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Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 290

January 30, 2018

This is the transcript for episode 290 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Bill Callahan and Angela Siefer join the show to discuss the report on redlining and digital inclusion in Cleveland. Listen to this episode here.

Bill Callahan: Little parts of the city were they deployed it they were parts of the county including most of the suburbs where they deployed it. And there were parts of the city notably those which are a lower income where they simply didn't.

Lisa Gonzalez: You are listening to episode 290 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. In March 2017 the National Digital Inclusion alliance and connect community released a report that analyzed connectivity and digital inclusion in Cleveland Ohio. The report titled AT&T digital redlining described how the company had failed to invest in specific areas of the city with some of the highest concentrations of low income households. In this interview Christopher talks with Angela Siefer from the National Digital Inclusion alliance and Bill Callahan from connect your community. Angela and Bill explain how they came to take on the Cleveland project what they've learned about digital redlining and describe what it is. And they also share some ideas to eliminate it. Angela and Bill also give us an update on what is happening in Cleveland since they released the report. Now here's Christopher with Angela Siefer and Bill Callahan.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell up in the frozen tundra of Minneapolis where I a lonely Eagles fan waits to see what happens this weekend though as you're listening to you will already know what happened to the Eagles and the Vikings game although we are all united in opposing the Patriots coming out of my shell this year and I'm going to be very honest about this. But to get back on track I'm with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and today we're going to talk about digital redlining. We're welcoming back to our show a fan favorite Angela Siefer the executive director for the National Digital Inclusion alliance. Welcome back. Thanks

Angela Siefer: Chris. I'm excited to be here.

Christopher Mitchell: And we also have with us Bill Callahan the president and director of Connect Your Community in Cleveland. Welcome to the show.

Bill Callahan: Thank you. From another part of the frozen tundra.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes. Perhaps even more frozen depending on current weather patterns. So for people who are interested in digital inclusion I hope you caught our episode 284 just a month ago where we talked more generally about digital inclusion Digital Equity and what all that means you'll just want to do a very brief refresher for people as to what Digital Equity is and digital inclusion.

Angela Siefer: We define Digital Equity as the outcome of individuals having access to the tools that they need to participate in society today. Digital Inclusion are the activities that get us to Digital Equity so digital inclusion is affordable home broadband the digital skills that are necessary today. The appropriate device the tech support it's all the things that you would think of as solutions to the barriers that which keeps us from participation.

Christopher Mitchell: And so before we launch into too much more about how this applies to Cleveland I wonder Bill if you can just tell us a brief background of Cleveland bringing people up to speed. We know the Browns had a hard season we know the Indians have been doing well, but what's happening in Cleveland otherwise?

Bill Callahan: Other than the fact that they're having a hard time on defense in the basketball arena.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. I guess there is that matter of LeBron James you're right. This is apparently going to be more of a sports podcast which you know I hope some of our fans will enjoy. We haven't touched on it too much in the past.

Bill Callahan: It gets us a lot bigger audience here. Well so Cleveland is like Minneapolis and many other central cities a place which was served for a long time primarily by a Bell Company and by some cable company. So the Internet market in the city is really shaped by what those companies have done. And depending on which city you choose to compare it with the third or the six worst connected big city in the country the third worst if you compare it to cities above 100000 in the number of households. And what that means is that something like a third of all households in the city don't have any kind of internet connection at all at home including mobile. That's a reflection of poverty. It's a reflection of you know many folks who have not finished high school. It's a reflection of other factors that are commonly associated with digital exclusion.

Christopher Mitchell: Bill as you're describing Cleveland I think I want to correct something and what I suspect most people's minds are and they might think well you have a kind of fits like I think of Cleveland kind of like I think of Detroit or another city that's really fallen on hard times. But the Cleveland's really had a bit of a renaissance. I mean there's a lot of poverty and people struggling but the city as a whole is doing better than I think many people realize.

Bill Callahan: You know as a resident I have the civic duty to confirm that, but I also have to say that like most places which can claim that the effect on the actual residents of the city is pretty limited. It's true that we have our convention center and our new convention hotel downtown. We have you know one successful sports team. And you know there's a number of other things that are not that uncommon with cities of this size. We're not a particularly big city anymore about 400000 people but all of that is very widely understood in the city to be -- to have its impact only in a few neighborhoods. And to be having very little impact on the general level -- the level of inequality in the city which is among the highest in the country according to Brookings. In terms of our work in in terms of the subject we're talking about today all of that renaissance stuff has very little impact on the level of people's ability to use modern tools to participate.

Christopher Mitchell: Well let's let's get back to that in a second and talk very specifically about the pattern of investment that we've seen. But before then I just want to ask Angela for just a quick primer on you know is there anything that sets digital redlining apart from just an ordinary pattern of neglect of low income neighborhoods.

Angela Siefer: The question is how were decisions being made as to where an Internet service provider is placing their resources to upgrade. So we don't know what goes on in the backroom. So what we what we know is the data that says which neighborhoods have it in which neighborhoods don't. So this is something that is important. So have out there and be talking about because we, we as a country, have to decide what's okay right. If we have only a few which is the reality in most communities only through Internet service providers in each community what are our expectations of those and service providers should they be serving everybody?

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah I think it is worth noting and I think that the work that both of you did does a great job of discussing this because a lot of the services we're talking about they have a radius and so depending on where you put a hut or an office will depend on those around you who are served with a close radius being the higher quality service. And as you get further and further away you get lower quality service so. So with that I think we can ask Bill to tell us a little bit about what the pattern of investment has been in terms of neighborhoods having access in Cleveland over the past, well since the turn of the century really.

Bill Callahan: There's two providers who dominate the market. The bigger of the two. It was time Warner it's now Charter they sell cable service. They pretty much sell it every place in the city because the networking board was built when there was still municipal franchising. And as a as a standard the company which then owned the network was required to build it out citywide. And so it's there citywide. So great, right? But the other provider is AT&T and AT&T managed to -- did have a DSL network which reached throughout the city. DSL is characterized by you have a basic switch in the central office central offices are like two miles apart and three miles apart and close to the central office you get a decent speed. And as you get further away from the central office you get slower and slower and slower and if you're you know sort of as far as you can get from a central office the speed of DSL gets to the point where you wouldn't want to pay for it.

Bill Callahan: So that's the standard historical DSL pattern which is throughout the city. In 2008 in anticipation of building out its cable competing system which is called U-Verse which is a system of building fiber out into the neighborhood and then creating switches that are closer to people's homes. These so-called de-reg cabinets AT&T got the legislature to eliminate municipal franchising so that it wouldn't have to deal with pesky cities in terms of where it was going to put that fiber, those de-reg cabinets, and therefore the ability to provide that service to the nearby neighbors.

Christopher Mitchell: And that was a part of a process we saw nationwide where about half of the states over the period of several years in the mid 2000s got rid of these requirements. It also changes things like local people had no one to really complain to anymore because cities and remember authority. AT&T made ludicrous claims and some states like Tennessee they promised all this investment that never really happened and there was no reporting requirement so we can't really prove whether it happened or not but it's pretty clear that the rollout doesn't look like they promised it would be. And I don't want to jump ahead of you too much. One of the things that I found interesting reading through your report was that was that one of the impacts of that of course is people are supposed to have a better service for Internet but also they were supposed to have cable competition and many of the low income folks never got that either.

Bill Callahan: Many of the low income folks in places which were supposedly targeted for like Cleveland didn't get it. And of course parenthetically, about two thirds of the territory of the state never even got the whiff of it because the companies in question; the big phone companies never intended to provide it.. So essentially yeah basically, Ohio is the poster child for that kind of so-called cable reform. What it essentially did was eliminate regulation at any level. When that happened plenty of people warned people in the legislature including urban representatives like ours, "look you're inviting redlining and cherry picking." You're inviting these companies to basically pick their markets and ignore people who don't look as profitable. That is precisely what has, what has happened here.

Bill Callahan: After 2008 when AT&T began upgrading its old DSL system in order to this new hybrid system which was combination of fiber and kind of local neighborhood switches there were parts of the city where they deployed it. There were parts of the county including most of the suburbs where they deployed and there were parts of the city, notably those which are a lower income where they simply didn't. There were four central offices in the city which serve primarily lower income neighborhoods. And they didn't deploy fiber for purposes of upgrades out of any of those central offices. So the pattern then and this all happened between 2008 and 2013-14. So it's a rollout process that was finished a couple years ago. And the bottom line of it was that you had something like two thirds of households in the city who didn't have access to either fast internet or cable competition.

Bill Callahan: And because of that pattern of declining speed as you get away from the central offices, something like 10 percent probably a little higher of census blocks in the city have speeds below 3 Mbps from AT&T. Now they all have the option of getting cable service. Cable service from spectrum as you know is a matter of you know more than 60 dollars a month. AT&T would be the option that was a little bit cheaper and had more variety in its pricing. But that's not available to people.

Christopher Mitchell: Now Angela I'm curious. We have an incredible level of detail as to how this has happened in Cleveland. Do you have the sense from your work nationally that this is an anomaly?

Angela Siefer: It is not an anomaly. We, we've also done maps for Toledo, Dayton, and Detroit. We have some affiliates and partners who are working on maps of their regions. Bill is happy to explain to anyone how we did it so if you want to create a map. This is all publicly available data. We think an important point that sometimes gets misrepresented and media articles is that we did the research on this as in gathering the data. We did not gather data -- we use publicly available data and overlaid the different data sets in order to see what's there was anyone can do. And we highly recommend anyone to do this.

Christopher Mitchell: Well one of the things I read that I don't know if it's wrong or apocryphal or not but you know I'm sure you know, Bill, and I just found it amazing that some of this came to light after AT&T had a discount program for low income folks and you found that they were systematically denying it to some people in Cleveland because AT&T had originally said you had to have a three megabit service package to get this which generally meant they weren't going to discount their 18 megabit or their 25 megabit package. But it turned out a lot of people in Cleveland that qualified because they were low income only had one point five megabit service and therefore AT&T was denying it to them which is just amazing to me.

Bill Callahan: Or less or none. Yes that is exactly the way that we that we stumbled across this. The organization that I work for, Connect Your Community, was in the process of working with a coalition of groups to basically to reach out to low income folks across the city who had supplementary nutrition assistance, federal food assistance which qualifies you for this AT&T, access from AT&T program. Luckily we did a little due diligence for a couple of months and realized that we were getting phone calls from people saying I applied and they told me I can't get it because I don't have fast enough service. That's what led us to look at the public data that Angela was describing, so-called FCC Form 477 data. And then what we discovered was that we know we had these circles of areas with very very poor service and that led us down the path of figuring out what had happened. So we didn't go looking for trouble here. We ran into trouble because when we started trying to make this service available to people we discovered that it wasn't.

Christopher Mitchell: It's worth noting that that probably means that these areas were some of AT&T's most profitable in the sense that they had not invested in them for 10 or 12 or 15 years. They've been collecting money from a lot of people for telephone and Internet service and not investing anything in improving it. So it's not a matter of they were losing money in these neighborhoods in fact they were probably some of their higher margin neighborhoods because they were just letting them rot effectively.

Bill Callahan: Well I think that's an accurate characterization. But the other thing to remember is that the fact that something is, an area is high poverty doesn't mean the majority of people are poor it simply means that it has a high level of poverty. The areas that we looked at were areas that had a third or more of a households in poverty but plenty of customers plenty of working class and middle class customers in those neighborhoods. They tend to be African-American neighborhoods although they're not limited to that. And so yes those are those are neighborhoods which have lots of AT&T customers. The other thing that it's interesting to note is that AT&T charges you the same amount of money a month for 5 Mbps service or 24 Mbps service.

Bill Callahan: Right. They have a price tier depending on what is the fastest speed they can give you. Right. You know if you got low speed in the neighborhood you charge the same price and basically your cost per megabit may be four or five times as high because you have crappy service.

Christopher Mitchell: So, Angela, this is kind of a pattern that you see as a national organization of pulling this information out of on the ground organizations?

Angela Siefer: Yes so Chris we started NDIA almost three years ago. We're coming up on our third anniversary and we represent we will include programs that are on the ground doing this work right there working with disadvantaged communities. And so it's an important point that the way we figured out this was happening was that the affiliates in Cleveland were struggling with the fact that they couldn't sign folks up for the AT&T low cost offer which side note. We were all excited about because it's great to have a lot of coastal Hopper from a provider. So we are all like rah rah let's sell this let's all this low cost offer. And so when the affiliates started trying to make that happen they're the ones that realized there's a problem. And it took digging into a variety of data sets and Bill even checking neighbors addresses and the AT&T data set to see what kind of speeds they could get for us to figure out what was actually going on. So I think the connection of understanding what's happening at the local level. That's how we get to some recognition of issues.

Christopher Mitchell: So what is happening today in Cleveland? I know that there's a hush hush process going forward but but if we simplify that what's what's happened since you found this and went public with it.

Angela Siefer: There is a an attorney who completely outside of NDIA had interactions. He knew some folks in Cleveland. And one of those folks kept telling him there was a problem with her AT&T service and he told her to, you know, find some tech support. And then he saw our report and realized maybe she actually had a legitimate claim and so started researching it and found that she did have a legitimate claim. So attorney Daryl Parks had submitted a complaint to the FCC regarding the poor quality of service in these neighborhoods. And what is the current update of that is that AT&T and Attorney Parks are in discussions that are not public. So we know they're still in discussions but we don't know what is happening with that. Bill, is anything you want to add to that or can I go on to start grilling you?

Bill Callahan: I would only say that while we're you know we're really grateful that Attorney Parks and the folks he represents in Cleveland and Detroit now are doing what they're doing and we hope there's some good outcome. We're not actually that wildly optimistic about the FCC. There is a potential state regulatory process because this is actually income discrimination which is forbidden by the law. And so it's possible that this could turn into a state political issue with this is an election year. But beyond that I think that our assumption all along has been that probably this represents evidence of other strategies to get reliable bandwidth to people in low income neighborhoods rather than trying to cure AT&T behavior.

Christopher Mitchell: The reason I said that I was going to grill you because I want to ask a question that I think is is hard. And I know from personal experience with you that you can handle it but it seems to me that we have on the one hand obviously rules that say you can't screw poor people or low income folks or more accurately low income neighborhoods. You know, but on the other hand we have a telecommunications environment in which we have decided to say AT&T you can invest wherever you want. AT&T has a fiduciary responsibility to maximize its profit for its shareholders. And so in some ways, I mean as someone who loves markets I like bright line rules that are easy to follow that can create real good incentives and things like that. We don't have that. Like how do we reconcile what a company like AT&T is supposed to do in this muddy environment?

Bill Callahan: Well let me first of all let me say AT&T is not the company I would have expected sort of on the face of their relationships within the community which are actually pretty deep. They're a major employer in this town for a long time as a as a Bell. I would actually expect that if any company was likely to try to go out of their way to avoid the appearance of something which among other things really hurts the black community it probably would have been AT&T. The fact that they really have reacted to this whole thing with denial even though they never denied any of the data and the kind of universal there's no way we can build any more fiber says to me that really we have something that's completely out of control and that we're not going to be saved by the regulators because the regulators aren't really regulating anymore.

Bill Callahan: So what's left. It's exactly what what you, Chris and folks you work with, are constantly saying what's left is that local municipalities and communities start taking matters into our own hands. And I do think in the long run creating more competition and more competitive alternatives is really the only solution to this.

