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Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 275

October 27, 2017

This is the transcript for episode 275 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Cheryl DeBerry and Nathaniel Watkins join the show from Garrett Couny, Maryland, to explain what their community has done to improve connectivity. Listen to this episode here.

Cheryl DeBerry: It's not something new, but it's something that we are excited to try and if it can work for us, we think that it could work for anyone.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 275 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. On the far western part of the state within the Appalachians, is Garrett County, Maryland. The mostly rural community has been working for the past few years to improve connectivity after the region has been neglected by incumbents for decades. Cheryl DeBerry and Nathaniel Watkins from Garrett County join Christopher this week, to talk about the community and their project to improve connectivity for businesses, institutions, and residents. In this discussion, Cheryl and Nathaniel describe what it's like in Garrett County, where some premises have no Internet access at all, and how their progress so far is already improving conditions in Garrett County.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another addition of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minneapolis. Today I'm speaking with two folks from Garrett County, Maryland. Cheryl DeBerry is the natural resources business specialist for the county, welcome to the show.

Cheryl DeBerry: Thank you.

Christopher Mitchell: We also have Nathaniel Watkins, the CIO for the county. Welcome to the show.

Nathaniel Watkins: Thanks for having me.

Christopher Mitchell: Garrett County, Maryland. Cheryl let me start with you, and just tell us a little bit about Garrett County, is that over there right around DC, Baltimore area or is it somewhere else?

Cheryl DeBerry: Doesn't it sound like? No. We're actually about as far away from our capital as you can get in Maryland. We're in the western most part of Maryland. If you look at a map of Maryland, there's that part in the west that sticks out into West Virginia, with Pennsylvania above. That's where we are. We're as far west as you can go in Maryland. We're in the Appalachian Mountains. We are rural, and mountainous, and have many different challenges than the more urban parts of our state.

Christopher Mitchell: Nathaniel, could you just describe for me a little bit what the broadband situation is in Garrett County?

Nathaniel Watkins: Absolutely. It's slowly getting better. Historically, we've always kind of been behind the curve a little bit in terms of broadband. To give you a little background, when I first started with the county, we had about 128 kilobits to the Internet, so we're running on an ISDN circuit, powering the entire county and paying exorbitant amounts of money for that and it wasn't that long ago actually that we were running on DSL, so we had a seven meg connection running our entire government infastructure. More recently, the state's invested a lot of money to bring some fiber to the community anchor institutions as they call it. We have most of our buildings on fiber, I would say probably 90% county facilities and that includes some things like hospitals and schools, those types of things. We now have gigabit Internet at the government level. We're trying to figure out ways to help some of the residences that are still struggling with the very poor Internet options. There's a lot of people that basically have to use satellite connection and also cellular hotspots that have data caps. I would say, probably 30 to 40% of our population, our residents that live in rural parts are dealing with those situations now.

Christopher Mitchell: Cheryl, you and I were at the event in Marietta, Ohio talking about broadband in the Appalachians and we're going to talk a little bit later in the interview about what you all have done in Garrett County, but I'm curious, a lot of people living with broadband that's higher quality than you're describing for 10 years and they may have forgotten, and they might not even have a sense of how important it is today to have that. Why is this important to get better broadband access out to the residents?

Cheryl DeBerry: I want to stop you there, because we're not just trying to reach residents, we're actually trying to reach businesses as well. Can you imagine running a business in the year 2017, without broadband service? We have several businesses that are like that throughout our county. Just wanted to put that plug in there.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, that's a very important distinction.

Cheryl DeBerry: Yeah. It's not just the social aspects of broadband, like social media and being able to connect to news stories and sources as they are happening in the world. It's being connected to family members who are in other jurisdictions. It's being able to access healthcare through telemedicine. It hits a bunch of different parts of anybody's life. If you are trying to look up and find a part for a tractor or if you're a farmer, that's all online now. It's very difficult to exist in this year and not have that connectivity.

Christopher Mitchell: Cheryl, let me start with you and then I'd love to get Nathaniel's reaction to this also, but one of the things that we're seeing that's a bit worrying coming out the Federal Communications Commission is a sense that if you have 4G LTE, then you might have everything you need already, and there's also further concern that we might see satellite being legitimized as a appropriate point at which people have satellite, we don't need to worry about them anymore. How do you react to that?

