muninetworks.org

Syndicate content
Updated: 1 min 55 sec ago

RFI For FTTP In Baton Rouge: Response Due Aug. 4

June 20, 2017

The City and Parish of Baton Rouge recently released a Request for Information (RFI) as a way to seek out partners interested in helping them improve local connectivity. Responses are due August 4.

Vulnerable Residents A Priority

According to the RFI, reliable connectivity is not consistent or affordable in many areas of the community where populations need it most. Unemployment is higher than the national average and the community has approximately 26 percent of city residents and 18 percent of parish residents living in poverty. Community leaders want to use the network infrastructure to bring more opportunity to people living in the most poverty-stricken areas of the City-Parish. Economic development, better educational opportunities, and better connectivity at home are only a few of the goals Baton Rouge intends to meet.

As part of the vision described in the RFI, City-Parish officials point out that they want a tool that will enable citizens to be participants in an updated economy, not just consumers of a new data product. Some of the factors they prioritize for their network is that it be community-wide, open access, financially sustainable, and offer an affordable base-level service.  The network must offer gigabit capacity.

Baton Rouge intends to ensure lower income residents participate in the benefits that will flow from the investment; they are not interested in working with partner who doesn’t share that vision. From the RFI:

The City-Parish intends to offset service costs for its most vulnerable residents through a subsidy program that will allow certain portions of the population to purchase service at a discounted rate. We expect respondents to this RFI to be prepared to build to and support those customers—many of who may never previously have had a broadband connection. This initiative may also entail the Partner(s) sharing cost and risk associated with providing low-cost or no-charge service to some customers.

Baton Rouge

Some of the area’s large employers include the Exxon Mobil Refinery, Nan Ya Plastics, and Dow Chemical. There is also an emerging tech industry that community officials want to nurture with better connectivity. Louisiana State University (LSU) and Tulane University have medical campuses and there are nursing schools along with a biomedical research center in the city.

In addition to LSU, Southern University (SU) and Baton Rouge Community College operate in the community. LSU serves 31,000 students; Baton Rouge Community College enrolls more than 8,000 students; and SU’s African American university system enrolls 10,000 students. There are three more colleges in the area and 14 vocational and technical schools. College students are about 20 percent of the city’s population.

Around 230,000 people live in the City while Parish-wide population is approximately 440,000 people. With the City making up only 16 percent of the land area of the Parish, urban population is much denser than in rural areas. The Parish is approximately 76 square miles.

While several providers offer services in the City, including AT&T, Charter, and Cox, the services they offer pale compared to what citizens need.

Publicly Owned Preferred

While the City-Parish states in the RFI that they will consider both publicly owned and privately owned infrastructure proposals, they also note that the city-parish:

…[S]trongly prefers a partnership model in which it designs, constructs, and owns dark fiber network infrastructure throughout the entirety of the community up to a demarcation point in the customer’s home or business, and leases the dark fiber backbone, distribution fiber, and fiber drops to a private partner.

City-Parish leaders encourage potential partners to offer ideas, but they are clearly considering a model in which both parties are motivated to serve as many premises as possible. They suggest award-winning Westminster, Maryland, as a preferred model, in which the private sector partner leases publicly owned fiber and pays one fee to the municipality for the premises it passes and an additional fee when it signs up a subscriber. While Baton Rouge states that it prefers the Westminster approach, it also mentions Hunstville, Alabama, as a possible model.

Important Dates:

June 30, 2017: Deadline for submitting non-binding letter of intent to respond to RFI 

July 7, 2017: Deadline for submitting questions 

July 21, 2017: Responses to questions due (from City-Parish) 

August 4, 2017: RFI responses due

Read the full RFI and Appendices here.

Request For Information for Partnership for Citywide FTTP Network, Baton Rouge, LouisianaTags: baton rouge lalouisianarfiFTTHeconomic developmenteducationlow-incomewestminsterhuntsvillegigabit

Community Broadband Media Roundup - June 19

June 19, 2017

California

Closing the digital divide in the Inland Empire by Paul Granillo San Bernardino County Sun

 

Colorado

Louisville to weigh municipal broadband question for November ballot by Anthony Hahn, Louisville News

Regional partnership opportuinities propel Craig, Moffat broadband efforts by Lauren Blair, Craig Daily Press

 

Florida

Living without Internet accessibility in the digital age by Danielle Ellis, WJHG-TV

 

Maine

Rural broadband bill cruises through Maine legislature by Colin Wood, StateScoop

Municipal broadband advocacy groups like the Institute for Local Self-Reliance label bills like this one as tools for the telecommunications industry to limit competition, while taxpayers associations typically argue the measures are necessary to ensure that large scale projects are entered carefully. Controversial research published byUniversity of Pennsylvania Law School professor Christopher Yoo in May found that, according to certain projections, municipal networks are frequently financially unviable.

 

Minnesota

Blandin Foundation awards multi-project broadband grants by CTP Staff, Hibbing Daily Tribune

 

North Carolina

Broadband group begins mapping plans for service by Kurt J. Volker, Smoky Mountain News

 

West Virginia

West Virginia backs broadband competition, with tough consequences for state Senate's president by Colin Wood, StateScoop

Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, told StateScoop that this law will make it easier for cities to build connectivity where the market hasn't.

"West Virginia is a very challenging state to deploy broadband in," Mitchell said. "It's largely served by a company that has almost no ability or interest in improving broadband service, which is Frontier."

The state is a microcosm of spotty broadband coverage nationally. Ten percent of Americans lack access to broadband, while rural residents are worse off — 23 million people living in rural areas lack access. And 41 percent of schools, or 47 percent of students, also lack connectivity.

 

General

Communities take the search for broadband into their own hands by Craig Settles, The Daily Yonder

Roads to node-where: UW-Madison researchers have mapped out the Internet by Nathan J. Comp, Isthmus

Rep. Collins introduces broadband tax break bill by John Eggerton, Broadcasting & Cable

Image of the cow in the pasture courtesy of DominikSchraudolf via pixaby.

Tags: media roundup

Ammon Examines Muni Fiber Impact - Community Broadband Bits 259

June 19, 2017
Community Broadband Bits Episode 259 - City of Ammon Technology Director Bruce Patterson and SNG President Michael Curri

For episode 259 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, we are going back to the well in Ammon, Idaho - one of the most creative and forward-thinking fiber network deployments in the country. Strategic Networks Group has completed a study examining the impact of Ammon's open muni fiber network on local businesses and residents.

To discuss the results, we welcome back Ammon Technology Director Bruce Patterson and SNG President Michael Curri. After a quick reminder of how Ammon's network works and what SNG does, we dive into how Ammon's network has materially benefited the community.

The city is expected to realize savings approaching $2 million over 25 years. Subscribers will be saving tens of millions of dollars and businesses seeing benefits over $75 million over that time frame. Listen to our conversation to get the full picture.

Bruce has visited us for the podcasts, including episode 207 on Software-Defined-Networks, episode 173 in which he described public safety uses for Ammon's network, and episode 86 from back in 2014 when local momentum was starting to grow for better connectivity. 

Michael has also joined been on the show in the past. He participated in episode 93, talking about the benefits of broadband utilization.

Read the transcript of the show.

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

This show is 31 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: ammonidahoimpactsavingscommunity savingsCost Savingscompetitionfiber-to-the-businesseconomic developmentlocal improvement districtfinancingFTTHmuniutilityfeesutility feebroadband bitsaudiopodcast

Holland BPW To Act As Pilot ISP In Michigan

June 19, 2017

The community of Holland, Michigan, has moved carefully and deliberately as it has advanced toward providing better connectivity through publicly owned infrastructure. On June 7th, the City Council held a first reading on an ordinance that will allow the Holland Board of Public Works (BPW) to act as an Internet Service Provider (ISP) as it expands its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) pilot project.

Taking Another Step Forward

Holland's pilot project brings high-quality connectivity to several downtown businesses and recently adopted a Master Plan in March to solidify their commitment to more businesses and residents. The ordinance will receive a public hearing, final reading, and likely be adopted on July 19th. It allows Holland to adopt fees and charges related to the new service and will permit the city to comply with a state law relating to rights-of-way and telecommunications providers.

In addition to offering Internet access themselves, BPW will open up the fiber so competing providers can serve Holland residents and businesses. BPW officials are still hashing out rate details, but estimate residential customers who take Internet service from the utility will pay approximately $85 per month for symmetrical gigabit (1,000 Megabit per second) connectivity. Customers who wish to obtain Internet access from a provider other than BPW will pay $40 - $60 per month for transit services from BPW, but will still need to pay an ISP for Internet access. 

One Step At A Time

BPW General Manager Dave Koster explained to City Council members that BPW described the pilot participants’ service so far as “outstanding.” The utility intends to monitor the success of the expanded pilot services for a year and then decide their next step.

Construction will begin in August; BPW expects to start serving new customers in October. BPW officials estimate the expanded pilot will cost $602,000 based on a 35 percent take rate.

Read the ordinance here.

Holland, Michigan Ordinance to Allow BPW to Serve as ISPTags: holland mimichiganordinancepilot projectmuniFTTHgigabitopen access

Mountain Connect 2017 Video Now Available

June 18, 2017

In May, experts gathered in Keystone, Colorado, for the annual Mountain Connect conference. If you weren’t able to make it, select video presentations and panel discussions were streamed via Periscope. Now those videos are archived and ready for you to watch online.

Be sure to check out the Lunch Keynote Panel. The conversation titled "Broadband Policy is Lost in the Woods" included discussion from Christopher Mitchell and Blair Levin from the Brookings Institute; Silicon Flatirons’ Phil Weiser moderated.

While Christopher was there, he also interviewed several guests for the Community Broadband Bits podcast, including Coleman Keane from Chattanooga and Deeply Digital's Doug Seacat

View the discussions from the conference here.