Christopher Mitchell: You're preaching to my choir. Yeah. So I was sort of follow up on that with a note that I pulled out from AT&T state external affairs executive carries her. She's a vice president of AT&T your name is Joan Marsh and she said "We do not redline." And then she said our commitment to diversity and inclusion is unparalleled. And then she said our investment decisions are based on the cost of deployment and demand for our services and are of course fully compliant. But it's a remarkable statement to say like no one goes further than us to, like, to try and help low income communities and to be diverse. Oh and by the way the only thing that we make our investment decision is based on the cost of deployment and demand. I mean those those things are mutually inconsistent.

Bill Callahan: Yes. And you'll note there's we've seen about 7 statements in various venues specifically denying redlining which never ever dispute a single item of fact in the study which gives us great comfort that we probably haven't missed anything but which essentially says you know yeah we did that and there's nothing wrong with it you know if this were a normal regulatory environment from 20 years ago you'd say Well okay let's go argue that before the regulators but there aren't any regulators really to argue about you know except the FCC and we'll see.

Bill Callahan: Good luck to Attorney Parks. And again this is no surprise to you and your and your listeners probably really the only leverage people have in this situation is to take stock of the situation, realize what we're dealing with, and figure out how to take our own steps to fill in the gaps. And beyond that honestly we are continuing to use AT&T's discount service where it makes sense and and we'll continue to take advantage of every opportunity we have to get low-income folks affordable service because that is the point.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, I'd like to reiterate that because Angela you made that point a little earlier that even though we're very frustrated with companies like AT&T and the investment patterns many of us are frustrated with some of the decisions Comcast makes, some regular price increases and things like that. It still makes sense for people to go out and perhaps volunteer their time to try to spread the word that people that are facing hard times, households that are struggling may be qualifying for ten dollar a month service or less from these firms, right?

Angela Siefer: Yes absolutely. Multiple Internet service providers have low-cost offers. I really think it's one of those deals out there that the majority of the population who's eligible has no idea that this is even a thing. So we really need to do more promotion of those offers and they are solid deals. The one from Charter is $15 a month and I think it's 30 Mbps. Yeah. So it is. That's a really solid offer.

Christopher Mitchell: That's almost as good as ten dollars a month for 50 Mbps symmetrical and Wilson with a municipal network that's leading the pack.

Angela Siefer: Yes.

Bill Callahan: Yes, the difference is that will be gone in two years.

Christopher Mitchell: The Charter one?

Angela Siefer: That's the question is Internet Essentials is still around. We don't want to have the view that we are coming down on all the Internet service providers. We're certainly not. We have positive relationships with most of them. We want them to understand that we do appreciate these low cost offers and we want those offers to continue beyond the time that they are required to provide them with based upon their agreements with. Yes I think so. So it is in no way a negative. We don't want this to be viewed.

Bill Callahan: We used the term redlining to describe this and we we do that for a very specific reason that does have to do with the history of that term namely a way of describing what banks have done in similar neighborhoods in the past and what it specifically refers to is the fact that you have a strategic decision by an institution not to offer certain services that are important to a community because of that community's economic or racial characteristics.

That's redlining. It's not something bigger than that is it's it's obvious explicit policy decision not to invest and offer services in specific places. Well there was a big national fight about bank redlining in the 60s and 70s. And the consequence was something called the Community Reinvestment Act and the Community Reinvestment Act has led to a lot of bank initiatives. We've figure out how to offer useful products to people in those neighborhoods in order to avoid regulatory sanctions like those regular sanctions have led to a large deep industry of community reinvestment driven relationships between banks and community banks. There's nothing that would prevent AT&T from following that model. How would AT&T understanding that has gotten in trouble because of its investment strategy with a bunch of communities go out and say good let's work with the community let's look at the city government let's figure out how we can work together to fill in the gaps that we've helped create.

That's what the banking industry largely has done with some awful exceptions recently. But but that's the history and it means that you basically have to say yeah OK we get it. We have a problem here. Let's bury what we do and build a response to the market so that we can serve these people and the the discount program access. AT&T isn't exactly that. It's something that they negotiated with. You know because of the merger with with the FCC. But it does actually have a really important and constructive place in the market. If they were still Ohio and paying attention to the state of Ohio for example we might in fact be able to work that out with the fact that you know local representatives may be sympathetic but there's nothing they can do is essentially a product of the fact you have an international corporation that isn't making decisions that have anything to do with local needs.

You know we take what we can get but there certainly are paths I think for telecom providers to do better and they can just look at the banking industry to see how that raises a number of points that I'd love to make that are all really great and we're going to come back to you with what I think is a is a hard question.

Christopher Mitchell: But one point is the banking industry is increasingly using the Community Revitalization err Reinvestment Act - I always get it wrong - to invest in broadband in historically Challenge's areas or higher jobless areas I forget exactly what the qualifications are. But we've seen that in Minnesota with our a fiber project in Bozeman Montana and there's more projects coming online where banks have been involved because of the history of redlining. Second point is I think you did a really good job of identifying how the redlining is happening. It's a term I've sometimes seen tossed around carelessly by some and I think we need to avoid doing that here in Minneapolis. We have a small private company which is investing and has a vision for connecting all of Minneapolis and some people have accused them of redlining. But when I've talked to them they've said that their best customers are the working class neighborhoods.

Christopher Mitchell: And not only that but the largely immigrant neighborhoods because the recent immigrants in particular they do everything online. They're talking to families back home. Their translation other entertainment. There's so much of it. So you know I think it hurts me when I hear them accused of redlining when I don't see it I see a company that's trying to figure out how to expand and they happened to start in one particular area. But we can we can always come back to that lead us. We talked with them in the past. But the question that I want to pose to you and Angela is in some ways like you know as as a person who fundamentally believes that AT&T cannot be fixed that we need to bring competition to AT&T fundamentally in order to force it over a period of many years I think to reform itself into being a company that is not a monopoly.

Christopher Mitchell: It still has a monopoly mindset it operates in many ways and mission. I look at what's happening Cleeve it and I think the best possible result is actually sort of irrelevant to AT&T because in some ways an OK result would be that AT&T invest more in those communities but then those communities are still stuck with a company that has a history of slow investment has high prices may be violating Net neutrality on a regular basis very soon probably has bandwidth caps all kinds of other problems. I think cities should be looking at Cleveland and not thinking not limiting themselves to thinking we need to fix AT&T behavior in in neighborhoods that have a high poverty rate but they need to think we need to figure out a different solution here.

Bill Callahan: That's our conclusion. You're speaking our mind. We don't think we're going to fix AT&T. That's unfortunate because we'd love to. But even if we did there's an underlying problem which is that there are two major providers and neither of them runs an open network. And so we've gone from a situation in 1999 where we had essentially 40 competitors providing ISP services to a situation where we have two there are two historical approaches. I'm an old utility organizer. Two historical approaches to a monopoly or near monopoly in the public realm. One is regulation and the other is competition which if you in most cases means build it yourself we have public power systems and we have public utility regulation right.

Christopher Mitchell: Those are the two models for people who are interested read a biography of Tom Johnson famous mayor of Cleveland where we dealt with a lot of these issues 100 years ago.

Bill Callahan: Who exactly. And it's precisely true that it was the same kind of issue. And so you know that's kind of the situation we're facing. There are people have or are developing lots of different mixtures of approaches to it across the country and we're paying attention to all of them.

Christopher Mitchell: So angel I'm curious if you have a reaction to my mini rant. I just feel like I'm being too casual with AT&T.

Angela Siefer: I think your point that whatever we solutions we come up with are going to be years in the making as the relevant points right that we can't throw AT&T away right now because we need them. So we need them to step up in whatever way they can figure out to step up. But if the community determines as Bill thinks the community is determining that there needs to be an alternative that is take some time to get there.

Christopher Mitchell: Great. Are there any final points before we wrap it up. No

Angela Siefer: I think that was great. I very much appreciate drawing attention to the issue Chris because it's something that needs to be discussed.

Christopher Mitchell: Well with that let's sign off and let me just remind people one more time that that Bill is very open to teaching people how to do this. This is something there's great value in doing. It's replicable. And you know if you, listener, aren't going to do it who will. So thank you very much, Bill, for coming on the show to share with us what you did in Cleveland.

Bill Callahan: Thanks for the chance, Chris.

Christopher Mitchell: And thank you Angela for coming back to talk more digital inclusion with us.

Angela Siefer: Any time.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with Angela Siefer from the National Digital Inclusion alliance and Bill Callahan from Cleveland. Connect your community don't forget to check out the full report titled AT&T digital redlining. You can download a copy at NDIA website. DigitalInclusion.org. We also have a link. Many networks dot org. We have transcripts from this and other podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/BroadbandBits. Email us at podcast@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. You can follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. You can also follow MuniNetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. We hope you'll subscribe to this podcast and the other ILSR podcasts -- Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them on Apple podcasts stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts. Never miss out on original research. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR's artwork. Thank you. Do you speak for the song warm duck shuffle license creative commons. And thanks for listening to episode 290 of the community broadband bits podcast.

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Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 289

January 30, 2018

This is the transcript for episode 289 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. David Talbot from the Berkman Klein Center joins the show to discuss a report on consumer prices and municipal networks. Listen to this episode here.

 

David Talbot: Our findings are quite narrow and they are very limited and we would like to see that much more of this kind of work can be done and to do that you'd need the data to be made available.

Lisa Gonzalez: You're listening to episode 289 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. When it comes to Internet access rates most of us wish we could pay less and get more. A recent report from the Berkman Klein Center analyzes data from locations where municipal networks and networks in the private sector advertise services in the same areas. The report finds that in most instances a municipal network option provides annual savings to subscribers at an entry level tier. In this interview Christopher talks with one of the authors of the report David Talbot. David explains the methodology he and his coauthors used in building their database developing comparisons and how they came to their conclusions. Due to some of the marketing tools that private providers use to attract new subscribers the task was more complicated than it sounds. You can download a copy of the report at cyber.Harvard.edu and you can also access our story about their report on MuniNetworks.org where we provide a direct link. The report is titled "Community-Owned Fiber Networks: Value Leaders in America." Now here's Christopher with David Talbot from the Berkman Klein Center.

Chris Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell having some fun up here in Minneapolis with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance talking again to David Talbot a fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. Welcome back to the show, David.

David Talbot: Hi Chris, how are you?

Chris Mitchell: I'm doing well. I am excited to talk to you about your latest paper. I know it wasn't just you -- we can talk about that in a second but this is a research paper that was published as part of the Responsive Communities Initiative at the Berkman Klein Center there at Harvard. And you looked at pricing. David, you last joined us for episode 162 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, in which we were talking about a different study one that was looking at some municipal broadband options in Massachusetts. I hope people go back and check that out. But today we're talking about this paper that's called: "Community-Owned Networks: Value Leaders in America." What were you studying this time?

David Talbot: Well first of all to your original comment also Danielle Kehl and Kira Hessekiel were coauthors on this. Did a lot of hard work; Kira managing a database over more than a year and it was a very difficult process to really keep track of all these numbers. But we were trying to study what broadband by which we mean service provides (at least 25 megabits downloads streaming 3 Mbps upload) actually costs in the United States and whether municipally owned providers how their pricing compares to the private competitors.

Chris Mitchell: Right. So it's worth just noting at the beginning and we'll get into very briefly very soon with the findings were. But the database was hard because a lot of pricing is based on a variety of services and kind of all mashed together. So how did you how did you develop a way of looking at municipal prices and Comcast or prices for other ISP. So you're just looking at the broadband component of the price.

David Talbot: Well there was as you would imagine there was the upfront process to decide how we would go about collecting this information in a low post-collection process to figure out how to make sense of it both of which were I must say quite challenging upfront you will know very well that this information is not comprehensively collected by the FCC. There is no database out there that the public can go consult to see what broadband cost in the United States. There are many key questions that the availability of such data would help answer such as you know what's the connection between adoption and pricing. We know a lot of people don't take service because they can't afford it. What the different pricing levels mean in terms of adoption who's doing the adopting and who's left out. How does the competition affect pricing and many other questions. Lot of those are black boxes.

David Talbot: How did we go about this. Quite simply we went to the Web sites of providers and we started with your list. The ILSR list of visible providers in the United States which as you know the White House itself used in 2015 to tell the public about the existence of these these community and municipal providers. We started with that and we said look just at the fiber to the home subset which there are about 40 inadequate according to your list from 2015 or earlier. Probably more now -- and then we said okay we're going to start with these 40 municipal fiber to the home right. And by the way it's not only municipal that some are owned by other public entities other than we have cities but that's usually the shore and we call them community-owned as a result of the fact that not all of them are strictly municipally-owned - one of many complexities.

David Talbot: And then with the Web site we collected that data the data plans what people are charged according to the Web site. And then we went to the providers in the same communities that are private such as Comcast, Charter, and others to see what they charge and to do that you have to enter a residential address which then raises another set of challenges. Well do we enter residential addresses that we don't. Normally you're supposed to say "this is where I live." So we went into the terms of service and we try to be respectful of what the terms of service say in terms of do they expressly prohibit you from entering an address if you don't live there. And so on and so forth all of which is discussed in the study.

Chris Mitchell: And I think we'd like to get back to that question of the terms of service. You are limited in some ways being part of a law school people take the law and these sorts of terms of service very seriously. We are going to come back to talk about that toward the end. But what was the -- what was the key finding then you did all of this methodology.

David Talbot: But the basic findings were that we were able to compare providers in 27 of these 40 communities because the other 13 they fell away for various reasons. There wasn't a competitor to the muni or the competitors terms of service provision prevented data collection, and 23 of the 27 we found that the municipal provider was offering basic broadband service that was less expensive areas over four years than the private competitor. And by basic profits again we are referring to the service that minimally gets the consumer 25 megabits down 3 megabits upload that is the first service that gave you that was 40 Mbps/10 Mbps that was a service for you. It was 26 Mbps/4 Mbps that with the service fees. Some of those plans are exactly the same but they're all the same in terms of being the cheapest plan that you can get that gets you broadband which former Chairman Tom Wheeler described as table stakes for 21st century communications.

David Talbot: So to sum all of this up in 23 out of 27 municipalities where comparisons were possible the municipal ISP was offering less expensive service averaged over four years than the private competitor. The amounts were sizable in some cases Lafayette, [Louisiana]; Sebewaing, Michigan; Morristown, [Tennessee]. These are hundreds of dollars a year savings you know could be two, three, up to to six hundred dollars per year in savings in Lafayette. You know private competitors are using teaser or promotional rates for the first four months or sometimes longer than the rates go go up. So you need to average what people are paying over a period of years to really get a sense of whether people are getting better or worse value. And we use the four year average. We tried it three or averaged in one case and it only changed the outcome by one municipality.

David Talbot: So obviously if people are keeping service for longer than four, five, six, even longer years the numbers would get even larger in terms of how much more they're spending on the private competitor versus the politics who tend to have fixed prices from from day one.

Chris Mitchell: All right so just to reiterate the municipalities tended to have the lowest prices. There were some situations in which they didn't. And generally I think the margin was still pretty close. And then there was a number of other places in which you weren't able to collect enough data to really make a strong case due in some cases to the ISPs from which you were trying to collect data denying that data to you.

David Talbot: Correct. Not denying so much as we did not collect from from a couple of providers notably AT&T, Verizon, and I think Time Warner Cable because the terms of service in our opinion made it [hard] for us to not collect data by entering residential address.

Chris Mitchell: Right which I mean there may be some other reason that I cannot think of but the only reason that if I can imagine a big provider putting that language in there is to try and prevent anyone from being able to do broad price comparisons. Now I'm not going to ask you to speculate on that but I do want to raise issue for some people who are thinking "wow, you know only 40 municipal networks." Now you were focused on the networks that were providing retail services themselves right?

David Talbot: Correct. That is right.