Cheryl DeBerry: A lot of people are existing with those as the only option and they exist and not thrive because both of those options have pretty limited data caps and pretty severe penalties if you go over those caps. When you're talking about a rural area, with a low income area, with limited job growth, limited population growth. We're not talking about people who are in an urban area that can find a job pretty easily. We're in an economically depressed area and that means that not everybody has $150 to spend on Internet every month. My mom lives just over the border in West Virginia where there is actually no cell service. There are great, vast swaths of Garrett County that don't have cellular service, so the only option she has right now is satellite Internet. She's a farmer. She's trying to sell her hay online and advertise online, and she doesn't have much capacity to do that with the basic satellite service.

Christopher Mitchell: Nathaniel, I'm curious how you react to a sense from some that 4G LTE is sufficient.

Nathaniel Watkins: I mean, I would use the analogy of saying, "I need a vehicle to get to work." And they say, "Well, you can run an extensive bicycle." It's an option, it's just not probably realistic, so I would encourage anyone that feels that way, with the current technology out there, with the cellular and satellite is to try to live on that yourself. Once you realize you can't do video calls, changes how you can experience streaming media, all those things. It's really not the same Internet. It's really a different class of Internet that you're getting. That being said, it's not to say that those couldn't be solutions. If there was an LTE solution that offered truly unlimited bandwidth and you could get 15 or 20 megs, that would potential do something in the rural areas and if you had satellites, not as they exist today, but if you had low-orbit satellites that can provide high speed, low latency, that could be a technology that may help, but fact is, it's not here and it's not on the immediate horizon, so we have to do what we can to get those people using the same class of technology.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that I know you're doing in Garrett County is investing in some fixed wireless. I know that you've been working with Joanne Hovis, she's very impressed with both your organization and your dedication to solving this problem. She mentioned you many times. I'm curious, where did this project come from and what exactly is it doing?

Cheryl DeBerry: Great to hear about Joanne, because she's been a huge part of our project and helping us figure out what to do and how to reach our businesses and our residents. Basically, back in about 2010, I'm going to say, our county commissioners, the three county local officials, asked the Economic Development Department, which I'm a part of. What are the top economic development initiatives that we could do to make the greatest impact on the people of Garrett County? The highest, and by far the highest, was to expand broadband availability for everyone. Once they looked at that list, they agreed and they said, "Okay, how are we going to do that?" So, we were able to find some grant funding through the Appalachian Regional Commission, matched with county funds, to hire a consultant and we ended up hiring CTC Technology & Energy with Joanne's team, to basically tell us what's the best way that we can reach more people with minimal broadband and how can we fund it? How can we get it done?

Christopher Mitchell: I just wanted to, I want to interrupt for a second to note that, in my mind, the ARC, the Appalachian Regional Commission providing money to help you study it, is one of the best uses of philanthropy that we see to improve broadband around. I just wanted to note that Appalachian Regional Commissions been essential for improving broadband in many parts of the Appalachians and it's worth just noting that. Please continue.

Cheryl DeBerry: I agree and that's not the end of the story with ARC at all with our project, too. After Joanne came back with this wonderful plan that said, "Hey, I think that we can reach our citizens, and our residents, in our business with this new technology." "New" in quotes, TV White Space. First we're looking at it, okay, does this really work? Then, we're looking at it, okay if it does work, then how are we going to get done? The commissioners decided that the plan looked feasible. The plan looked like it would do what we hoped it would and we started again, looking for more funding to start implementation of that plan. The plan included working with the county, working with a private provider to be the network operator. Basically, the county would purchase infastructure to offset the cost of our network operator to be profitable in the county, where no other operator is expanding, because it's not profitable to go three miles to the next customer. We went back to Appalachian Regional Commission and asked them for phase one, project area and they gave it to us. Again, the county matching dollar-for-dollar, the investment by our city. We have since gone back to ARC twice more, and so we have three phases of the project, in three different targeted areas. We are in the implementation phase now, with our partner, which is Declaration Networks Group, DNG we call them, out of Vienna, Virginia.

Christopher Mitchell: Nathaniel, can you tell us a little bit more about the technology and what kind of capacity our end users getting from the network?

Nathaniel Watkins: Sure. We have a mix of technology being used. We have fiber optics that the county has access to that kind of operates as the backbone and it goes to various locations, whether it's the roof of the courthouse, or cellular tower, or towers we've built. At that point, we transitioned to wireless network and we're using unlicensed spectrum exclusively, so not using any licensed frequencies. We're using five gigahertz, wherever possible, simply because the equipments less expensive, and it's fast, and it can go long distances. In scenarios where we don't have great line of sight or near line of sight, we transition to TV White Space technology, not as fast throughputs, but penetrates really well. A lot of times, we'll have scenarios where there's too many trees in the way, maybe a hill, and then we'll transition TV White Space to get that signal to the end user, to then provide service and share with the neighbors basically in that area. Primarily, those are the two different technologies we're using once we transition to a wireless infastructure.

