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O'Rielly Hallucinates, Says Munis Violate First Amendment

October 30, 2018

On October 24th, FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly spoke before the Media Institute at their “Free Speech America” Gala. In a speech for the telecom-backed group, O’Rielly delivered exactly what many of the big hitters in the audience would want to hear. He falsely accused, with nothing to back up his claims, municipal networks of posing  an “ominous threat to the First Amendment.”

Whaaaa?

Karl Bode reported on the event, noting that O’Rielly goes on to falsely claim that local governments have or will attempt to limit free speech through municipal networks. Bode immediately addressed the baseless statements and reached out to Christopher, who confirmed that, ”There is no history of municipal networks censoring anyone's speech.” Jon Brodkin at Ars Technica also wrote a well-reasoned article reminding readers that O'Rielly previously called rules to protect against censorshop by ISPs "baseless fearmongering." Huh... that sounds right. 

Apparently, the impressionable O'Rielly had been reading up before his speech and had just put down a copy of a document from the Free State Foundation, an organization funded in part by deep pocketed ISPs. The document implied that community networks would be more likely to interfere with free speech. Such is the disinformation game.

The American Civil Liberties Union has addressed this concern in the past because they oppose any efforts to censor speech, whether by government or corporations. In their paper on municipal broadband networks, they wrote:

And indeed, First Amendment principles prevent the government from targeting certain ideas or viewpoints for censorship or reduced access. Governments risk violating the Constitution if they create blacklists of disfavored websites, only permit access to “approved” websites, engage in content filtering, or ban anonymous online browsing or writing.

Subscribers living in communities with publicly owned networks often boast about how satisfied they are with their connectivity, customer service, and the benefits their networks have brought. Big ISPs and the officials they support struggle to find negative things to say about publicly owned networks. As a result, they find themselves relying on false and misleading statements to paint munis with a dark brush.

Bode also noted that publicly owned networks are accountable to subscribers and the local communities they serve, reliable, and have been rated higher than most of the large private sector national ISPs, such as Comcast, AT&T, and CenturyLink.

Christopher scoffed at O’Rielly’s statements and elaborate:

O'Rielly gets it totally backwards. Municipal networks are far less likely to censor because they are prohibited from doing so under the First Amendment. Further, because they are accountable to the community, any efforts to violate freedom of speech would likely result in new leadership for the city following the next election. In contrast, big monopolies like AT&T and Comcast Xfinity are not limited by the first amendment and have very limited accountability if they limit freedom of speech.

Tags: fccmunikarl bodechristopher mitchellnetwork neutrality

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 329

October 30, 2018

This is the transcript for Community Broadband Bits episode 329. In this episode, recorded at the 2018 Broadband Communities Economic Development Conference in Ontario, California, Christopher talks with Deb Socia of Next Century Cities and Bob Knight of Harrison Edwards about political will and community broadband projects. Listen to the episode here.

 

 

Deb Socia: It's all about ensuring that the citizens are engaged and excited and you are sharing information all the time. And then you end up with a success like that. It's great to hear about those stories.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 329 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Christopher is back from the 2018 Broadband Communities Economic Development Conference in Ontario, California. While he was there, he recorded several interviews, including this week's episode. Deb Socia from Next Century Cities is back on the podcast, and a first time guest, Bob Knight from PR and Marketing firm, Harrison Edwards joins in. The topic for today is political will. Deb, Bob, and Christopher discuss how political will, or the lack of it, is such a key element in communities considering publicly-owned broadband infrastructure. Bob shares some sobering observations from his company, and the three talk about possible reasons for the challenges behind mustering political will to move beyond discussion to implementation. They also get into the ripple effects that are negatively impacting local communities, and they provide some pointers on what constituents can do to help their elected officials who need the political will to move forward. Now, here's Christopher, Deb, and Bob discussing political will and community network projects.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. This is Chris Mitchell from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Ontario, California at the Broadband Communities Economic Development Conference with another set of live interviews. We're going to talk today with Deb Socia, the executive director of Next Century Cities and past guest. Welcome back to the show, Deb.

Deb Socia: Wonderful to be here. Thanks, Chris.

Christopher Mitchell: And we have a new guest that I've been wanting to have on for some time now: the one, the only, Bob Knight — not the basketball coach.

Bob Knight: Duck!

Christopher Mitchell: [laughs] Bob is a partner at Harrison Edwards. Bob, what is Harrison Edwards?

Bob Knight: So we're a strategic public relations firm, a strategic communications firm, a digital marketing firm, and we have many areas of expertise including economic development, government, healthcare, and we've been in the broadband space also for about three or four years now.

Christopher Mitchell: And yeah, I was going to say, I see you at all of these events. You've been reading, hoovering up all the material you can find to think about these sorts of things.

Bob Knight: And certainly listening to the podcast. There is so much great information out there, and our team is really excited to be working with communities and some of our partners on some really interesting projects. Actually we have the only dedicated broadband team in the US in our space.

Christopher Mitchell: And you're located out just outside of New York City. What's happening in Westchester?

Bob Knight: That's really interesting. So we helped the Westchester County Association launched Gigabit Westchester. This was in 2016, and it was a really interesting project at the time. They put together a compact of the four cities in Westchester County — so about half a million people — and the object was to bring gigabit speed broadband to the entire county starting with the four cities. The [county has] about million people, so it's a big project. I think they are finding their way. The Federal Reserve has been a bit involved. Jordana Barton, who I believe has been on on this podcast before —

Christopher Mitchell: I'm not sure if she has or not. She certainly should be, but we've talked about her ideas frequently in terms of using banking regulator tools to improve access.

Bob Knight: So the Federal Reserve right there looking at the economy and they're taking a big look at the digital divide and those issues. And they've identified that basically, without digital inclusion, without access to high speed broadband, digital divide equals economic divide. And our nation's economy really depends on the deployment of high speed broadband. So they see this coming down the pike and they're saying, you know, we're facing downward mobility in our nation without high speed broadband. It's a very, very serious issue. Probably one of the most serious issues facing the US.

Christopher Mitchell: And Deb, what's going on in Next Century Cities? Any exciting news? How many cities do you have now?

Deb Socia: We have 190 member cities, towns, and counties across the country and growing every day. So it's pretty exciting. We do have an event coming up, and it's in Hartford, Connecticut, and our keynote speaker is Gigi Sohn, the wonderful Gigi. And we've got several panels: one of a panel of mayors being moderated by state senator, Beth Bye, and a panel on financing, a panel on successful models. So a lot of really interesting information that we can share with local leadership.

Christopher Mitchell: Great. I'm looking forward to it. I'll be there. We're going to talk about political will today — something that, Deb, I know you have intimate experience with and something that actually was prompted by Bob after you gave a presentation on it at the recent Great Lakes Connect. So, I'd like to start off by asking you, Bob, why is it important to build political will? And then we're gonna come back to Deb to get some more examples.

Bob Knight: Just for background purposes, my business partner, Carolyn Mandelker, and I both have political backgrounds. She sits on a planning and zoning commission and used to run political campaigns in New York City, and I'm formerly an economic development official. So having worked and continue to work with government from the inside, we really have a keen understanding of what makes projects tick and why certain projects move forward and why other projects just lament for years and years. And at Great Lakes Connect, to the point that you made, it was really interesting — sort of timing is everything in life. I had given a session on building political will and making the case for project funding. I was doing [it] with Tom Coverick from KeyBank. And the issue throughout the entire conference, it came up in every single session, was you have to have political will to be successful, or oh, how do you build political will? We were hearing from a lot of people. This statistic is startling: 90 percent of broadband projects that have come about throughout the nation actually are not moving forward.

Christopher Mitchell: Of community broadband projects.

Bob Knight: Community broadband projects are not moving forward. It's probably even closer to 95 percent. And there are several factors, but really the main reason is a lack of political will, a lack of community engagement. So we want to change that.

Christopher Mitchell: And you would define that as where the city council takes the idea seriously, the mayor, [and] maybe they form a subcommittee, something like that, but it doesn't go further than that. That's what you're talking about.

Bob Knight: Yes. What happens is that it fails at the polls. It fails. The project fails to get a council vote. And what we're seeing a lot of is when you look at who the project managers are at a municipal level, it's typically a chief information officer or director of finance or a director of technology. By nature — and the word bureaucrat is not a bad word, but by nature those appointed officials typically are a little more insular, and they're looking at budgets and project timelines, and they sort of work behind the scenes. That's what they do versus an elected who's out in the community. So very often the first time a project sort of sees the light of day, it's daylight and it's like agenda item number three or four on a council meeting. Then all of a sudden the public has its backup because these are not inexpensive projects. So the public has some questions. The local reporter is sitting in the council meeting if you still have a local reporter in your community —

Christopher Mitchell: Let's hope.

Bob Knight: Let's hope, and all of a sudden, you know, there's a reaction. And then the city council members become a little scared, and they say, "Well, let's study this further" or "Let's ask some more questions." And we get on this wheel of delay, delay, study, study, and projects are not moving forward.

Christopher Mitchell: So Deb, is this what you've seen as well, or would you come up political will in a different way?

Deb Socia: I think political will is essential if you're going to be successful in any of these projects. But I think the thing that people forget to do is to make sure that they back up and they bring a lot of people on board with them because there's a lot of power in numbers. Right? So when you think about, for example, what happened in Charlotte with Charlotte Hearts Gigabit, which provided the elected officials with a lot of backing before they ever got to the council to deal with making change —

Christopher Mitchell: In this case, to bring Google in.

Deb Socia: To bring Google in. But, think about Mayor Durel from Lafayette, Louisiana, who did the same thing. He went to the people, he talked to folks, he got stories, he got backing, and then he got the project off the ground. And I feel like that's something that sometimes people forget. I think that was the same thing in Chattanooga that when you talk to the mayor of Chattanooga, he is well versed. He's got his talking points, and he's very supportive of the project, and he's supportive of the community. And I think there's a way to make that happen.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. I think one of the reasons that I was excited when Bob suggested this as a topic is something that I've seen and I'm curious to get both of your reactions to this. I don't want to pick on two Next Century Cities member cities, but in this case, I think it's illustrative. Palo Alto has had a successful dark fiber network for many years. We're talking 20 years, and that has generated more than $20 million of revenue, which has kind of been softly earmarked for future fiber related projects. They have not mastered the political will to do hardly anything with that, and in fact they seem paralyzed in many ways. Now I just want to compare that to Mount Vernon where when I talk to Mount Vernon and I say, hey, you know, it's just amazing to me what you've done with almost $0 because they had all of this desire and will and a sharp person, who is just thinking I have a paper clip and a rubber band, and I've got to figure out how to improve connectivity with it. And I asked him one time, you know, like, what would you do if you just had like a few million dollars sitting around? And his mind was blown. He was like, there's so many things we could do. And I think that there's just a difference in mindset. I don't want to ask you to comment specifically on those cities necessarily, but I'm just curious about that dynamic where I feel like you just see a difference. And it's not about whether or not you have resources. It's not about your bond rating. There's a different thing that determines whether or not you're going to take action to improve Internet access locally.

Deb Socia: I think part of the struggle is that by nature governments are risk averse, and you do take a chance when you are putting forth a big project with a big dollar amount attached. And I think we need to help folks think about how to mitigate that risk so that their political future is not at stake. And I think that's been an issue for a lot of mayors. The mayors who step up like Joey Durel, like the mayor of Mount Vernon, Mayor Boudreau, our mayors who are saying to heck with it, this is way more important than my future career. This is way —

Christopher Mitchell: Like Mayor Dana Kirkham, like long before she know how popular it was —

Deb Socia: In Ammon, Idaho, right? These are mayors who really step up and say, I've got to go for this because it's about quality of life for my citizens.

Bob Knight: You know, it's interesting. There's a real interesting dichotomy here when you look at government. You know, how do we measure success? In the private sector, we measure success by showing results. In government, we measure success by following a process, and sometimes results don't have to be equated with that just as long as you're following the process. So there is that inherent tension between the private sector and the public sector in [that] are these broadband projects a success if they keep getting delayed and delayed and delayed further? I would venture to say no, but those internal, in the workings of government, would venture to say yes.

Christopher Mitchell: Before you get to your next point, Bob, I really want to just clarify something that I think we're on the same page on, which is that a community might say, no, this doesn't work for us and that might be the right decision. Right? None of us are suggesting that every city should be moving forward with a specific plan. I think what you are specifically talking about is cities that are basically refusing to make a decision. they're kicking the can down the road.

Bob Knight: Yes, that's right.

Christopher Mitchell: I just want to make sure people are clear that we're not saying every city that has said this doesn't work for us, we're not saying that was the wrong decision. We're talking about the vast majority of those 90 percent in that figure that you cite are where they mostly have not made a decision

Bob Knight: As an industry, we're really not operating with a sense of urgency. The industry isn't, and at the municipal level, we're not. I sort of feel, and this is my own personal opinion, that the window of opportunity is closing for community broadband projects because the big incumbents, they're out there, they're lobbying in the state legislatures. Some of these bills are actually getting out of committee, and they're going to be just throwing small cells up, you know, wherever they want to. The FCC has been very friendly towards that. And so communities are basically like, look, we're still gonna, need the fiber for the backhaul for the small cells and for forthcoming 5G networks, but we're going to be going from a position of power and offense to one of defense, where we're going to be supporting the carriers deployment plans rather than looking at what's gonna be best for each community as a whole. What problems are we trying to solve in the community versus how do we support profits? Very, very different distinction.