Chris Mitchell: And so it's just for people who are thinking. I thought there was so many more networks. There are more networks than 40. You know sometimes people do get lost in all the different options available but this study does look at the networks that are using the same model that Chattanooga uses which I say, not because they're the greatest network ever, but because most people are familiar with them and the fact that they provide service directly and they provide television and TV service as well.

Chris Mitchell: Those are the networks that we're talking about and some pretty impressive results. You know one of the things that I think people really appreciate was your finding that in general you could understand and predict municipal pricing better. Am I characterizing that correctly?

David Talbot: By predict you mean when you go to the website you can see what you'll actually be paying. I think yes they're definitely clear. It just has the monthly prices and that's the price there's no. Hey it's 39.99 for the first month and then you have to click a button and see you what the price is going to be 12 months from now when it's substantially higher then that will stay that high for many years to come until you bother changing it.

Chris Mitchell: Right, you mentioned one particular form of what we might call trickery or obfuscation. But there's also others such as the modem rental fee as the Internet recovery fee. The FCC regulatory fee I'm bigger than you fee. I think you try to calculate all of those sorts of fees into your pricing model as well. Right.

David Talbot: Yes. And the database is posted online and you can look at the study and take the link and go visit dataverse and look at all the data if you care to. Yes we did our best to see all the fees and average them out over the four years so that's what we put down as the price per year is all in average over four years. So that took some doing to get there.

Chris Mitchell: Now I want to ask you if there are any surprises along the way. But let me tell you what my surprise was. I've been a part of a few groups that have tried to do this sort of thing and have all walked away and just thrown their hands up in the air and said it's just it's too complicated and mind numbing to try and sort all this out we give up. So my surprise and my congratulations is to you for getting it done and published. It looks very reputable and credible to me when I look at it. Very reasonable methodology in a very difficult area. So thank you for that. But let me ask you in the course of doing this did you have any surprises?

David Talbot: I think to me a big surprise that this data is simply not available to the public. It's not tracked by any regulator notably the FCC but others could conceivably do it. You think of many other types of industries and products and services. And there is a standard on quantity that you're buying and there is somebody who knows sort of what it costs and who's watching out for that. But it's really anything goes in terms of defining what service you get. These are all over the map bundles all over the map. The pricing is all over the map the ways that the pricing is imposed and the fees and the way the rates change after 12 months is all over the map and nobody's keeping track of it. And actually this was a surprise to me.

Chris Mitchell: Yeah I think that's right. I mean you know as someone who takes markets seriously and as someone who cares a lot about markets working. I think it's important for the overall health of the of the economy and then therefore that impacts our quality of life. You know markets don't work without good information. And considering that so much of this information is hidden. One wonders, you know, just how seriously to take any claim from any elected official or career appointed staff at the FCC and whatnot that this is incredibly important for the economy because they sure don't seem to treat it like they think that it is.

David Talbot: Well not from the perspective of wanting basic data that you would need to study. A to study what something actually costs and know what it costs and know what's being obtained for the -- for what's been paid and then being able to say costs or service levels are X that we see this happening in terms of adoption or in terms of any number of other metrics. You just can't do that. You don't have the data and the data really is not available. That's why this took us forever to do. I mean we are almost joining the folks that gave up that you mentioned earlier, you know, really around two years stopping started in trying to draft and figure out how to write this. It was very challenging and I really hope that you know our findings are quite narrow and they're very limited and we would like to see that much more of this kind of work can be done and to do that you need the data that we made available and that's going to be my response if anybody says Oh your methods were bad or your findings are wrong. You know my response to that going to be well then let's have the data so we can do better in the future.

Chris Mitchell: Exactly yeah. You did the best you could with what's available. I think it is worth just drawing out what we've mentioned earlier and that's that there are some claims that are made for some of the providers AT&T and Verizon that you'll be violating their terms of service which under some of the crazier laws that we have in the United States may or may not be violating the computer fraud and abuse act I believe in so you decided out of an abundance of caution not to report on the charges of those ISP that asserted those rights.

David Talbot: Yes that's right Chris. We decided in a couple of cases that the terms of service made it prudent for us to not collect data. For example, AT&T says your actions on the site can't quote "contain an impersonation of any person or entity or misrepresentation of an affiliation with a person or entity" Well does that mean we misrepresented ourselves as owning this house. So we didn't collect it. Similar for Verizon and Time Warner Cable. Yes some people are going to say we should just ignore that and go on to we did what we did. We wanted to be careful and not violate terms of service.

Chris Mitchell: Right. And that information is still out there for anyone who seeks the truth. They can go to those sites and build on your database that they can. Yes I hope they do too. We have some ideas of ways that we'd like to see it. I mean one of the things that I'd like to do is to track back the municipal networks to the prices that they launched with. So for some of them that might be 15 years ago and to see how they've changed over time. I suspect you'd find that very few of them have changed at all when we did this for just a subset in Tennessee and think we found that half of the municipal fiber-to-the-home networks in Tennessee had kept the same rates during that period of time. Some of them for more than 10 years.

Chris Mitchell: It's just it's worth noting that you know you picked four years. I think if you were to create an actual model of what people are paying I think you'd find that that over longer periods of time that municipal networks would do even better because you're not factoring in the fact that the fees are often going up over those periods from the private providers.

David Talbot: You might, I mean again this is a very interesting question you're proposing and we don't have the data and we don't have the answers. And that's a very important question to have the answer to to understand broadband adoption and use in the United States and how it affects a number of things they say is out of across demographic groups and how it relates to economic development, workforce development, education. These are very important questions to the study.

Chris Mitchell: Well thank you David for coming on to share another study with us. We think Berkman Klein center does great work and I always appreciate your time.

David Talbot: Thanks very much Chris. Thanks again to my co-authors Kira Hessekiel and Danielle Kehl. A pleasure working with them. We're glad we could get the study out because it was a challenge. Thank you.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with David Talbot from the Berkman Klein center discussing his recent report comparing rates between publicly-owned networks and private companies. We have transcripts from this and other podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/BroadbandBits. Email us at podcast@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. Follow MuniNetworks.org stories on Twitter where the handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast on the other ILSR podcasts -- Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them on Apple podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research. You can subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. Thank you to Arnie Huseby for the song "Warm Duck Shuffle" licensed through Creative Commons and thanks for listening to episode 289 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Link: Tags: transcript

Suddenlink Plans Pinetops Deployment, Greenlight Must Go

January 30, 2018

Suddenlink passed up the opportunity to offer connectivity in Pinetops, North Carolina, for years until now. About a year after a bill in the General Assembly gave nearby Wilson’s municipal network the ability to serve the tiny community, Suddenlink is taking advantage of the law to enter Pinetops and push Wilson’s Greenlight Community Broadband out.

Suddenly Suddenlink

One of his constituents called Town Commissioner Brent Wooten last October to share a conversation he'd had at work in nearby Wilson. Wooten's constituent had encountered a Suddenlink employee who told him, "We're coming to see you in Pinetops." The company had sent out a notice to employees that overtime would be available because Suddenlink was planning to run fiber from Rocky Mount to Pinetops.

Wooten hadn't heard anything from Suddenlink; neither had any of the other Commissioners. All he knew was that the company had been reducing staff and cutting costs ever since being acquired by Altice in 2015.

A Little History

While events that put Pinetops (pop. 1,300) in the national spotlight began in February 2015, the story has roots that go back further. Officials in Pinetops, recognizing that better local Internet access keeps small rural communities from wasting away, approached several providers years ago requesting better Internet infrastructure. Suddenlink’s service area ends about two miles outside of Pinetops town limits. Nevertheless, Suddenlink wasn't willing to bring cable service to Pinetops. CenturyLink didn't want to make investments to upgrade the community's old DSL solution; the community had no options from national providers.

Not far from Pinetops sits Wilson, North Carolina, where the city of about 49,000 enjoys the benefits of a publicly owned fiber optic network, Greenlight. Pinetops officials asked Wilson to expand Greenlight to their town, but state law precluded Wilson from offering broadband beyond county lines. Pinetops and the local Vick Family Farm, a large potato manufacturer with international distribution, were both desperate for better services, out of reach, and out of options because no other ISP would help them.

Wilson and Chattanooga joined together to ask the FCC to preempt the restrictive state laws in Tennessee and North Carolina, and in February 2015, the Commission agreed with them. The FCC overturned the state laws, which gave Wilson the opportunity to deploy fiber optic infrastructure to both Pinetops and the Vick Family Farm. 

Within months, businesses in Pinetops felt the positive effects of affordable gigabit connectivity. People who had difficulties finding employment in the past had new online opportunities. Local schools, government offices, and other facilities also signed up for reliable high-speed Internet access at affordable rates.

When the state appealed the FCC ruling and won in the Sixth Court of Appeals in 2016, suddenly Wilson was violating state law. If they did not remove Greenlight service from Pinetops, the entire community of Wilson risked losing the exemption to North Carolina’s law. Instead of just ceasing service to Pinetops, however, Wilson chose to provide high-speed Internet service temporarily at no charge. Gigabit connectivity had proven to be too valuable to Pinetops; sending them backward seemed cruel.

City leaders in Wilson and Pinetops joined together and approached state legislators to ask for special legislation that would allow Wilson’s Greenlight to continue to serve Pinetops. Even though Suddenlink and CenturyLink had passed on the opportunity to provide better connectivity in the small town, their lobbyists interfered with the legislative process. In order to prevent Greenlight from expanding beyond county limits to serve Pinetops, representatives from the big national companies used their influence with state legislators to amend the original proposal.

The original version of HB 396 only added a few lines to existing law, simply expanding on the current exemption for Wilson which allows it to offer communications services. Within a month, however, lobbyists had managed to draft an amendment that added language that requires Wilson to end Greenlight service within 30 days if a private provider offers FTTP service in Pinetops. With the adoption of HB 396, we see North Carolina’s State Legislators deciding who wins and who loses as the General Assembly handily eliminates competition for Suddenlink or any other provider who might have decided to move into Pinetops.

In addition to deciding who gets to do business in Pinetops, the General Assembly also chose to sentence the people of Pinetops to Internet access from a company with a reputation for poor customer service. Residents and businesses in Pinetops have enjoyed steady and affordable rates from Greenlight, but as a recent study reveals, private ISP rates are typically more expensive and tend to fluctuate.

HB 396 included no language to ensure that Pinetops subscribers would not face rate hikes and no requirement that an incoming ISP adhere to a prescribed standard of customer service. The bill provides plenty of benefits for ISPs that may decide to dabble in Pinetops, but no protections for the people who live there. For residents and businesses that see gigabit symmetrical connectivity from Greenlight as a way to keep their town from shriveling away, HB 396 was filled with red flags. Pinetops residents had no leverage. Susan Coker Craig, a local business owner and a former Town Commissioner, says, "It’s amazing to me that our legislature is reversing our technological advances; it’s ridiculous. Ridiculous." 

The bill passed in June 2017 along with the potential problems it carried. Coker Craig said that community leaders in Pinetops knew that they still ran the risk of losing Greenlight but they were "cautiously optimistic" that Suddenlink would "just leave them alone." After all, the company had spurned them before and they were still the same small town; deployment to tiny Pinetops didn't seem like a wise business decision.

More Protections For ISPs

Community leaders thought perhaps Greenlight would keep Suddenlink out of Pinetops. Instead, the legislature has paved the way for Suddenlink to push Greenlight out.

In March of 2017, a Suddenlink representative appeared uninvited to a Board of Commissioners meeting. He told the Board that Suddenlink would be deploying fiber in Pinetops in the future and that the company was already in the “walk out” construction phase. He'd also said that the company would not compete with Greenlight, a statement that gave community leaders hope that Suddenlink would stay away if Greenlight remained.

At the time, State Representative Susan Martin was working with Pinetops and Wilson in an attempt to draft and pass a bill to keep the small community connected to Greenlight. The company’s representative, Bill Paramore, told town leaders that Suddenlink would not enter Pinetops if Greenlight stayed; the ISP was only willing to compete with CenturyLink. Paramore, who is Vice President of Operations, told the Board that he was a member of the Board of Directors of the North Carolina Cable Telecommunications Association (NCCTA). NCCTA is one of the lobbying groups that would pressure state legislators to refuse any exemption that did not include a condition forcing removal of Greenlight when a private ISP offering fiber came to Pinetops.

Paramore told the Town Board that Suddenlink was not involved in the exemption issue for Pinetops.

HB 396 should have been an easy fix, but the big incumbents that feared Wilson’s Greenlight and the standards it set hijacked the bill. Coker Craig and Wooten wanted the bill to include language that would ensure Pinetops would obtain comparable service from any private sector provider that entered the market there, but it was stripped out.

There are also no geographic mandates in the bill, which Coker Craig and Wooten asked for during drafting. Suddenlink is not required to serve the entire community, which means that part or most of Pinetops may ultimately be forced back on CenturyLink DSL. Wooten has noticed that CenturyLink has something to gain from Suddenlink's decision to enter Pinetops:

This is not about what’s right; it’s about the big telecoms going against the public sector. Suddenlink has no profit to be made in Pinetops.…It’s funny to me to see how CenturyLink doesn’t have a problem of Suddenlink coming in and taking their business.

Suddenlink’s representative didn’t stay for the entire March 2017 Town Commission Board meeting and after he left, the town’s leaders discussed his unexpected appearance. Generally, they felt that Suddenlink was motivated by an interest to push Greenlight out of Pinetops in keeping with the legislative exemption that was being negotiated at the time. In a letter to Rep. Martin, Craig and Wooten wrote:

We are concerned that Suddenlink’s commitment to Pinetops is based solely on the pending legislative exemption for Greenlight. Our citizens have no guarantee that this service will be provided as promised, and we question whether we will be left again with a large corporation providing sub-par service, terrible customer service, and no real competition to drive them to do better…We are concerned that their interest in serving or upgrading service to Pinetops will also fade without Greenlight service being available here.

Motivations Suspect

Now Suddenlink has a crush on Pinetops.

Coker Craig, Wooten, and Town Manager Lorenzo Carmon all express their intuition that Suddenlink is “flexing their muscles” to push Greenlight out of Pinetops. We’ve seen repeatedly how small communities like Pinetops are forgotten by large ISPs when it’s time to deploy fiber optic networks because low population doesn’t justify the investment. Pinetops faced this same problem, which is why Wilson came to their rescue. Coker Craig told us:

“I know Suddenlink is losing money on this venture. For years we tried to get them to bring even their basic service long before we had Greenlight just to have a competitor to CenturyLink and have better service and…wouldn’t give us the time of day. And now all of the sudden they're running their fiber service from Rocky Mount all the way to little ol’ Pinetops? No. There’s no way this is a money making venture for them.”

With HB 396 in place, Suddenlink can kill several birds with one stone. Greenlight has been attracting scores of positive press in Pinetops by helping a modest rural town show what it can do with publicly owned fast, affordable, reliable connectivity. Now, Suddenlink can stop any other towns — especially larger towns where there IS population density — from chasing the idea that publicly owned Internet infrastructure is something worth having.

Suddenlink was also able to use the North Carolina Legislature to eliminate a competitor. While HB 396 only applies to a single community, let’s hope this type of sledgehammer is never again taken out of the tool shed. Pinetops and Wilson saw the dangers in the language of HB 396, but the community had no power to negotiate once the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the FCC decision.

The situation is also a chance to bully upstarts Pinetops and Wilson. Certainly, companies such as Suddenlink are getting sick and tired of facing down towns that decide to invest in Internet infrastructure. When Wilson and Chattanooga challenged state laws in 2015 to reverse laws discouraging publicly owned networks, big ISPs circled the wagons. Their influence paid off when the decision was reversed, but they believe that pursuing local troublemakers is a way to put local communities in their place.