Christopher Mitchell: What kind of capacity do you get? In particular, I'm always curious about the TV White Spaces in the real world.

Nathaniel Watkins: Best case scenario, I would say you can probably get 20 megabits of throughput on a single channel. The FCC just started allowing people to start playing with bonding channels together. We've actually been doing that with DNG and our manufacture. We've bonded channels and that will essentially, I believe you can go up to three bonded channels, where they're at right now, so that would theoretically give us a throughput of about 60 megabits and again, that's best case scenario once you start getting some trees in the way. I don't think it's unrealistic to say you could get a 40 meg connection on the TV White Space with some bonded channels and some kind of real world variables thrown in the mix.

Christopher Mitchell: What about the five gigahertz stuff?

Nathaniel Watkins: There, we can get a lot of throughput there so it's not a big deal to push, 100, 150 megs without any trouble, and if we have a customer that needs a lot more, we can tweak some things there, and probably blast out probably close to gigabit if we needed to.

Christopher Mitchell: Cheryl, you've been working on this for, I mean it sounds like at least seven years. What have you found over this time period in terms of the level of service in the county, in terms of how many people have it versus what you see in federal statistics?

Cheryl DeBerry: At the beginning of the project, back when CTC and Joanne came was, was looking at what was the current situation? The FCC had their numbers and I think came back as, we the county, being covered by some number like 60% of maybe even more, already with broadband, minimal broadband coverage, and I honestly do not believe those numbers. Being on the ground and looking around and seeing the actual situation here. The way they did that as I understand. If one person within a census track was served, then they counted that entire census track as being served and I think that is a flaw in that data. Honestly, I don't have a good idea of exactly how many people have and how many don't. We have a couple populations of Amish and Mennonite folks in the county that may never want to get coverage at their homes. Do you count those as covered or do you count those as not? We also have some areas of the county that, as I said, don't have cell service. There are parts of the county that are so rugged and near the steeper slopes that you can't get satellite service either. It's a difficult question and I'm not sure I have an answer. Yeah, we've been working on this since 2011, but we didn't start deploying until basically last year in 2016. Before that, we were securing the funding. We were working on the network design with DNG, that takes some time and doing the propagation studies and working with the vendors to negotiate some good deals on the equipment. The actual deployment didn't start until last spring. Within a year, we were up to a little over 210 customers. Mostly residents, but a few businesses, are squished in there, and even one very small school.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the other things that I understand that the county's doing is laying fiber where you might be able to help a different company, not DNG, but another company that might be offering service to make it more feasible for them to expand to a new neighborhood or something like that. Can you tell me about that program?

Nathaniel Watkins: Absolutely. We've reached out to all the incumbent ISPs to try to figure out areas that are close to their network and places where they'd like to expand, they just need some help, whether that's financial help. We found that most of the time, it has to do with ethernet access. We've come up with a plan basically that says, "Hey, the county has a lot of right-of-way access that we do for road maintenance." For our roads, we have varying distances from the center line that we can do whatever we need to, and we can use that right away to install conduits. We did that recently for a small company, you may have heard of them, Comcast?

Christopher Mitchell: Very small, yeah.

Nathaniel Watkins: Very small, yeah. We worked with them recently where they wanted to build, and they just said it's not cost effective for us to get the underground work done, and the easement problem was just kind of a deal breaker in this one area. The county basically offered to install conduit for them. Basically, we would provide the labor, the equipment, the manpower, and Comcast basically provided conduit and then some spare conduit that we can then use later if another ISP wants access to this same, the same path, we have conduit available that we could let them utilize as well. That was process to get all the bumps ironed out in terms of working with them, but once we started installing the conduit, I think it was maybe a three day project on our end. It lit up another 50 homes and there are a few businesses in there. It didn't have any real hard costs to the county other than fuel for the equipment, those types of things and Comcast is turning them up now.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, and actually that reminds me, that's one of the things, Cheryl, you said at the NATOA Conference in Seattle, was that, if I remember correctly, it didn't really cost you anything because you had the equipment and you kind of just used some of the public works folks when they weren't otherwise occupied. Is that right?

Cheryl DeBerry: That is correct, yeah.

Nathaniel Watkins: We were actively checking of the other local ISPs that have similar problems. We're hoping to turn this into an official program where ISPs can come to us, explain the business case and what they're trying to do, and our goal is to help them expand as much as possible as well.