Tags: eventvideochristopher mitchellblair levinconferencestate policy

Co-op, County Collaborate To Expand FTTH Pilot In Virginia

June 16, 2017

Prince George County, Virginia, and its electric cooperative recently entered into an agreement that will allow Prince George Electric Cooperative (PGEC) to offer Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to certain areas in the county. The arrangement came after a successful pilot project that proved residents and businesses in the rural community were interested in better connectivity. The agreement will inject funding into the cooperative's plans to bring high-quality connectivity to all its members.

From Rural Pilot To Proven

In February, officials from PGEC reported to the County Board of Supervisors that the pilot project was under way. The Virginia State Corporation Commission approved the cooperative's formation of its PGEC Enterprises subsidiary, which will offer connectivity to members. The co-op has connected premises along one stretch of Quaker Road in Prince George County, and received applications for installation from more than 40 property owners.

By the time PGEC had finished deploying in the pilot area in early May, a total of 49 premises were connected to the network. According to the co-op’s VP, Casey Logan, that figure represents approximately two-thirds of potential subscribers. 

Jumpstarting Co-op Broadband

The performance agreement between Prince George County, PGEC, and the Industrial Development Authority (IDA) will provide $1 million to the cooperative in IDA bond funding to expand the pilot project to a wider network. The funds are part of spring bonding that covers a number of county projects. The County Board voted unanimously to dedicate the funds to the broadband expansion project.

In addition to connecting all its substations, PGEC will connect any residence, business, community anchor institution, or public facility within 1,000 feet of a state road along the fiber route. Approximately 500 premises are located within the planned fiber route. The project should take about four years to complete.

PGEC plans to dedicate an additional $5 million to the project over the next five years and has said that, once the 500 premises are connected, they will likely continue to connect premises in their service area.

“When the cable and phone companies couldn’t meet the high speed Internet needs of the communities because of the feasibility of expansion, we made the numbers work,” Logan stated. “We were there first.” 

If fewer than 500 premises are connected within the proposed time period, PGEC will pay back $2,000 per premise that is not connected. The performance agreement also stipulates that the obligation of the contract between the county, the cooperative, and the IDA is a contingency that remains in effect if there is any sale of assets.

So Many Needs, Such Slow Speeds

Many premises in Prince George County rely on satellite, which often has harsh data caps and expensive overage charges. In addition to providing more reliable, affordable connectivity for K-12 students who increasingly need high-quality Internet access for homework assignments, the network is offering better connectivity for emergency services in the county. 

[Casey] Logan said the need for county children to have internet access for their schoolwork was a big part of the co-op’s motivation. “If we didn’t try and do something, generation after generation of our children are not going to have the opportunities they need,” he said.

Cost of service for residents is $82 per month, which includes $75 for symmetrical 30 Megabits per second (Mbps) Internet access and $7 per month for router lease. There is no limitation on the amount of data subscribers use. While the performance agreement stipulates that PGEC provide speeds that meet the FCC definition of broadband (25 Mbps / 3 Mbps) officials from PGEC have stated that the current speed of 30 Mbps may be increased in the future, depending on subscriber input.

The performance agreement requires the cooperative to connect facilities such as to the Central Wellness Center, Prince George Emergency Crew building, the Burrowsville Fire Department and the town’s community center. Each facility will pay the residential rate during the course of the agreement. Later, those facilities will pay commercial rates, which have not been established yet.

With the lack of urban areas, it isn’t surprising that approximately 61 percent of all businesses in the county are home-based. Without high-quality connectivity, however, businesses’ face a limited ability to offer their goods or services to global customers. They also can’t share data rich documents with colleagues, which also limits opportunities.

Co-ops Are Doin' It For Members

At a community meeting in May, Logan told attendees, “We did what we did because frankly nobody else would do it.”

President and CEO Mike Milandro added, “I honestly believe that without this, rural America will die.”

Prince George County is home to approximately 36,000 people, many of whom work in the public sector. There is no major urban area in the county, and much of the 282 square mile county is rural. Agriculture is an important part of the economy and about 2,100 people live in the county seat of the town of Prince George. 

Sparsely populated areas like Prince George County don’t attract the attention of national providers because it isn’t profitable enough to invest with so few potential subscribers who live across the entire county. All across the U.S. rural telephone and electric cooperatives are examining what their members need and considering offering high-quality Internet access. A growing number are offering gigabit connectivity.

PGEC is carrying on a tradition common among rural cooperatives - taking steps to improve life in the community:

“It was a natural for us,” said M.E. “Mike” Malandro, president and CEO. “We’re in the business of putting in infrastructure and providing customer service.”

For the co-op, the impetus to take on broadband was simply to give back to the community, especially in the rural parts of the county. 

Photo of Prince George County Regional Heritage Center courtesy of The Best Part of Virginia.

Performance Agreement: Prince George County, Industrial Development Authority, and PGEC Enterprises, VirginiaTags: prince george county vavirginiarural electric cooperativeFTTHpilot projectbondrural

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 258

June 15, 2017

This is the transcript for episode 258 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Researchers from the Roosevelt Institute join our host Christopher Mitchell to discuss antitrust policy and Internet access. Listen to this episode here.

Marshall Steinbaum: This is us choosing a set of policies that is the worst of both worlds, that is both deregulatory and anti-competitive. Instead you can do both.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 258 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. This week Christopher visits with two other policy folk from the Roosevelt Institute, Marshall Steinbaum and Rakeen Mabud. Earlier this year the Roosevelt Institute released a report that examines how antitrust enforcement has changed and how those changes have impacted the telecommunications industry. Christopher, Marshall and Rakeen consider how that approach has affected people who may or may not subscribe to Internet access services. You can download the report and learn more about the organization at rooseveltinstitute.org. Now here are Christopher with Marshall Steinbaum and Rakeen Mabud.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell and today I'm speaking with two folks from the Roosevelt Institute. Marshall Steinbaum, the senior economist and fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. Welcome to the show.

Marshall Steinbaum: Thank you. It's great to be here.

Christopher Mitchell: We also have Rakeen Mabud, the program director at Roosevelt Institute. Welcome to the show.

Rakeen Mabud: Thanks, nice to be here.

Christopher Mitchell: I first was aware of you guys several years ago because of some work that Susan Crawford was doing with you I believe. I saw what really great work you were doing and then I read the Crossed Lines report, why the AT&T/Time Warner merger demands a new approach to antitrust. I thought it was terrific. I'm excited to talk about these kind of issues today but I thought that we'd start maybe by asking and reminding people that it's been 21 years since the Telecommunications Act of 1996 had promised to basically get rid of monopoly and have incredible competition. We'd all see more investment, lower prices and generally higher quality services. What happened? I think maybe Marshall would be the best person to start off.

Marshall Steinbaum: Yeah. I think that that legislation was driven by two major assumptions about the telecommunication sector. Essentially the problems that we've seen in this area are due to the fact that both of those assumptions turned out to be false. When the act when into effect it did not have the effect that was forecast ex-ante. Those two assumptions are that if you allow corporations to compete with one another across modes they will do so lowering prices, increasing variety, increasing innovation and the benefits of doing that will flow to the consumers. Secondly that new technologies would be forthcoming in the field of telecoms, such that the old modes of communication would be made obsolete and thus it was less imperative that they be regulated in the public interest in the way that they had been under 1934 act. There was this idea that technological advance was inevitable. This advance would create new ways of communicating and because we would have those new ways of communicating we didn't need to keep such a vigilant eye on the old ways of communicating.

Christopher Mitchell: It's actually really interesting because in some ways if one or the other had failed you might have had a better environment, but the fact of the first one actually influenced the second one, which is to say that broadband over power lines and satellite, they certainly didn't live up to the hopes of 1996. But some of the wireless technologies probably could have if they were not captured by some of those entities that should have been competing with them.

Marshall Steinbaum: Yes, I completely agree with that. It's not as though we didn't get new technology since 1196. Everyone knows that we did. We had these technologies come in but they didn't actually compete, instead they just merged and the existing dominant players extended their footprint into these new sectors. There was no meaningful sense in which you could get around the monopolized old telecommunications network through the use of some sort of magically competitive new one. I also think that the critical issue here is that we implemented this new regulatory regime in telecoms that said, "Well, we're not going to essentially require the equitability in access that we had under the 1934 regime," but we also at the same time had an antitrust competition policy that was extremely favorable to consolidation. So the whole benefit of deregulation is supposed to be that competition serves the consumer, but what we actually got was not competition but rather just consolidation and deregulated private monopolies, which is sort of the worst of both worlds.

Christopher Mitchell: Because you have economist in your title I want to make one additional point with relation that's a little bit more general and I'm curious how you'd react, which is that this seems like policy makers are Charlie Brown and competition is the football that keeps getting pulled away. I would point to I believe it was Adam Smith who noted that basically if you put a bunch of people who are in the same trade together in a room, the first thing they talk about is how to restrain trade, and yet with policy makers it seems like there's this idea that they really want to be in competition with each other. It seems like a mistake we make over and over again.

Marshall Steinbaum: Yeah, I think that's by design. Charlie Brown kept getting deceived, whereas these deregulatory policies are implemented knowing that they're not going to end up serving the consumer even though the ideology says that they will. What you just described that Adam Smith says, that when companies or suppliers get together they do nothing but conspire against the public interest, that was the ideology that the people who promoted the 1996 act espoused with respect to the old regime, to the 1934. That is, they conjured up this so-called public choice economics where what happened under the 1934 was that cozy old AT&T or Ma Bell in the olden days would get together with their friends at the FCC and figure out how to screw over America. They had this whole ideology of deregulation that was supposed to do what Adam Smith is saying needs to be done in terms of breaking up anti-competitive cartels in a regulated industry. They took that to the table and said, "All right, let them compete with each other. We'll have not just competition between the Baby Bells and among the Baby Bells, the Baby Bells with AT&T and vice-versa and wire line telephone but we'll also have that competitive model replicated over again when we get to these new technologies and broadband and then wireless. It turns out that there was a good reason for the 1943 legislation. In other words, when they tried this deregulatory approach what actually happened was exactly what you described, what Adam Smith said would happen. Which is to say that the incumbent providers free from oversight from the FCC started getting together and figuring out how they could profit at the public expense.