Christopher Mitchell: Now I want to come back to your point in a second. Deb, I know you want to jump in, but I also wanted to know, I've been saying this for years that I feel like the window is sort of closing — not in the sense that it will be closed in the way that I think you might be more afraid of, but certainly that the business cases get harder every year because the market becomes more fractured with new business models.

Deb Socia: I think one of the things we have to recognize is the daily reality of the life of a mayor and understanding why they get so stuck. Right? So, if you are mayor, you get phone calls about graffiti, potholes, the streets torn up . . .

Christopher Mitchell: Dog waste.

Deb Socia: Exactly.

Christopher Mitchell: Garbage cans.

Deb Socia: And so, I feel like their day is so full of managing that, that sometimes it's hard to take that long look. And I think that it's really helpful for a mayor to step back and have a process in place that includes citizen input that can help them move forward and move past that sort of [problem of] I got to take care of these daily issues — which by the way, for them are small wins. Small wins are good wins. And so helping people look at the future and think here's a big win and this win makes a difference in the life of our residents.

Christopher Mitchell: I like that idea a lot. I would have actually put it on the citizens and the local businesses to say you have to force the mayor to do that good job, but you're putting some of that responsibility more on the mayor to say you need to have a process that is thinking along these lines. I think that's a really good point.

Bob Knight: Well, I think it's actually both, and I want to underscore Deb's point because it's an excellent point. You know, when I was an economic development official sitting in our first selectman's (which is like a mayor) office, and we were talking about attracting a significant company to the town. And I just remember this vividly. He had to get up, pick up the phone because Mrs. Jones was calling because one of the town snowplows took out her mailbox and you know, we had to fix it. And you're right, those are very important, those little victories, politically. You know, when we look at stakeholders, it is the role of the mayor to drive the process. It's the role of other champions and government to drive the process. But it should also be a bottom up approach. And in engaging stakeholders, how you build political will, you build stakeholder will. And I think our industry, when we say stakeholders, engaging stakeholders, I've heard a lot of tactics, but I haven't seen a lot of strategies in place across the country. So groups will say, well, we're going to have a meetup or we're going to have a hive — that's my favorite one. I have no idea what a hive is, and I've been in marketing for for 15 years, but all I know is as someone allergic to bees, I'm staying away from it. The reality is that we're really not engaging the entire community, and this should be an entire community project. We're typically a speaking to young white guys in tech who may benefit from broadband initially, but we're not speaking to our seniors. Guess who goes out to council meetings, guess who votes. It's our seniors. How are they going to benefit from the network? How are your anchor institution is going to benefit from the network? You know, I'm giving a talk today on healthcare. Robust telehealth networks are critical to the profitability of hospitals, often the major employers in most communities. So really, you know, think about the community as a whole and your strategy. And when you engage the community as a whole, you're making your project evergreen because elected officials change. We have elections. Appointed officials leave. But if the community wants it, that project is gonna is gonna live on through change.

Deb Socia: I'd like to jump in and just say, you know, we created a toolkit for cities about tech powered civic engagement, and one of the five important principles we outlined in that was work "with" and not "for." So you're not doing this for somebody, you're doing this with somebody, and when it's a shared goal, there is much more power in it. And I agree, it outlives whomever the elected official might be — outlives their office, not them personally. But I think it's all about building trust, right? It's building trust in the community and transparency and allowing the voice of citizens who are impacted by this potential change to really be heard.

Christopher Mitchell: So one of the realities about political will that I think people may not be aware of is how the ecosystem around building these networks is potentially harmed by this perpetual kicking the can down the road. You know, there are supplier companies, consultants. There's a whole range of people that are essential to make sure that communities can build a successful community network. And Bob, you were talking about some of the stresses that some of these folks are facing. I personally know that symmetrical networks had come into this space, tried to work with several cities, and then exited this space because they had this sense that cities just weren't making decisions and they couldn't just go year after year, paying a staff ready to move, you know, at a moment's notice only to have them sitting around in their office doing very little.

Bob Knight: Well, that's right. And, even the multinationals are having a hard time, coming to conferences, talking to cities, working with partners. And these projects really aren't moving forward at the speed that they need to, and some of our colleagues and friends, who we see quite often, they're all saying, God, I'm having a hard time selling this up the food chain that we should be devoting this time and expertise. So —

Christopher Mitchell: Internally in their companies.

Bob Knight: Internally in their company, which puts the broadband industry and it puts communities at risk because we're going to start losing some really good talent that we've all sort of cultivated in bringing to the table for these communities.

Christopher Mitchell: Now, just to explain that dynamic briefly, because I think too many people think of a company as sort of like a monolithic entity. Why is it important to sell something up the food chain in a supplier company?

Bob Knight: In the private sector, we're always looking at at P and L, profits and losses, and even nonprofit organizations have to have to make money. So if a company is going to invest in sending their people to conferences, there's travel costs associated, or to go out and meet with communities, again, travel costs associated in terms of new business development. They want to see some sort of return on that investment. It's the results, it's the ROI. And if it's not going to be profitable in the broadband industry, if projects are not going to move forward, these companies are going to say, well, maybe let's focus elsewhere in some of our other areas in other product lines and reassign talent. It's a very real threat, and I've been hearing it more and more from several of our partners and others.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay. It's distressing, but I understand why it is.

Bob Knight: It is. I mean, look, we're okay at Harrison Edwards. We have several practice verticals, and we're doing some business, we're working with communities across the nation — you know, we're doing okay. And as an owner of a company, we have a long runway and I can control that runway, but there are others who may be in middle management or even fairly senior who are having a harder case. And they have to answer to shareholders at the end of the day too.

Christopher Mitchell: Let's wrap up with a discussion about what you do if you're a member of the community, if you're not an elected official or the mayor, to build political will because I think we've come at this often with what the city council and mayor should be doing. And so, I often think of this as a tripod, in that if you're a citizen, you want to have some support from the business community and the residents — that's one leg of the tripod. Another is city staff. You don't want city staff to be totally opposed to the project because they can veto it even though, you know, public policy doesn't necessarily take into account the opinions of staff officially, they certainly have a lot of power to shape these things. And then the other is your elected officials. So there's sort of three legs of the tripod you have to be thinking about. Deb, can you share? Does that makes sense to you? Have you seen examples of that?

Deb Socia: It really does. And you know, I referred to Charlotte Hearts Gigabit earlier. They really started with the business community, got the business community together, and then spread out to the citizens. All the while, they stayed in communication and collaborated with city staff and elected officials. And they were very successful, and I'm not saying because they got Google. They were very successful as a group of people gaining and garnering energy behind this movement. And I think that's a very powerful message for people to remember, is that you bring people in early and often and you share as much information as you can and you are at the same time as a group of citizens, both pushing the process forward and pulling the elected officials with you.

Bob Knight: I think it's really important when we're talking about community — I'm gonna say something a little controversial now.

Christopher Mitchell: Uh oh, here we go.

Bob Knight: I can just imagine. Here's the little clip before the show: I'm going to say something controversial now. Here's the promo. Our industry relies heavily on social media and broadband champions within the community. And I'm here to say that's maybe not such a reliable resource. Champions are great, but at the end of the day they are volunteers and champions have been known to go off message. There was a meeting of champions in one of the Colorado towns, I'm not going to name it by name, where they had put together, you know, a dozen champions in the various neighborhoods and they held a meeting. And two of the champions, two of the 12, show up and they're off message. They're actually even a little bit negative about the process because they had read something in the newspaper that incumbent had planted, some of that deliberate misinformation that our company tries to correct the record on. So you always have to be wary that yes, a bottom up approach is great, but you do need a little bit of that top down, that three legged stool that Deb was just discussing. Proper community engagement leads to three things: shorter project timelines because the community is behind it, so therefore there's political coverage; there's less cost because the projects don't drag out and further studies and more and more and legal battles; and also stronger take rates. If the community is behind it, they're gonna want [it]. You know, once people get broadband, boy, they sign up for it in a heartbeat. And that's really, really critical. Having the community there, man, these projects move forward.

Bob Knight: I think that's a really good spot to end. Deb, did you want to have any concluding comments?

Deb Socia: Let's just say that I think about some of the things we've heard here already at broadband communities in Ontario and that's, you know, Sandy, Oregon, has a 68 percent take rate, right? I mean that's because the community really cares and the community's really engaged. And Chattanooga, Tennessee announced their hundred thousandth customer. Again, just it's all about ensuring that the citizens are engaged and excited and you are sharing information all the time, and then you end up with a success like that. It's great to hear about those stories.

Christopher Mitchell: And Mr. Knight, would you like to finish up with a concluding comment?

Bob Knight: Well, it actually in cases like that, it's great, and then you switch your campaign to managing expectations, right? You say this all the time, Deb. Government is great at building infrastructure, lousy at operating it. So what happens when you have 68 percent of the community or 100,000 subscribers, you need the infrastructure to set them up, you need the human resources. So there is that messaging.

Christopher Mitchell: I wouldn't have said that Deb said lousy. So Deb, why don't you respond?

Deb Socia: I would say they are great at building infrastructure. They've been doing it for years. They don't always want to manage it, and it is not always in their wheelhouse to manage it. And so I would say it that way. I wouldn't say they're lousy at it. The folks that choose to do it actually are really doing it quite well.

Christopher Mitchell: Well and I think your point is that the things that you do well, Bob, are the things that are really challenging for communities in terms of managing the message and and rapidly changing the message that you're putting out in the media if, you know, you need to on a regular basis in terms of your marketing campaigns and things like that.

Bob Knight: So we actually just launched a brand new website just for this. It's called PRforBroadband.com. PR, like public relations. PRforBroadband.com. And it actually shows the process of building political will, building, community engagement, and also you know how we go about, you know, helping to build higher take rates too. And it really shows what sidelines these projects and really how to help communities become more successful. We want to turn that 90 to 95 percent number around, flip it on its head, and make sure all these community broadband projects are successful.

Christopher Mitchell: Good. Well thanks for your passion. Thanks for coming on to talk with us today.

Bob Knight: Can't be anything but passionate about broadband.

Deb Socia: Thanks for having us, Chris.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with Deb Socia and Bob Knight. They were discussing political will and community broadband network projects. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/BroadbandBits. Email us at Podcast@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. Follow MuniNetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other ILSR podcasts, Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them wherever you get your podcasts. Don't miss out on our original research. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org, and while you're there, take a moment to donate. Thanks to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons. And thanks for listening to episode 329 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcript

Political Will and Local Broadband Initiatives - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 329

October 30, 2018

While Christopher was in Ontario, California, at the 2018 Broadband Communities Economic Development Conference, he took advantage of the opportunity and recorded several discussions with experts to share with our Community Broadband Bits Podcast audience. This week, we’re presenting his conversation with Deb Socia, Executive Director of Next Century Cities, and Bob Knight, Executive Vice President and COO of Harrison Edwards. His Public Relations and Marketing Firm has some special insight into the broadband industry.

In their discussion, Deb, Bob, and Christopher get into the challenge that faces every community that searches for ways to improve local connectivity — political will.

We often report on communities that are considering some level of investment in publicly owned Internet network infrastructure. From convening committees to commissioning feasibility studies to entering into talks with potential partners there are many steps that a community may take that may lead to nowhere. The reality is that moving from consideration to implementation is a path filled with potential pitfalls, especially when elected officials face challenges from incumbents bent on maintaining their positioning in a community. It’s also a process to determine if a publicly owned network is right for a community; every place is different and each local government faces the process of discovering what’s best for them.

Bob and Deb have worked with many local officials and have seen firsthand the types of issues that can fracture political will toward a local broadband initiative. In this interview, they share their observations, how those issues affect local communities, and provide pointers for constituents that want to support their local leaders.

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

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

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

Tags: audiobroadband bitspodcastpoliticsdeb socialocalregionalelected officials

Connected New England Event Fast Approaching

October 30, 2018

It’s not too late to make your plans to attend "Connected New England: A Regional Broadband Convening" in Hartford, Connecticut. The November 8th event will bring an impressive list of broadband leaders to the Nutmeg State to share their expertise on all things broadband.

Register now and check out the agenda.

Special Local Focus

The theme of the event is “Local Solutions for Broadband Development” and is hosted through a partnership between Next Century Cities, the State of Connecticut Office of Consumer Counsel. If you’re a government, academic, or nonprofit employee, you can attend at no charge. Topics at the event will revolves around the most difficult challenges obstructing deployment in New England.

A mayor’s panel will include Mayor Luke Bronin and State Representative Josh Elliot along with elected officials from New Haven, Stamford, and East Hartford.

Gigi Sohn, former FCC advisor, and a Distinguished Fellow at Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law & Policy, will deliver the Afternoon Keynote. We love Gigi!

Additional panels will hit on:

  • Municipal Gain Update from the state’s Office of Consumer Counsel
  • 5G & Small Cells Panel - Josh Broder from Tilson will moderate
  • Successful Models Panel - Christopher Mitchell will moderate
  • Financing & E-Rate Panel - Deb Socia from Next Century Cities will moderate

Check out the full agenda and register online for this interesting day in New England.