Christopher Mitchell: I want to come back to a final question, which is something that I think is really heartening and that's, Cheryl, I get the sense that in Maryland, whether it's the governor's office, or the legislature, or perhaps even federal representatives from Maryland, everyone seems to be talking about broadband now. Are you seeing that?

Cheryl DeBerry: I am seeing that and they're not just talking broadband, they're talking rural broadband, which has been very refreshing. Our governor has created a taskforce for rural broadband. This summer they've been working on a plan to help rural jurisdictions reach more of their residents and businesses, which has been amazing. The folks on that team are doing some really good work and I can't wait to see what comes out of that. I think it's due next month, I believe. Our representatives have been supportive, our State Department of Information Technology has reached out to us as well as the governor's office to ask, how can they help? What roadblocks are there? One of the things that we were hoping to do with our project was to use some state earned assets, so we have all of the county assets that we can being utilized, including with the fiber that Nathaniel was talking about. We wanted to get our antennas up on some state towers, state communications towers so that we could reach further and reduce our cost. If a private business wanted to come here, nobody's doing it because it's insanely expensive to reach a very few number of customers, with limited ability to pay for the higher speeds. If it was profitable, somebody would have come here and done it. We're trying to make it so that it is profitable, and the way we do that is reduce those infastructure costs, so working with the state to get on some state towers. Working with the county to reduce cost or for easements, and right-of-way issues. It's all part of the grander plan of just trying to get more people connected.

Christopher Mitchell: Are there any closing comments, Nathaniel?

Nathaniel Watkins: I'd just like to reiterate Cheryl's point that the partnerships have been invaluable. Coming from the technology side, I tend to downplay the people involved, so the technology's kind of, honestly takes kind of a sideline on this. It's really about working with other jurisdictions, state, federal, other non-profits, to really get stuff done. That part's been great.

Christopher Mitchell: Excellent, and any final comments from you Cheryl?

Cheryl DeBerry: I'm just excited to share our story. It is not our idea. It is not something new, but it's something that we are excited to try and if it can work us, we think that it could work for anyone.

Christopher Mitchell: Great, well thank you both for taking time to tell us more about your corner of Maryland, and also for being so dedicated to solving these problems for your community. Thank you.

Nathaniel Watkins: Thanks.

Cheryl DeBerry: Thanks so much for having us.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with Cheryl DeBerry and Nathaniel Watkins from Garrett County, Maryland, discussing their Internet infrastructure initiative. We have transcripts for this and other Community Broadband Bits Podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email us at podcast@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter, his handle is @CommunityNets. Follow MuniNetworks.org stories on Twitter the handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast, and the other ILSR podcasts, Building Local Power, and The Local Energy Rules podcasts. You can access them on Stitcher, Apple Podcast, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research by also subscribing to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, license of Creative Commons and thanks for listening to episode 275 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast.

Tags: transcript

Visualization: Fiber In The Blue Grass State

October 27, 2017

From the rolling Appalachian Mountains to bustling city streets, Kentucky has it all, including gigabit (1,000 Mbps) service from Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks. That’s right, Kentucky - the state that is often used as shorthand in America politics to talk about coal country and poverty - actually has some of the fastest, most reliable Internet service in the entire country. We put together this map using the latest data sets available from the FCC to highlight how much of rural Kentucky has the gold standard in high-speed Internet service.

Cooperatives Cover Kentucky

This is just a brief snapshot using the June 2016 Federal Communications Commissions (FCC) Form 477 data set. This map shows all the FTTH infrastructure available in Kentucky according to the data submitted by ISPs. This data is reported on the census block level and may overstate coverage. Even so, the data reveals how cooperatives provide high-speed Internet service to much of rural Kentucky.

Cooperative Estimated Fiber Footprint* Ballard Rural Telephone Cooperative 148 square miles Duo County Telephone Cooperative 134 square miles Foothills Rural Telephone Cooperative 841 square miles Highland Telephone Cooperative 431 square miles Logan Telephone Cooperative 104 square miles Mountain Rural Telephone Cooperative 1048 square miles North Central Telephone Cooperative 257 square miles Peoples Rural Telephone Cooperative 542 square miles South Central Telephone Cooperative 762 square miles WK&T Telecom (West Kentucky Rural Telephone Cooperative) 1019 square miles

*This is estimated based on the total area of the census blocks labeled served according to the Form 477 and cross-referenced with news reports when available.. Rural census blocks tend to include a larger area than urban census blocks, and an entire census block may be marked as served when even one household has broadband access. These numbers may overstate coverage.