Are there other small towns in North Carolina where Suddenlink might offer similar services? We checked with the Mayor in nearby Macclesfield, who told us that Suddenlink has not approached them about providing service in their town. Macclesfield is very near Pinetops and, at one time, Mayor Trey Lewis hoped that the exemption for Pinetops would extend to his town of about 471 residents. Now the town is loping along on DSL from CenturyLink the way they have for years with no possibility of service from Greenlight.

There is CenturyLink fiber in Macclesfield serving Heritage Hospital and, even though there are fewer households there than in Pinetops, average household income is about $5,000 higher. Macclesfield is three miles from Pinetops and approximately the same distance from Rocky Mount. Mayor Lewis has not been contacted by Suddenlink, but he says he’ll reach out to them if or when Suddenlink comes to Pinetops.

No Symmetry

Suddenlink rep Bill Paramore told the Town Board in March 2017 that the ISP would not offer symmetrical services and that any gigabit download speeds would be paired with maximum 50 Megabit per second (Mbps) upload speeds, which he described as a “gracious plenty”. The rep added that a 50 Mbps download tier would have only 5 Mbps upload speeds. He went on to arrogantly proclaim that only large corporations that sent large files internationally needed such high capacity upload speeds. 

For people in Pinetops, their first concern is losing access to reliable symmetrical gigabit connectivity. Access to fast upload speeds has improved efficiencies for local businesses and created opportunities for residents. With limited employment options in such a small town, people living in Pinetops have branched out via the Internet and many now work remotely. Before access to symmetrical gigabit service, they didn’t have the infrastructure to pursue online positions.

Coker Craig has a neighbor who works at home for BB&T, a large bank with branches in Wilson and Winston-Salem. Each day, her employer emails a large batch of work and she returns the documents via email when she's done processing them. When she depended on CenturyLink, uploading the finished product took hours and reliability was always an uncertainty; changing to Greenlight reduced the process to minutes and she no longer worried about an unreliable connection. "That's just one example," says Coker Craig, "There are lots of people who are upset at the thought of having to go back."

In the documentary, Do Not Pass Go, other residents who work from home describe how they are dependent on high-quality connectivity to earn a living. Mark and Tina Gomez state that they will consider moving elsewhere to preserve Tina's job if she’s unable to obtain high-quality Internet access with fast upload speeds.

What Now?

Carmon tells us that Suddenlink wants the town to lease or sell land on which the ISP can install a substation. They’ve told town authorities that they won’t need poles, implying an underground deployment, but no one in Pinetops has seen a design. There have been no requests for negotiations on a lease of property or discussions about right-of-way. The city owns it’s local utility poles. Carmon says that Suddenlink’s lines outside of town appear to come to the edge of town on poles which he believes belong to a rural cooperative.

Carmon says that, for now, they'll wait until they know more. Town leaders don’t know what services Suddenlink might offer or how much they would cost. In Tarboro, about 15 minutes northeast of Pinetops, Suddenlink offers services in the city of about 11,500 people. Suddenlink is lacking in upload speeds and long-term value. As can be expected, Suddenlink advertises special rates for the first year of service in Tarboro, but doesn’t disclose what rates are after the introductory price is over.

Greenlight doesn’t rely on gimmicks like low introductory rates that increase over time. The municipal network offers four tiers to choose from and all provide symmetrical speeds. With upload speeds that equal only a fraction of download speeds and prices that will increase after the first year, Suddenlink service in rural Pinetops will not be the economic development tool they need. When compared to Suddenlink, one can see that customers on Greenlight are more likely to have the ability to use the infrastructure as a way to participate in the online economy, rather than just function as consumers. 

Greenlight

down/up

 

Suddenlink

down/up

  50 Mbps/50 Mbps $34.95/month     75 Mbps/75 Mbps $54.95/month     100 Mbps/100 Mbps $74.95/month 100 Mbps/10 Mbps $39.95/month for first year, after ?     400 Mbps/40 Mbps $59.95/month for first year, after ? 1 Gbps/1 Gbps $99.95/month 1 Gbps/50 Mbps $89.95/month for first year, after ?

For a rate that matches Suddenlink's introductory price, Greenlight offers its base tier of symmetrical 50 Mbps connection that will not increase in price after a year. In a place like Pinetops, where average incomes are lower and high paying jobs are harder to come by, a fast connection at this affordable and predictable rate can be the key to being connected.

Suddenlink also imposes data caps; Greenlight does not.

Above all, Carmon believes that the people of Pinetops -- not the General Assembly -- should decide from where they get their Internet access. He says:

Access to the Internet is more important as having a decent highway systems, electric system, all the utilities included, and Pinetops deserves to have the best Internet access available to us. That’s the only thing that's going to help the town grow.

 Carmon goes on to say that "Pinetops isn’t done fighting.”

 

Image of Pinetops's town sign courtesy of Edgecumbe County Economic Development.

HB 396 - Original Language HB 396 - Amended and Final LanguageTags: pinetopsnorth carolinasuddenlinkcompetitionFTTHmonopolylegislationlobbyingruraleconomic developmentwilsongreenlightfccbarriersymmetryupload

Community Broadband Media Roundup - January 29

January 29, 2018

California

Editorial: A legal and political push builds to save net neutrality by San Francisco Chronicle Editorial Board

California wanted to bridge the digital divide but left rural areas behind. Now that's about to change by Jazmine Ulloa, Los Angeles Times

California is trying to bring back net neutrality, but the debate is complicated by Jazmine Ulloa, Los Angeles Times

Truckee among hundreds of communities building own internet networks by Irene Cruz, KXTV ABC 10 - Sacramento

 

Colorado

Fort Collins starts mapping residents' interest in broadband by Kevin Duggan, The Coloradoan

The City Council has directed $1.8 million from the General Fund to cover startup costs associated with the new utility.

The city also is preparing to issue bonds to cover the cost of engineering and building a fiber-optic network that would deliver its promised 1 gigabit-per-second speed for uploads and downloads.

Construction of the system is still far away. Depending on the construction schedule and where you live, service would come to your neighborhood somewhere between 2019 and 2022.

 

Idaho

Officials Discuss How to Connect Rural Idaho Communities by Scott Jackson, Moscow-Pullman News (Republished in Government Technology)

 

Louisiana

LUS Fiber ranks #1 in nation in Harvard University study by JArnold, KADN News 15

 

Missouri

Proposed broadband grant system may provide relief for rural areas by Kathryn Hardison, Columbia Missourian

 

Montana

Montana mandates 'net neutrality' for state contracts by Matthew Brown, Associated Press

It was unclear from the order what would happen to companies with existing contracts. Bullock told the state Department of Administration to craft policies and guidance by March 1 to put the order into effect, and he invited governors and lawmakers across the United States to duplicate his action.

If other states follow suit, it could have a significant impact — both on large telecommunications companies with state contracts and smaller companies trying to get into the market, said Christopher Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which supports net neutrality.

"States spend a lot of money on telecommunications contracts," Mitchell said. "We're seeing a number of states interested in doing something like this."

 

New York

NYC wants a way to sniff out net neutrality violators by Jason Shueh, StateScoop

New York to Internet Providers: Follow Net Neutrality Rules or Lose State Contracts by Rick Karlin, Tribune News Service (Republished in Governing Magazine)

 

North Carolina

Public housing residents bridging the digital divide by Wilson Housing Authority, The Wilson Times

 

Tennessee

Tennessee lawmakers seek to re-impose 'net neutrality' rules on state broadband providers by Andy Sher, Chattanooga Times Free Press

 

Virginia

CVEC presents rural broadband plan for Albemarle, rest of service area by Allison Wrabel, Charlottesville Daily Progress

 

General

FCC admits mobile can’t replace home Internet, won’t lower speed standard by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

Pai's FCC has determined that mobile broadband is not a full substitute for home Internet services. The FCC says this even after previously suggesting that mobile Internet might be all Americans need. The FCC also won't be lowering the speed standard that it uses to judge whether broadband deployment is happening quickly enough.

Net neutrality ruling got you down? You can always build your own ISP by Bryan Clark, The Next Web

DIY net neutrality: Can municipal broadband help protect internet freedom? By Brent Bambury, CBC Radio

Want To Topple Telecom Oligopolies? Support Locally Owned Broadband by Matthew Marcus, Fast Company

This past August, the residents of the Republican-leaning Michigan town of Lyndon Township overwhelmingly voted to raise their property taxes. What spurred this rural community to violate the core Republican tenant of minimal taxation?

Lack of high-speed internet access.

Speedy internet connections are easy to come by in cities and sprawling suburbs where big cable and telephone monopolies can expect a large return on their investment. But in many rural areas of the country, high-speed internet access is sparse–39% of rural Americans flat-out do not have broadband access.

That’s why Lyndon Township’s residents decided to fund a 3 million dollar broadband project, which increased their property taxes by over $20 per month on average. The end result will be a locally owned network offering a basic 100 Mbps fiber-to-the-home service, which is faster and more reliable than most cable services. As Ben Fineman, president of the Michigan Broadband Cooperative explained, “for people in a rural area, that’s far and away better than anything they can get today.”

Internet Association Ramps Up State Activities by Broadcasting & Cable

Community Broadband and Privacy by Danny Abramov, Financial Buzz

Ajit Pai's FCC Can't Admit Broadband Competition is a Problem by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

While the FCC is fortunately backing away from a plan that would have weakened the standard definition of broadband, the agency under Ajit Pai still can't seem to acknowledge the lack of competition in the broadband sector. Or the impact this limited competition has in encouraging higher prices, net neutrality violations, privacy violations, or what's widely agreed to be some of the worst customer service of any industry in America.

The Trump FCC had been widely criticized for a plan to weaken the standard definition of broadband from 25 Mbps down, 3 Mbps up, to include any wireless connection capable of 10 Mbps down, 1 Mbps up.

Consumer advocates argued the move was a ham-fisted attempt to try and tilt the data to downplay the industry's obvious competitive and coverage shortcomings. They also argued that the plan made no coherent sense, given that wireless broadband is frequently capped, often not available (with carrier maps the FCC relies on falsely over-stating coverage), and significantly more expensive than traditional fixed-line service.

More Than 750 American Communities Have Built Their Own Internet Networks by Karl Bode, Motherboard Vice

More communities than ever are embracing building their own broadband networks as an alternative to the Comcast status quo.

According to a freshly updated map of community-owned networks, more than 750 communities across the United States have embraced operating their own broadband network, are served by local rural electric cooperatives, or have made at least some portion of a local fiber network publicly available. The map was created by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a nonprofit that advocates for local economies.

These networks have sprung up across the nation as a direct reflection of the country’s growing frustration with sub-par broadband speeds, high prices, and poor customer service. They’ve also emerged despite the fact that ISP lobbyists have convinced more than 20 states to pass protectionist laws hampering local efforts to build such regional networks.

Many of these laws even bar communities from striking public/private partnerships with companies like Google Fiber, even in instances where no private ISP is willing to provide service.

Some States Want to Save Net Neutrality, But Can They? By Natalie Delgadillo, Governing

The order from the FCC includes a provision that could be a big problem for states trying to take matters into their own hands: "We conclude that we should exercise our authority to preempt any state or local requirements that are inconsistent with the federal deregulatory approach we adopt today."

In other words, the FCC believes it has the final say on net neutrality. But not all legal scholars agree.

“It’s unclear [whether the FCC can preempt state laws]. The agency may have gone too far,” says Pantelis Michalopoulos, a partner at the law firm Steptoe and Johnson, and an expert in telecommunications law who has previously represented internet industry groups in net neutrality litigation.

Michalopoulos says that federal preemption is usually based on something -- some conflicting federal regulation or law that trumps state legislation.

“Here, we have an attempt to preempt state laws based on nothing, or virtually nothing, precisely because the FCC has decided not to promulgate substantive rules on [net neutrality],” Michalopoulos says. “This makes it a little more difficult for this kind of preemption to succeed.”

New Bill Would Prevent Comcast-Loyal States From Blocking Broadband Competition by Karl Bode, TechDirt

New York and Montana Have a New Trick to Protect Network Neutrality by April Glaser, Slate

Despite the FCC, more than 750 predominantly conservative US communities have built their own publicly owned ISPs by Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing

The Value of Broadband Competition by Pots and Pans Blog

City-Run Broadband Can Keep Net Neutrality Alive–And It’s Cheap by Ben Schiller, Fast Company

However, many state legislatures, including North Carolina, Nebraska, Texas, Missouri, and Arkansas, have either outlawed municipalities from building networks or put up serious roadblocks. In other states, telecom companies have lobbied hard against new projects. Fort Collins, Colorado, passed a ballot initiative last November to establish a new utility despite telecom lobby groups spending up to $900,000 to defeat the measure.

“More communities are considering this, but it’s politically challenging. Cable and telephone companies try to convince people that the municipalities will go broke if they build new networks,” Chris Mitchell, director of ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative, tells Fast Company. (The Obama Administration, which hoped to expand the number of municipal networks, failed in efforts to pre-empt state laws).

Mayor quits FCC committee, says it favors ISPs over the public interest by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

Dear State and Local Gov: FCC Chair Ajit Pai Is Just Not That Into You by Mitch Herckis, Route Fifty

The committee, referred to as the BDAC (pronounced Bee-DACK) in FCC-speak, discussed wide-ranging draft policy guidance for states and municipalities. On page 50 of the state model code was a recommendation to push local governments to de-prioritize publicly funded municipal broadband. There were also working group recommendations on “removing state and local regulatory barriers” that focused on all the ways state and local governments were believed to be holding back innovation.

The group also debated when and how the FCC should preempt state and local authorities on telecommunications concerns, with one participants stating that while they couldn’t agree on preemption language yet, ultimately, it will be in there.

Tags: media roundup

Owensboro, Kentucky, Headed For Spring FTTH Expansion

January 29, 2018

Owensboro’s municipal fiber network could begin serving more customers this spring as it moves from pilot to citywide project.

Fiber Pilot Success Leads to Expansion

The residential Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) pilot project began in 2016 serving only a single neighborhood. Now, after a successful first phase, Owensboro Municipal Utility (OMU) is installing new fiber along the electrical grid and urging potential customers to sign up for the expanded service.

The city itself has been utilizing fiber infrastructure to support electrical grid functionality since the late 1990s. OMUfibernet was originally conceived in 1999 to better serve the business communities needs. After recognizing the need for similar improvements for households, their residential FTTH pilot began in 2016 by connecting 500 residents with gigabit symmetrical Internet service. The pilot also allowed business’ to lease fiber, giving them greater flexibility in data transport speeds.

Humble Roots

The first municipal network in the country was established in Kentucky in the 1980s. Those humble beginnings have led to a state with an impressive residential FTTH network coverage. Often, deploying a well-crafted pilot project like OMU’s leads to successful citywide coverage. The Electric Plant Board in Franklin, Kentucky, unveiled a similar project in May, but we've seen these FTTH pilots happen in many communities. Rural cooperatives increasingly use pilot projects to perfect their designs and systems when they decide to offer Internet access to members.

Pilot programs also allow municipalities and cooperatives to determine the level of interest before committing to large infrastructure investments. With a chance to monitor the service, entities can carefully plan their next steps in a fiscally responsible manner based on public response. Holland, Michigan has had an incredibly successful rollout of residential FTTH after a successful pilot program. Westfield, Massachusetts’ wildly successful FTTH pilot project has led them to pursue citywide deployment and they've also begun assisting neighboring communities with potential pilot projects.

Future Forward

Over the next six years, OMU will issue up to $23 million in bonding to cover the cost of fiber optic installation for the entire service area in Owensboro. OMU has scheduled the next expansion into the Wesleyan-Shawnee Neighborhood to be completed by 2019.