Special Viewing

At the event, Maria Smith, Producer and Director of Dividing Lines: Why Is Internet Access Still a Luxury in America? will publicly release her film and there will be a discussion about the film and the issue. You can see the trailer here:

 

For more details, contact Cat Blake via email: cblake(at)nextcenturycities.org

Tags: eventdeb sociachristopher mitchellwest hartfordconnecticutnew englandgigi sohn

Community Broadband Media Roundup - October 29

October 29, 2018

Colorado

Loveland council to vote on bond issue, business plan for municipal broadband by Julia Rentsch, Reporter-Herald

 

Indiana

Coming together in the pursuit of bringing broadband to rural Hoosiers by Eric Pfeiffer, Hoosier Ag Today 

 

Maine

Rural Maine communities taking lack of broadband into their own hands by J. Craig Anderson, Portland Press Herald

Roughly 15 percent of Maine residents still don’t have access to broadband service as defined by the federal standard of at least 25 megabits per second download and 3 Mbps upload, said Peggy Schaffer, who runs the Maine Broadband Coalition, an informal federation of public policy professionals, educational institutions, businesses, nonprofit organizations and private individuals seeking to improve broadband access in the state.

 

Michigan

Lyndon Township’s broadband infrastructure well on its way to construction phase, except for an endangered species by Lynne Beauchamp, The Sun Times News

 

Minnesota

Area projects continue to make progress, KEDA Board discusses by Whitney Jackson, International Falls Journal

Accessing the future: Local providers work to provide Internet access to rural Minnesota by Emily Carlson, The Daily Journal

“If you ask economic developers what are the three ways to get young people to their communities it’s the three B’s-- beers, bikes and broadband.” 

 

Vermont

Fast track, Rutland Herald

Cable and telecom groups sue Vermont by Xander Landen, VTDigger

 

Wisconsin 

High-speed Internet for low-income households price tag roughly $170 million by Dean Mosiman, Wisconsin State Journal

 

General

FCC leaders say we need a 'national mission' to fix rural broadband by Marguerite Reardon, CNET

How to solve the rural broadband problem? Fix the maps, CNET

Why rural areas can't catch a break on speedy broadband by Marguerite Reardon, CNET

"The argument is that we will see more deployment in rural locations.”... “But I don't believe that we have evidence that suggests that's happening. Instead, what we have are more companies with more rights to block and censor content online, and that's not good for any of us."

FCC 3.5 GHz band license changes will make closing the rural digital divide more difficult by Shiva Stella, Public Knowledge

Worst connected cities 2017, National Digital Inclusion Alliance 

3 states try to help the FCC kill net neutrality and preempt state laws by Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica

In farm country, forget broadband. You might not have Internet at all by Shara Tibken, CNET

Nearly one-in-five teens can’t always finish their homework because of the digital divide by Monica Anderson and Andrew Perrin, PEW

 

 

Tags: media roundup

Movie Monday and Update from Taunton, Massachusetts

October 29, 2018

We came across this cool video shared by Taunton Municipal Light Plant (TMLP) in Taunton, Massachusetts, and wanted to share it. This quick vid reminds us that, even though the Internet may seem like “magic” because it connects us with other continents, it’s actually science, work, and investment.

BTW, What's Up in Taunton?

When we last checked in with TMLP in March 2018, they had just implemented a fiberhood approach to sign up residential subscribers. According to their website, people are responding; nine neighborhoods are connected and almost two dozen others are accepting applications. Once 25 percent of premises have submitted their applications for installation, TMLP provides a timeline for installation in the area. Eight neighborhoods in Taunton are already connected.

Taunton began with fiber connectivity for businesses in 1997 and began residential services by offering their Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to an apartment complex. The complex and the first neighborhood they connected were situated near the community high school, already served by TMLP. Other institutions, such as a local hospital and associated clinics have also been signed up with TMLP fiber for years.

Keeping the Community Up to Speed, Affordably

TMLP offers symmetrical connectivity at either $34.95 per month for 50 Megabits per second (Mbps) or $69.95 per month for 1 gigabit. They also offer VoIP service for $19.95 per month. Like many other publicly owned networks that have opted not to offer video services, TMLP is finding ways to educate the public about viewing options. They recently held a workshop on cutting the cord at the local library and have resources on their website for users interested on learning more.

There are about 57,000 people living in Taunton, the county seat of Bristol County. While the history of the community's economy goes back to shipbuilding and silversmithing, today Taunton has an active semiconductor, silicon and electronics manufacturing base. 

Check it out the Business Insider video on intercontinental connectivity:

Tags: taunton mamassachusettsFTTHgigabitvideo

Subs in Chattanooga Up to 100K

October 26, 2018

Earlier this month, Chattanooga’s celebrated as municipal network EPB Fiber Optics announced that they now have more than 100,000 subscribers. The high numbers indicate that the network is serving more than 60 percent of premises in the EPB service area. EPB's success also attests to the popularity of publicly owned Internet infrastructure that is accountable and responsive to the community that both own and use the network.

An Expected Milestone, Big Benefits

Hitting six digit subscribership this fall was no surprise based on rapid growth and intense interest in EPB’s affordable, symmetrical 10 gigabit connectivity along with other available speeds. When the city began serving subscribers in 2009, they based initial figures on an estimate of 35,000 subscribers within five years to break even. Within 18 months, they had already surpassed those goals.

Having paid off remaining debt earlier this year, more revenue is now freed up for more investment back into the system or to put back into the community. The utility is now reinvesting around $42 million per year back into the electric system and power rates are lower for the entire community, regardless of whether or not electric customers are EPB Fiber Optic subscribers.

"Contrary to the fears some had about us spending power funds to pay for this service, our power rates are actually 7 percent lower than they otherwise would be because of our Fiber Optic network and the business it has generated for us," EPB President David Wade said.

In addition to significant savings on power rates, Chattanooga has experienced an influx of economic development as tech companies have come to the city specifically for the network. “Gig City” Mayor Andy Berke:

"Our fiber optic network is today's locomotive that is driving Chattanooga's success and positioning us as a model for other communities. It is a powerful recruiting tool to attract new businesses that need reliable, high quality power and communications, as well as a catalyst for launching startups and expanding our existing businesses."

A 2015 report by University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC) Economist Bento Lobo estimated that the network had brought 5,200 new jobs  and $1.3 billion in new benefits to the city.

While economists such as Lobo look at the dollars and cents the network has generated, soft benefits, such as better connectivity in the schools, libraries, and healthcare institutions add benefits that aren’t necessarily quantifiable. For example, the city has also created a program that provides affordable high-quality Internet access for lower-income families via the network and private sector competitors have stepped up their game.

It's Their Network

Regardless of the improvements in service or price from the national providers in Chattanooga, locals seem to prefer their local network, says EPB Chairman Joe Ferguson. "We make sure we treat people they way we want to be treated and do what we say, " Ferguson said. This past summer, EPB was rated as a top internet provider by J.D. Power and Associates surveys.

The community and EPB celebrated on October 20th with a festival at the city’s Miller Park.

For more on the history of EPB Fiber Optics, listen to Christopher interview Harold DePriest, the man behind the initiative to develop the network. Christopher spoke with Harold for episode 230 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast in November, 2016.

Tags: EPBchattanoogatennesseeelectricmuniFTTHharold depriest

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 328

October 25, 2018

This is the transcript for episode 328 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. In this episode, Christopher Mitchell speaks with Joe Knapp, the IT Director for Sandy, Oregon, about the city's municipal broadband network SandyNet. Learn more and listen to their conversation here.

 

 

Joe Knapp: Our friends are users of the network. Our families are users of the network. People that I see at church or at the grocery store — anyone that I run into, there's a 68 percent chance they're going to be a user of my network.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 328 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. It's late October and Christopher is at the 2018 Broadband Communities Economic Development Summit in Ontario, California. While he's there, he'll moderate a few panels, speak on some others, and touch base with people like our next guest, Joe Knapp from Sandy, Oregon. Sandy's community fiber optic network, SandyNet offers super affordable gigabit connectivity all over the city for around $60 a month. Joe has been on the show before to share their story, and we've covered the city's accomplishment by producing a report and a video about the network. Joe took some time out of the summit to give us an update on what's happening in Sandy and to talk about some of the elements that make SandyNet such a success. Christopher and Joe also discussed the possibilities of expansion to other nearby communities, the challenges Sandy has faced, and some of the community's plans as they now work on their long-term strategy. Joe also offers some words of wisdom for other communities considering a similar investment. Now, here's Christopher with Joe Knapp from Sandy, Oregon.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Recording live today from Ontario, California at the Broadband Communities Economic Development Summit, sitting across from a former guest, Joe Knapp, the IT Director for the city of Sandy and SandyNet general manager. Welcome back to the show, Joe.

Joe Knapp: Thanks for having me.

Christopher Mitchell: I'm excited. You just came off a panel from the Coalition for Local Internet Choice. It was a good opening day to the conference, and I feel like it's a good time to dive back into what Sandy has been doing in the past and talking a little bit about some recent challenges, if we can think of any that you're having or if it's all just easy sailing. So let's start, and I thought maybe we could just go back and forth briefly to tell the story of Sandy in like 90 seconds.

Joe Knapp: Sure.

Christopher Mitchell: So Sandy is between Mount Hood and Portland. 11,000 people now and you could not get Internet access 15 years ago there effectively — like high-quality broadband of the day.

Joe Knapp: Right, exactly.

Christopher Mitchell: And so you decided to do wireless, and I know this is before your time, but the city of Sandy did.

Joe Knapp: Right. Yeah, we started with DSL and then moved into a fixed wireless network and then ultimately built a Fiber-to-the-Home network.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. And this was a Fiber-to-the-Home network for which you needed a take rate of like 50 percent in year five in order to be able to cash flow.

Joe Knapp: Correct. Yeah, so we wanted a 35 percent take rate year one and have that grow to 50 percent by year five.

Christopher Mitchell: And this is straight up municipal. You did not have a municipal electric. You started with a municipal telecom utility doing wireless — I feel like I'm talking too fast. People might be freaking out a little bit, so I'll slow down a little bit. Um, you had a municipal wireless and DSL system. You started a new utility for that, and then in 2014 you went Fiber-to-the-Home.

Joe Knapp: That's right, yeah. We started construction on Fiber-to-the-Home in 2014. Yeah, but definitely kind of went through several iterations of the network before we got to that point.

Christopher Mitchell: And you saw much better than 35 percent take rate in year one. Describe for me the dynamic of what happened?

Joe Knapp: We found as we started building — you know, you have a lot of presence when you've got contractors out in the field digging things up and making a mess. We found that the more we got out and constructed, the more people came out of the woodwork and wanted to sign up. So what actually ended up happening, we were hoping for 35 percent at year one and we ended up coming away with just under 50 percent or right at that 50 percent mark before construction was complete.

Christopher Mitchell: And so now in the year 2018, where are you at?

Joe Knapp: So we're four years into the existence of the network, and we are sitting at around 68 percent take rate.

Christopher Mitchell: Excellent. For other details, people should reference the video that we made with Next Century Cities. ILSR and Next Century Cities did a great video on Sandy. You starred in it.

Joe Knapp: Yeah, we love that video. I send the link out to that pretty regularly.

Christopher Mitchell: So I think the last time you were on the show, which I encourage people to go back and check out, Jeremy Pietzold, the city council president and political champion for the project — in general for better conductivity in the entire state of Oregon in fact. The two of you were talking about improving service to businesses. You had a new method to make sure that businesses had high quality connectivity.

Joe Knapp: Right. So we actually leveraged urban renewal funds in our urban renewal district to deploy fiber optic infrastructure to our business community. And we have wrapped up construction on that. We've actually still — it's been almost two years, and we've still got a little bit of splicing work and cable placement to do. But the bulk of the business district is connected and we're getting businesses hooked up at a pretty rapid pace at this point. And those businesses, especially for our small business community, get the benefit of the same price offering that we extend to our residential customers. So 300 Megabits synchronous for $39.95 or gigabit speeds for $59.95 for any business in Sandy.

Christopher Mitchell: [laughs] It's a hard life, and it's a beautiful city on top of it. I'm not surprised that your population seems to be swelling.

Joe Knapp: `Right.

Christopher Mitchell: You mentioned that in the panel. Tell us a little bit about what's happened in recent years.

Joe Knapp: We've seen a lot of development. I'd have to reference the article, but we did just see a study come out in Oregon with the fastest growing cities and Sandy was on the list. I want to say we were at number six for the fastest — sixth fastest growing city in the state of Oregon. So we're seeing a lot of housing development, and a lot of that's just because the housing market in the Portland metro area is just going crazy. And I think Sandy is just far enough away from that it just creates this nice little hotbed of development, and we've got great connectivity options for people that want to locate there as well.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that you mentioned in the panel also — the entire interview is not going to consist of me talking about your panel. But you did mention something about customer service, and I was hoping you could rehash that a little bit in terms of their opportunity to interact with the people that run the network on a regular basis.