Cities and Local ISPs Build Networks

It should come as little surprise that many cities in Kentucky have also built FTTH networks. After all, the idea of municipal networks got its start in Glasgow, Kentucky, in the 1980s. Today, Russellville, Hopkinsville, and Williamstown offer high-speed fiber connections to residents. Bowling Green and Paducah offer business connectivity, and Frankfort and Owensboro are exploring FTTH pilot projects. The city of Barbourville is replacing its cable system with FTTH as well. 

Small, local ISPs, such as Brandenburg Telecom and Thacker Grigsby Telephone Company, have also built fiber networks. But, the large telecom companies AT&T and TDS seem to have invested far less into rural Kentucky than these locally-rooted organizations.

We Could Do Better

Admittedly, getting FTTH out to rural Kentucky has been no easy task. At one point, Peoples Rural Telephone Cooperative even used a mule to pull fiber-optic cable across rough terrain. Communities have often been on their own to figure out funding, such as finding and apply for grants and loans from different government agencies. The US Department of Agriculture grants and loans have supported some of these FTTH projects, and the FCC has provided the large providers with $50 million annually through the Connect America Fund to provide sub-par service of 10 Mbps download / 1 Mbps upload. Imagine what rural America could accomplish with an even better funding system, policies to support local cooperatives, and restored local authority in every state.

Tags: kentuckywilliamstown kyfrankfortFTTHruralusdaglasgowbarbourvilleowensborocooperativerural electric cooprussellville

Asotin County Aims to Finance Fiber

October 26, 2017

Washington’s Asotin County Board of Commissioners and the City of Clarkston are prioritizing a 2018 budget proposal that will fund connecting to an existing fiber optic network.

Building Into the Future

The plan is to take advantage of the fiber optic lines laid by Port of Clarkston over the last few years. It’s estimated to cost around $50,000 and will connect the municipalities remote central management systems such as city hall, police and fire agencies, community services building, and the county jail.

Beyond better connectivity, the fiber will provide a more reliable level of security for all the connected municipal entities while providing a single countywide server for centralized storage and backups. Community leaders also expect to cut telecommunications costs because they will no longer need to pay for expensive leased lines from incumbent ISPs.

It’s unclear how much Asotin County and Clarkston will save on their internet service if they successfully connect to the fiber optic network. That said, the initial build-out costs to connect are substantially lessened, thanks to Port of Clarkston's recent fiber initiative.

A Fiber Loop Expands

This summer, Port of Lewiston and Clarkston settled on how they would connect their respective fiber networks, settling on the point of connection and the logistics for the conduit. Today both municipalities are offering dark fiber connectivity to community anchor institutions, local ISPs, and businesses.

Neighbor to Port of Lewiston and Clarkston, Whitman County has operated a similar network for over ten years. The three municipalities have formed a loop connecting Idaho and Washington state. With the possible entrance of Asotin County, the connectivity web in this pocket of the Northwest will expand even further.

Image of Asotin County map courtesy of Fred Smoot and the Washington US GenWeb Archives.

Tags: asotin county wawashingtonpublic savingsport of lewistonport of clarkstonregional

Big Money, Lies: Incumbents Try To Confuse Fort Collins Voters

October 25, 2017

With their back against the wall, Comcast is pulling out it’s well manicured, sharp claws in Fort Collins, Colorado. Voters will be asked to approve measure 2B on November 7th, which would allow the city to take steps toward establishing their own municipal telecommunications utility. In order to preserve the lack of competition, incumbent Internet access providers are on track to spending more during this election than has been spent on any other issue in Fort Collins’ history.

Behind The Name Of "Citizen"

As we’ve come to see time and again, when a local community like Fort Collins takes steps to invest in the infrastructure they need for economic development, incumbents move in to prevent municipal efforts. Comcast and CenturyLink aren’t offering the types of connectivity that Fort Collins wants to progress, so the city has decided to ask the voters whether or not they feel a publicly owned broadband utility will meet their needs.

In keeping with the usual modus operandi, out of the woodwork emerge lobbying groups that not-so-artfully mask incumbents like Comcast and CenturyLink. These groups are able to contribute large sums of money to whatever organization has been established, often in the form of a “citizens group,” to bombard local media with misinformation about municipal networks to try to convince voters to vote against the initiative. In Fort Collins, the “citizens group” happens to call itself Priorities of Fort Collins (PFC).