Christopher Mitchell: I think Rakeen maybe you want to come in to tell us a little bit about how this is really impacting people.

Rakeen Mabud: Yeah. I just wanted to point out that it's important to remember that the massive rise in consolidation after the 96 telecoms act had really major implications for digital equity as well. Because the broadband infrastructure is so often build on top existing infrastructure and there are high fixed cost to building that infrastructure from scratch, low income communities are often left out. Both because they've been left out of previous infrastructure investment, what we call digital red lining, and because market concentration essentially incentivizes ISPs to provide service only to areas where they can make a profit. Low income communities, and I should say here that income is highly correlated with race, which is important, are much less likely to be able to pay these high prices. Plus, extremely concentrated markets like telecoms provide a high barrier to entry for new market entrants. So the competition could drive down prices, increase innovation and provide incentives for broadband provision to low income areas. It's really hard to achieve that in this kind of market environment. This type of market consolidation makes the conditions ripe for discrimination by large telecoms providers, which is actually exactly what happened in the 1990s.

Christopher Mitchell: Rakeen, I think it's an interesting question. If we had the kind of market competition that was envisioned and might be possible, do you think that that would lead to better options for low income folks, or just more rigorous competition for middle income and higher income families?

Rakeen Mabud: I do think that it would improve things from an equity lens. Increased competition would essentially do a lot of the things that consolidation stifles. These mega firms don't have any incentive to innovate for example, because they have such a stranglehold on their respective markets. Innovation is really important from an equity standpoint because it means finding cheaper and more efficient ways to deliver good services, which in terms opens up markets because lower cost means that more people will be able to afford the service. In turn previously unprofitable markets would become more profitable for service providers. At the end of the day monopolized private providers are only going to care about serving the highest margin consumer, and that's historically been the case. If we had all Internet infrastructure in private hands, it would cost a lot of money and not even be available to disadvantaged communities. The whole idea behind deregulation suggests that every community can get the level of service it wants, assuming that companies will offer fast and expensive services to those willing to pay a lot and slower and cheaper services for those willing to pay less. But more often than not it's slow and expensive services provided to the rich and nothing for everyone else. A more competitive system really would expend the types of people who have access to services, but also improve the quality.

Christopher Mitchell: I imagine the cable lobbyists response to this, and I'll direct this to you Marshall, would be, "Look, we've invested trillions of dollars, billions of dollars," whatever they want to say. "Speeds have never been higher than they are now." AT&T will say, "There's more than 100 communities in which if you live at the right address you could get fiber. There are people who have choices." What exactly have we not received because of the consolidation?

Marshall Steinbaum: I think Europe offers the most obvious alternative history for what we could have had in the United States. Not to say that their telecoms regulatory or competition policy regimes is perfect, but they have many more options available to consumers at all income levels. Essentially all of those options are better than all of the options that are available here. The mythology that Rakeen just referred, that deregulation is good because everyone gets what they wants simply hasn't been borne out here. Europe has, first of all, a much more stringent set of guidelines that prevent the full consolidation in each of the modes that we've had in this country. That's from the antitrust and competition policy perspective. Secondly, they have much stronger regulatory mandates on companies to provide free and equal service at a high quality to customer bases in some degree regardless of ability to pay. What they have done is retain the flavor of the 1934 regime that was started to be undone by the antitrust case against Ma Bell here in the early 80s. They are operating at full tilt. A telecommunications network where in effect the rich are subsidizing the poor through a pooling equilibrium to use the economics jargon, and we decided not to do that anymore in this country. I think Europe shows that it can be done with the same if not better innovation, the same if not better service. It's not like they're laboring in the medieval past at the way that those same lobbyists you referred to would say, "We've invested and had we not gotten the profits associated with that investment then the US telecommunications infrastructure would be much, much less dense than it is even with lower service." We know for a fact it isn't true.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. Many areas would love to have the investment that a few cities have at this point. We obviously see a great disparity across communities. One of the things we've seen and there's good arguments that one may want to have net neutrality legislation and requirements, even if you had robust competition, but when you don't have robust competition it seems all the more important.

Marshall Steinbaum: Yeah.

Christopher Mitchell: But I think some of the issues around net neutrality, which I suspect almost everyone who's listening understands. It's the idea that your ISP shouldn't be able to overly influence you or tell you how to use the Internet, more or less. I'm curious, I think there are some deeper issues that don't always get discussed unless you're reading all of the personal writings on Harold Feld's blog or something like that. Marshall, I'm wondering if you can give us a sense of something we should be looking at with regard to some of the things that are happening are net neutrality right now?

Marshall Steinbaum: I imagine that your listeners won't be surprised to hear that Ajit Pai has been up to some nefarious dealings in his current position.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes, FCC chairman Pai has long been a foe of our way of thinking. We're quite concerned with him.

Marshall Steinbaum: I think what's striking about what's happened since he became the chairman is the surgical precision by which he has operated the different levers of the federal bureaucracy in such a way that it benefits his old friends and colleagues at Verizon and their peers. In particular, as we know he's dismantling the set of policies referred to as net neutrality. One of the ways that that is going to be done is by removing the market participant's recourse to complain about unequal treatment and discrimination from the FCC and its various mechanisms for adjudicating common carriage to the FTC. The Federal Trade commission has a consumer protection antitrust and competition mandate, that's what it does. It is not sector specific like the FCC. What is quite true about the FTC is that it only really cares about what it calls consumer welfare or consumer surplus. Its job, if it has any job, is to serve consumers. Hopefully they're at least doing that. But net neutrality and the issues that arise therefrom are inherently not solely a consumer facing issue. If an upstream content providers feels it's being discriminated against by an Internet provider, by a distributor in any one of the telecoms modes, in order to win a case or win some sort of proceeding before the Federal Trade Commission they have to somehow show that consumers are actually being harmed and that is hard to do. It would be like saying, I'm Netflix say and I'm being held up and forced to pay through the nose by an Internet Service Provide, I have to say that the real entity being harmed here is consumers. That's possible, it's certainly the case that consumers can be harmed by upstream discrimination, but the point is that upstream content providers, they have rights under the communications regulations that go beyond whether discrimination and unfair treatment harm consumers. Under the section 2 of the 1934 act and as extended by the prior administration at the FCC, the content providers can go to the FCC and say, "I've been discriminated against. That's not far," and stop there. They don't have to prove any claims about the impact on consumers. This sort of bureaucratic wrangling, where you take this whole function and move it from the agency where the plaintiff so to speak get a hearing, to the agency that is structurally reluctant to grant a hearing to upstream content providers of various kinds, you're automatically weakening the common carriage principles that underlie net neutrality.

Christopher Mitchell: I think one of the things to be concerned about is not necessarily where chairman Pai is going right now, but if we see this administration continuing to basically be so unpopular and we see this issue of net neutrality at the FCC also showing so much resistance of the public and businesses to changing the regime, I think one of the things we fear is that congress may come in, and there again we may see Republicans in congress striking a deal in which they're trying to push this to the FTC as well. Is that something that you'd be afraid of?

Marshall Steinbaum: Yes. There's a couple of different FTC process reform bills. I'm not aware of draft legislation that does that but they may exist, I certainly don't have complete knowledge of what's going on in congress in this area. I think your general concern that, either if the administration doesn't think it can get what it wants through the purely administrative procedures, or I think it's pretty clear that chairman Pai is serving the interest of an outside master so to speak. If they don't feel like they can get what they need solely through administrative functions, then they will bring the matter to legislation. Given what happened in 1996 I would fear what that might bring about in terms of congress because these companies, they have lots of influence on both sides of the aisle in congress. On the other hand I think it is fair to say that this very strong ideology that powered the 1996 has tempered to some degree in congress. You're not going to get the one sided hearing that went down in 1996, on the other hand of course that was strongly by partisan legislation, whereas given that one party controls all of congress right now you could see a much more partisan thing playing out, where the ultimate policy outcome is just as bad if not substantially worse than what happened in 1996.

Christopher Mitchell: Rakeen, one of the things that we come back to at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance is watching the horror show at the federal level and then trying to figure out what we can do about it at the local level. I think you've been looking at a project that we recently discussed with Joshua Breitbart in New York City about Queensbridge and a large low income housing development. What's going on there?

Rakeen Mabud: As many of your listeners probably already know, there are lots of municipalities getting around the federal policy landscape, experimenting with different models of municipal broadband. One model that I want to throw out there is the model in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where the city has established a municipal utility that provides a high speed low cost broadband for all the city's residents. It subsidizes it for lower income people. Another is the Queensbridge project which you just mentioned. This is a demonstration project in New York City and my team at Roosevelt is currently writing a case study on it with Maya Wiley, who is the former counsel to the mayor and actually currently a faculty member at The New School.

Christopher Mitchell: And a wonderful person.

Rakeen Mabud: She's great. She's super sharp. The Queensbridge project, just to give a quick overview, provides a free and extremely fast Internet to the residents of the Queensbridge's houses, which is actually the largest public housing development in all of North America. In the case of the Queensbridge project the city contracts with an outside ISP but owns and maintains all the physical infrastructure. I think there are two interesting things here. First, Queensbridge provides a vision for what municipal broadband could look like in the future. This is a service that's treated like a utility, provided by the government and it's free. Second, I brought up Chattanooga because I think both and Queensbridge provide different models of municipalities experimenting with elements of a public option. I think both models have their merits. In many ways the Queensbridge model prioritizes equity because the folks working in city hall at the time, such as Maya and Josh, realized that even a cheap plan, say $9.99 a month, is $10 that could be better spent on food, clothes or other necessities. The Queensbridge plan really does prioritize providing Internet to the people who are most marginalized from the broader telecom industry. Chattanooga in a lot of ways is more of a traditional public option. It doesn't provide free services to anyone, even though there are subsidies for lower income consumers.