Joe Knapp: Yeah, I mean, so one of the great benefits, and one of the topics that we were really driving at on that panel, was the importance of local and how that local presence makes a difference in the interaction with our customers. And, you know, one of the things that we really pride ourselves on in Sandy is all of our staff live in Sandy — all of our SandyNet staff lives in Sandy. They all are customers or users of the network. Our friends are users of the network. Our families are users of the network. People that I see at church or at the grocery store — anyone that I run into, there is a 68 percent chance they're going to be a user of my network. So we take that very personally. I think one of the comments I made was, you know, when we have an outage, it's not just my network monitoring systems that are sending me text messages, it's my neighbors and my friends and my pastor and my wife sending me messages to say, "Hey, are you having a problem?" It just generates a different level of support and investment and pride in the work that we do because we live and breathe it every day. And then the other aspect of that local element, and I've said this many times before, twice a month on the first Monday and the third Monday of every month, the controlling board, our city council, the controlling board of SandyNet meets in a public forum. So they hold their regular city council meeting. There's a section for public comment, and any one of my customers, if we're doing something that's not treating them right or not providing the level of support that they want, they have an opportunity twice a month to come and talk to our controlling board and their voice will be heard.

Christopher Mitchell: So one of the things that I sometimes get a question of is has the window closed in terms of building a citywide fiber network? You know, I'll admit I'm somewhat hesitant. If I'm talking to the city of Portland and I'm thinking, should they try and do what you did? I would say they should probably look at trying to achieve a similar outcome with different strategies. But if you hadn't taken action in 2014 and you're looking at the numbers right now in 2018, with the technologies that are out there, do you think you'd still move forward with a citywide fiber network in the same way that you did?

Joe Knapp: I think in the case of Sandy we absolutely would. And one of the driving factors for us to build was the lack of alternatives. And since we've built, I don't know if it's a direct result, I can't say it's a direct result of us building a Fiber-to-the-Home network, but our cable company has stepped up their game and is offering competitive services now. The phone company hasn't done anything but there is at least other option in our community. But that begs the question, is one option enough? Does one option really create a competitive environment where the consumer's going to win? And I think the obvious answer to that is no. So you know, if we were to start today, I would say even if the local cable company was providing the service that they are, we would probably still take a serious look at building just like we did and we still win customers from the competitor pretty routinely. As a 68 percent take rate, you can imagine, I mean . . .

Christopher Mitchell: Well, and knowing your take rate over the years, you must not have much churn. I mean, as the cable company has gone from offering pretty poor service to more competitive service, it does not seem to have dented your numbers.

Joe Knapp: Right. We're still growing and I think again, the big win there for us is local presence, outstanding customer service, and just pride in our network.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that I expected, you know, when we were working on the video and when I looked at how successful you were, was that by now you might be in a couple of other communities. You might be looking at expanding, whether you know you do it yourself or if someone else would build some infrastructure and you would run it for them. Can you tell me anything about some of the realities of challenges of that or if you've just been focused on Sandy. You know, I have no sense of what your life is like on a daily basis.

Joe Knapp: We've talked with several communities about partnering with them. It's kind of been a full range of opportunities, from the low level of just consulting and helping all the way to the high level of partnering with them to actually run and operate a network. And that's been from communities that range from just a couple of hundred premises up to communities that are actually larger, significantly larger, than Sandy. The interesting thing is all of those communities — there are still some that may flesh out and we may actually move forward on some projects, but it's a difficult sell for a city. It's a big thing to bite off, to build a network like this. So I think a lot of city councils, even though they see the success that we've had in Sandy, they're still hesitant and they're looking for a few more success stories before they'll dive in. But I think there's a few on the horizon, like I think of the city of Hillsboro in Oregon is another Oregon community that is actively pursuing a fiber network right now. We've talked with them and offered them, you know, help and any insight we can give them. The city of Sherwood has some initiatives that are going. Obviously MINET's a success story. There's several scattered around. A public-private partnership up in Maupin is occurring right now. So you know, there's several different things that are coming to fruition, and I think it's just going to stimulate that economy more, in the Oregon market at least.

Christopher Mitchell: And, is one of the issues, is there a political challenge in terms of . . . I know Jeremy is a strong proponent of improving Internet access and that's driving goal for him to improve it all around the state. But there's also just the reality that it might be viewed as improper for Sandy to take risks with a publicly owned entity by the city of Sandy, by residents within Sandy to try to improve access outside of Sandy. Has that come up much?

Joe Knapp: Not a lot yet, but we haven't gotten to a point where we've had to have that discussion, like, really down to the details. So we'll see what happens. But, you know, I think in Sandy we have this spirit of pioneering, I guess you could say. Our high school mascot is the Pioneers. But you know, we didn't like the service we were getting from TriMet, the Portland Metro bus system, so Sandy started its own bus system. We didn't like the service that we were getting from our providers, so we started our own telecommunications service. This isn't the first time that we've done things like this, and typically we also have an attitude of sharing with those around us. So I think if opportunities present themselves that make sense and the council doesn't feel that it's going to be an overreach of our capabilities or going to put us in unnecessary risk, I think it'll be a welcomed and received idea.

Christopher Mitchell: Great. I think one of the things if people here are listening and are in the area, you should be talking to your county commissioners and making sure they know that this tool is there and that if you feel like Internet access would be improved you should be pushing the county to step up. I know I've talked to some of the folks from many of the counties around there and they are definitely interested, but I think what moves it from a priority four or five to a priority two or one is citizen input. And so, I certainly hope that people who are listening to this and taking the time to educate themselves are also educating their elected officials as to what a priority it is.

Joe Knapp: Yeah, absolutely.

Christopher Mitchell: So let me ask you something that builds on the last question in some ways. What is your day like? I mean, at one time you were trying to do an amazing number of installs. You had a waiting list. You had people that were knocking down your door to get connected. I'm sure you're still expanding, but you know, is it all easy now that the fiber network's built? You just sort of sit around and wait for things to break and then rapidly respond? What do you do on a regular basis?

Joe Knapp: We are in the midst of basically longterm strategizing and planning, so the question is kind of what's next? Our current iteration of the Telecommunications Masterplan for Sandy, if you boil it down to a nutshell, says build fiber everywhere, so we can kind of put a big check mark next to that. So the question now is what's next? And it has been still certainly a lot of — with all the development that's occurring, we're doing a lot of planning and making sure that as development occurs, the fiber infrastructure is designed and implemented correctly. So there's a lot of that, a lot of maintenance that we're trying to catch up on on the network too because it's been such a flurry of installations that there's been some maintenance that had to be deferred Even though the network's only four years old, it's already in need of maintenance, which is an important thing to understand. Nothing critical or earth shattering, but just clean up and labeling and cataloging and things of that nature. And we've developed a software system to manage our network and manage our customer database, and there's been several iterations of that. So that's been a major, major focus, is how we can improve that tool and hopefully make it available to other municipal networks or any network really that wants to utilize a system like that. And then the final piece that kind of goes along with — like I said, we're doing a lot of long-term planning and strategizing — is as a city, we serve the citizens of Sandy within our city limits. Obviously that's the constituency of our elected officials. But really at the end of the day, there's a much larger area around Sandy that calls Sandy home. And they may not have a vote in our city, but they're certainly a part of our community.

Christopher Mitchell: They may even work there, but live just outside of it.

Joe Knapp: Absolutely, absolutely. And maybe they're business owners or you know, there's all sorts of interaction within our community. So there's kind of this question of how do we serve them. And I wouldn't say we've created an issue, but we've certainly highlighted an issue of disparity where in Sandy, you can get a gigabit service, but just on the other side of city limits, you're lucky to get maybe 50 megs, you know, is great. And in a lot of cases there's actually nothing. You can't even get — you know, your choices or dial up or satellite,

Christopher Mitchell: Right. I mean that part of your county is quite underserved.

Joe Knapp: Absolutely. So that's one of the things that we're looking at from a long-term strategizing and planning perspective, is how can we better serve the rural community that calls Sandy home? Certainly within our urban growth boundary and urban reserve, but even farther out into just the Sandy zip code, anyone that would consider this their community, what can we do to extend that access? And that frankly will probably keep us busy for the next 10 to 20 years.

Christopher Mitchell: What are the . . . Can you just dive a little bit more into the maintenance sort of thing. So you said, is it the sort of things where as you're installing rapidly you sort of leave a post it note: "clean this up later" ?

Joe Knapp: Right. Yeah, we come across things pretty routinely. Probably one of the biggest maintenance issues that we've encountered thus far is rodent damage. So we'll get rodents into our infrastructure and they like to chew on fiber for some reason. So a lot of times the fix for that is a very quick repatch, get customers back online. The long-term fix is we need to take that cable segment out and repole the entire thing and fix everything up. So there's a lot of things like that, that they're fixed and functional but they're not really fixed properly. We've had several pedestals get hit by vehicles that, you know, again, you can get services back online or put a band aid on it, but the proper fix might be, "Hey, this is going to happen again. Let's get this moved under ground." So we've kind of got a list of work orders going that need maintenance. We did realize too, in hindsight, we probably didn't label things as well as we would've liked when we built the network. So that's a major checklist item that we want to go back and do is label and verify everything and make sure our records are correct. And that software tool that we've been developing will ingest all that data, so we've got very good information on where everything is and where it's going.

Christopher Mitchell: So last question, I think, and this is something where I might ask you to be honest, because I think you may have a tendency to be really modest about it. But I think a big part of the success of SandyNet is you and the sort of passion that you've brought to it. And in the panel you mentioned that, you know, maybe 10 years ago, maybe 15 years ago, you wouldn't have known what GPON was. You know, you weren't someone who came to this with 20 years of experience from Verizon or something like that. So and you also mentioned on the panel that you felt that this was something that cities can take on and do themselves — smaller cities in particular. You said you thought it might even be better.

Joe Knapp: Right.

Christopher Mitchell: What sorts of things does a city have to do to succeed and make sure that they're not setting themselves up for just a lot of headaches?

Joe Knapp: Yeah, I've said in the past, you know, cities are already set up to serve residents. So the idea of — I mean most cities are already doing water service, they're already doing sewer service, some cities are doing electric service. The mechanism for a utility service is already in place in the majority of cases, and the idea of serving our residents is already there. So it's kind of a perfect storm from the perspective of the tools are in place, the mentality is in place. Adding the provisioning and operation of a Internet service on top of that is not rocket science. So, you know, obviously you need to hire someone that's got some network savvy, but to be able to learn to provision a Fiber-to-the-Home network is not difficult. I look at all of my staff. I have seven guys that work for me now.

Christopher Mitchell: Wow. When we did the video, I think you had two or three, didn't you?

Joe Knapp: Yeah. And before we built the fiber project, I had two employees and then we've since scaled up because we do all of our own construction and maintenance and installation now because I just don't like contractors.

Christopher Mitchell: I think you mean you don't like the challenges of dealing with them, right?

Joe Knapp: Yeah. I mean contractors are great for a project basis. But [for] long-term interaction with our customers and with our citizens we found that when that's an employee of the city, they just take more pride in their work and they've got more ownership of the network and the maintenance and all the things that they're doing. So it just gives us better control and when you think about it from the perspective of who's going to interact with your customer the most, the bulk of our customers, the only interaction that they ever have with SandyNet staff is when we show up to do their installations. So for contracting that out and I don't have control over who those employees are or what they're communicating when they're in the home — that just didn't make sense for us. And we tried it for awhile. Anyway, yeah, we have a staff of seven. All of those staff, when we brought them on, none of them had experienced installing fiber optics and none of them had never ever done underground construction. Only one of them had spliced a fiber before, but we've always just had this mentality of we can figure this out, we can learn how to do it. So whatever we need to do resource-wise to train and learn and grow, let's just get in there and do it and make it happen. And now, you know, we've got a staff that is fully capable of operating and maintaining and building a fiber optic network. We could literally, with the tools and staff and equipment that we have, built it ourselves. It would take much longer than a year, but we have the full capability to do it.

Christopher Mitchell: So just to wrap that up, I think, two things that I think you have advantages of that don't explain your success but other communities should be aware of, is that you had a very low cost connection to NWAX to get your Internet transit, via the county because of Clackamas having built a really good network to be able to do that sort of a thing. And then the other piece of it was, I don't think you had to do a lot of advertising to get your customers. I mean, you weren't really taking them away. If Wave had been a stronger presence, I wonder if you would have struggled after you hit 40 percent, for instance, to get the next 20 percent. And you can set me straight if you think I'm wrong, but I think some other communities might struggle to get some of that take rate up there so early, so quickly.

Joe Knapp: I think that's a fair assessment. And I often, when talking with other communities, say you need to take a serious look at who exists in your environment, if you're going to go about this. And I think too, it's a fair thing to ask, is there really a need for a municipality to come in and build a fiber optic network? If there are private providers that are doing the work and doing it well and the residents are being served in a way that's acceptable, then probably not. But if there is a need and if your constituents are not happy with the service levels that they're getting, then municipal fiber is a great option. But in an environment where you've got some of the bigger players that have a history of opposing endeavors like this —

Christopher Mitchell: And deep pockets.