A closer look at who is funding PFC’s website and professional videos takes one to the recently filed campaign report. The City Clerk’s Office has a copy of this document on file and shows that PFC has only three contributors, none of whom are individual “citizens” but are associated with big telecom:

  • $125,000 from the Colorado Cable Telecommunications Association (CCTA): This organization was the same mask Comcast used back in 2011 when it spent approximately $300,000 to stop a similar effort in Longmont. It wasn’t the first time they’ve used this tactic and it won’t be the last.
  • $75,000 from the Citizens for a Sustainable Economy: The organization is tightly wound with the Fort Collins Chamber of Commerce and has been criticized in the past for questionable political spending. CSE’s President and the Chamber’s president are one and the same. Comcast, CenturyLink, and TDS are all members of the Chamber and so, by default, also members of CSE.
  • $1,000 from the Colorado Telecommunications Association: CTA is another lobbying group that represents telephone companies and ISPs. TDS Telecom, which is also one of PFC’s public sponsors and a Fort Collins provider, belongs to CTA.

Christopher remembers work from groups like CCTA and CTA in another Colorado election: 

"This isn't the first time we've seen this situation happen. CCTA also spent hundreds of thousands to preserve their monopoly in Longmont, but voters were savvy enough to ignore their lies."

Misinformation Served Up

PFC has hid its true intentions - protecting the big incumbents - by trying to make voters believe that if they vote “yes” on 2B, they will effectively be eliminating the community’s ability to fund other infrastructure upgrades, such as roads and traffic improvements. In reality, the city has not committed to a specific business model or to spending any amount of funds.  

PFC tries to mislead Fort Collins voters by spreading the lie that a vote for 2B is a vote to spend $150 million. PFC is using the same old “burden on the taxpayer” argument; we see this tired lie at every corner. A substantial percentage of these projects are funded with revenue bonds and therefore deployment is paid for by subscribers.

Fort Collins is considering two models, including offering retail services directly or working with a private partner. First the voters must choose to amend the city charter to allow the municipality to do either. Much like Fort Collins’ decision in 2015 to opt out of restrictive state law SB 152, supporting ballot measure 2B is a local vote for local authority.

Scared By Support

The heavy infusion of cash from the group backed by national ISPs is most certainly in response to the positive murmurs in Fort Collins in recent months. Business leaders and individuals - people with real names and faces - have written into the local press encouraging voters to support 2B so the city can choose from their options for better connectivity. The Fort Collins Citizens Broadband Committee, whose spending was dwarfed by the pro-cable and telco lobby, has been working to get the word out about how Fort Collins can move forward with high-quality gigabit connectivity. In order to correct local misinformation, the Committee has a helpful page that accurately breaks down the ballot question and describes the two options that the city is still considering.

The endorsement of Colorado State University helped cement the fact that Fort Collins needs to take steps rather than wait for private sector investment from incumbents that will never come. The Coloradoan Editorial Board encouraged voters to vote “yes” and said that:

If Fort Collins is serious about being a place of equity and inclusivity where all schoolchildren can access the same learning tools at home, where workers can effortlessly telecommute instead of adding to Interstate 25 gridlock, and where shut-in and disabled residents can afford a vital link to the outside world, the city has ample incentive to offer its own gigabit internet service to a growing population with increasingly diverse needs.

Private-sector broadband has served Fort Collins well, aside from shared gripes about customer service. But bringing the city's triple-bottom-line approach to broadband changes the conversation about what is possible.

Voters in Fort Collins have a little less than two weeks to decide whether or not they can trust lying incumbents to deliver the services they need or to open up the possibilities for local self-reliance.

Image of Fort Collins Historic District by Wusel007 (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Tags: fort collinscoloradoelectionreferendumcomcastlobbyingmisinformationcenturylinktdslies

Webinar On CAF From SHLB: October 26th, 11 a.m. ET

October 25, 2017

We’ve written about the Connect America Fund (CAF) on multiple occasions and recently alerted interested MuniNetworks.org readers to the FCC’s ongoing efforts to re-examine the CAF Phase II Auction procedures. On October 26th, the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition (SHLB) is presenting a free webinar on CAF as part of their Grow2Gig+ Webinar Series.

SHLB will be offering a Universal Service Symposium in Washington, DC, on November 2nd and the information presenting in the webinar will help attendees prepare. Even if you’re not planning to attend the workshop, the webinar will offer information that will be useful if you have any interest in applying for CAF funds or if you are monitoring the FCC’s policies moving forward.