Christopher Mitchell: I think it's worth noting, and I don't know that the utility would provide a free option if they were able to, but Tennessee law does appear to prohibit them from offering a service at below the cost of providing it. That's actually one of the reasons why even though Chattanooga has done everything it can to provide a low income service, paradoxically the state is actually prohibiting them from doing a better job of serving low income folks.

Rakeen Mabud: Right. This is a worrisome trend because we see states across the country imposing these state preemption laws which restricts what municipalities can provide in terms of services. It seems to be on the rise, the states more and more are keeping municipalities from offering these services in a really robust way to their citizens.

Christopher Mitchell: I think we're certainly worried about it more. We're more worried about it now than we have been in the future, but it is worth noting that local groups have been able to stop most of the efforts to establish these. Though we're having more fights now we've mostly seen local groups stopping these efforts. That's been terrific.

Rakeen Mabud: Yes, absolutely. I'm excited to see that there's this increase in municipal experimentation. I really am looking forward to seeing where this goes both with Queensbridge and New York city, but also all of these other municipalities around the country.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that I think separates Queensbridge from Chattanooga, aside from a bunch of obvious things, is that Chattanooga built the network using an economic model that pre-supposed the network would for itself out of revenues for the network. Now, the Queensbridge model is fundamentally different. I'm curious if you have a sense of as you think about this, one of the things that worries me is that the Queensbridge in theory could disappear with a different mayor, I suppose. What can we do to make sure that we're making investments that are going to be there for the long haul?

Rakeen Mabud: Yeah, this is something that has been really interesting in digging into this project. This question of, how do you institutionalize these priorities is a big one that's come up over and over again. Certainly in the case of Queensbridge Maya Wiley ended up securing a 10 year capital budget line, so there is a 10 year secured funding source for Queensbridge and all of the projects that come out of the Queensbridge demonstration project. That being said I share your concerns. You have to look out for political ways and whether or not projects like this will be able to withstand them.

Christopher Mitchell: My admiration for Maya grows because the 10 year funding is certainly, it's very smart. Marshall let me throw it back to you for any concluding comments on these issues.

Marshall Steinbaum: I think we know how to do telecoms policy right because we used to do it right. The problem that has arisen, depending on how far back you want to go, whether to 96 or to 82 or potentially even to the 70s, is that we had an ideological revolution that said everything that we thought we knew about how to conduct sound telecommunications policy was wrong and we needed to have a huge shakeup that jettisoned all the principles that we had from the 1934 act. I think now, after 30 or 40, we know that that was one big failure, a tour of disastrous policy making. There's no reason to think that the same principles that led us to the 1934 would fail again. We have lost the capacity certainly for ambitious antitrust and competition policy, and also for public serving regulation in the public interest. Part of that will always include a public option that provides for a competitive alternative and a low cost alternative that reaches all households and connects them to economic networks that are necessary for being an economic person in the modern era. All of those principles were true in 1934 and they're still true now. We don't need to continue to allow the fact that we had bad policy making for 30 years set the parameters for the future. We can do a lot better.

Christopher Mitchell: Just a quick clarification, I think some people might have simplified their thinking about this and think, "Well, the previous policy was one of basically allowing a monopoly, whereas you are promoting an antitrust." Square that circle for me please.

Marshall Steinbaum: I say both. To characterize the debate here, this is a simplification but I think it's basically right. We had one big regulated monopoly doing telephone communications, in the other it was different in broadcast but more or less the idea was you had these large monopolies that served the entire country and they had a mandate to provide equal quality services to everyone. Where they were allowed to charge more to the people that had a high ability to pay in order to subsidize services to people with a lower ability to pay. When Ma Bell was broken up in the early 80s the ideology of that was, "Let's bust up this highly inefficient monopoly using antitrust." Whereas altogether the policy revolution that took place in the 1980s wanted antitrust to be very inactive, to not get in the way of corporations that wanted to merge, they did use it to go after Ma Bell and supposedly introduced competition into this previously highly regulated sector. What that did was kill off again what an economist would call a pooling equilibrium by a strategy of cream skimming. You had upstarts come in, poach the most profitable customers away from the smaller AT&T that came out of the 1982 restructuring. I guess 84 was when it was finally implemented. It made it impossible for the new AT&T to really function and serve in its regulated capacity. They were losing all of their most profitable customers to these upstarts. That led us to the 1996 act where as I said the whole idea was, lift these regulatory mandates off of AT&T and other incumbent providers, let them all compete with each other. We had these regulatory mandates, we also had walls around the Baby Bells that protected their geographic coverage from competition. The idea was, we have these issues in the sector stemming from the break up of Ma Bell, let's solve those issues by injecting yet more competition. Regulation came off and we got all of the catalog of troubles that we've previously discussed. The question is, where do we go from here? I have said that the reason why the 1996 act failed was because of lax antitrust policy. We thought these companies where going to compete with each other once they were deregulated and instead they merged with each other. The whole promise of competition didn't work because of that lax antitrust policy. Europe is the model here. The reasons that incumbent providers have put forward for why they can't do that here are laughable to my mind. This is us choosing a set of policies that is the worst of both worlds, that is both deregulatory and anti-competitive. Should either an administration or congress want to serve the public interest in this area it is eminently technologically feasible and it could be constructed as a policy. We just have chosen not to do it.

Christopher Mitchell: I think it's a really good summary. Thank you both. I'm excited to see what comes next from the Roosevelt Institute as you continue trying to make sure that we're not being abused by both a lack of competition and a lack of regulation.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with Marshall Steinbaum and Rakeen Mabud from the Roosevelt Institute discussing antitrust enforcement and how it has affected telecommunications policy. We have transcripts for this and other Community Broadband Bits Podcasts available at MuniNetworks.com/broadbandbits. Email us at podcast@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. Follow MuniNetworks.org's stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and all of the podcasts in the ILSR podcast family on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. We want to thank Arnie Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and we want to thank you for listening to episode 258 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast.

Tags: transcriptroosevelt instituteftcfcccompetitionantitrust

Live In North Carolina? Describe Your Internet Access And Help Build Better Mapping

June 15, 2017

North Carolinians, do you feel like your state is 90 - 93 percent covered with Internet access that provides 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload speeds? If you live in one of the state's many rural areas, probably not. The state is now providing an opportunity for North Carolinians to verify and comment on FCC mapping data with a new state broadband mapping tool.

Cleaning Up The Data 

The state’s Department of Information Technology released the tool in May and encourages residents and businesses to test out the accuracy of their premise data. The map uses FCC acquired from ISPs that report coverage and speeds on Form 477. The data, based on census blocks, typically overstates coverage, creating maps that are unreliable and inaccurate. North Carolina officials aim to correct that.

“We want to get better data so we can go back to the FCC and tell them your data says your census block is served, but less than 25 per cent of the people are actually getting service,” says Jeff Sural, director of the North Carolina broadband infrastructure office.

With better data, state officials hope to increase FCC funding opportunities and determine what areas are in the most dire straits regarding lack of Internet access. The tool asks users to review the data that was submitted by ISPs for their address, conduct a speed test, and confirm whether or not they have access to the connectivity that the ISPs claim they do, and if not, provide more accurate information.

Once a threshold of users have completed the test to allow the results to be displayed on the map, the North Carolina Broadband Infrastructure Office will begin sharing the results on the map.

It's A Start

The effort will help obtain a more accurate picture of what’s really going on in the Internet access trenches if residents and businesses participate, but the state needs to go further to ease its connectivity problems. In a recent State Scoop article, Christopher once again pointed out the failings caused by state restrictions that discourage investment:

"[There are] a lot of opportunities with [municipal networks] and co-ops but the Legislature seems unable to comprehend that the big national firms don't care about rural North Carolina," Mitchell said.

In addition to the state law that prevents municipal investment, cooperatives do not have the access to capital for fiber infrastructure to improve connectivity for members. Rather than depending on national companies that have shown their lack of interest in North Carolina investment, the state could restore local authority and give cooperatives the tools they need to offer high-quality Internet access in rural areas.

State Chief Information Officer Eric Boyette said:

"Access to high-speed Internet is crucial these days, and I’m encouraged by the fact that this technology will bring us one step closer to making sure that North Carolinians receive the services they need, regardless of their geographic location throughout the state."

Check out the new mapping tool from the North Carolina Broadband Infrastructure Office and if you live in the state, please take a few moments to add your Internet access data. If you know some one who lives in North Carolina, encourage them to complete the survey to help improve broadband mapping data. 

Tags: north carolinamappingruralsurveydatachristopher mitchellfcc

Indiana Eases Easements For Electric Co-ops; FIBRE Act

June 14, 2017

The State Legislature in Indiana sent SB 478 to Governor Eric Holcomb earlier this session; he recently signed the bill into law. Also known as the Facilitating Internet Broadband Rural Expansion (FIBRE) Act, the new law allows electric cooperatives with easements for electric lines to use those same easement for fiber infrastructure. The change in existing law will allow rural electric cooperatives to bring high-quality Internet access to the many rural regions in Indiana that are now unserved or underserved.

Updating Easements For Connectivity

SB 478 applies only to existing easements between electric suppliers and property owners. It doesn’t apply to new electric easements, railroad property, or the installation of new poles, conduit, or other structures. Other exceptions also apply to limit the new easement applications to existing infrastructure. 