Joe Knapp: Yeah, and very deep pockets. It's definitely a wise to do the research and make sure that you can . . . Basically, don't anticipate a 68 percent take rate in year four because it might not happen. But I think if you can model it to win with 30 or 35 percent, that's a great place to start. And if you look at a lot of municipal networks, do you due diligence. Look at cities that are of similar size because there's a lot of examples now around the nation. So look at cities of similar size with similar players in the market and see where their take rates are at and build your models off of that. But don't just go in expecting to win like gang busters in year four.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. Well thank you so much, Joe. I appreciate the check in and the reality check from someone who's been there for awhile. Congratulations on continuing to offer one of the lowest costs gigabit connections in North America. It's quite amazing what you've done.

Joe Knapp: Yeah. Well thanks for having us. It's always a pleasure.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with Joe Knapp from Sandy, Oregon. Check out MuniNetworks.org for more coverage on Sandy and its network SandyNet. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/BroadbandBits. Email us at podcast@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. Follow MuniNetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other podcasts from ILSR, Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them wherever you get your podcasts. Don't miss out on our original research. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org, and while you're there, take a moment to donate. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and thanks for listening to episode 328 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcript

Better Connectivity Sooner Than Expected in Chicopee

October 25, 2018

Chicopee, Massachusetts, is on its way to better connectivity through a publicly owned network after all. Chicopee Electric Light (CEL) has announced that the municipal utility plans to develop a pilot program yet this year to experiment with business connectivity. If all goes well, they have a long-term vision to also serve residents.

Remember That Resolution You Introduced?

Last week, we reported that at a recent meeting, City Councilor Joel McAuliffe had presented a resolution seeking support for a municipal network. Rather than pass it, however, the council referred the resolution on to the Utilities Committee for further review. McAuliffe created an online petition to show his colleagues on the council that their constituents supported a publicly owned network.

According to local outlet The Reminder, as the issue of municipal connectivity became a hot topic, CEL decided it was time to release news of their plan to launch a pilot project.

CEL General Manager Jeff Cady said, “We’re a municipal utility and operate in the best interest of our stakeholders, the rate payers. We’re going to operate our Internet service in the same way. We’re going to start slowly, providing service to a handful of businesses to iron out any issues.”

Cady went on to tell The Reminder that, even though the feasibility study was a few years old, the data was still valid and CEL are close to finalizing their plans.

CEL has already decided on a name for the service: Crossroads Fiber. The network will be deployed in phases, with businesses closest to existing fiber assets scheduled to be the first for connection. Approximately 70 percent of businesses in Chicopee are already near the community’s existing fiber and some are already receiving service through an agreement between CEL and Holyoke Gas & Electric. Once the initial pilot project is completed and CEL has had a chance to discover and resolve any issues, they anticipate expanding the pilot area in 2019.

Residents Won't Have to Wait Too Long

Cady said that CEL envisions a similar pilot project for Crossroads Fiber residential Internet access in the summer of 2019. The service, with speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second, will be offered to 300 to 500 households at first and expansions will be determined by demand.

“There are those who may question why we’ve chosen not to pursue a ‘build it and they will come’ approach. The answer is simple. Proceeding in a thoughtful, measured way allows us to control costs and manage construction schedules based on demand. It’s the only way we can ensure Crossroads Fiber is self-sufficient and does not impact electric rates. The measured approach also allows us to speed up construction if the demand warrants it,” Cady said.

The Flavor of Chicopee

With around 60,000 residents, Chicopee is the second most populous city in western Massachusetts after its neighbor, Springfield. The city sits adjacent to the Chicopee River. Over the years, the community has been known as home to a broad range of industries, including cotton and woolen mills, brass and iron foundries, ship building, and even a stint as a major manufacturing center of bicycles. Chicopee was the first city west of Boston to form a publicly funded library.

While there are a few national chains in Chicopee, there remains many small, local businesses in the community. Some of the better known employers are Callaway Golf, Chemex Corporation, which makes pour-over coffeemakers, and the Buxton Company, known for leather and travel goods. There are also several financial companies headquartered in Chicopee.

In 2015, when the city hired consultants to conduct a feasibility study, the results revealed that the community would benefit from a municipal fiber network. Households in Chicopee tend to use more than the national average number of Internet-connected devices, already taxing a stressed copper system. With only Verizon DSL and Charter Spectrum to rely on, constituents have complained to his office in a steady stream, according to McAuliffe. He also noted that folks he spoke with during face-to-face campaigning repeatedly brought up the issue of poor connectivity. When colleagues on the city council stated that they had no knowledge of complaints from constituents, McAuliffe decided to create the online petition.

Now that CEL has made plans for Crossroads Fiber public, Chicopee businesses and residents know that better connectivity is ahead. Mayor Richard Kos:

“I am happy to see Chicopee Electric move forward with this project. I think that businesses and residents will benefit from this, but their approach to moving slowly at first makes sense due to the costs and complexities involved.”

Image credit : LymanSchool [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5], from Wikimedia Commons.

Tags: chicopee mamassachusettsFTTHelectricpilot project

Getting Up to Speed With Sandy, Oregon - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 328

October 24, 2018

For the next few days, Christopher is at the 2018 Broadband Communities Economic Development Conference in Ontario, California. As he always does while he’s out of the office, rubbing elbows with folks from the field, he’s recording some interviews with people like this week’s guest, General Manager of SandyNet and IT Director for the City of Sandy, Oregon.

Joe has been on the show before, the last time in 2015 when he and City Council President Jeremy Pietzold brought us up to speed on all the ways their network had benefitted the residents and businesses of Sandy. This time, Joe is offering another update. Over the past few years, Sandy has grown quickly and so has the popularity of SandyNet and its $60 symmetrical gigabit.

Joe and Christopher touch on some of the characteristics of the municipal network that make SandyNet so popular, including the fact that it is local and that the people behind it are part of the community. Sandy is now looking at their long-term strategy, which includes folks beyond the city limits. There have been challenges for the community, which Joe describes and he provides words of advise for other communities that are considering how to begin investigating the possibility of developing their own publicly owned network.

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

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

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

Tags: broadband bitspodcastaudiosandy orsandynetgigabitsymmetry

Rural Connectivity a Top Issue in Maine Election

October 23, 2018

As Election Day draws near, voters in 36 states and three territories are set to choose governors. In Maine, gubernatorial candidates are making rural broadband a key issue. All four candidates agree that the state needs to be involved in some way, and each recently gave the Press Herald a summary of their plan to expand high-quality connectivity to constituents, if elected.

Different Approaches

Both Independent candidates, Terry Hayes and Alan Caron have suggested state investment. Hayes would like to earmark $100 million annually for four years to deploy fiber networks and capitalize on public-private partnerships. Caron suggests a statewide network, funded by $100 million in bonding his first term and a second term if he were re-elected, to connect every city and town.

The Republican candidate stresses public-private partnerships with an emphasis on encouraging private companies to invest in rural areas. The candidate, Shawn Moody, believes that using federal and state funds as the carrot for private sector Internet access companies will be enough to bring rural connectivity up to speed.

Janet Mills, running as the Democratic candidate, has a plan that seems consistent with some of the current activity in Maine. She wants to create Broadband Expansion Districts, that will allow rural communities to band together to expand and administer their own broadband connectivity. She goes on to state that those districts would be eligible for grants. Mills also sees a particular need to address coastal areas where national providers see not profit in upgrading services. She wants to look into establishing “broadband regional hubs.”

Mills’s approach appears a little more consistent with the regional efforts in Baileyville and Calais, the Downeast Broadband Utility. The two rural communities joined forces to create their own dark fiber utility when incumbents wouldn’t bring the services they needed. Recently Cumberland County released an RFP for a similar regional approach.

Dealing With It

As a mostly rural state, the problem of the urban/rural digital divide is especially pressing in Maine. Another recent piece from the Press Herald introduced the growing problem through Wayne and Katy Kach from Philadelphia. The couple had hoped to move to Maine to be closer to family and to escape the crowded city, but the region where they sought a new home had no high-speed Internet access.

“We were hoping to find a place that would be able to afford us a little bit of land,” Wayne Kach said. “We found a few properties in the Prospect area, but it just kind of got shut down because there’s just no way for us to work.”

Then there’s David Reed’s family. He and his wife live in rural Maine but are considering moving away because Internet access in his area is so bad that some properties don't have ANY options.

“I envy people who can get a wired service at all, even if it’s ‘just’ DSL,” Reed said. “I live on the coast, south of Bangor outside Belfast in Swanville, and I can’t get anything at all, not even DSL. We are looking to sell the house and move, if the right opportunity presents itself, because of lack of broadband.”

With the prospect of people leaving and others refusing to replace them due to lack of an essential service, such as high-quality Internet access, Maine gubernatorial candidates have no choice but to address the issue of broadband. Regardless of which candidate’s plan prevails, however, local communities such as Baileyville and Calais, Islesboro, Ellsworth, and Sanford are taking steps to connect their residents. 

The best move for Maine’s next governor would be to provide support and let local communities call the shots.

Tags: maineelectionruralgovernor

Community Broadband Media Roundup - October 22

October 22, 2018

Alabama

Opelika to sell OPS ONE in $14 million deal by Lily Jackson, O-A News 

 

Arkansas

Rural Americans struggle with poor broadband access by Theresa Krug, VOA

 

Iowa

Iowa: Rural broadband, and the unknown costs of the digital divide by Lyz Lenz, Columbia Journalism Review

Center For Rural Affairs study: parts of state still lack high-speed Internet By Matt Kelley, RadioIowa

"We know as agriculture changes, as manufacturing changes, consistently we see micro-entrepreneurs and small business creation as being a key element to employment and strong economies in rural areas,” Hladik says. “Frankly, today, having broadband and high-speed Internet is essential to a successful business.”

 

Kansas

Kansas legislators push FCC to fix broadband subsidy shortfall by John Eggerton, Multichannel News

 

Massachusetts

CEL brings high–speed service to the city by G. Michael Dobbs, The Reminder

 

Missouri 

Co-Mo wins support for broadband expansion, Lake News Online

The funding will be used to support the current efforts of Co-Mo Connect and to fulfill the hopes of many who weren’t going to see broadband in their area without us.

Chinn: High-speed Internet crucial to attract next-generation Missouri farmers by Brian Hauswirth, Fourstates Home Page

 

North Carolina

Wilson’s Gig East forum to explore future of work, innovation by Shannon Cuthrell, TechWire

For wireless broadband, Raleigh finds common ground through partnerships by Nicole DuPuis, CitiesSpeak

 

Oregon

A new way to finance fiber by Doug Dawson, POTs and PANs

 

Rhode Island 

Library may become hub for broadband use by Cassius Shuman, Block Island Times

 

Tennessee

Past the Gig City, a digital divide separates some Tennesseans by Michael Edward Miller, WUTC

County moving to ease Internet project hiccups by Autumn Hughes, Cleveland Daily Banner

We hear a lot about rural broadband. What is Tennessee actually doing? Emily West, Nashville Tennessean 

Are you one of the 800,000 Tennesseans without broadband service? Here's what the state is doing about it by Emily West, Nashville Tennessean 

Gig City milestone: EPB tops 100,000 fiber optic customers by Dave Flessner, Times Free Press

It is a powerful recruiting tool to attract new businesses that need reliable, high quality power and communications, as well as a catalyst for launching startups and expanding our existing businesses.

 

General

Expanding rural broadband a necessity, advocates say by Mike Richards, Lens

Congress, more than a dozen states consider legislation to expand broadband access by Anne Stauffer and Kathryn de Wit, PEW

New York Attorney General expands inquiry into net neutrality comments by Nicholas Confessore, New York Times

From hotspots to school bus Wi-Fi, districts seek out solutions to ‘homework gap’ by Emily Tate, EdSurge

Why rural communities of color are left behind: A call for intersectional demographic broadband data by Alisa Valentin, PublicKnowledge

Lack of broadband access can hinder rural telehealth programs by Elizabeth O'Dowd, HIT Infrastructure

For next-generation city infrastructure, consider partnerships by Skip Descant, GovTech

 

Tags: media roundup

Colorado Communities Moving Forward on Munis, Local Authority

October 22, 2018

Breckenridge was among the list of Colorado communities that voted to opt out of the state’s restrictive SB 152 back in 2016. Now, they’re ready to move forward with design and construction of an open access network. As the resort town prepares to begin work on their fiber infrastructure, several other communities will ask voters to opt out of SB 152 on November 6th.

To the Voters

As we reported in August, Aurora, Cañon City, the town of Florence, and Fremont County had already made plans to put the opt out question on their local ballots. Since then, we’ve discovered that that at least six other local governments want voters to address SB 152.

In Salida, where the town needed to fill a vacated office without delay, community leaders chose to hold their election in September and put the issue on the ballot. The measure to opt out passed with 85 percent of the vote.

Voters will also decide of their towns or counties should reclaim local telecommunications authority in the towns of Fountain, Fremont, and Erie along with Chaffee County and Kiowa County. Over the past several years, more than 120 local communities have asked voters to opt out of SB 152 and local referendums overwhelmingly passed. Many local communities have presented the issue to voters with no specific plans in mind, but do so in order to keep their options open and because they feel that Denver is less qualified than they are in making decisions related to local connectivity.

The Fremont Economic Development Corporation (FEDC) has reached out to voters, urging them to approve the measure with a "yes" vote. The fact that SB 152 still hangs like cloud over the region prevents them from obtaining grant funding to boost economic development.

