, from putting fiber and conduit in the ground to installing it in the home. 

These short (2- to 3-minute) videos encourage folks to learn about the process so that they know exactly what to expect. Residents might not realize that some equipment has to be installed in the house or that the process involves putting fiber underground through the streets. Watch the playlist below:

 

 

 

 

 

Tags: longmontcoloradonatoaFTTHawardvideo

Connecting San Francisco Low-Income Housing with Monkey Brains - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 264

August 1, 2017
Community Broadband Bits Episode 264 - Preston Rhea and Mason Carroll Explain Monkey Brains Low-Income Household Investments

After we saw April Glaser's article on a local San Francisco ISP connecting low-income housing to high-quality Internet access, we knew we wanted to learn more. Preston Rhea is the Senior Field Engineer for Monkey Brains and someone we knew from his work with the Open Technology Institute at New America. He joins us with Mason Carroll, Lead Engineer for Monkey Brains, to explain what they are doing in Hunters Point and more broadly across San Francisco.

Monkey Brains delivers Internet access primarily via high-capacity fixed-wireless links to buildings with multiple tenants. Working with the San Francisco Housing Development Corporation, they are delivering gigabit access to low-income housing units at Hunters Point. 

Preston and Mason discuss the process, the challenges, the long-term plan, and more. In particular, they discuss why good wiring in each building is important for ensuring high-quality access to each household rather than just relying on common Wi-Fi access points around the buildings. 

Silicon Beat also covered this story.

Read the transcript of the show here.

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

This show is 28 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can 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: Wirelesspoint to pointWi-Filow-incomehousing authoritysan franciscowispcalifornia public utilities commissionfixed wirelessopen technology institutenew americaaudiopodcastbroadband bitsgigabitgrant