The webinar speakers are Carol Mattey and Rebekah Goodheart; John Windhausen will moderate. SHLB describes the event as:

The Connect America Fund (CAF) is a federal program that provides funding to defray the cost of operating and extending both fixed and mobile broadband networks to serve consumers and small businesses in rural, high-cost areas in the United States. CAF was created by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to fulfill the statutory mandate that all Americans have access to communications service that is reasonably comparable to what’s available in urban areas.

Join two former senior FCC officials as they discuss the History of the Connect America Fund, the Phase II  Auction (Performance Standards, Application Process, and Auction Mechanics), as well as Reporting Requirements. 

You can register online at the SHLB website and also review past webinars and check out other events on the calendar. 

Tags: connect america fundwebinareventshlbruralinfrastructurefederal funding

Atlanta November 7 - 9: Broadband Communities Conference Almost Here

October 25, 2017

There’s still time to register and make your plans to attend the Fiber for the New Economy: Economic Development Conference presented by Broadband Communities Magazine. A fall trip to Atlanta on November 7 - 9 will include workshops, a range of economic development discussions, and the opportunity to view a new film on the broadband struggle in Pinetops, North Carolina.

There will be panel discussions and/or workshops on:

  • Financial modeling for community networks, CAF II, and other funding sources
  • Smart City and IoT initiatives
  • Rural communities, jobs, attracting entrepreneurs, and connectivity
  • Fiber and gigabit connectivity and their impact on local jobs, education, and residential access
  • State legislative efforts to improve connectivity and federal policies
  • Electric Cooperatives and connectivity
  • TV White Spaces, 5G, small cell deployment
  • Cooperative efforts between economic development and broadband experts
  • Latest research on broadband, economic development, and investment
  • Marketing for broadband networks
  • Partnerships between the private and public sectors
  • Fiber connectivity and MDUs
  • Approaches to addressing and reducing the digital divide

Pass The Popcorn

As an added bonus, attendees will be able to screen Do Not Pass Go: The Battle For Broadband, a short documentary film about Pinetops, North Carolina. The community was able to obtain gigabit fiber optic service from Greenlight, the municipal network from nearby Wilson. Shortly after, an appellate court determined that Wilson was acting outside of state law, forcing the two communities to find another way for Pinetops to keep high-quality Internet access. Their situation is still uncertain.

Christopher will be participating on the "Broadband Champions Speak Out" panel at 10 a.m. on Nov. 8th and will also lead the panel on "Spawning an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem" at 2:30 p.m. on Nov. 9th.

CLIC Day

If you’re able to come to the conference by Tuesday, November 7th, attend a special program offered by the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC). Members and leaders from CLIC will present updates on key legislative events, coping with misinformation, and the drive to ensure local authority. Christopher will moderate the panel titled "Debunking the Myths about Community-Driven Broadband Initiatives" at 4 p.m.

This year, CLIC will also present a focused look at the future of work and local Internet choice with Gary Bolles, Director of the Future of Work program at Singularity University.

Agendas Available

Detailed agendas for the main conference and the CLIC program are online. You can also register in person in Atlanta at the Renaissance Concourse Atlanta Airport hotel or online at the conference website.

Tags: eventchristopher mitchellbroadband communities magazineconferencecoalition for local internet choiceeconomic development

Allband All-in For Rural Michigan Internet Access - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 276

October 24, 2017
Community Broadband Bits Episode 276 - Ron Siegel, General Manager of Allband Communications Cooperative

After being told by the large telephone incumbent that he could pay a nominal fee in rural Michigan to get phone service, John Reigle built a home. And when the telephone company changed its mind after quoting an outrageous price, he created a cooperative that is building fiber networks in a very rural region of Michigan. 

General Manager Ron Siegel of Allband Communications Cooperative joins us for episode 276 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. We talk about the realities of connecting the most rural unconnected, while fighting for what meager support is available from state and federal sources. 

Along the way we talk about how the cooperative grew up and where its future lies in an uncertain time for local networks as the federal government showers money on the biggest incumbents that aren't really investing in rural America.

We previously wrote about Allband here.

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

This show is 29 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: allband communications cooperativemichiganruralFTTHWirelessfixed wirelesswhite spacescooperativetelephoneverizonpublic utilities commissionaudiopodcastbroadband bits911

KentuckyWired: Partners, Poles, Problems Plague Project

October 24, 2017

With the best intentions, Kentucky announced in late 2014 that it would build out a statewide open access fiber optic network to at least one location in each county to encourage high-quality connectivity in both urban and rural communities. Hopes were high as rural residents and businesses that depended on DSL and dial-up envisioned connectivity to finally bring them into the 21st century. After almost three years and multiple issues that have negatively impacted the project, legislators and everyday folks are starting to wonder what's in store for the KentuckyWired project. 