"We would like to vote to authorize our municipalities to be able to become involved because there is a lot of money out there that is available for the purpose of building infrastructure, but it has to be done through the governmental agency," [Executive Director of the FEDC] said. "We put our shoulder to the wheel on this because we see broadband as a critical element of economic development, as critical in many cases as the utilities like gas, lights, water and sewer."

Broadband for Breck

Back in 2016 after Breckenridge voted to opt out, we spoke with Brian Waldes, Director of Finance and Information Technology from the resort town where high numbers of seasonal visitors impact connectivity. Year-round residents number around 5,000 but tourists increase the population to as many as 36,000 people. At the time we spoke with Waldes, elected officials wanted the freedom to explore possibilities, but needed to take the first step and reclaim SB 152. Since then, they’ve surveyed the community as part of a feasibility study and have decided to invest in open access infrastructure. 

The Town Council recently approved $8 million from their capital improvement project fund for design and construction of a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. They intend to begin deployment in May 2019 and, while the first phase of the network won’t be completed for two years, they plan to begin connecting subscribers in higher density areas as early as late 2019.

In addition to increasing competition to create more choices for residents and businesses, city leaders hope to expand the use of the infrastructure for smart city applications and other uses. Breckenridge is working with Foresite Group to design the network and Brian Snider from the company spoke with the Summit Daily about advanced applications that go beyond Internet access for homes and businesses.

"If the network truly is open, you can almost think of every serviceable application as potential revenue on the network," he explained.

Snider contends that simply thinking of the internet in terms of service providers is a broken mindset. Instead, he sees applications in all kinds of fields, like telehealth, security, transportation and education, which he says requires connection speeds only fiber can provide.

”For example, if a home wants a security system and smart air conditioning, then that is more services the network can provide," he wrote. If managed properly, Breckenridge could cover its costs while "changing the economy for the entire town," he added.

Photo credit DReifGalaxyM31 at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Tags: breckenridgecoloradosalida cofremontfountain coerie cochaffee county cokiowa county cosb 152economic developmentfundingopen access

Opelika Opts to Privatize

October 19, 2018

Once again, restrictive state laws designed to help big ISPs maintain their monopolies have helped push a publicly owned network to privatization. Opelika, Alabama, recently announced that they will sell their OPS One fiber optic network to Point Broadband, headquartered in West Point, Georgia. They expect the deal to be finalized in early November.

The Road to Now

The city of Opelika installed the network to overcome poor services from Charter and to improve municipal electric services with smart grid applications. In 2010, Charter’s astroturf campaign to stop the network failed when local voters supported the ballot initiative to build the broadband infrastructure to allow the city to provide services. By 2014, Opelika Power Services (OPS) was making Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) available for residents and businesses; folks in the community were loving the service from Alabama’s “Gig City.”

Nearby communities still stuck with poor Internet access wanted OPS to serve them also and OPS wanted to add more subscribers, but state law prevents Opelika from expanding beyond their current coverage area. As in the case of Bristol, Virginia, when a state prevents a municipal network from growing and increasing revenue, the state makes it difficult for the network to remain sustainable.

Mayor Gary Fuller recently told WLTZ:

“We attempted on three occasions to get the legislature to [allow us to] expand beyond our city limits, into North Auburn and rural Lee County, Beauregard, and we could never do that because we couldn’t get the law changed.”

Each attempt to convince lawmakers that Opelika’s neighbors deserve more options than what the incumbents offer have evoked attacks from misinformation groups, such as the Taxpayers Protection Alliance. With large industry-funded coffers backing their efforts to spread untruths about OPS One, Mayor Fuller has faced the same brazen lies each time Opelika has asked the legislature for the authority to expand.

Community leaders in Opelika see privatization as an opportunity to share the network with neighbors.  The opportunity is not available to them while Alabama maintains its restrictive anti-muni law. OPS will maintain the smart grid assets and the sale will not affect power services for members of the community. Point Broadband has stated that they have no plans to make changes to rates or plans, but may add more local programming to video services now offered by OPS One. About a dozen positions will be shifted within OPS and all OPS One employees will transfer to Point Broadband with no change in position or salary.

According to the Purchase Agreement, Opelika will receive $14.175 million for the network and after the first two years will begin to receive revenue sharing from Point Broadband. The company will pay Opelika 3.5 percent of gross revenue less any amount the city may owe the company for network monitoring. Revenue sharing will continue for 10 years.

States vs Their People

Communities that have invested in publicly one networks don’t usually sell their networks to the private sector. Residents, businesses, and institutions lucky enough to have access to community networks overwhelmingly report a high level of satisfaction. Because the driving force is service rather than satisfying shareholders, the goal is sustainability rather than turning as high a profit as possible.

In those few cases when municipalities have sold their network infrastructure, they have typically had to contend with external forces that complicate their ability to operate and expand the network. State laws that hamstring expansion or dictate business model are some of the most onerous burdens for municipalities to bear when all they want to do is bring better Internet access to their residents and boost economic development.

Ever-positive Mayor Gary Fuller said in a statement:

“The fiber network we built and operate has allowed us to achieve our goal of bringing the much needed and effective competitive telecom services to our community. The fiber project also facilitated the deployment of a smart electrical grid to provide more efficient power services to the businesses and homes in Opelika. We believe now is the right time to transition the telecommunication assets away from the city and into the hands of an experienced, local telecommunications company with a long history of providing competitive and innovative telecom and fiber services to cities similar to Opelika. This transaction allows us to maintain the electrical smart grid assets and divest of the telecommunications assets, all while being made whole financially on the city’s investment.”

For more about  the early days of Opelika’s network, listen to Christopher interview Mayor Gary Fuller back in 2013 for episode 40 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: opelikaalabamaFTTHprivatizationstate lawsmunismart-gridrural

Egremont is Mad as Hell and They're Not Going to Take It Anymore

October 18, 2018

The people of Egremont have had it with Charter Spectrum and their shenanigans. After the latest issue pushed them too far, the town’s Select Board voted to give the company the boot.

How Much?

Charter Spectrum had proposed connecting 96 percent of Egremont’s households for approximately $1.185 million, the lion’s share to be funded by a Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) last mile grant. The company, however, had not calculated make-ready costs correctly until after making their proposal. After examining the situation in Egremont, Charter Spectrum has almost doubled the estimate for the project to $2.285 million.

The difference Charter Spectrum says, is due to the need to replace 150 poles, which they say are not tall enough to accommodate their infrastructure. Charter Spectrum puts the blame on local company Fiber Connect, which has been deploying fiber in Egremont and other Berkshire towns. The national company says that Fiber Connect’s fiber optic cable has filled any room on the poles for Charter Spectrum cables.

MBI isn’t willing to fill the $1.1 million gap created by Charter Spectrum and neither is the company. Peter Larkin from MBI attended the October 15th meeting and presented an MBI proposal, in which the town would pay for half of the gap and MBI would cover the remaining $600,000. Locals at the meeting were less than thrilled.

Unexplained Deal

With a population of only around 1,200 people, the news from MBI topped off an already long and frustrating process to bring high-quality Internet access to the rural town. Egremont had planned to joined Wired West, the broadband cooperative of western Massachusetts towns, but later opted to work with the national cable provider. Ever since the decision, they’ve experienced delays in negotiations, often because Charter Spectrum has remained elusive about where exactly they plan to deploy and which premises would be left out.

Fiber Connect had also proposed building out in Egremont, and a significant portion of the community has expressed support for the local company. MBI, however, has denied grant funds to Fiber Connect, citing it’s five-year record as unproven. At the October 15th meeting, attendees fed up with Charter Spectrum repeatedly suggested finding a way to work with Fiber Connect.

Fed Up

The Berkshire Edge reported on the meeting and posted video of the event. Peter Larkin from MBI presented the situation to attendees. He took much of the frustration that Egremont residents are coping with as they’ve faced multiple setbacks — many due to MBI decisions — as they try to obtain the connectivity they need. Attorney Bill Solomon told the crowd and Larkin that he has “never seen a process more poorly handled than by the MBI and the state here.” Solomon has served as town counsel for nearby Stoneham.

Other attendees took the opportunity to express their thoughts. Many described Charter Spectrum’s demand for more funding as “outrageous” and wondered if the company would continue to come back for more in the future. Sentiment around the room overwhelmingly echoed the lawn signs that have reportedly sprung up around town that read “Ditch Charter.”

At the end of the evening, the Select Board decided that, even though they must once again go through the long procurement process to use MBI funding, they’re willing to be patient rather than work with Charter Spectrum. Select Board Member Mary Brazie took the lead and moved that the town opt out of the Charter Spectrum proposal, go back to the RFP process, send the issue back to their technology committee.

Attendees filled the room with applause and the Board passed the motion.

Check out the video of the meeting:

Photo of the sign courtesy Egremont Forum.

Tags: egremont mamassachusettscharterruralrfpmassachusetts broadband institute

Court Confirms Texas Home Rule Authority to Build, Finance Community Network

October 17, 2018

Located only 30 miles east of Houston, it’s hard to believe that Mont Belvieu, Texas, ever had poor Internet access. Faced with complaints from residents and businesses, city officials decided to deploy fiber and bring fast, affordable, reliable gigabit connectivity directly to the community via MB Link.

How to Fix the Problem

While it’s not far from the center of a large metro area, Mont Belvieu is still considered a rural community. The town’s history is based in the oil and natural gas industry, which began in the early 1900s. As City Manager Nathan Watkins told Christopher Mitchell in episode 326 of our podcast, approximately 85 percent of natural gas liquids in the U.S. travel to Mont Belvieu for processing. With more than 10,000 miles of pipeline within their salt domes, the town of 8,000 has become a centerpiece of oil and natural gas processing.

Before MB Link, the community dealt with a patchwork of services offered by several different providers. Even though more than one provider operated in town, they didn’t compete with each other. Without competition, ISPs had no impetus to improve services. Residents complained about DSL download speeds of 1.5 Megabits per second (Mbps) and cable Internet access download speeds topping out at 5 Mbps. There were even premises that could not obtain Internet access because ISPs reported saturated networks and were not willing to make investments to serve more subscribers.

In 2016, a feasibility study in Mont Belvieu revealed that 60 percent of residents and 79 percent of businesses felt that local Internet access wasn’t adequate for their needs. In the same survey, 90 percent of residents and 100 percent of business respondents opined that high-speed Internet access is an essential service in the same manner as electricity and water.

In addition to the problems that Mont Belvieu was already having with poor Internet access, the community was growing — something city leaders wanted to encourage. New subdivisions were planned but incumbent ISPs didn’t want to deploy infrastructure to the new areas, leaving residents dependent on mobile hotspots. Community leaders could only expect the situation to worsen as more people and businesses moved to Mont Belvieu. They decided that the best course of action was to invest in publicly owned Internet network infrastructure and create MB Link, a community Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network for residents.

Nuts, Bolts, Dollars, and Cents of Deployment

Mont Belvieu decided to issue certificates of obligation (COs) to fund the deployment of a fiber optic network on which the city would offer gigabit Internet access directly to the community.

COs allow local governments to borrow in order to fund public projects without first obtaining voter approval. They’re backed by property taxes or other local revenue and can be issued for up to 40-year terms. No referendum is required, but city officials must adhere to publishing requirements in order to announce the nature of the project and how it will be financed. If five or more percent of voters petition for an election on the CO issuance, the matter must go to the ballot for approval. 

In December 2016, the City Council adopted a Resolution to authorize a notice that they would be issuing COs not to exceed $14 million. In accordance with publishing requirements, they followed up in the local paper announcing the issuance. Based on the results of the survey on Internet access, Mont Belvieu officials felt confident that residents weren’t interested in pushing for a referendum. They were correct. The City Council adopted an ordinance issuing the COs the following January.

The Community Network Map shows how publicly owned networks aren’t as prolific in Texas as in some other states. State law puts some limitations on what types of services municipalities can offer. Mont Belvieu believed they were in their right to bring FTTH to members of the community as they would electricity or water. They also believed that their chosen funding mechanism was within the boundaries of Texas law. Rather than wait for potential lawsuits against them, they asked the District Court to address the questions proactively.

Texas Has Its Limits

In February 2017, the city of Mont Belvieu filed a petition in the District Court of Chambers County asking for an Expedited Declaratory Judgment to determine whether or not they would be able to legally issue COs to fund deployment of their planned broadband infrastructure. After considering Mont Belvieu’s arguments, the court confirmed the city’s position that they had the authority to offer broadband to the public and to issue COs to fund deployment of fiber optic infrastructure.

Texas law prohibits municipalities from obtaining the necessary certificates to “provide local exchange telephone service, basic telecommunications service, or switched access service.” Within their utilities code, explained legal counsel for Mont Belvieu, “local exchange telephone service” excludes “non-voice data transmission service” that is offered separately and is not part of “basic local telecommunications service.”

When attorneys pointed out for the court that the statutory definitions of “local exchange telephone service, basic telecommunications service, or switched access service” did not overlap with the definition of providing broadband through connections provided with a fiber optic network, the court agreed.