Owensboro Utility Commission also entered into an indefeasible right to use (IRU) the Internet infrastructure being deployed as part of the state’s Kentucky Wired project. The state is deploying the middle mile open access network to provide high-quality Internet access for municipal facilities in local communities across the state and as a way to encourage competition. Kentucky Wired is entering into similar agreements with other local communities that have their own fiber infrastructure.

Owensboro’s Messenger-Inquirer reports that the two entities have come to a cost sharing agreement to replace 49 transmission poles in the community. The cost savings is significant for OMU and access to the Kentucky Wired network will provide another middle mile path for the community's network.

OMU spokesperson Sonya Dixon expressed their diligence to deploy the expanded FTTH pilot saying,

"These are great opportunities for residents living in these areas. We are pushing to get this done as quickly and efficiently as possible, because we recognize the need for fast, reliable internet access in this day and age."

OMU offers three tiers of Internet access service to residential customers; business customers can also sign up for voice services. All speeds are symmetrical and OMU charges a one-time $49.99 installation fee:

50 Mbps for $49.99 per month

100 Mbps for $69.99 per month

1 Gbps for $99.99 per month

Owensboro residents can view OMU’s current expansion map and sign up for the pilot expansion here: http://omu.org/fiber-to-the-home/

Tags: owensborokentuckyFTTHexpansionpilot project

Santa Maria, California's Conduit Investment Attracting ISP

January 26, 2018

The soil is frozen in many parts of the country, but that doesn’t stop plans to improve local connectivity with underground conduit in warmer regions. Santa Maria, California, is taking advantage of its conduit to bring a private provider to town.

Grapes And Gigs

Located in wine country about 150 miles north of Los Angeles, Santa Maria (pop. 106,00) has for years been installing extra conduit whenever the community needed to make street repairs or similar infrastructure improvements. Over time, they’ve established the necessary publicly owned conduit to attract the attention of a private ISP. Santa Maria recently announced that private sector ISP, Wave Broadband, will deploy a fiber optic network within the city’s conduit. The fiber optic ring will run around the downtown area and will also connect Santa Maria’s municipal facilities, including the bus yard and the landfill.

In exchange for space in the conduit and space in Santa Maria’s data center, Wave will install and own the fiber and provide Internet access to city facilities. High-quality connectivity is critical to the city’s Police Department in its work in providing communications and support to other surrounding communities. The city also plans to offer free Wi-Fi in the downtown area.

The network will support Santa Maria Area Transit’s (SMAT) pilot to bring Wi-Fi to passengers using public transportation. Riders on a limited number of routes will have access to free connectivity starting this summer and SMAT hopes to expand the program in the future.

Improving Life In Santa Maria

City leaders see the network as an economic development tool to revitalize their downtown and attract businesses. They consider the fiber optic network a step toward Smart City projects that will attract employers and a work force seeking a high quality of life. Community leaders also intend to appraise the possibility of expanding publicly owned infrastructure to other areas of Santa Maria.

“This investment is designed to spark substantial economic growth in and around the City as businesses and public services take advantage of the public-private investment into the community,” City spokesman Mark van de Kamp said. “This is a priority for Santa Maria to attract new tech companies and employees who are choosing where to locate based on the availability of connectivity and high-speed Internet service.”

Tags: santa maria cacaliforniaconduiteconomic developmentfixed wireless

Central Virginia Electric Cooperative Plans Fiber Across Service Area

January 25, 2018

Central Virginia Electric Cooperative (CVEC) has created a five-year plan to deploy a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to premises within its distribution area. CVEC will begin with a one-year pilot program within a limited region in order to test and prepare for the wider initiative.

More Than Internet Access

CVEC’s plan for the new fiber infrastructure will include more efficient electrical operations across its entire distribution system. CVEC plans to install approximately 4,600 miles of distribution lines and offer services to all of its 36,000 members through a subsidiary. Because so many of its members live in rural areas, they don’t have access to high-quality Internet services. CVEC serves Albermarle County and portions of 13 other surrounding counties.

"CVEC believes that access to reliable, high-speed Internet today is becoming as important as access to electricity in 1937," said CEO Gary Wood. "Give the great need for connectivity, CVEC will leverage its fiber network to provide a broadband Internet solution that will serve the community now and for the future."

One look at the comments on the CVEC Facebook page reinforces the claim that CVEC’s members lack access to high-quality Internet service: 

“You’re lucky to have DSL.” 

“No Internet or cell service just two miles from the interstate has gotten old old old fast fast fast.” 

“With an Internet bill over several hundred dollars a month for relatively crappy service, I will happily spend my money with someone who actually cares!”

“Shut up and take my money.”

Another Go At Access

Other plans to bring Internet access to members have fallen through. At a recent meeting that included the Albermarle County Broadband Authority and the Village of Rivanna Community Advisory Committee, Wood described two other failed attempts by CVEC that depended on partnerships with other entities. One involved delivering broadband over power lines and the other ended in an inability for the cooperative and its partner ISP to reach an agreement.

A 2017 feasibility study suggested the cooperative could invest in the project and, based on a 35 percent take rate, break even in 11 years. CVEC estimates the investment in Albermarle County will be about $11 million with the cost for the entire project to be between $100 million and $110 million.

CVEC is asking counties in the service area to provide economic development support, including grants equal to up to the first five years of taxes on the new investment in their counties. CVEC has asked Albermarle County for support in the amount of $2.2 million. The cooperative will also seek funding from other agencies, including federal and state government; their goal is to obtain 20 percent of the costs from these outside sources.

Albermarle County officials and leaders from other counties are still considering CVEC’s proposal to contribute to the cost of the deployment, but the cooperative plans to move ahead. On it’s Facebook page, the co-op writes that they anticipate announcing the pilot area mid-year and expect construction to begin this fall.

Creating Competition

Many of the members CVEC serve now have no Internet access or use dial-up, but in some of the more densely populated areas the cooperative will compete with CenturyLink and Comcast. Locals welcome the competition to improve options and to lower prices. “Where do we sign up?” asked a resident at the meeting to discuss the proposal.

CVEC plans to offer a basic service at 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $49.99 per month and will likely offer gigabit connectivity for $79.99 per month. While there’s no word yet on whether or not the service would be symmetrical, cooperatives are more likely than large national competitors to skimp on upload speeds. Wood told the attendees at the meeting that CVEC plans to also offer voice service via the fiber for $29.99 per month.

“We’re not going in this to create a lot of money; we’re doing it because we know there’s a lack of service in our area ... and because it helps us get that fiber built out that we can use to improve your electric service, as well,” Wood said.

Tags: central virginia electric cooperativevirginiarural electric coopruralFTTHsmart-gridgigabitcompetition

Wrestling With Redlining in Cleveland, Lessons For All

January 24, 2018
Community Broadband Bits Episode 290 - Angela Siefer and Bill Callahan on AT&T Redlining in Cleveland and Solutions

Early last year, Connect Your Community and the National Digital Inclusion Alliance released a well-researched and compelling case that AT&T had engaged in digital redlining of Cleveland, refusing to upgrade Internet access to neighborhoods with high poverty rates. In episode 290 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, we check in to learn more and discuss key lessons.

Angela Siefer, executive director of NDIA, and Bill Callahan, President and Director of Connect Your Community in Cleveland, explore what is happening both in Cleveland and other metro centers where low-income residents are often over-paying for services far slower than are available in higher-income neighborhoods.

This discussion covers important ground, not just describing the problem but discussing how the easiest solution (forcing AT&T to upgrade areas it has neglected) is not sufficient. Also, there is sports talk at the beginning but then the host gets himself under control and focuses on what is important in this conversation. 

This show is 35 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

Read the transcript for this show here.

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

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

Tags: clevelandopen accessohionational digital inclusion allianceredlininglow incomedigital dividemapat&turbanaudiopodcastbroadband bits

Montana Wants Network Neutrality, Executive Order Makes It So

January 24, 2018

Chairman Ajit Pai and the Republican FCC Commissioners voted last December to end network neutrality protections, but many local and state elected officials and their many constituents did not support the decision. Suddenly, decision makers began seeking alternative approaches to ensuring an open Internet without fast or slow lanes. This week, Montana took the initiative by using an executive order to bar ISPs from entering into state contracts if those ISPs don't practice network neutrality.

Read the full Montana Executive Order here.

Update: The State of New York is taking similar steps. Read more below.

Executive Order

While 22 states have taken legal action against the Commission to stop the December 14, 2017 repeal, Montana is using state power to protect its 1.043 million citizens rather than wait for the court to decide. On Monday, Governor Steve Bullock signed an executive order while visiting his former high school’s computer science class.

“There has been a lot of talk around the country about how to respond to the recent decision by Federal Communications Commission to repeal net neutrality rules, which keep the Internet free and open. It’s time to actually do something about it. This is a simple step states can take to preserve and protect net neutrality. We can’t wait for folks in Washington DC to come to their senses and reinstate these rules.” 

Montana currently contracts with several ISPs, including CenturyLink, AT&T, and Charter; state contracts come to about $50 million. The executive order requires the state’s Department of Administration to develop policies and guidance by March 1st. In order to enter into a new contract with the state for the new fiscal year that starts on July 1st, ISPs must not:

1. Block lawful content, applications, services, or nonharmful devices, subject to reasonable network management that is disclosed to the consumer; 

2. Throttle, impair or degrade lawful Internet traffic on the basis of Internet content, application, or service, or use of a nonharmful device, subject to reasonable network management that is disclosed to the consumer; 

3. Engage in paid prioritization; or 

4. Unreasonably interfere with or unreasonably disadvantage: 

a. End users' ability to select, access, and use broadband Internet access service or the lawful Internet content, applications, services, or devices of their choice; or 

b. Edge providers' ability to make lawful content, applications, services, or devices available to end users. 

ISPs are also required to provide transparency to subscribers by publicly disclosing:

…[A]ccurate information regarding the network and transport management practices (including cellular data and wireless broadband transport), performance and commercial terms of its broadband Internet access services sufficient for consumers to make informed choices regarding use of such services and for content, application, service, and device providers to develop, market, and maintain Internet offerings. 

Read the full Executive Order here.

Bullock encouraged other states to follow suit and protect their citizens where the FCC has failed:

“To every governor and every legislator in every statehouse across the country, and to every small business and every Fortune 500 company that wants a free and open Internet when they buy services: I will personally email this to you,” he said.

As Christopher noted when he spoke with AP reporter Matthew Brown, state-level action can achieve change because it accounts for a sizeable portion of national ISPs’ revenue:

If other states follow suit, it could have a significant impact — both on large telecommunications companies with state contracts and smaller companies trying to get into the market, said Christopher Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which supports net neutrality.

"States spend a lot of money on telecommunications contracts," Mitchell said. "We're seeing a number of states interested in doing something like this."

Local communities felt a blow when the FCC disregarded comments and well-considered opinions from community leaders, experts, and Internet users. Montana's approach is not the only way that state and local power can improve the environment for better connectivity and network neutrality protections. We recently shared franchising rules that the city of Lincoln, Nebraska, uses when private sector partners want to access publicly owned conduit. Municipal networks like Chattanooga's EPB Fiber Optics make network neutrality part of their Customer Care Pledge and the publicly owned regional RUS Broadband Cooperative has also pledged to maintain network neutrality practices. Local, regional, and state grassroots groups can make the policy a priority for local and state elected officials.

The issue isn't over, but Montana has shown that states aren't powerless and that they can take steps to protect Internet subscribers, regardless of federal policy mistakes.

Update: On January 24th, New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo signed Executive Order No. 175, that prevents any state government office from entering into contracts with ISPs that do not adhere to network neutrality tenets. Affected State Entities to the Order cannot enter into contracts with ISPs that violate network neutrality on or after March 1st. The Governor also directs the Department of Public Service to seek out additional actions to promote network neutrality. Cuomo said of the order and the FCC decision to end network neutrality:

"The FCC's dangerous ruling goes against the core values of our democracy, and New York will do everything in our power to protect net neutrality and the free exchange of ideas," Cuomo said in a statement. 

"With this executive order, we reaffirm our commitment to freedom and democracy and help ensure that the internet remains free and open to all."

Read New York’s Executive Order here.

Executive Order Providing for Internet Neutrality Principles in State Procurement Executive Order Ensuring Net Neutrality Protections for New YorkersTags: montanaexecutive orderstate policygovernornetwork neutralitychristopher mitchelllocal

Taylor Electric Cooperative Connecting Texas With Fiber

January 23, 2018

Taylor Electric Cooperative, serving members in the Abilene, Texas region, is starting to offer Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet access to members through its Access Fiber pilot project.

Four Phases Of The Pilot

Lance Maeda, Director of Information Technology at Taylor EC shared some details about the project that’s now serving a limited number of premises with plans to expand. The cooperative connected its first customer in early December 2017, about six months after the Board decided to pursue the project.

The cooperative is currently working on the first of four phases. This phase brings service to an apartment complex and two residential subdivisions, one of which is located adjacent to a Taylor EC satellite office where they will house electronics for the network. Engineers considered their plan a way to deploy this part of the network more cost effectively and more quickly. With this approach, they can concentrate on perfecting the service to members before moving on to the other phases.

They’ve recently finished the first subdivision where twelve members have signed up for FTTH services and are now focusing on the aerial connection to the apartment complex and the second neighborhood in the planned first phase. Homes in the second neighborhood are more sparsely located and, according to Maeda, Taylor EC will contend with a wide range of densities as they expand the project. Engineers have decided to house the fiber for the second half of the first phase in underground conduit where it will be protected from ice storms and tornados.

No Grants Or Loans

The cooperative received no grants or loans to fund the pilot, funding it entirely through operations; the cooperative is not ready to share the cost of the pilot project. At this point, the electric cooperative is not restricted to offering Internet access in specific areas, says Maeda, but telephone cooperatives that offer services in Texas can only offer Internet access in their own territories. Taylor EC is weighing the pros and cons of applying for FCC funds because accepting any funds might require also accepting limitations.

Customer Service, Natural Fit

Suddenlink offers services in Abilene, but the ISP has earned a poor customer service reputation. Taylor EC will concentrate on the same high customer service standards it offers members who receive electric service, which Maeda sees as an advantage over Suddenlink or other providers.

The co-op Board believes that the new venture will also help the organization grow based on their research of other electric cooperatives that now offer FTTH services. Like most other electric cooperatives that took a similar route, Taylor EC had existing fiber in place to connect substations. They also had personnel, trucks, and other resources to facilitate the project, including staff with experience in telecommunications.        

Members have asked co-op leadership why Taylor EC wasn't yet offering Internet access, which has contributed to the decision to establish Access Fiber. As they move forward with future expansions, the co-op is using Crowd Fiber as a way to determine where to deploy. Members can express their interest on the Access Fiber website and areas with the most demand will be considered first for expansion. Even with a “low key” approach to spreading the word about the project, says Maeda, people are signing up faster than they predicted.

Access Fiber offers 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) symmetrical service for $39.95 per month with no data caps and no installation fee. For now, they'll offer one tier but are considering other options for the future. They’ve decided that they will not offer video, like many other cooperatives, but they’re likely to provide voice services some time in the near future.

“Our position has always been, what can we do to enhance our member services? That’s the overarching strategy we have…It was a natural fit to go into that line of business.”

We first learned about the project from a cooperative member living in nearby Clyde, Texas. Thanks, David!

Tags: taylor electric cooperativecooperativerural electric cooptexaspilot projectruralFTTH

Community Broadband Media Roundup- January 22

January 22, 2018

Alaska

Bill to require Alaska Internet companies to practice net neutrality by Leroy Polk, KTUU News

 

California

Palo Alto prepares for massive downtown 'upgrade' by Gennady Sheyner, Palo Alto Weekly News

Dean Batchelor, chief operating officer at City of Palo Alto Utilities, said both the gas and water lines were near the end of their respective life cycles. He pointed to recent water leaks on University Avenue as a sign that it's time to act.