The language of the bill provides in detail the steps that a property owner can take if they oppose the installation of the new infrastructure under the purview of an existing easement. It also lays out the information that an electricity provider must provide to the property owner regarding the plan for fiber infrastructure deployment and planned delivery. The bill goes on to establish further procedures if a property owner decides to pursue legal action if they feel their property value is decreased due to the new infrastructure or other related matters.

Lastly, the bill lays out procedural requirements for an electric cooperative that decides to offer broadband Internet. They must create a separate entity and maintain a separate accounting system.

Read the entire bill here.

Learning From The Co-op Guys

Republican State Senator Eric Koch, lead author on the bill, introduced the legislation as part of his ongoing efforts to improve connectivity in Indiana’s rural areas. According to a March article in the Indiana Economic Digest:

A couple of years ago, Koch was working on another issue with the Indiana Electric Cooperatives, and he saw maps of all the areas that are served by REMC’s in Indiana.

“As we were working on this other issue, it occurred to me that those maps aligned almost exactly with ones I had of unserved areas in rural Indiana. … I immediately saw them as the key. I said, ‘You guys got to help me. We have to find a way to leverage your role in rural areas. That was kind of the beginning of the conversation a year or two ago.”

The cooperatives educated Koch about the easement issue. When state laws governing electric line easements were developed in the 1930s, lawmakers couldn’t imagine the need to extend those easements to telecommunications infrastructure. 

The bill passed with strong bipartisan support in both legislative bodies, passing 49 - 1 in the Senate and 96 -2 in the House. The Governor recently signed the bill into law. 

States Can Help Cooperatives Help Citizens

West Virginia also passed policy legislation this session to encourage a cooperative model to expand high-quality Internet access in rural areas. Perhaps other states will follow these two common sense examples and ease state laws that discourage electric cooperatives from doing what they need to do to improve local connectivity.

North Carolina residents and businesses could benefit if its lawmakers looked north to these two states. Electric cooperatives must contend with laws that limit their access to capital for the purpose of offering broadband to cooperative members in North Carolina. We analyzed the situation in our 2016 report, North Carolina Connectivity: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

At the ceremonial signing of SB 478, Tom VanParis, CEO if Indiana Electric Cooperatives said:

“Internet access has become essential to the American way of life. Similar to 80 years ago when most rural Hoosiers lived without electricity, much of rural Indiana still lacks quality Internet options.”

SB 478 Facilitating Internet Rural Broadband Expansion (FIBRE) Act - IndianaTags: in sb 478indianalegislationeasementpolespole attachmentsright-of-wayrural electric coop

Roosevelt Institute Argues for Better Broadband Policy - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 258

June 13, 2017
Community Broadband Bits Episode 258 - Marshall Steinbaum and Rakeen Mabud from the Roosevelt Institute

As the telecommunications and broadband market has become more and more consolidated, it has drawn more attention, leading to more attention from people that actually care about functioning markets. Enter the Roosevelt Institute and their report, Crossed Lines: Why the AT&T-Time Warner Merger Demands a New Approach to Antitrust.

Roosevelt Institute Senior Economist and Fellow Marshall Steinbaum and Program Director Rakeen Mabud join us to talk about the failing broadband market and what can be done at both the federal and local levels.

Marshall focuses more on the federal level and antitrust while Rakeen discusses local solutions that local governments can implement. We talk about the FCC, the FTC, the history and future of competition in telecommunications, and how local governments can make sure low-income Internet access projects stay funded in the long term.

Read the transcript of the show.

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

This show is 31 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: competitionpolicyeconomicshistorynetwork neutralityfccftcroosevelt institutemergersconsolidationat&taudiopodcastbroadband bits

Refute Misinformation With Our "Correcting Community Fiber Fallacies" Page

June 13, 2017

As an increasing number of communities investigate the possibility of publicly owned Internet networks, big cable and telephone companies are spending big dollars to fund the spread of misinformation. In order to combat untruths and share accurate data, we’ve created the Correcting Community Fiber Fallacies page. You will find resources to help you identify and respond to some of the most used resources, arguments, and tactics from groups aiming to quash better connectivity through local control; you'll also find the best ways to address them.

Reports, Reports, Reports

A common strategy from companies with de facto monopolies such as Comcast and AT&T are funding reports created by entities that appear to be nonpartisan academic groups. They also fund groups to generate similar anti-municipal network material from organizations that pretend to operate in the best interests of taxpayers or citizens. In reality, these groups produce slanted material intended to capitalize on the lack of information most people have about publicly owned networks. They aim to fill the void quickly and repeatedly with misstatements in order to taint any later discussion of public investment. 

One way to influence decision makers and the general public who are learning about ways to improve local connectivity is by taking advantage of the credibility that may be attached to a seemingly academic report. We provide several examples on the Correcting Community Fiber Fallacies page and offer a few direct responses that point out the many factual and analytical errors.

Similarly, we offer examples of rebuttals to some of the most common arguments against public Internet network infrastructure. In addition to general rumors, we found some excellent rebuttals to specific lies that national providers attempt to spread by repeating early and often.

Information Is Power

The Correcting Community Fiber Fallacies page also takes a look at how misinformation gets started, how it spreads, and ways to stop it in its tracks. From our page:

Keeping the community well informed can prevent confusion and derail misinformation campaigns before they get started. Sometimes, despite best efforts, rumors and misinformation can still spread.

We offer seven “Do’s and Don’ts” that we find effective in repairing misperception. It's important not to alienate the people with whom you want to share information. In addition to examples, you can find links to other helpful resources and we encourage you to check back; we'll update the page periodically with new resources and developments.

Tags: correcting community fiber fallaciesmisinformation

Community Broadband Media Roundup - June 13

June 13, 2017

California

Internet for All Now Act passes state assembly by ECT Staff, East County Today

"Jarring" Internet access survey results embolden leaders of citywide broadband by Joshua Sabatini, San Francisco Examiner

Internet for all San Franciscans? Here's how it could happen by Rachel Swan, San Francisco Chronicle

“The nice thing about Wi-Fi is that it costs less up front, and you can install it before the next election,” said Christopher Mitchell, a community broadband expert at the Institute for Local Self Reliance, an advocacy group in Minneapolis.

But he noted that Farrell could face intense opposition from big telecom companies like Comcast and AT&T, which provide most of the Internet service and infrastructure in San Francisco.

“There will be a scare campaign involving print mailers, telephone calls and radio messages, saying that community broadband will threaten city finances,” Mitchell said.

 

Georgia

EMCs could help fill broadband gaps by Jill Nolin, Thomasville Times-Enterprise

Nationally, electric cooperatives are relatively new to fiber broadband, but their involvement is “growing enormously,” said Christopher Mitchell, director of community broadband networks at the nonprofit Institute for Local Self-Reliance. 

 

North Carolina

NC maps out high-speed Internet access across state by Steve Sbraccia, CBS North Carolina

 

General

Two municipal broadband groups criticize data and analysis in U. Penn paper by Casey Ryan, BroadbandBreakfast.com

ISPs denied entry into apartment buildings could get help from FCC by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

 

Image of the cow in the pasture courtesy of DominikSchraudolf via pixaby.

Tags: media roundup

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 257

June 12, 2017

This is the transcript for Episode 257 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Christopher Mitchell and Colman Keane discuss Chattanooga, Tennessee. The city's network has community support with a high number of subscribers. Listen to this episode here.

 

Colman Keane: When you look at Chattanooga, it was really the perfect time, and really a good place to launch this. When you're able to bring something like this to an engaged community, then you can get the benefits that Chattanooga sees.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 257 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast from the Institute for Local Self Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Colman Keane is back on the show for an update on the situation in Chattanooga, Tennessee. In addition to surpassing expectations for subscribers, the municipal utility is doing very well financially. Electric rates have been kept in check for everyone in the EPB service area, regardless of whether or not they use the fiber to the home Internet service, and the infrastructure smart grid has kept expensive outages to a minimum. Colman and Christopher also talk about the Chattanooga community, and how it's culture has contributed to the success of the network, which has in turn provided multiple benefits.

First, we want to urge you to take a moment to help us out, by contributing at Muninetworks.org, or ILSR.org. Shows like this don't have commercial interruptions, and we like it that way. But they still cost money to produce. If you're already a donor, we want to thank you. Your contributions help spread the facts about municipal networks, so kudos to you for participating. Now, here's Christopher with Colman Keane from Chattanooga's EPB.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits Podcasts. I'm Chris Mitchell. Again, coming at you from Mountain Connect in Keystone, Colorado, a wonderful regional conference, one of the best in the nation. I'm here today with Colman Keane, the Director of Fiber Technology for EPB Chattanooga. Welcome back to the show.

Colman Keane: Thank you very much.

Christopher Mitchell: I just looked it up earlier. You were last on for episode 175, which would be about a year and a half ago I'm guessing.

Colman Keane: Wow.

Christopher Mitchell: I wanted to tell you congratulations. You gave a wonderful keynote this morning.

Colman Keane: Thank you.

Christopher Mitchell: Also you've surpassed 90,000 customers.

Colman Keane: It is hard to believe. It's a long ways away from when we started and where we thought we would be.

Christopher Mitchell: Just go over that for a second, because you mentioned where you expected to be.

Colman Keane: Right. In our initial business planning process, we were looking at somewhere around a 30% take rate in order to be break even for the whole project to work. In the plan we targeted having somewhere around 45,000 customers, that was kind of our best case scenario. We're twice that today, so we're very happy. It's been a very good experience for us, and for Chattanooga.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things I was curious about is, what causes 89,999th customer to sign up finally? They've had years of this. You mentioned that some of it has to do with your community engagement.

Colman Keane: That is my opinion. I absolutely believe that as time has gone on, just people talking in the community about what a great service EPB provides, because we actually believe in great customer service, and we deliver that. Plus the fact that we have gotten so much press for being Gig City, that the community itself has really embraced that. I think people want to be part of something bigger than they are, and this is just one way of doing that.