The city also argued that the city’s planned project could not be construed as "telecommunications" as defined by the code because connectivity via fiber was not “nonswitched telecommunications services” that "connected one subscriber’s premise to another subscriber’s premise within an exchange or to a long distance provider that serves the exchange." Mont Belvieu successfully argued that the Internet access they planned to offer would connect subscribers to the Internet, rather than to long-distance providers or other subscribers. Because the Internet is not a “telecommunications provider” as defined by the Texas Utilities Code, Mont Belvieu’s plan to connect subscribers to the Internet, rather than a telecommunications provider, is not prohibited.

Tending Dollars at Home Rule

In Texas, municipalities are either categorized as general law cities or home rule cities; Mont Belvieu is organized as a home rule city.

General law cities tend to be smaller communities whose powers are limited to those specifically defined by state statute. If an authority has not been specifically granted, or the state has not implied that a community has an authority, they do not possess the authority to take action.

Cities that have populations of more than 5,000 have the option to adopt home rule charters. Voters must approve the charter and subsequent changes to it. For home rule municipalities, the state constitution and statutes only present limits to their authority, rather than permissions. Unlike general law cities, they can act unless the authority they wish to exercise is expressly prohibited or preempted by the state.

The Texas Supreme Court described the home rule doctrine in 1938 in Yellow Cab Transit Co. v. Tuck:

Clearly, the purpose of the constitutional amendment and the Enabling Act was to bestow upon all cities falling within the bracket of 5,000 inhabitants or more, the power of local self-government and full authority to do whatever the Legislature could theretofore have authorized the city to do.

When taking up Forwood v. City of Taylor, 10 years later they added: 

The result is that now it is necessary to look to the acts of the legislature not for grants of power to such cities but only for limitations on their powers.

As a home rule city, Mont Belvieu had the authority to issue COs for public works projects, which includes municipal utilities, but the city needed to confirm from the court that a fiber optic network would be construed as a utility system or public works project in compliance with Texas Government Code. The code establishes the rules under which municipalities can issue public securities.

The city used established Texas case law to provide examples of how previous courts have viewed the meaning of “public works” and “utilities.” The court agreed with the city's argument that a fiber optic network is a public improvement. Past case law had construed electric light plants as municipal utilities, even though they were not listed specifically in statute and the court considered the similarity valid. Mont Belvieu went on to cite the State Legislature, which codified the fact that connecting all residents is an important goal to the state.

Read the city's Petition.

Read the Final Judgment.

Now There’s MB Link

The city offers MB Link for Internet access, but no voice or video services, in keeping with state restrictions. They suggest applications that allow subscribers to use their broadband service to make calls and to stream video. Mont Belvieu is still in the process of connecting residents within the city limits to the network; next, they plan to begin connecting businesses. Residents can sign up for symmetrical gigabit Internet access for $75 per month and a one-time $150 installation fee and deposit.

For a discussion about the network, check out episode 326 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. In addition to Nathan Watkins, Christopher spoke with Assistant City Manager Scott Swigert, Dwight Thomas who is Director of Broadband and IT, and Mont Belvieu Marketing and Communications Director Brian Ligon.

Changing the Course in Texas

Other Texas communities who have heard about Mont Belvieu’s new network and their court decision have reached out to city officials to learn more. Now that the question of home rule authority has been addressed regarding deploying and funding deployment of broadband infrastructure in Texas, the door is open for more towns like Mont Belvieu to consider publicly owned options. The folks in Mont Belvieu are ready to share their discoveries.

Brian Ligon:

If they don't believe it, they should try it for themselves and their community. It can be done. And if you need to try it, come on down. We'll let you hop on the network and test the speed for yourself. You'll be surprised what a city with some "can do" attitude can do.

Image of Mont Belvieu City Hall courtesy of their Facebook page.

2017 Mont Belvieu Original Petition for Expedited Declaratory and Injunctive Relief 2017 Mont Belvieu Final JudgmentTags: mont belvieu txhome ruletexasruralFTTHmunicertificate of obligationbondcourtlawsuit

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 327

October 16, 2018

This is the transcript for episode 327 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. In this episode, Christopher talks with Brett Schuppner, General Manager of Reedsburg Utilities Commission, about how the municipal fiber network has decided to go all gig and their expansion plans. You can listen to the episode here.

 

 

Brett Schuppner: We just decided to remove the bandwidth restrictions and let those customers fully utilize their connected devices and have a better online experience. We didn't feel the Internet provider should limit the customer in that factor.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 327 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. There's a certain elegance that comes with simplicity, and in Reedsburg, Wisconsin, subscribers to the city's LightSpeed Internet access are finding that out firsthand. This past spring, the Reedsburg Utility Commission decided to eliminate all but the gigabit tier, which is super affordable to subscribers. Brett Schuppner from the utility commission has been on the show before to discuss their expansion efforts, and once again, he talks about how the commission will bring LightSpeed to more premises beyond the city limits. Brett also talks about their decision to go all gig, the response from subscribers, and how the network is influencing the business community. In addition to sharing some of the history behind LightSpeed, Brett and Christopher discuss the role of the network in the community's vibrant telecommuting population and their newly acquired certification as a Telecommuter Forward! community. If you’re a regular Community Broadband Bits listener, you might notice that we’ve made some minor changes to the way we publish the podcast. These changes shouldn’t affect your ability to access the podcast, but if you encounter any problems, please let us know. Send a note to podcast@muninetworks.org. Now, here's Christopher with Brett Schuppner from Reedsburg Utilities Commission.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Bommunity Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minneapolis, talking to Brett Schuppner, the general manager of Reedsburg Utility Commission. Welcome to the show.

Brett Schuppner: Well, thank you

Christopher Mitchell: Brett, there's a brief hesitation if you're listening closely because I was going to say something about an over-the-border rival or something like that, what would this being fall sports season — football, hockey is going to be starting soon. I'm sure you're on the Wisconsin camp. I'm in the Minnesota camp. But then I decided not to and then I decided to do it anyway.

Brett Schuppner: Yeah. Isn't this weekend the battle for Paul Bunyan's axe for the football teams?

Christopher Mitchell: I don't think so. No, I think we're playing Iowa this week. I think you have one of your other games that may not present as much of a challenge.

Brett Schuppner: Okay.

Christopher Mitchell: Brett, you're not too far away from Madison in Wisconsin. Why don't you tell us a little bit more about Reedsburg?

Brett Schuppner: Yup. Reedsburgs is just under a hour from Madison to kinda the northwest. A Lot of people might be more familiar with Wisconsin Dells as a popular tourist area, and we're just like 15 miles from Wisconsin Dells area. Reedsburg is located in Sauk County, with a population of just under 10,000 residents

Christopher Mitchell: And your network — we're going to get to this toward the end of the show — but your network's a lot closer to the Dells, or it will be very soon. So that's exciting news. But the thing that I really wanted to talk about was something you've done, which I know some other folks have thought about in the municipal broadband spac, but haven't done. You're all gig now. Your standard rate, if someone signs up for Internet access, they're going to get a gig to the Internet. Tell us about that.

Brett Schuppner: You're 100 percent correct. Reedsburg Utility is the electric and water utility for the city of Reedsburg. And then in the early 1990s, the city decided they wanted to take matters into their own hands regarding the telecommunication needs of the city. So in January of 2000, Reedsburg became the first municipality to obtain a certification as an alternate telecommunications utility in Wisconsin. We started providing services on our 100 percent fiber network by 2002. In 2011, then we actually started expanding outside the city limits, and we cover probably getting close to 25 to 30 percent of rural Sauk County now with our fiber deployment, and like you mentioned earlier, which gets us up to the Wisconsin Dells area and some other neighboring communities. In 2014, we became the first gigabit provider in the state of Wisconsin. And then this year, we decided to actually dust off an old brand that we had when we started back in the early 2000s called LightSpeed. So we dusted off that logo and rebranded ourselves as LightSpeed Internet. And, that's when we rolled out our unthrottled access to our gigabit fiber network and started providing gig service as our standard and only residential Internet option. Basically, we're the only provider in the state that is doing that, and from what I understand, one of only maybe three in the nation that are doing that. Our residential customers, especially if they're bundling it with TV or phone service can get that for as low as $45 a month — gig service.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. I think the only other places that I know of that are doing it were in the Bay Area, the private company Sonic, which we've talked to folks from there before. They're very forward thinking, and in Vermont, I believe VTel was doing that in an area in which they received a substantial federal grant for Fiber-to-the-Home. But yeah, I'm not aware of anyone else that I can think of that's been so bold. Is this something that you were concerned about? I mean, you certainly have been in the fiber game for longer than almost anyone else, so you have more than enough background in data to have a sense of what your costs are. But you know, just walk me through the decision making process to make that switch.

Brett Schuppner: You know, we are 100 percent fiber, so we don't really have a limitation on our network, like some of the people that are converting from an old copper plant to a fiber plant. So this was something that really didn't cost us more to do. And I guess, we just felt like, you know, we want to be a leader in this field, so let's be the leader. Let's say, you know, bring it out. Let's throw the gloves off, and let's deliver gig. We're seeing even increased demands in households with their multiple Internet enabled devices. You know, they're doing more video streaming, more gaming, telemedicine, online education. Telecommuting is becoming a bigger thing we're seeing around here. I guess we just decided to remove the bandwidth restrictions and let those customers fully utilize their connected devices and have a better online experience. We didn't feel the Internet provider should limit the customer in that factor.

Christopher Mitchell: How long have you been doing this?

Brett Schuppner: Uh, we rolled this out in May of 2018.

Christopher Mitchell: So in the time you've been offering this gig connection as a standard, are you seeing a greater demand on your wholesale? Do you have to increase your transit at all, or have you had to upgrade any routers?

Brett Schuppner: Our standard speed before rolling out the gig standard was 100 meg service, so I don't think the Gig service has really changed customers' behaviors in regards of downloading more data. It's just that they can utilize and see the benefit of the speed [on] all their devices at one time. So we really haven't seen our wholesale bandwidth increase drastically other than just by adding customers and that. So, I think if we were starting out at a much lower speed where, by giving customers more speed, it changed their habits, then you would see a peak or a change in the wholesale connections. You know, what we have been seeing though, is actually customers are now buying devices capable of handling higher speeds. We've seen it a quite a few times since May, where customers are buying computers now that can actually see a gig. So it's interesting when our installers go to a house and it's like, the customer might say, "I want to see this gig," and then they do a speed test and they're actually seeing it. They're seeing 900, upper 900s, 950s and stuff like that for their speed test. So, you know, typically on one device, a standard device, you're not going to see that, but it is actually changing customers' behaviors, that if it's available they will adapt and use it.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, one of the things that I've heard from gigabit providers is that even your higher end wireless access points, your routers, your home routers have often only had a 100 Megabit port on the WAN side, the wide area network side. And so people are sometimes surprised that, you know, they might be getting a high capacity connection, but they have to buy a new router to take advantage of it.

Brett Schuppner: Right, and we provide the router. We want to control that experience. We want to control that device, so that we can make sure we're delivering the service, I guess, so that that WiFi connection is capable of getting a gig out there. So we provide actually two wireless access points as a standard delivery so that we can provide good coverage through the house and the customers can utilize that service

Christopher Mitchell: I'll bet that's popular. You had mentioned earlier telecommuting and you are the fourth recognized Telecommuter Forward! city in Wisconsin. What's that all about?

Brett Schuppner: Earlier this year, the Wisconsin legislature passed a Telecommuter Forward! Community certification for communities to promote that there's Internet service available in that community for businesses and residents to have telecommuting opportunities. And Senator Marklein, which is the senator for our district, District 17 in Wisconsin, was actually one of the cosponsors. And then actually our state representative, Ed Brooks, was also a sponsor of that legislation. When that came out, they said Reedsburg is the prime example of, you know, why this certification was passed.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, I can only imagine the advantage that people have working from Reedsburg relative to the average community in a smaller town in Wisconsin. I mean, are you seeing an influx of people that are trying to take advantage of that?

Brett Schuppner: We do see people that maybe one spouse lives in Madison — or works in Madison, sorry, and so then the other spouse might work somewhere else or work in Reedsburg. So if they're in this area, those working in Madison might have an opportunity to actually work a few days from home. We do regularly get calls from customers, people even outside our service area, wondering if they can get Reedsburg Utility LightSpeed Internet for the telecommuting opportunities.

Christopher Mitchell: So one of the other things that's just come up is the State of Wisconsin is putting about $7 million into expanded high quality Internet access, and it looks like you received grants to expand in the nearby town of Spring Green and the area around there for a $300,000 and $137,000 in a town called Delton. That seems like a pretty big deal. I mean, I guess you probably have ambitions ultimately to serve all of Sauk County, but I have to say I'm just thrilled to see the State of Wisconsin putting money into these smart local projects rather than, you know, big DSL projects.

Brett Schuppner: Like you said, the state does have a broadband grant program, and actually [these] last two rounds have been over $7 million of grants available. We actually applied. We had three different applications that we put in. There was, I think, a total of 83 applications [that] were submitted. We had the number four ranked and the number seven ranked application, so both of those were funded. One of them is just outside the Wisconsin Dells - Lake Delton area for some rural subdivision that basically customers can't get over three Megabits per second downloads. I got an example here of one resident that lives in this rural subdivision [who] said, "Our current Internet provider has a maximum speed of about 2.6 Megabits per second with an upload of 0.1 Megabits per second. Our family has limited access to online educational resources. That leaves our children struggling to keep up with their peers." This resident lives less than a half a mile from the village limits of Lake Delton, so it's just, how close they can be but not have such limited access is a kind of odd. Or you know, it just seems like that wouldn't be the case, I guess is what I'm saying. So we applied for a grant for this subdivision and we did get it, so now we'll be able to bring our gigabit fiber network to these residents and their neighbors, which will definitely change their lives of what they can do from their home.