Then, following the same logic, Utilities Department officials agreed to add fiber to the mix. Citing the City Council's recent advocacy for a "dig once" strategy for installing telecommunication infrastructure and its general support for expanding the city's dark-fiber-optic network, officials plan to install 2,750 linear feet of conduit in the same trenches that will contain the new gas and water pipes.

"One of the thoughts was, since we really don't have any fiber conduit going down University Avenue and since we're going to tear up 26 blocks, it made sense to go ahead and put in 2-inch fiber conduits," Batchelor said.

 

Colorado

Colorado Cities Keep Voting To Build Their Own Broadband Networks by Karl Bode, Tech Dirt

Some Cities Aren’t Waiting Around for Trump to Gut Net Neutrality—They Are Building Their Own by Valerie Vande Panne, Alternet

In contrast, according to Christopher Mitchell, director of Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, concerned citizens of Fort Collins organized on social media and coordinated “broadband and brews” events at local beer hot spots, spending a total of about $15,000.

Telecom spent an “unprecedented amount of money,” Mitchell says, “but the voters were not scared by the cable and telephone companies. The reason that’s important for the rest of the country is that local government needs to be more aggressive in creating local internet choice.”

With slow approach, Erie may move on broadband initiative by Anthony Hahn, Boulder Daily Camera

Greeley has the chance to protect its residents with local broadband — Mailbox for Jan. 16 by Greeley Tribune

Loveland council should advance municipal broadband by Vi Wickam, Loveland Reporter Herald

 

Iowa

Internet service expanding in Dubuque by KCRG News

 

Massachusetts

Chicopee Electric Light working to offer municipal Internet to businesses then residents by Jeanette DeForge, MassLive

 

Oregon

Should the Rose City have publicly owned internet? By Emily Green, Street Roots

 

Tennessee

Electric co-ops eager to expand broadband connections to rural areas by Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press

 

Virginia

Rural Area Broadband Top Virginia Legislative Priority by Alex Lemieux, Richmond Republican Standard

 

General

Harvard Study Shows Why Big Telecom Is Terrified of Community-Run Broadband by Karl Bode, Motherboard Vice

Report: Community broadband competitively priced by Sara Friedman, GCN

Report: ‘Clear and Unchanging’ Community Broadband Prices Beat Commercial ISP Networks by Joan Engebretson, Telecompetitor

 

Source: Community-Owned Fiber Networks, Responsive Communities

 

Researchers actually studied 40 community networks for the report, titled “Community-Owned Fiber Networks: Value Leaders in America,” but were unable to make price comparisons in 13 of those markets. In some cases, this was because there was no competitor offering comparable service. In other cases, it was because the commercial operator’s terms of service prohibited data collection.

 

In selecting the 40 communities for the report, researchers started with a list of 400 community-owned networks in the U.S. created by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, then focused in on fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) networks. Researchers noted that some of these networks serve multiple communities, but where that was the case, research focused on the community in which the network originated.

Study finds municipal broadband is up to 50% cheaper than telcos by Clive Thompson, Boing Boing

City-owned Internet services offer cheaper and more transparent pricing by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

Formula for Rural Prosperity is Deregulation, USDA Report Says by Bryce Oates and Tim Marema, The Daily Yonder

Christopher Mitchell, a community broadband advocate with the Institute for Local Self Reliance, said the proposal looks like a document that will be used to eliminate broadband funding, not improve it.

“To me, this looks an effort to de-fund important programs that are bringing broadband to rural America, not a set of policy proposals looking to solve the problem,” he said. “It’s a report whose number one recommendation is to ‘establish executive leadership to expand e-connectivity.’ It’s a plan to make a plan.”

Study: Community-Owned Broadband Beats Commercial ISPs on Price by John P. Mello Jr., E-Commerce Times

Community Broadband: Privacy, Access, and Local Control by Nathan Sheard, Electronic Frontier Foundation

'Dig Once' Broadband Bill Introduced by John Eggerton, Broadcasting & Cable

House Dems want to give cities the right to build broadband networks by Harper Neidig, The Hill

The group, led by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), say that protecting the right to build community broadband networks would help expand internet access to underserved communities and benefit consumers who already have access by promoting competition.

“Broadband Internet is the most vital tool of the 21st Century economy,” Eshoo said in a statement. “Unfortunately, millions of Americans are still acutely impacted by a complete lack of or an inferior broadband connection. The Community Broadband Act is an important step in bridging the digital divide and will help local governments enable connectivity, increase economic growth and create jobs.”

Also sponsoring the bill are Reps. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.). The Community Broadband Act would preempt states from passing laws that prohibit municipal broadband networks.

Rural Broadband-Boosting Bills Would Enshrine Towns' Rights to Build Their Own Internet by Kaleigh Rogers, Motherboard Vice

 

Tags: media roundup

FCC Ends Speculation On Broadband Speeds, Mobile Internet Access

January 22, 2018

On January 18th, the FCC ended months of speculation and released a fact sheet that included several key conclusions to be included in the 2018 Broadband Deployment Report. The most important is that the FCC continues to recognize that mobile Internet access is not a substitute for fixed access. The Commission has also decided to leave the definition of broadband at 25/3 Mbps (down/up).

Download the fact sheet here.

“Broadband” Will Not Slow Down

The Commission had proposed reverting to a slower definition of broadband from the current standard of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. Under Tom Wheeler’s leadership, the FCC decided to update the standard to its current definition in January 2015, but current Chairman Ajit Pai and other Republican Commissioners suggested in last year’s Notice of Inquiry (NOI) that the FCC might effectively take us backward to a 10 Mbps/1 Mbps standard. 

The suggestion rankled better connectivity advocates and Internet users. Many recognized that lowering the standards would make it easier for the FCC to proclaim that the U.S. was making strong progress toward universal household deployment. The Commission would have been justified making such a conclusion under the standard because large sections of rural American receive DSL, fixed wireless, satellite, or mobile Internet access that would meet a lowered 10/1 standard.

Hundreds of thousands of people, organizations, and businesses filed comments opposing a slower standard. Many of them live in areas where 10/1 speeds are already available but who have been waiting for better options. Commissioners Rosenworcel and Clyburn also spoke out against the lowering broadband speeds. 

Commissioner Rosenworcel tweeted:

#FCC proposing to lower US #broadband standard from 25 to 10 Mbps. This is crazy. Lowering standards doesn't solve our broadband problems.

— Jessica Rosenworcel (@JRosenworcel) September 20, 2017

Often grants and loans from the FCC or the Rural Utility Service (RUS) only go to communities considered unserved or underserved. If the FCC redefined broadband, many rural communities would lose the opportunity to qualify for funding to improve broadband infrastructure. Large swaths of rural areas considered unserved under the 25/3 standard would magically transform to served areas if we lowered the broadband standard. 

People Need More Than Smart Phones

After several of us participated in the #MobileOnly Challenge, we have a new appreciation for the difficulties people face when mobile access is their only onramp to the Internet. We were especially relieved to learn that the FCC concluded that mobile and fixed services are not substitutes. The FCC suggested in the NOI that, because so many Americans relied only on their smart phones for Internet access and smartphone technology has advanced considerably over the past few years, the two are interchangeable.

A long list of research organizations like ILSR and advocacy groups that seek social justice and better connectivity opposed the concept of equalizing mobile and fixed Internet access. Next Century Cities organized the #MobileOnly Challenge along with 10 other groups, including ILSR, to help shine a spotlight on the trappings of this proposal. Participants restricted themselves to their mobile data plans for one day and shared their experiences via social media.

For those of us that live in urban areas and who often use our smartphones to access Wi-Fi from fixed connections at work or at home, switching to mobile only was inconvenient because we were suddenly aware of data usage, performance issues, and the difficulties of completing certain tasks on a mobile device. We couldn’t wait for the day to be over. For people in rural areas where fixed wireless connections are more dubious, the situation is unending and magnified.

Commissioners Clyburn and Rosenworcel will still participate in the #MobileOnly Challenge on January 26th. They want to highlight the fact that smartphone Internet access is not an answer to the digital divide and that we still have much work to do to achieve our goal of reasonable and timely deployment in the U.S.

The Speed Of Deployment

Regardless of the FCC’s decision to maintain a distinction between mobile and fixed services, the Commission also finds that it actually is meeting the reasonably and timely deployment mandate established by Congress in 1996. Commissioner Clyburn questioned the FCC conclusion in her statement released on the same day as the fact sheet and the draft report:

“By the FCC’s own admission, over 24 million Americans are still without high-speed broadband access where they live. For years telecom companies and government officials have promised Americans that “soon” they will have affordable, high-speed broadband. Yet millions continue to wait, hoping that this vital connection will bring economic development and prosperity to their community.

So how can this agency now claim that broadband is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion? Only by repeating the majority’s tired and debunked claims that broadband investment and innovation screeched to a halt in 2015.”

Commissioner Clyburn refers to Chairman Pai’s comments arguing that deployment had dropped off when the previous administration classified advanced communications services as Title II. There is no credible evidence of a decline in investment, and economic theory argues that investment is a function of competition more than other factors, such as regulation. Further, we've observed rural cooperatives and independent ISPs expanding Internet access at a healty rate in rural areas, regardless of how the FCC classifies Internet access.

Many of those who have publicly claimed that the Title II restricted investment also demonstrate an ignorance of the rules, as in this article where a small ISP claims Title II changed their cost of bandwidth. We fully agree that the FCC has demonstrated a failure in its ability to craft rules that small ISPs can easily comply with but the idea that Title II classification of Internet access led to any meaningful drop-off of investment in new networks is unsupported by evidence. For example, last year CenturyLink announced it would invest less in network expansion because it was buying Level 3 - consolidation was lowering investment far more than any regulatory matter. And now CenturyLink has announced it will invest less in rural areas as it focuses its diminished investment plans in metro regions. Its investments plans are shaped by factors far more influential than whether Internet access is Title I or Title II.

The Trickle Down Effect

Now that the FCC has established a position on mobile broadband and has determined that we should be moving forward rather than backward in speed requirements, state policy makers can follow their lead. As state legislators try to determine how best to allocate funding for local projects, they often rehash the same themes that mobile wireless, fixed wireless, and satellite are all “good enough” for rural communities. With the the anticipated 2018 Broadband Deployment Report, we now have the Trump Administration's official position: even they believe that mobile is no substitute for fixed access.

The fact sheet doesn’t mention satellite access specifically, but we hope to see mention of some of the issues subscribers face in the report. Many residents in rural America have turned to satellite access, typically advertised at the current 25/3 standard, because they don’t have access to fixed services or the DSL service in their area are unreliable and too slow for their needs. Unfortunately, satellite with its latency, data caps, high price, and unpredictable performance is a last resort, not an option anyone chooses when they have a choice.

This We Like

For weeks, people and organizations pushing for higher standards and more action to deploy broadband across the country have speculated about whether or not the FCC would vote to lower broadband benchmarks at the February meeting. The January 18th press release and fact sheet eases some of our concerns. Likewise, the matter of mobile Internet access as a substitution for fixed services appears to be off the table for now.

Policy changes are still needed to keep deployment moving in an upward trajectory and network neutrality protections need to be reinstated, but these recent decisions make us cautiously optimistic. We commend Chairman Pai and the other Commissioners for getting this one right.

Image of the FCC Commissioners courtesy of the FCC Office of Media Relations.

Image of the broken smart phone by Glavo, via pixaby.

Fact Sheet on Draft 2018 Broadband Deployment ReportTags: fccregulationmobilemobileonlybroadbandfixed wirelessmignon clyburnjessica rosenworcelajit pairuralfederal government

Publicly Owned Conduit: Network Neutrality Can-Do Tool

January 19, 2018

Ever since the FCC reversed network neutrality protections, an increasing number of local communities have started to wonder about the advantages of publicly owned Internet infrastructure, including conduit. At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we’ve received an uptick in requests for information from elected officials, community business leaders, and local citizens.

When folks are similarly curious about public-private partnerships, they wonder about whether or not a municipality or other form of local government can require a private sector partner ISP to adhere by the tenets of network neutrality. An agreement between public and private sector partners to bring better connectivity to a city or region is a contract between the involved parties; the FCC’s decision won't interfere.

Looking At Lincoln

Lincoln, Nebraska, has fine-tuned the art of working with private sector partners interested in using their publicly owned conduit for privately owned fiber. The city invested in an extensive conduit system back in 2012 to create an environment that would welcome private sector providers. Nelnet’s ALLO Communications uses the conduit to offer Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) in Lincoln. 

The city uses a Broadband Franchise agreement to allow ISPs non-exclusive use of their publicly owned conduit. In Section 4: Service Characteristics, Lincoln requires any private sector ISP that wishes to use their conduit to adhere by network neutrality rules, which they clearly spell out. You’ll notice that the city also imposes a “no data caps” rule:

Section 4: Service Characteristics. 

A. The System shall, at a minimum, provide the following capabilities and characteristics: 

1.Net Neutrality: In the provision of Broadband Service, Franchisee shall comply with the Open Internet regulations. 


2.No Blocking: Franchisee shall not block lawful content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices; and 


3.No Throttling: Franchisee shall not impair or degrade lawful Internet traffic on the basis of Internet content, application, or service, or the use of non-harmful devices; and 


4.No Paid Prioritization: Franchisee shall not engage in paid prioritization, where paid prioritization means the management of the System to directly or indirectly favor some traffic over other traffic, including through use of techniques such as traffic shaping, prioritization, resource reservation, or other forms of preferential traffic management, either (a) in exchange for consideration (monetary or otherwise) from a third party, or (b) to benefit an affiliated entity. 


5.No Data Caps: The Franchisee shall not assign Data Caps to Broadband Services provided within the Franchise Area. 


You can review Lincoln’s full Broadband Franchise document here. If your community is considering investing in conduit to attract private sector partners, Lincoln’s approach is good place to start.

Learn more about Lincoln’s project and all the ways they’ve realized benefits from their investment, by listening to Christopher interview David Young, the city’s Right-of-Way Manager, for episode 238, episode 228, and episode 182 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. We’ve also written several stories about their achievements, having followed their progress since 2012, so check out the "Lincoln NE" tag.

Lincoln, Nebraska, Broadband FranchiseTags: lincoln neconduitnetwork neutralitypartnershipfranchisefccFTTH

Retail Muni Fiber Networks Charge Less - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 289

January 17, 2018
Community Broadband Bits Episode 289 - David Talbot, Fellow at Harvard's Berkman Klein Center on Muni Fiber Pricing

Do municipal fiber networks offer lower prices than the their competitors? Yes, almost always, according to a study from Harvard's Berkman Klein Center called Community-Owned Fiber Networks: Value Leaders in America.

David Talbot, a Fellow at Harvard's Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, joins us for episode 289 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast to discuss the study, conclusions, and challenges. He was last on episode 162 to talk about a report they did on muni fiber in Massachusetts. 

We talk about the challenges of doing an analysis like this, the range of results, and how pricing from munis tends to not only be lower but also more transparent. 

This show is 19 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

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

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

Tags: pricingmuniFTTHretailharvardberkman klein centerpublic v privatecompetitionaudiopodcastbroadband bits

Local Letter Expresses Support For Possible Greeley Muni

January 16, 2018

Now that they have removed the weight of Colorado’s restrictive SB 152, Greeley is looking forward to future solutions to poor Internet access. In a recent letter to the local Tribune, resident Richard Reilly offered three reasons why Greeley should develop a plan to move toward municipal broadband.