Christopher Mitchell: What are the kinds of things the utility does? You're familiar with electric utilities, and there's a continuum. But I think most aren't as involved in the community as EPB does.

Colman Keane: Right.

Christopher Mitchell: What are some of the things that you do, that others don't?

Colman Keane: We have tried to be a good community player ever since day one. That was really one of our key reasons for coming into being, was economic development and quality of life in Chattanooga. But just like every business you get stuck in a rut. After a while you're going to work to benefit yourself, not necessarily the community. Actually, taking this project on has reinvigorized us, and the level of customer service that we give is much higher than it was even ten years ago. I think all of that type of stuff goes into helping us be a better electric utility, by the fact that we have the fiber optics and we're engaging on the customers on both sides. We're going in their houses today and having more one on one conversations than we used to. Used to kind of be this wall, and never go past that front door. Now we are much more involved with our customers, and I think that makes us a better company.

Christopher Mitchell: 90,000 customers out of how many possible?

Colman Keane: There's 170,000 homes and businesses. So basically out of 170,000 potential customers.

Christopher Mitchell: That's including even apartment buildings that you're basically not able to get into.

Colman Keane: That is correct. So we have about a 55% take rate overall, and still growing.

Christopher Mitchell: About how many people take the gig, which is now $70?

Colman Keane: The last time I looked it was just under 10,000, so 9,000 some odd people are taking the gig.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay. 10 gig, any takers?

Colman Keane: We have a handful, not a lot. We didn't expect a lot, but it's available for anybody who wants it.

Christopher Mitchell: For $299. I thought it was more expensive.

Colman Keane: No, that's a great deal. As we move forward more businesses will start to take it, then it'll move to the residential, just like the gig did. We saw the same type of deployment with the gig when we first announced it, so -- We're excited to be able to offer it and can't wait for customers to start embracing it.

Christopher Mitchell: You have yet more good news, it's not really that big of a deal, but conceptually it is. The communications division has retired its debt.

Colman Keane: Absolutely. A big hurdle, right? We're very excited about that. The communications side has been cash flowing positive pretty much since year two, and we've been funding new capital developments. We're still building and adding new customers, and that's very capital intensive business. As well as providing significant dollars over to the electric side, which this year was around 30. Next year we're budgeting about $40 million going from the fiber optics over to the electric.

Christopher Mitchell: To be very clear, that is basically your 90,000 customers, who take television, Internet, or phone service, or some combination of them, are subsidizing the rate payers.

Colman Keane: Yes, the electric rate payers. That is exactly what's happening at this point in time. Since inception, we have forgone on the electric side, about a 7% rate increase, which is a pretty significant number.

Christopher Mitchell: Absolutely. Obviously electricity's always a concern, particularly for lower income households, households on a fixed income.

Colman Keane: Right.

Christopher Mitchell: That's a big deal.

Colman Keane: On our electric side we are actively engaging with a lot of different programs to help people make their homes and businesses more energy efficient. It seems counterintuitive, but to us that's good customer service.

Christopher Mitchell: Speaking of good customer service, I wanted to ask this question earlier. I posed a different question this morning, but I actually think -- And I don't know if you've marketed yourself this way. You have in at least one instance, a faster response time than the fire department to a fire. This is remarkable story.

Colman Keane: Yes. No, we haven't used that as a marketing ploy. I will take that back and then talk to our marketing department about it. The information we're getting back out of our system is allowing us to do a lot of proactive things with our customers. We're working with the Department of Energy, and Oak Ridge National Labs to help dealing with the big data problem we have, to figure out what other tools we can use to provide better service to our customers. Finding premature failures of equipment inside their house is one thing that we really would like to get to. We already have examples like you mentioned with the fire.

Christopher Mitchell: You saved a pet I think.

Colman Keane: I saved a pet. Or people who have had issues with their heating and air and stuff like that, where their -- Were going to get huge energy bills. We were able to proactively go warn them, and they were able to get those problems solved quickly. It's just better customer service, and it's a driver for us.

Christopher Mitchell: How often are you polling now to check those smart meters from the homes?

Colman Keane: Every 15 minutes we get back real time. We do have the ability to go out there and ping them, if needed. From meters we're getting it every 15 minutes. From our SKADA system we're getting it every two seconds.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. I feel like I'm jumping all around, because this is incredibly exciting, all of the great news coming out of Chattanooga. Although, I do think you've become such an outlier, it's actually harder for communities to try to be you. I literally think it's dangerous for cities to think they could be you. I'm curious, how you react to that?

Colman Keane: They can always be us. We want to encourage them. I think that communities need to go into these with their eyes wide open. They need to realize what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are, and how they can leverage what they have. When you look at Chattanooga, it was really the perfect time, and really a good place to launch this. Chattanooga had already had a lot of visioning processes, so we had an engaged community. When you're able to bring something like this to an engaged community, then you can get the benefits that Chattanooga sees. It's one thing to build a technical solution. It's another to get people to embrace it, and actually push it to it's full potential. Being able to brand ourselves Gig City, that was a multi tiered approach. Not just EPB, but a lot of movers and shakers in this city getting behind that.

Christopher Mitchell: I think communities certainly could emulate you, and do a lot of things to try and succeed in the ways you've succeeded. However, in my going to Chattanooga, it seemed like you have more people rowing in the same direction than most communities. It takes years, decades to achieve that. This is not just a fiber network that sprung up in Chattanooga. It's more a very smart community that was doing a lot of the right things that built a fiber network.

Colman Keane: Right. We intentionally tried to get the community engaged. We did kind of build it, and kind of sat back on our laurels so to speak. We though everybody was going to embrace it, and that didn't necessarily happen out of the gate. We literally started a process where we spent a year bringing people in from the community. We would bring groups of 15 to 17 people from all walks of life into these, and once a week we would meet with them. You've been to our control center. We would bring them in there and talk about how we built the network, what the network was capable of, and how a community like Chattanooga could take advantage of that. Then basically charged them, "This is your network, you need to figure out how to leverage it." It took a little bit of kicking to get the community to engage, but we already were an active community so it didn't take a lot of kicking. But it does take a community that's going to work together, and understand the benefits of working together, to get the most out of a system like this.

Christopher Mitchell: You yourself were someone, you said, who had left Chattanooga, after college I presume, or around that time, and then later came back.

Colman Keane: Right. We were suffering the brain drain like a lot of small cities do. Kids went away from college, and never came back. I was one of those. I moved back to Chattanooga, I was lucky enough to find a job. I consciously made the decision to take less wages and move back to Chattanooga, because I thought it was a great community to raise a family in. Me and my wife consciously made that decision, and it turned out to be a really good one, because I got to work at EPB, and roll out a really great network. Today, it's a little different. Today we have people moving into the community. We have a lot of young people showing up that don't have ties, they don't have relatives, they don't necessarily have a job. They come to Chattanooga and basically say, "I'm going to figure it out when I get there." It's an exciting place.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the challenges that I think you face is trying to figure out what your impact is. We know that you've had a tremendous impact on the community, and one can point to the jobs that have come in from a few large employers. But it's really hard to try and figure out what impact you've had on those small entrepreneurial firms, existing firms that may have been more successful. How do we know that the network has had such a positive economic impact on the community?

Colman Keane: That is something that's very difficult to statistically measure, let's say. There's a lot of things we can look at. We have the Chamber and they know how many large companies have come into town, and we can extrapolate jobs from that. You can walk around in Chattanooga and you can see the revitalized communities, and you can see the storefronts that are opening up. That's not necessarily captured buy the Chamber. A lot of those are small business, one or two people working at them type thing. We have tons of those going in. When you look around, and you look at housing. You look at the growth in Chattanooga, you look at the people moving back into the downtown area and stuff like that. You can feel the excitement. It's something almost, you have to come and see to believe. But it's very difficult, and we're trying to figure out how to do a better job of measuring that. But how do you capture somebody who is working out of their house? Much like you might do for a lot of things that you do. How would you show up in a statistical model, right? That's a problem we face, is we have a lot of people doing those type of work. That gig economy type stuff is hard to measure. I'm using gig as in the job, not necessarily the bandwidth in that scenario.

Christopher Mitchell: It fits for both industries.

Colman Keane: It fits for both. Exactly.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that you have clearly measured is the benefits to the electrical side. If we just back up for a second, it's worth noting, you've not retired all of the debt of the network. You've retired the debt that was attributed to the communications side.

Colman Keane: That is correct. And we are paying down the debt that's being borne by the electric side. We're not in any hurry to pay that down, because we're getting very attractive rates on that. But it will be paid off during the normal course of business.

Christopher Mitchell: I would think so if you're doing transfers of $30 to $40 million.

Colman Keane: We're transferring about three times what's needed to pay off that debt today. The electric is seeing huge benefits from the smart grid that has been rolled out, and so are our customers. When you look at our outage -- There are measures that utilities use, and we have seen those reduced significantly, 50 and 60% reduction in those reliability measures. That doesn't equate to the fact that we're not rolling trucks for those outages anymore. A number of miles, we're at hundreds of thousands of miles every year being saved in truck rolls, just on meter reading. Another couple hundred thousand miles being saved where we're actually having to go scout and find outages before we can fix them.

Christopher Mitchell: It's worth pausing there for a second, because most electric utilities, when they have an outage, they find out about it through customers calling them and saying, "I don't have any power." Then they send trucks out to zigzag around to physically locate, with their eyes, the break.

Colman Keane: That's right. Then once they find the break, then they do a manual work around if they can. So they roll trucks to manually switch the power, if they have that capability. A lot of that takes time and effort, so you could be looking at two to six hours for a relatively small outage. Our smart grid, we have put in the intelligence switches, so a lot of that switching happens automatically. We have information coming back from our smart meters and other sensors, so we know pretty much know exactly where that outage is and can roll trucks right to where the job needs to be fixed. So we're saving tons of money just from what we call "scouting" for the outage.