Christopher Mitchell: Are you seeing any increased thought about the towns or townships or others trying to figure out how to supplement the state program or do something just out of recognition that if they wait for the state to fund their area, they might be waiting too long?

Brett Schuppner: Yes, definitely. Actually the grant that we got for the Town of Spring Green is a perfect example of that. We've been working with the Town of Spring Green over the last couple years. They've reached out to us numerous times trying to see if there's ways we could bring our service down to them. So we were working through the broadband grant process to try to get some additional funding to do this, to make this cost effective for everyone involved. With us being a municipally owned telco, it isn't fair for the residents of Reedsburg to have to take on financing to fund a project that's not in their — basically, in their taxing district. So the Town of Spring Green and Reedsburg Utility, we've partnered. And what we're going to do with this project that was awarded this grant is actually the Town of Spring Green is going to own the fiber, the buried fiber and ducts so basically the fiber plant, and then we're going to it from them and provide the service. So then that way, they're getting the funding, or the financing, to put the buried plant in the ground. We're going to be basically lighting it up and providing the service, and through the leasing of their fibers, then that's how they're going to be able to pay for their investment in their infrastructure that they're going to own.

Christopher Mitchell: That's great to hear. I mean, that's a really replicable model. Yeah, that's the sort of thing that I could see happening in a number of places where — and in this case, we're taking advantage of a state program, but, but if you're willing to do that and the local governments are willing to own that and to work with you on it, that seems like a win-win-win.

Brett Schuppner: Yeah. In this Town of Spring Green project that we're gonna be doing, you know, we're anticipating this is the first phase, and you mentioned it earlier, that maybe our goal is to provide fiber service throughout Sauk County. And we've actually had discussions with representatives from Sauk County and that is something they're interested in too. So this is probably kind of a like a test project, you know, to see how this works — a demo — and kind of see how this could be replicated throughout other townships.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. I don't know if you're paying attention in Minnesota, but to brag a little bit, a lot of the Minnesota counties have been working on — working with rural telephone cooperatives, who are doing a great job of expanding this access. And so, you know, certainly you would expect to see that in Wisconsin as well since the states are pretty similar.

Brett Schuppner: Yeah. And I think we're seeing a little bit of that, even through the broadband grant . Like I said, there was 83 applications and that some of them were local providers — other local providers working with counties to expand broadband further into rural areas.

Christopher Mitchell: So when we talked previously, you had mentioned that there were certainly a number of local businesses in Reedsburg that have really benefited from the fiber network that you've been providing. I'm curious if you have any other, maybe more recent, anecdotes of how the network is benefiting the community.

Brett Schuppner: Recently, our city administrator was commenting on when potential site locators for new businesses, new industries call Reedsburg to see what we have to offer. He says the top three things that they ask about are safety, schools, and Internet. So as Reedsburg's concerned, I think we nail all three of them very highly. It's something that the industries are looking for. We do have most of our, or I'd like to say all of our industries right now are just booming. They can't find enough employees. So they're looking for other opportunities, like the telecommuting where, you know, they can get into another workforce and have people work from home. Actually, one business I can think of, they just recently bought a plant somewhere in the southern U.S., and we actually, through a private connection, we deliver Internet all the way to their plant down in Tennessee. So to have their — that's our farthest Internet customer we have right now. So yeah, but that's through a private connection that we contracted with another provider to get down to there. So Internet is something that's a priority to some of these businesses and industries.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that I thought was interesting about a recent press release you sent out was that Bill Esbeck from the Wisconsin... I don't know. It's the WTSA. I forget exactly what it stands for, but it's the private telephone companies and often the co-ops I think. He was there speaking, and I'm curious because he had been an opponent of municipal broadband in the past. Is your project — is it less controversial now? Are people more comfortable with what you're doing?

Brett Schuppner: I guess we do partner with a lot of WSTA members around us. You know, as that organization, I can't speak for them specifically. The real reason he was here was for, you know, basically the press event with the local legislature. So, it was cordial, but I don't know if their stance has really changed on that or not, as an organization. But as individual members, you know, I truly feel that we all are in it to serve our customers. Especially when you look at the cooperatives and the local ILECs and that. So, I think we have a common goal there, and we'll maybe set aside some political differences to serve the customer.

Christopher Mitchell: I think that's a good sentiment that we want to make sure people hear, is this is about ultimately making sure people have good Internet access. So that's a good reminder. Well, thank you Brett for coming on, reminding us that you've been there, doing this great work in Reedsburg. And I'm curious to see if you inspire other communities to also have gigabit as their standard option so that it's a — well frankly, it'll be easier for people to understand without all the tiers and things like that, but also just giving such a great experience. So thanks for being willing to experiment with that and telling us about it.

Brett Schuppner: You know, from what we've seen from our customers that actually we've been adding and stuff like that, it's definitely something people are interested in. We've been busy since we've rolled that out.

Christopher Mitchell: Oh, that's actually really interesting. I mean, you already had a quite a large market share, so you're seeing that that has attracted new interest then.

Brett Schuppner: Yeah, before we rolled that out, I'd say compared to our normal new customers versus our churn — I'd say we've probably tripled in adding new customers every month since gig standard was rolled out.

Christopher Mitchell: Wow. Well, terrific. Thank you again.

Brett Schuppner: No problem. Well, I appreciate the opportunity to discuss this with you.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with Brett Schuppner, General Manager of Reedsburg Utilities Commission in Wisconsin. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/BroadbandBits. Email us at Podcast@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. Follow MuniNetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other ILSR podcasts, Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them wherever you get your podcasts. Don't miss out on our original research. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org, and while you're there, take a moment to donate. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons. And thanks for listening to episode 327 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcript

Revisiting Reedsburg: LightSpeed's All-Gig Telecommuter Paradise - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 327

October 16, 2018

It’s been a while since we last visited with Reedsburg Utilities Commission General Manager Brett Schuppner. He’s back on the show again to help us spread the word about this Wisconsin town’s decision to switch all their muni network subscribers to affordable gigabit connectivity and to eliminate all other tiers.

Brett and Christopher get into why the RUC decided that going all-gig would benefit the community’s residents and businesses and how they decided that their role was to provide the service and let the community run with it. RUC has been offering high-quality connectivity for about 15 years, making it one of the oldest publicly owned networks in the U.S.

When Brett was on the show in 2015, he and Christopher talked about the RUC’s plans to expand. "Deja vu" as the same topic comes up again on this week’s episode. The RUC has been awarded funding to help pay for expansion to two nearby communities that need Internet access for the 21st century. Brett shares information about those communities and the logistics behind the projects.

Located about an hour from Madison, RUC’s affordable LightSpeed provides the connections that area Wisconsinites need to telecommute. Brett and Christopher also touch on Reedsburg’s recent designation as a certified Telecommute Forward! community. The certification lets companies know that the city and areas served by LightSpeed have the capacity to support remote employees.

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 listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

Read the transcript of the show.

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

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

Tags: broadband bitsaudiopodcastreedsburgwisconsinexpansiongigabitFTTHruralmunitelecommuting

Community Broadband Media Roundup - October 15

October 15, 2018

 

California

Fiber optic master plan proceeds in San Leandro by Christine Book, Smart & Resilient Cities 

 

Georgia

Georgia’s rural woes a big problem awaiting next governor by Max Blau, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

 

Massachusetts

Councilor starts online petition about the need for municipal broadband by G. Michael Dobbs, The Reminder

 

Minnesota

Broadband a high priority for economic development by Keith Vandervort, The Timberjay (requires subscription)

 

North Carolina 

Wilson’s Gig East forum to explore future of work, innovation by Shannon Cuthrell, WRAL Techwire

“Gig East has become a forum for us to discuss emerging technology and the opportunities it presents for micropolitan communities. We are proud to be hosting our third annual event, bringing together the Triangle and Wilson communities for shared discussion.”

 

South Carolina 

South Carolina public-private partnership makes economic case for broadband by Colin Demarest, Aiken Standard

Nearly 12,000 Aiken County residents lack access to even the most basic Internet service, according to a connectivity study presented in September during a Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce breakfast forum.

 

Ohio

How students and administrators are working together to expand broadband Internet in the region by Tedi Delashmet, The Post 

 

Vermont

Not all Internet access is created equal by Jeremy Hansen, The Bridge

 

General

GAO: Tribes digital divide larger than FCC estimated by Laurel Morales, Fronteras 

The Federal Reserve is taking on the digital divide by Molly Wood, Marketplace Tech

Net neutrality explained: The digital postman shouldn’t charge twice by Ahmed Amer, San Francisco Chronicle

Northwest Native leaders talk about their own broadband struggles by Richard Walker, Indian Country Today 

Is broadband “wildly competitive’? by Doug Dawson, POTs and PANs 

Report: Rural broadband availability is vastly overestimated thanks to flawed FCC data by Joan Engebretson, Telecompetitor

Here’s how the FCC plans to defend its net neutrality repeal in federal court by Tony Romm, Washington Post

Stuck in mud: Broadband ‘disconnect’ has big consequences for midwest farmers by Whitelaw Reid, UVAToday 

Funding the USF broadband programs by Doug Dawson, POTs and PANs

FCC releases CAF broadband availability map by John Eggerton, MultiChannel News 

Closing the rural divide, which is a priority for Congress, the White House and FCC, depends on knowing where service is needed and where it is already being provided, though at what speed and price are factors that can cause disagreements between Democrats and Republicans over where sufficient service is deployed.  

 

Tags: media roundup

San Leandro Adopts Fiber Master Plan to Expand Infrastructure

October 15, 2018

When we interviewed folks from Lit San Leandro and San Leandro Dark Fiber for episode 47 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, the partnership between the local companies and the city was just getting started. Now the city is ready to expand their fiber optic infrastructure. After considering recommendations offered by a consulting firm on the best approach on building out their network to meet their goals, community leaders adopted a fiber master plan in September.

Read the City of San Leandro Fiber Optic Master Plan here.

City Tubes

Local companies Lit San Leandro and San Leandro Dark Fiber collaborate with the city by using publicly owned conduit. Lit San Leandro owns and operates the switch and routing facilities that light up the fiber owned by San Leandro Dark Fiber. 

The existing network connects more than 3,000 businesses within the 2 million square feet of building space that connect to the network. Schools within the San Leandro School District, nonprofits, churches, and other community anchor institutions all use the fiber network. Municipal facilities also connect to the network.

San Leandro has also made public Wi-Fi available in the downtown core and at city facilities. They’re in the process of expanding the service to several city parks and in more of the downtown.

Over the past five years, San Leandro has experienced rapid growth. The 10 gig fiber network has contributed to the city’s reputation as a tech hub, which has attracted both industry and residents. In order to stay ahead of the curve, community leaders consider it time to expand the network with smart city applications in mind. San Leandro has already implemented some smart city technologies, but with an expanded fiber infrastructure, they will be able to use the technology all over town and continue to boost economic development.

In 2017, the City Council hired a consultant to consider, among other questions, how best to expand and use its existing fiber assets, how to fund any expansion, and to offer recommendations on monetizing the network. As part of their smart city initiative, they wanted consultants to consider issues such as digital inclusion, buildings and energy, mobility, and fiber management.

Survey Says…

As part of the plan, consultants reached out to both businesses and residents and found that, while there was coverage in San Leandro, subscribers were not pleased with their options. Businesses can obtain fiber optic connectivity from AT&T, but the cost is prohibitive. Likewise, Comcast offers a higher speed option, but it’s also expensive.

Residents faced similar problems. Most considered their Internet access too expensive for the value they received, and 67 percent expressed that they would subscribe to a publicly owned option of 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) or more at an average price point of $50 - $100 per month.

As consultants developed their recommendations to address how to expand the network, they considered how best to supplement Lit San Leandro services, expand areas that don’t yet have Lit San Leandro, and bring quick revenue to the city to create funding for continued future expansion.

Check out slides from the presentation to the City Council.

Benefits of A Master Plan

This past summer Oxnard, California, chose a consultant to draft a Master Plan as they work to implement their long-term vision for the community. In San Leandro, where the city has already completed what can be considered a phase 1 toward their vision for a completely connected city that takes advantage of their fiber, their Fiber Master Plan will help them approach their next phase with flexibility while they set goals along the way.

To celebrate their community, civic engagement, and the decision to fully adopt a smart city approach for all, San Leandro observed “Resilient San Leandro Week” October 6 - 13. They held a series of events aimed at getting people involved, celebrating that involvement, and sharing information about the new possibilities the smart city technology will offer.

In an announcement about the Fiber Optic Master Plan, the Mayor wrote:

“We are committed to leveraging public and private assets through the use of Smart City technologies to make our community better for everyone here in San Leandro.”

City of San Leandro Fiber Optic Master Plan San Leandro Fiber Optic Master Plan Presentation SlidesTags: san leandrocaliforniamaster planexpansion