Reilly’s points are:

First and foremost, net neutrality must be at the heart of a municipal broadband. As the big Internet Service Providers start to throttle specific websites that compete or offer tiered packages, Greeley must commit itself to net neutrality. One price for full Internet access. Period.

Secondly, speed needs to be a priority. Comcast and the other ISPs have received billions of dollars to build the infrastructure for gigabit speeds. If Greeley can commit to the infrastructure to offer gigabit speeds, other ISPs will struggle to survive in our city — and good riddance.

Thirdly, customer service is key.

Already On Track

Reilly’s suggestion follows the community’s decision last summer to fund a feasibility study. At the time, they expressed a hope that the study might encourage incumbents to offer better rates and services. In addition to better connectivity for the general public, Greeley’s Family and Recreation Center’s poor Internet access interfered with bookings. When the City Council decided to fund the study, they cited economic development as a key factor in finding ways to improve local connectivity.

Local Commitment

Since the City Council’s decision to fund the feasibility study, the FCC has repealed network neutrality protections and is considering lowering the speed definitions of broadband. Reilly writes that Greeley needs to engage in local action:

Greeley is in a unique position to protect its residents from a rogue administration. Despite the fact that a vast majority of Republicans, Democrats and independents support net neutrality rules, the FCC rolled back the regulations meant to protect the freedom to information in this country.

He is certain that the community would benefit from a publicly owned network and finishes his letter with a promise:

I will make the commitment today that if our city council delivers on these three principles — net neutrality, gigabit speeds and true customer service — I will sign up. Though we do not yet know what Greeley broadband will cost, I will gladly pay well in excess of my current service for local, fast and ethical Internet service.

Richard Reilly shares some frank thoughts that reveal his community's frustration with poor services from big incumbent providers that have pushed the limits on acceptable behavior. As the evidence mounts that publicly owned networks provider more reasonable rates, better services, and a more civic minded approach, we expect to see more letters from folks like Mr. Reilly.

Tags: greeley cocoloradolettermunisb 152gigabiteconomic developmentratespriceslocal

Community Broadband Media Roundup- January 15

January 15, 2018

California

Will free internet ever become a reality in Los Angeles? By Elijah Chiland, LA Curbed

Mitchell says wireless service like the kind Shapiro wants to provide could be appealing to residents—if it were free.

“That would be tremendous for low-income folks,” he says. “If it happened, I’d be singing."

Will San Francisco's City-Wide Fiber Optic Network Succeed? 10 Tech Pros Weigh In By Forbes Technology Council, Forbes

 

Colorado

Colorado Cities Move Forward on Municipal Broadband By Steve Dubb, Nonprofit Quarterly

According to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which tracks broadband developments nationwide, voters in the 19 Colorado cities and counties said yes to municipal broadband by a high margin—at an average yes rate of 83 percent.

Fort Collins, Where Net Neutrality Lives On By Zoe Papadakis, NewsMax

 

Kansas

City-run internet service a boon for Chanute By John Green, The Hutchinson News

 

Pennsylvania

'Outraged and disgusted' net neutrality supporters to march in Philly By Andrew Parent, Philly Voice

Organizers plan to call on Congress to preserve the regulations and treat the internet as a public service. Among other demands, they also want the city to install its own municipal broadband network and will call for universal, affordable internet access, co-organizer Meg Vyasan said on Friday.

 

Texas

What 'Smart City' Means: San Antonio Launches Committee On Innovation, Technology By Paul Flahive, Texas Public Radio

As a councilman, Nirenberg wanted to connect public institutions to CPS' unused fiber optic cable. The city is barred by state law from offering municipally owned broadband internet access to residents, but public properties including city buildings, public universities, parks and libraries can connect.

 

Wisconsin

Wisconsin groups join Microsoft's effort to close the rural broadband gap By Rick Barrett, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

 

Wyoming

Broadband initiative stands out in State of the City address By Austin Huguelet, Wyoming Tribune Eagle

Orr said she wants “all options on the table,” and mentioned that Fort Collins, Colorado, recently voted to allow a city-run network.

And Trowbridge, who has criticized Charter and CenturyLink for poor service and high prices in the past, said he had already started thinking about municipal broadband in Cheyenne.

 

General

Community-Owned Fiber Networks: Value Leaders in America By David Talbot, Kira Hessekiel, and Danielle Kehl, Berkman Klein Center

FCC plan to lower broadband standards is met with “Mobile Only Challenge” By Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica

"The FCC wants to lower broadband standards," organizers of the Mobile Only Challenge say on the campaign's website. "Pledge to spend one day in January 2018 accessing the Internet only on your mobile device to tell them that's not OK."

Trump Signs Two Rural Broadband Executive Orders That Will Barely Move the Needle By Kaleigh Rogers, Motherboard

To really solve this problem, the Trump administration is going to have to invest in real solutions. These could be costly, like providing grants or infrastructure budgets for the government to just build this internet itself.

Net Neutrality Loss Could Rekindle ISP Alternatives for Internet Access By Larry Greenemeier, The Scientific American

Slower Speeds, Less Access: The Public Agency Response To Rural Broadband By Craig Settles, The Daily Yonder

There are over 400 public-owned networks run by local governments or public utilities. Dozens of municipalities are moving forward. Over 80 electric cooperatives are running or building networks as well as an unknown number of public-private partnerships. A legion of small private providers such as wireless internet service providers (WISPs) and rural telecom co-ops need to join ranks with the public sector.

Trump's Focus On Rural Broadband Should Include Community-Owned Networks By Robert Seamans, Forbes

Trump's Rural Broadband Expansion Plans May Be Largely Ceremonial By Scott Morgan, KETR, Public Radio for Northeast Texas

Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minneapolis, says the thing to keep in mind about expanding broadband’s reach into rural America is that a president’s executive orders may be well-intentioned, but can only go so far.

“Rural broadband [is] a large problem and Congress needs to get involved,” Mitchell says. “Without Congress’ help, the president is very limited in what he can do to improve the situation.”

States Push Back After Net Neutrality Repeal By Cecilia Kang, The New York Times

But the state lawmakers argue that they have an obligation to protect consumers with net neutrality rules and that local governments can approve or deny requests by telecommunications providers to operate in their states. They also argue that it is unclear if the Federal Communications Commission can declare a blanket pre-emption of states, something they say Congress would have to do. In 2016, a federal court ruled against the commission’s effort to pre-empt state laws related to municipal broadband networks.

Tags: media roundup

Missourian Reveals Rural Rubs Without Business Broadband

January 15, 2018

Directly north of Springfield, Missouri, sits Hermitage, a rural community of less than 500 residents. With only a few more than 200 households in Hermitage, it isn’t surprising that none of the big incumbent providers want to install the infrastructure to offer businesses or residents high-quality connectivity. A  recent Missourian article described what it’s like for businesses in a community whose owners need fast, affordable, reliable Internet access when it just isn’t available from the national ISPs.

Failure Expected

In Hermitage, entrepreneurs like local storekeepers cringe on the days when customers want to pay with credit or debit cards. Often their unreliable CenturyLink DSL service fails, sometimes for extended periods, which cuts into their revenue. Cindy Gilmore, who owns a local convenience store, has to either track down customers or take a loss when Internet access fails during mid-transaction and she restarts her modem.

Gilmore pays $89 per month to CenturyLink for service that is advertised as “up to” 1.5 Megabits per second (Mbps) download. Her speed test result on November 12th was .5 Mbps. Two weeks later a similar test reached the advertised speed and then two days later fell to .4 Mbps, which eliminated her ability to process credit card transactions, work from the office, or look up information she needed for supplies.

Rufus Harris works from home as an online car dealer and relies heavily on Internet access. As part of his work, he researches auto recalls and Carfax reports. The only option for Harris at his home office is CenturyLink and he pays $39 per month for residential “up to” 1.5 Mbps Internet access. He often finds himself, however, renting motel rooms for up to $400 per month because his Internet service at home goes down.

“It’s a shame when you pay for a service that you don’t receive,” Harris said. “We’re supposed to get at least 1.5 (Mbps) or up to, and most of the time it’s not near that good. A lot of the time, it might take 2 minutes to change from one page to the next.”

No Co-ops Yet

Unfortunately for Harris and Gilmore, no cooperatives are offering Internet access in their areas. We’ve documented several co-ops in Missouri, such as Co-Mo Cooperative offering gigabit connectivity in the central part of the state, that have succeeded where CenturyLink has failed. Much like bringing electricity to the very rural areas of the U.S., rural cooperatives are filling the gaps left by the companies that must first focus on profit. 

Businesses in Hermitage and surrounding Hickory County are turning to other solutions for now, with the hopes that state leaders will offer future solutions that take a long-term approach. I-Land, a local fixed wireless provider will be working with the Lightfoots, a couple who own Hermitage’s hardware store. The hardware store doesn’t offer online sales, but the Lightfoots consider the option to have broadband an opportunity to “make our job easier to serve people.”

Check out this video released as part of the Missourian’s report, Disconnected:

Tags: missourivideosmall businessruraldslcenturylink

Callaway Electric Co-op Marching On In Missouri

January 12, 2018

Central Missouri’s Callaway Electric Cooperative began offering high-quality Internet access in 2016 by collaborating with a local telephone cooperative. Since then, it’s subsidiary, Callabyte Technology, has continued to expand its services to members in local rural communities in its service area. Recently, the people of the small community of Holts Summit learned that the project is headed their way.

Anticipating Better Broadband

Holts Summit residents and businesses can expect to receive the opportunity to sign up for Callabyte services in 2018. Business development supervisor for the cooperative, Rob Barnes told attendees at a recent Alderman meeting that the co-op would likely divide the deployment into three phases due to the size of the town. Holts Summit is about 3.5 square miles and home to 3,700 people.

The community of Holts Summit obtains electric service from Ameren Missouri, rather than Callaway Electric; Holts Summit and the cooperative are developing a non-exclusive franchise agreement just as they would a private sector provider that wished to offer video services in Missouri. Businesses and residents in the town currently use satellite Internet service and cable Internet access from Mediacom.

"We've got a number of citizens that would like to start a home-based business, but won't because they don't have reliable internet right now," [City Administrator Rick] Hess said. "So this will be great for businesses."

Ever Growing Service From Co-ops

Calloway Electric Cooperative has been reaching an expanding list of communities and intends to provide service all of Calloway County. They offer Internet access, voice, and video bundles and people in their service area are signing up for all three.

“We are still surprised that the landline service is something people still are taking,” Barnes said. “But as you get out into the rural portions of Callaway County, cellphone service still doesn’t work very well.”

Callobyte stand-alone residential Internet access is available for 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $65 per month, 500 Mbps for $75 per month, or 1 gig (1,000 Mbps) for $95 per month. All speed tiers are symmetrical.

Within rural areas where large national providers don’t find it profitable to invest in high-quality Internet network infrastructure, rural electric and telephone cooperatives are providing the coverage Americans need. Often they already have the expertise, infrastructure, and processes in place to deploy and manage networks in these sparsely populated regions.

Read more about the increasing role of cooperatives in next-generation Internet access in rural America in our 2017 policy brief, Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model For The Internet Era. You can also learn about the important role of cooperatives in developing fiber networks in North Dakota in episode 288 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast; Christopher interviewed Robin Anderson from National Information Solutions Cooperative.

Tags: callaway electric cooperativemissouricooperativegigabitsymmetryruralrural electric coop

Schools In Janesville, Wisconsin, To Save Big With Fiber Network

January 11, 2018

As schools across the country look at their budgets, Janesville, Wisconsin, has decided to cut their future expenses with a fiber optic investment. This spring, the district will use E-rate funding to help finance a fiber optic local area network (LAN) in order to cut telecommunications costs by $70,000 per year.

Connecting Facilities

The school district will install 12 lines, eliminating leased lines and the associated expense. E-rate funds will pay for $1.6 million of the estimated $2 million project; the school district’s contribution will be approximately $400,700 and an additional $225,000 for engineering and project fees. School district officials calculate their contribution will be paid for in nine years. Fiber optic networks have life expectancies upwards of 20 years and in Janesville, District CIO Robert Smiley estimates this project will last for 50 years.

At a recent Board meeting, Smiley told the members that the new network will be like transitioning “to our own private Interstate.” In addition to better prices, the new infrastructure will allow the district to ramp up speeds to ten times what they current share between facilities. The system Janesville School District uses now has been in place since the 1990s.

The federal E-rate program started during the Clinton administration as a way to help schools fund Internet access and has since been expanded to allow schools to use if for infrastructure. School districts obtain funding based on the number of students in a district that are eligible for the National School Lunch Program. Funding for E-rate comes from the School and Libraries Program from the Universal Services Fund.

“Hello, Savings!”

Like many other schools that have chosen to switch to a district owned fiber network, Janesville sees a big advantage for voice communications. Due to the age of their phone system, they’ve had failures in the past. Last winter during a day of inclement weather, a large volume of incoming calls from parents overloaded the system and other parents who had signed up for emergency alerts on their phones didn’t receive them. With a new fiber network, the school district will be able to switch to VoIP.

The Greater Austin Area Telecommunications Network (GAATN) in Texas has been serving the Austin Independent School District (AISD) along with several other regional institutions since the mid-1990s. When AISD estimated savings due to the network in 2013, they calculated that the network had cut costs by around $5.8 million; much of the savings were due to eliminated telephone lines by switching to VoIP.

Better Budgeting

Along with public dollars and savings, Janesville will have an easier time anticipating costs for connectivity and for telephone service. When schools must pay to lease lines, they often encounter increases in rates with little recourse, making it difficult to budget from year to year. In times when budgets are being cut at the state level, administrators appreciate the consistency they find when switching away from big incumbents.

The district will start construction on the network in March.

Tags: janesville wischoolschool districtpublic savingse-ratefederal fundingwisconsinvoicevoiptelephone

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 287

January 11, 2018

This is the transcript for episode 287 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Christopher Mitchell investigates the state of telecom in Appalachian Ohio and discusses the Mobile Only challenge. Listen to this episode here.

 

Lilah Gagne: On a good day, I will get one bar of LTE, if I put my phone in the window for about five minutes, and that's just to get a webpage to load.

Lisa Gonzalez: You're listening to episode 287 of the "Community Broadband Bits Podcast," from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Last month, the FCC reversed network neutrality protections, a move both dreaded and disfavored by the majority of Americans. In 2017, they released a notice of proposed rulemaking that included several other proposals that caught the attention of groups pushing for universal access for high quality Internet service. The FCC is considering redefining the meaning of advanced communication services to include mobile and satellite broadband. They're also considering taking us backward by reverting to a slower speed definition. They expect to vote on the measure in February. The impact of each of these changes would especially affect local rural communities. There are people who already live in this netherworld of horrible mobile broadband, simply because big incumbent providers see no reason to invest in sparsely populated regions. You'll notice that some of the sound quality in our interview today's poor, because our guests come from an area of the country lacking good telecommunications access. In this interview, Christopher talks with two high school students who live in Appalachian, Ohio, Lilah Gagne. and Herron Linscott. They explain what it's like for those who are already caught in that very dark hole. He also speaks with Deb Socia from Next Century Cities. She describes the mobile only challenge, the organization's most recent effort to spread the word about the FCC's proposal. Several of us at ILSR will be making the mobile only challenge, including me, which I find very scary. And you can too. Choose a day to use only your Smartphone for Internet access. Tweet and post about it on social media. Let the FCC and your followers know about the experience, and challenge more people to do the same. You can learn more about it at mobileonlychallenge.com. Now here's Christopher with this week's guests.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the "Community Broadband Bits Podcast." I'm Chris Mitchell, at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, up in Minneapolis. And today I have with me a very special guest some of you have heard before, Deb Socia, the Executive Director for Next Century Cities. Welcome to the show.