Christopher Mitchell: You covered this this morning, and the slides are more visual to show the exact number, but you had an outage that impacted on the order of 14,000 people?

Colman Keane: Yeah.

Christopher Mitchell: If you remember roughly the time periods of --

Colman Keane: It was roughly 13,000 customers, it was on a

5:30 on Friday afternoon, so a lot of our employees had gone home just like everybody else. A tree fell and took out a transmission line, to take all those customers out at one time. Basically, in less that 30 seconds about 10,000 of those came back on automatically because of our automatic switching and intelligence that we have built in to the network. About another 30 seconds after that we had a couple more come on through automatic switching. At that point people in the office were aware of the outage and were looking at it, and were able to very quickly, manually switch, in two different scenarios. In a three minute period, then in another two minute period, they got the next couple hundred on in each one of those. Within six, six and half minutes, all 13,000 were back on, and we had a truck rolling to where the tree had fallen, without anybody going out scouting, having to go out and do manual switching. That outage would have been six to ten, twelve hours. That would have been a significant time for us to get all those customers back on prior to our smart grid being in place.

Christopher Mitchell: That's the thing that I knew. The thing that I didn't know, was you also would have had to recall all kinds of employees to answer phones.

Colman Keane: That's right. They were already going home. To handle the volume of calls, or even to get people to go do the scouting, we would have been literally, "Okay. We know you just walked in the door at home. You mind getting in your car and coming back?" So that we could handle the call volume, as well as the work load to do the manual fixing on the outage.

Christopher Mitchell: I don't know if you have any comment, but I saw on the Twitter feed today from EPB, that you're seeing an abnormally high number of trees falling over, unfortunately, due to presumably temperature changes and things like that.

Colman Keane: What we've had is an abnormally wet first part of the year. We had a drought last year, so the combination of having a drought and then -- It's really affecting the oak trees. We've had very large trees come down over the last two months. We've had some significant outages with similar repairs times that we have just talked about. Where we've had 25,000 customers out, and most of those come back on relatively quickly, and we might end up with 2 or 3,000 where we've had to literally roll to actually take trees, and remove those trees. Those would have been multi-day outages prior.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. It's also sad to see giant trees going.

Colman Keane: Yes. Especially these are large, old oaks. You're probably talking hundred year plus trees that are going down at this stage.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that I know you do, is you track the industry very closely. I'm actually surprised when I look at -- I was having a conversation. In Iowa alone we might see four new municipal, citywide fiber to the home networks in the next year. I was expecting to see less than five a year across the entire country. I was expecting to see a lot of municipalities doing incremental investments and things like that. Because I fear the market is so fragmented now, it would be harder to enter the market than it was when you did. I'm curious what your thoughts are in terms of that. Is there still space for those citywide builds?

Colman Keane: I think there absolutely is space. If you back two years ago, every mayor wanted to be a gig city. You've had a lot of people chasing it for about 18 months, so it doesn't surprise me that you're starting to see some of those efforts actually start to bear fruit. I think the bigger issue really is financing for most people, and getting over the fear of being able to actually deploy and run a network like this. A lot of people are actually almost to that level of a decision point, versus whether they think they want it or don't want it. I think they know they want it, they just don't know how to get it.

Christopher Mitchell: Do you have a sense of how many people have left EPB to go work with other cities that are doing this sort of thing.

Colman Keane: That's a good question. We actually have not had a lot of people leave to go do that. We've had some people leave to go work with some vendors, but actually the relative -- At that level, it's been relatively low. We have had more employee turnover than we were used to historically, but it's been mostly at the customer service level. A lot of that is that the employees that we were hiring are skewing younger, and they tend not to stay as long.

Christopher Mitchell: I was just curious. There's a fair number from Google Fiber that are coming out and looking for jobs and things like that, so I was just curious if you were seeing any of that.

Colman Keane: Chattanooga's such a great place to live, nobody wants to leave.

Christopher Mitchell: That is one of the things that I got the impression, is that working at EPB is really great. I can imagine that people wouldn't want to go work for a municipal utility, where they may still believe in the job, but the culture may not be there.

Colman Keane: It's a tough transition.

Christopher Mitchell: That's where, again, I feel like we've always tried to advise cities, "If you want to do what Chattanooga did, it's not just about technology. So much of it is about culture within the community."

Colman Keane: It absolutely is. Kind of like I was talking today, you mind your Ps and the rest of it takes care -- Planning, prep, people, performance, and partnerships. People and partnerships are the most important out of those five. Making sure that you have the right culture, you have the right staff, that they're willing to learn and engage with customers. It's a make or break.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. It's exciting, and I just can't tell you how interesting it is watching Chattanooga. I feel like there's a sense that cities aren't exciting or this or that. When you look back, a lot of really interesting innovations have come from cities you wouldn't have expected from. Frankly, Chattanooga's even big compared to some of the really interesting innovations that have come out of communities, where people do great things.

Colman Keane: Right.

Christopher Mitchell: I'm excited to have been chronicling Chattanooga as you've been doing it.

Colman Keane: Right. Yeah, you've been there pretty much since day one.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, actually my first time in Chattanooga was right around the time that the network started being built.

Colman Keane: Yeah.

Christopher Mitchell: It's exciting. Well, thank you so much for coming on the show again.

Colman Keane: Sure, no problem.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with Colman Keane, who shared updates from Chattanooga's EPB. We have transcripts for this and other Community Broadband Bits Podcasts available at MuniNetworks.com/broadbandbits. Email us at podcast@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. Follow MuniNetworks.org's stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and all of the podcasts in the ILSR podcast family on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. We want to thank Arnie Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and we want to thank you for listening to episode 256 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast.

 

Tags: transcriptchattanoogatennesseeEPBsmart-gridgigabitFTTHeconomic development

Going For The Opt Out, Funding Feasibility In Greeley, Colorado

June 12, 2017

Greeley, Colorado, will likely ask voters to consider opting out of state law SB 152 this fall. City Council members from the city of 100,000 people decided on June 6th to join with nearby Windsor (pop. 18,500) to fund a feasibility study, which will be completed this fall.

Almost One Hundred

Ninety-eight communities across the state of Colorado have voted to reclaim local telecommunications authority via the ballot box. In 2005, the state legislature passed SB 152, which discourages public investment in Internet network infrastructure. Even if local communities want to work with private sector partners, they need to present the question or risk running afoul of the state law. 

As an increasing number of towns and counties realize that high-quality connectivity will not come from national providers, they are choosing to present the question to the voters. Whether they have immediate plans or simply consider the matter a question of local authority, all have chosen to free themselves from the confines of SB 152. This spring, Central City and Colorado Springs held referendums and both passed the measure to opt out.

Taking It Slow

Greeley isn’t in a rush as it considers a publicly owned solution to their connectivity problems. In September 2016, city leadership decided to take incremental steps and directed staff to research options. According to a Greeley Tribune article at the time:

Councilman Robb Casseday said he was talking with a business considering a move to Greeley recently, and that Internet access was first on its priority list.

"Internet is going to be more and more of a future commodity that is going to be as important, I think, as water and sewer to a municipality," he said.

That's what got him on board with considering making high-speed Internet a city utility.

In addition to improving connectivity for businesses and residents, city officials want to find a way to make public venues more attractive. According to Greeley’s Assistant City Manager, the town’s Family FunPlex and Recreation Center has had difficulty booking events due to poor Internet access.

For Our Citizens

With no plan in place at this time, the city is hoping discussion of publicly owned infrastructure will encourage better rates from incumbents. Often just talk of community network deployment will inspire better rates from existing providers. The City Manager has noticed the connection:

Greeley City Manager Roy Otto said Internet service providers have taken notice, with Comcast promoting higher-end Internet service across the state.

"To me, it's apparent that, from the votes and the things that have happened across the state of Colorado, it's making an impact in the marketplace because Comcast is trying to respond to that," Otto said. "At the very least we should be engaged in that conversation for our citizens."

Tags: greeley cocoloradosb 152electionreferendumlocaleconomic development

Lac qui Parle Video: "Come For The Jobs, Stay For The Lifestyle"

June 10, 2017

Lac qui Parle County in western Minnesota has some of the best connectivity in the state. As part of the county’s efforts to get the word out about opportunities in the region, their new Facebook video highlights access to great Internet access and hopes to draw more citizens to the region.

"Come for the Jobs. Stay for the Lifestyle"

Pam Ellison, Economic Development Director for the County, describes the network that is available across the county to businesses and residents. High-quality Internet access is a way to retain businesses, attract new endeavors, and entice people to fill new positions.

Back in 2009, the county began working with Farmers Mutual Telephone Cooperative to find a way to improve Internet access. Through their collaboration, the two entities received a 2010 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to deploy Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connectivity and replace antiquated dial-up. At the time, about 52 percent of premises were still using their telephones to connect to the Internet.

Lac qui Parle had approached incumbent providers, but none were interested in upgrading in the sparsely populated region. Farmers Mutual Telephone Cooperative had deployed in other communities in western Minnesota and had the experience required in such a rural area. The project’s $9.6 million ARRA combined grant and loan allowed the project to be completed by the summer of 2014. Read more details about the network and the story in Lac qui Parle County in our 2014 report, All Hands on Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access.

Check out Lac qui Parle County’s video:

Tags: lac qui parle countyminnesotaruraleconomic developmentcooperativevideomarketingFTTHfarmers mutual telephone coop

The Power of Electric Cooperatives: Recommended Article

June 9, 2017

Journalist Jill Nolin recently dove into the details of electric cooperatives and Internet service in an article for the Thomasville Times-Enterprise in Georgia. Rural electric co-ops offer an avenue for robust rural connectivity that is in keeping with the long-standing rural tradition of self-reliance.