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

Christopher Mitchell: Deb, it's great to hear your voice again, knowing that you're going to be back on the podcast. What have you been up to? Remind us what Next Century Cities is doing.

Deb Socia: Well, we continue to work with cities, towns, and counties all over the country, who either have or want to have cost affordable, reliable broadband, and we're advocating for our cities to receive the appropriate opportunities, so that they can either build their own or ensure that every citizen has access. And there's a lot happening around that right now, so we're pretty busy.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes. There is a tremendous amount happening around that. So Next Century Cities, just a quick clarification for folks, that still are a little bit confused about it. It's all kinds of cities. Some cities that have municipal networks are members, but you don't have to have a municipal network, and there's all kinds of cities, from cities that have built networks to cities that have not. What's the tiniest city that we have?

Deb Socia: I believe it's Alford, Massachusetts. And if I'm accurate in my memory here, I think it's 400 people live there.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. I love hearing that, because then you go all the way across the country to the Southwest, and you've got Los Angeles, with quite a few more people, so-

Deb Socia: It's a wide range, and it's a wide range, and we do have counties as well. It's an interesting mix of municipalities. And we are anxious to have folks join if they're interested. They can check nextcenturycities.org, and it is free to join. And we're a non-profit, so it's a good mix of opportunities and unbiased information.

Christopher Mitchell: And this is an organization for city members, so what I would say to people who might be listening, who are activists, or business leaders, or just individuals in a community, who are frustrated with recent Internet policy issues, and maybe feel like their community needs better Internet access, than they can get from incumbents, is you should strongly encourage your City Council members, City Manager, Mayor, to look into Next Century Cities, and to join it to learn more about all the many options that they have, to try and make things better. Something will surely fit with their community.

Deb Socia: Absolutely. We'd love to have more communities join.

Christopher Mitchell: Deb, the reason I wanted to bring you on here was not to remind everyone how Next Century Cities is changing the country, a city at a time, but actually to talk about how the FCC is proposing to change broadband one bad rulemaking after another. The one that is happening here in January is something that we're not actually sure when it's going to get scheduled to be discussed, but it's this idea of including mobile broadband in the definition of advanced telecommunication services. And I'm curious, if you can tell me, what kind of gotchas we're looking out for, as the FCC considers this.

Deb Socia: It has not gotten as much attention, and we're concerned about that, because what the notice of inquiry said, that came out several months ago, was that, it was asking whether or not mobile service, 10. 1 mobile service would be adequate to be considered advanced telecommunications, so that, that person, that community, that rural community, if you had mobile service, could be considered as having broadband. You can't equate that with a fast wire line service. It is a complement but not a substitute, and we don't want to be lowering standards for what broadband is in this country.

Christopher Mitchell: So to be clear then, if you do not have a home connection that is 25 Megabits downstream and three Megabits upstream, you are not considered to have broadband, which is a speed that the FCC decided, after much analysis, was appropriate to be able for households to take full advantage of the modern Internet. And now, if you don't have 25, 3, but you do have a mobile device, that you can get a fraction of that speed, much slower, then suddenly you'll be considered to have broadband. I mean, that's literally what we're talking about, right?

Deb Socia: Exactly what we're talking about, which is incredibly concerning. I think the other piece of that notice of inquiry, that folks should know is that is they're also snaking that same claim around satellite service.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, and so here, there's just all kinds of issues around data caps and other problems that go along with considering either slow mobile service or satellite to be satisfactory. I mean, one that pops into my head immediately is just that we don't actually know who has access to these services. I mean, I might be in a Census block, and I might have pretty decent service, but my neighbor a mile away may have terrible access, and yet we would all be considered to have broadband now suddenly. And what are some of the other concerns that you have about changing this definition in that way?

Deb Socia: Firstly, I think as a country, it should be always our goal to set a standard that's actually a standard that meets the needs of the majority of Americans. And a mobile device with, as you said, a data cap is a very expensive alternative, and in addition, it can't meet the needs of multiple users within the same household. It's a confusing thing. The way that I think about it, as a former educator, is if I had a classroom full of students, and a lot of my students were failing, I would not raise the failure mark so that I could get more kids to succeed. I would instead, change the way I'm teaching them. I would change the intervention, so that children would learn what I needed. In this case, it feels like we're taking a standard, and in order to say more of America has broadband access, we're going to change the standard, rather than change the intervention.

Christopher Mitchell: Well I think that your problem is that, as an educator, you are not getting enough money from the parents of the failing children. Let me pivot to what we're going to do about it. I mean, one of the things that people sometimes don't get is what it's like to live without a high quality access. And so what is Next Century Cities proposing, along with a number of partners, at this point?

Deb Socia: We have just started something called the mobile only challenge with a group of partners. And what we're asking people to do is go to mobileonlychallenge.com and sign up to spend one day experiencing what so many of Americans experience, and that is only using your mobile device for all of your access that day, no laptops, no tethering, and just experience and Tweet about it with the hashtag mobile only, so that we can say to the FCC, we believe as a country, we should have higher standards, and we should be helping and working with communities to improve access and not lowering those standards.

Christopher Mitchell: Deb, who are some of the people who have signed on to participate in this?

Deb Socia: We have a wide variety, from folks who are gamers, to people who work in rural communities, to people who work on issues related to the digital equity issue in this country, right? So we know that it's very expensive to own a cell phone. It's very expensive to get home access. Sometimes you have to pick one or the other. And they are not equal to one another, and that makes it very difficult to experience. And we just want to recognize how hard that is and understand that we ought to have a goal of insuring everyone has fast, affordable, reliable home access, that can actually meet the needs of today.

Christopher Mitchell: So I go to the website mobileonlychallenge.com, and I'll pick a day, and then I'll use only my mobile device for that day. And what I do next to let people know about it?

Deb Socia: We would love it if people would share this information. They would share the mobile only hashtag and talk about this, read the notice of inquiry, understand what's actually happening, comment to the FCC, let people know what's happening, and let's demand a higher standard.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I like that quite a bit. Now one of the things that I'm certainly hoping to see, as well, is that people will be maybe making a short video or something about their experience and sharing it on social media, ideally, earlier in January, to let other people know about it or even challenging people to do it, to talk about it. As somebody who uses ... I use Ting, which I've been very clear about, for a wireless service, and I pay by the bit, effectively, although because I have home wifi service, I use very little data, because I have a home cable connection that powers my wifi. One of the things I want to do is I want to see just how that would impact my monthly bill and to talk about that some.

Deb Socia: Right, and also to ... If you're making a video, how long is that taking to upload? It's definitely going to have an impact on your capacity to do your work and to engage in communication with your family and to actually enjoy entertainment. Can you livestream a video on your phone? I mean, it changes everything.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, you're running the risk now of a recursive loop, in that I will make a video, and then I'll upload it. And then I might make a video about uploading the video. And then I'll get stuck. If I disappear, come looking for me. One of the reasons that some people say we shouldn't worry about competition in the broadband space is that wireless is so capable now that it can just replace your home connection. Are these connections basically the same?

Deb Socia: They are not the same. Mobile broadband access is a great complement to wire line access. But it is not a replacement for it. I think the big issue is whether it's reliable, and whether you can have multiple users, and whether or not you have a data cap, and the cost. All of those things need to be considered. Maybe someday, mobile will be appropriately strong that we can actually consider it as a standard, but it isn't today.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, thank you so much Deb. I'm excited about this challenge, excited to see people's creativity in showing what their life would be like if they had to rely solely on it, rather than the fixed service that they most likely have. Thanks for coming on the show again.

Deb Socia: Well, thanks for inviting me, Chris, and I appreciate your support.

Christopher Mitchell: Now I'm speaking with Lilah Ganye, from Athens Ohio. Welcome to the show.

Lilah Gagne: Hi, nice to be here.

Christopher Mitchell: And are you in high school?

Lilah Gagne: Yes, I'm a senior in high school.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the reasons that I wanted to talk with you is that you do not have fixed broadband access in your home, right?

Lilah Gagne: No, that is correct.

Christopher Mitchell: So can you just describe for me how your life might be different from someone who does have fixed access in the home and is in high school?

Lilah Gagne: Yeah, so I mean ... Well, because in the high school ... Well, ever since middle school, actually, they had introduced Chromebooks, and all these new Google applications we had to use, especially in high school. It became more prominent my freshman year. And I guess it was just really hard, because every assignment was online, and sometimes I couldn't finish the assignment or even do it, because there's no Internet access at my house. And I didn't have a cell phone at the time, with data, so I couldn't look up anything. I mean, other students could get their work done, but I had to either stay in town really late, and it was just kind of ... It was a struggle.

Christopher Mitchell: I guess one of the things that I'm curious about is how does that impact your additional things. I mean, high school's not just about doing homework and learning. It's also about becoming a better rounded person and things like that. How did not having broadband access in the home impact those sorts of things or trying to research colleges and things like that?

Lilah Gagne: Well, I had to do ... All of my college research I did in the school, so during my study hall, I would have to research colleges. Or I would finish also all my homework at the school during my day, so I could do extracurriculars and not have to worry about staying in town super late at my mom's office doing homework. And also, I wasn't really involved in a lot of extracurriculars, because I was so worried about my academics more, because of the issue. So I didn't really get involved in anything until this year, senior year, because now I have unlimited data on my phone. And now I can use that at my house and look up everything I need to.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, that leads us into an important question, which is that there are some people in Washington DC that seem to think that if you have unlimited data on your phone, that that would be good enough and that we don't have to worry about getting you a better connection in your home. How do you respond to that?

Lilah Gagne: I would say it's actually still a struggle, because we do have unlimited data, and I can use that to look up whatever I need. But I've had to type all my papers on my phone. I take college classes at Ohio University, do post-secondary, and I still have to type everything and do all my assignments on my phone, because my plan won't allow me to use the hotspot capabilities to hook it up to a computer. So it costs extra, and so I still have to use my phone, so I would say that it is still very hard, and it is not a better option.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I guess that my last question is, I mean, you seem like you are the kind of person who will persevere through many challenges to succeed. And I congratulate you for that. I'm curious if you know of other people around you who may have struggled more, because of their lack of access in their homes.

Lilah Gagne: I do. I have some friends that have no cell phone service where they are either. I'm lucky enough to have cell phone service and now unlimited data, but I have some friends that do have Internet. But they have a certain amount of Gigs they can use throughout the month, and if they use it all, then they have no Internet, and on top of it, no cell phone service. So if they do have data, they can't even use that. And some of them are homeschooled and don't go to public school, so they can't get their assignments done, because they don't have the opportunity I did to actually go to school, get work done, or look up things before they went home for their assignments.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, we really appreciate the reality check from Southeastern Ohio. And I hope that you have a good final senior year.

Lilah Gagne: Thank you.

Christopher Mitchell: And now I'm going to speak with Herron Linscott, the sophomore in Athens, Ohio. Herron, welcome to the show.

Herron Linscott: Hi, thanks for having me.

Christopher Mitchell: Now you're a sophomore, sophomore of what?

Herron Linscott: High school, yeah, I'm 15 years old.

Christopher Mitchell: Great. The reason we're having you on this show is to talk a little bit about what it's like to not have a fixed broadband access in your home. Is that right?

Herron Linscott: Yes.

Christopher Mitchell: And so can you tell me a little bit what that's like?

Herron Linscott: I think if I could just describe it in one way, it's inconvenient. It's really challenging, especially since schools are trying to modernize and put more materials online, put more references for students on the Internet. It's a lot of technology that's involved in our education these days. And I think that not having that reliable connection, it definitely puts a damper on your ability to connect with your teachers and to your peers.

Christopher Mitchell: And many of your fellow students, they do have Internet access at home, broadband access at home, I'm guessing.

Herron Linscott: Yes. I don't know the exact numbers, but it's definitely most of them.

Christopher Mitchell: And so do you feel like you're at a disadvantage then?

Herron Linscott: I mean, I do well, because I make it a case for all of my teachers. I explain to them that I don't have Internet, so I try and do a good bit of the work that requires an Internet connection at school. The biggest issue that I run into is actually extracurriculars. I'm a member of BPA, which is Business Professionals of America. I'm on the mock trial team, and through FFA, I do a lot of things through that. And all of them require a connection, which definitely is a problem for me. Google Docs are online. Emails are online. And so being not able to access those when I need them is really inconvenient.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, how do you make up for that then?

Herron Linscott: I do a lot of it by driving into town. My grandma lives in town, and she has Internet, so I do a lot of my schoolwork at her house, and then I will do ... That's for my extracurriculars. And then I also do a good bit of work at the school.

Christopher Mitchell: Oddly enough, I was one of the first people in high school to have Internet access, and that was when we were all on dial-up, and it was remarkable in the mid-90's that we could just go anywhere and get information without going to the library, that you could get current information just on the Internet. And so one of the things that I found amazing was just that I had all of these abilities to pursue my own studies outside of what I was doing in school, and it helped to prepare me for college in some ways. Do you feel like you're missing out on that?

Herron Linscott: Both of my parents have really good jobs. And my dad actually works at a university, and so I think that my experiences are not being limited, because I'm very involved in my community, so I wouldn't say that I'm missing anything, in regards of life experience. The main thing is that it's really just inconvenient when it comes to being connected. And in an era where everyone's connected with social media, and even, like I said, our schools, we're connected through Google Classroom. It does feel a bit isolated. I will give it that.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the last things I wanted to ask you was regarding mobile broadband. Right now there's a discussion at the Federal Communications Commission about whether households like yours, that don't have fixed access but where you could use a Verizon or an AT&T broadband, is that sufficient?

Herron Linscott: It is not.

Christopher Mitchell: And do have that option, for either one of them?

Herron Linscott: We had a Jet Pack. Verizon is the only server that will work at my house. On a good day, I will get one bar of LTE if I put my phone in the window for about five minutes, and that's just to get a web page to load. Streaming is not an option. Downloading is definitely not an option. And we did, we had a Jet Pack for a while through Verizon, which is a mobile hotspot, and that did not work in any way. And so eventually we just got rid of it. We discontinued. My grandparents, my other grandparents, who live up the hill, so their service is a bit better than mine, have one, but again, the service is spotty. And I have to be sitting right next to it, out the window, to actually connect and be able to use the Internet.

Christopher Mitchell: Is there anything else that you want to tell people what it's like growing up, it's sort of in this incredible information age and being locked out of it in some ways or at least being severely inconvenienced from accessing it?

Herron Linscott: Right. I think that a lot of it has to do with where we live, as well. I live in Appalachian, Ohio, and the area that I live in, specifically, is ... It's very communal, and there's a lot of connecting that goes on without the Internet, and so the fact that I'm able to still have these incredible life experiences without Internet definitely goes to say a lot about, that some things haven't changed about where I live and that it has remained the same. But I think that sometimes I do wonder. I'm like, oh wow, what if I could apply to this program and readily check my email whenever I needed to? And so I think that while it's limiting, it wouldn't complete negate chances of kids in Appalachian, but I do think that as we, as a region, are to advance, then the people around us have to be given a fair chance. And we need equal opportunities as people in urban areas.

Christopher Mitchell: I fully agree, and let's hope that before you get out of high school, we at least have hopes of achieving that goal.

Herron Linscott: That would be ideal.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, thank you so much for coming on the show.

Herron Linscott: Thank you.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with Deb Socia, from Next Century Cities, and with Lilah Gagne, and Herron Linscott from rural Ohio. Remember to sign up at mobileonlychallenge.com and let others know what it's like, so they can spread the word, that we should only be advancing, not moving backward. 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" podcasts. You can access them on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ilsr.org. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song, "Warm Duck Shuffle," licensed through Creative Commons. And thanks for listening to episode 287 of the "Community Broadband Bits" podcast.

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