Talking With The Cooperatives

The article features interviews with several local electric cooperatives (EMCs) for their perspective on providing Internet service. Nolin spoke with Blue Ridge Mountain EMC, an electric cooperative that has been offering Internet service for almost ten years.

“Sometimes you have to venture out and do what’s right because your members need you to do it, because they’re demanding you to do it and because it’s the right thing to do. That’s what we did. We ventured out. We didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” -- Erik Brinke, Economic Development Director for Blue Ridge Mountain EMC

Nolin explored several possible barriers facing electric cooperatives that want to provide Internet service: from murky legal territory to capital funding. Christopher Mitchell said:

“It’s a kind of inertia to keep doing what they have been doing, and I think that’s changing more rapidly than I thought, candidly. But I think that’s the number one reason why we don’t see a hundred or 200 of the EMCs in this right now, although I think we’ll be there in another year or two from the rate of escalation we’re seeing,”

Nolin describes how the electric cooperatives are currently asking for the law to be clearly spelled out in the state of Georgia. 

Electric Cooperatives Across the Country

Many electric cooperatives around the country have started projects and programs to connect residents and businesses. At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we have counted about 50 electric cooperatives involved so far. Our report on North Carolina noted how the rural electric cooperatives could provide Internet access to many unserved communities in that state; changes in the law would allow better EMCs to offer connectivity to many areas of the state.

In Michigan, Midwest Energy Cooperative is expanding its Internet service to new areas and so far demand has exceeded expectations. Meanwhile, two electric cooperatives, Kit Carson and Continental Divide, are teaming up in rural New Mexico to build a far-reaching fiber network. Over in Arkansas, Ouachita Electric has formed a partnership with a local telephone company to provide high-speed Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service to residents and businesses.

Rural electric cooperatives have great potential to reach many unserved or underserved areas. Many have already found that providing Internet service is well inline with their values and mission. 

For More...

We recommend reading Nolin's whole article on the Thomasville Times-Enterprise.

Also check out our past coverage of rural telephone and electric cooperatives. We have compiled a list of gigabit cooperatives and featured several interviews on the Broadband Bits Podcast, including Co-Mo and United Fiber in Missouri.

The article is also available at The Flyer.

Tags: georgiarural electric coopblue ridge mountain coopruralcooperativenewsresourceinterview

Newport Utilities Updating The Community At Public Forum

June 8, 2017

As Newport Utilities (NU) in Tennessee moves forward with a plan to offer Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connectivity, they are holding public informational meetings. At a recent meeting, locals received the plan positively, reinforcing that idea that NU is on the right track.

The network will be funded by a $3.5 million interdepartmental loan from the utility’s electric system in addition to a USDA loan. The first phase of the build out will connect just under 6,800 residential and approximately 1,200 business premises. It will also bring electric substations, the city of Newport, emergency services, and local schools on to the new infrastructure. The second phase will continue to connect remaining NU’s service area.

Why Are THEY Here Anyway?

In recent weeks, anti-muni groups from Knoxville and other areas have targeted the project, raising questions among the community; NU officials wanted to address the misinformation directly. Chair of the board Roland Dykes said:

“There has been alot of publicity, negative and positive in the community and we wanted to do this to make sure everybody understood what we are trying to do, and what broadband will mean for our community.” 

WNPC reported that “virtually all of the attendees were positive about the plan, because many areas of Cocke County are without Internet service.” WNPC also noted that the only unfavorable opinion was from an attendee who refused to answer when asked if he was backed by the cable industry. That individual doesn’t live in Cocke County.

Raising Speeds, Holding Down Rates...A Muni Tradition

A former NU employee who is now with the Morristown Utility Board spoke at the meeting, describing how the publicly owned network attracts businesses to Morristown. In addition to boosting economic development, MUS FiberNet brings fast, affordable, reliable connectivity to residents and businesses in the MUS service area. They started serving premises in 2006 with FTTH and have never raised rates, even though they HAVE increased speeds for their standard speed tier. 

In fact, Morristown is consistent with other municipal networks in Tennessee - raising speeds while keeping rates steady. Check out our fact sheet based on historical rates for munis in Tennessee.

NU plans to offer 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $39 per month.

The next step in the process will be to obtain a resolution from the Newport City Council supporting the project at their June meeting.

Tags: newport tntennesseemorristownFTTHsmart-gridmisinformationrates

Commercial ISP Connecting Customers Via Sandpoint Fiber

June 7, 2017

Sandpoint, Idaho’s fiber-optic infrastructure is ready to lease to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) interested in serving the north Idaho town. A regional provider recently announced that it will take advantage of the community’s fiber to expand its network by leasing dark fiber from the city to serve local commercial subscribers.

Big Plans Begin To Unfold

The city installed fiber during road project construction over a five-year period. About a year ago, Sandpoint released a Request for Proposals (RFP) to help the community of 9,700 people make strategic use of its dark fiber network. In addition to leasing dark fiber to providers, the network will serve municipal needs such as public safety and city offices. In February, the City Council established rates for dark fiber leasing and maintenance.

Things have been somewhat quiet until Intermax Networks announced that it has entered into an agreement with the city to lease excess capacity on Sandpoint’s network and will use the new infrastructure to offer connectivity to local commercial subscribers.

President Max Kennedy said in an official statement:

"We’ve provided fiber services to commercial businesses in Sandpoint for years, but today we are proud to be the first private partner with the City of Sandpoint to expand our network by licensing space on the city’s new fiber infrastructure.

Sandpoint has been an integral part of Intermax since the company was founded in Sandpoint in 2001. This year we are going to be dramatically expanding our service capacity in Sandpoint, and we’re pleased to be working with the city on this great project."

Intermax serves commercial sites throughout northern Idaho with fiber and connects to peer networks in Seattle and Portland. The company also provides a variety of services to residential customers and anchor institutions in Kootenai, Bonner, Boundary, and Spokane Counties.

Don't Forget Mr. And Mrs. Sandpoint

The community had also been talking with gigabit provider Ting about bringing Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to the greater Sandpoint area via the public infrastructure. Recent updates to Ting’s website indicate that the city and the ISP have worked through agreements and have moved on to the network planning and engineering phase. Ting is taking pre-orders for gigabit FTTH connectivity in Sandpoint.

Tags: sandpoint ididahodark fibereconomic developmentFTTHleasebusiness services

Chattanooga Fiber Surpasses Expectations, Offers Lessons - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 257

June 6, 2017
Community Broadband Bits Episode 257 - Chattanooga EPB Director of Fiber Technology Colman Keane

One of the very many treats at Mountain Connect this year was a keynote from Chattanooga EPB's Director of Fiber Technology, Colman Keane. (Watch it here.) After discussing their remarkable successes, we snagged an interview with him (he was last on the show for episode 175).

We discuss whether or not Chattanooga is an appropriate role model for other cities considering a municipal fiber investment and the general viability of citywide approaches in the current market.

We also get an update on Chattanooga's financials, their enthusiasm on connecting well over 90,000 subscribers, and how the smart grid deployment is creating tremendous value for both the utility and the wider community.

For more about Chattanooga, take a look at our ongoing coverage. We've been following the network and the community since 2009.

Read the transcript of the show.

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

This show is 23 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: chattanoogatennesseeaudiopodcastbroadband bitscompetitiontake rateelectricsmart-gridsavingsutilitynatural disasterfinancialfinancingdebtservicesEPBeconomic development

Tennessee Muni Rates Fact Sheet

June 6, 2017

In addition to studying how and where local communities examine the potential for publicly owned Internet networks, we’ve looked at rates over time in select areas of the country. We recently put together a comparison of historical rates for municipal networks in Tennessee. Our findings are consistent with what we’ve seen all over the country - publicly owned networks don't hesitate to raise speeds while keeping rates affordable. We've documented the data on our fact sheet: Municipal Networks: Speed Increases & Affordable Prices.

Not Like The Big Guys

National providers make it a habit to periodically raise rates and over time those increases add up. They’ve done it so often, subscribers have come to expect it on a regular basis. Price increases don’t usually include a speed increase. With no need to appease shareholders, officials in charge of publicly owned networks can set rates at a level that allow a network to be sustainable rather than rates that maximize profits.

Publicly owned networks have increased speeds for subscribers, often with little or no fanfare other than quietly alerting subscribers to their improved service. Places Chattanooga’s EPB, Morristown’s FiberNET, and BET in Bristol are in a much different habit than Comcast or AT&T - they increase speeds with no increase in price. Other Tennessee communities have increased speeds significantly with only slight price increases over years of service.

Speeds, Rates Then And Now

On our fact sheet, we include prices for the basic tiers now and when the network began offering services. We also compare the basic speeds when the network began serving the community and today. The results reflect how publicly owned networks focus on providing fast, affordable connectivity to subscribers rather than collecting profit from customers.

Some results may surprise you:

  • Morristown has never increased prices for their standard speed offering. It’s always been a solid $34.95 each month. The speed has increased to 50 Mbps, an 8 fold increase!
  • Bristol has operated a municipal network since 2008. The standard speed is 5X faster than when the city started building the network. (With no price increase.)
  • Chattanooga has not raised their prices since they launched. Their standard speed is now more than 6X as fast as when they first started. The city also has a low-income option for families with schoolchildren in K-12: 100 Mbps for $26.99.

Download the fact sheet here to read more. Check out our other fact sheets for ways to share additional information about publicly owned networks.

Photo of the Bristol, Tennessee Ridgeline courtesy of Bantosh [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Municipal Networks: Speed Increases & Affordable Prices Fact SheetTags: fact sheetresourcetennesseeratesupgradepriceschattanoogaEPBclarksvillejackson tnmorristownpulaskibristol-tennesseecolumbia tnfayetteville tn