Local Communities Are Best Suited To Deploy Community Networks

There is no one-size-fits-all method of deploying across a state filled with communities and landscapes as diverse as Kentucky. From the urban centers like Louisville and Lexington to the rocky, mountainous terrain in the southeastern Appalachian communities, demographics and geography vary widely. But most lack modern Internet access and local ISPs have found it hard to get affordable backhaul to connect to the rest of the Internet.

There are several municipal networks in Kentucky, some of which have operated for decades. In addition to Glasgow, Paducah, Bowling Green, Frankfort, and others, Owensboro is currently expanding a pilot project that proved popular. As our own Christopher Mitchell discussed at the Appalachia Connectivity Summit, several cooperatives have made major fiber-optic investments in the state.

When it comes to connecting residents and local businesses, we strongly believe local entities are the best choice. Local officials have a better sense of rights-of-way, the challenges of pole attachments, and the many other moving pieces that go into network investment. Projects with local support see fewer barriers - people are more willing to grant easements, for instance. 

As a state, building an open access fiber network into each county makes sense. States also need to connect their offices, from public safety to managing natural resources and social services. Rather than overpay a massive monopoly like AT&T, use those funds to build an open network that can nourish competition. 

The general idea was smart, but we have had strong reservations about the execution from the beginning. To start with, the state chose an Australian firm to embark on the massive, expensive project that they describe as a public-private partnership. We see a significant amount of public risk and a guaranteed private profit.  

Partnership Means Shared Investment

Frequent readers of MuniNetworks.org know that we caution local governments to take care when engaging in public-private partnerships. Too often, municipalities and counties step into an agreement with a private sector partner and underestimate what they bring to the negotiating table. Community leaders approach public-private partnerships after being repeatedly rejected by large national companies, and lose site of their value within the realm of the telecommunications industry. They often give too much and ask too little from their private sector partners. We’ve written reports and shared lessons learned to help local communities that consider public-private partnerships.

One of the most important lessons learned is that a public sector partner should not take on all the risk. In fact, many projects labeled as “public-private partnerships” don’t appear on our community networks map because they don’t meet this requirement. It looks to us like Kentucky has taken on most of the risk in this project. 

The state legislature allocated $30 million from the state budget to add to $23.5 million in federal grants for construction. In order to complete financing for the 3,200-mile project, the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority issued $232 million in tax-exempt revenue bonds and $58 million in taxable revenue bonds. Bond Buyer named the issue the “Deal of the Year” in 2015 because the project had such promise. Sixty percent of the employees on the project are to be Kentuckians, as stipulated in the contract.

When the project began, state officials from the project and Macquarie, with little-to-none experience in the U.S. telecommunications market, optimistically estimated a one-year completion date. Since then, more than 150 "supervening events" have delayed deployment. As part of the agreement, Macquarie Capital and its partners will operate and maintain the network for 30 years while the state pays “availability payments.” Over time, those payments increase in amount regardless of the status of the construction.

The state intended to first connect 173 school districts to the infrastructure. Federal E-rate funding that had been used in the past to pay incumbents like AT&T for telecommunications costs would instead be used as revenue to help pay for the availability payments to private partners involved in the project. However, due to delays in construction, schools are not connected and they continue to obtain Internet access from incumbents. Nevertheless, Kentucky is still responsible for $28.5 million per year to private sector partners, a figure that will grow over the 30-year period up to more than $56 million annually.

AT&T is serving the schools under a long-term contract and sits poised to file a lawsuit if the state chooses to re-bid to give the Kentucky Communications Network Authority (KCNA) an opportunity later to bid on school connectivity. KCNA was established by the state in order to operate and maintain the KentuckyWired network. AT&T has already submitted a letter of protest, claiming that allowing the Authority to bid on connectivity to schools would give the Authority and “unfair advantage.” AT&T was able to intimidate state officials into abandoning an attempt at a re-bid back in October 2015 and now the KCNA feels, “It will be ‘very difficult’ for one arm of state government to award the schools connectivity contract to another arm of the state government in a truly competitive process.” Somehow other states have figured out proper ways to engage in such bidding - generally to the benefit of all because schools better networks at lower prices than AT&T is willing to offer even when it isn't dramatically overcharging schools.

The gap in funding created by the loss of the federal E-rate funding is approximately $11 million per year. While that gap may not be permanent, it has unsettled some state legislators who are losing patience with Macquarie and the project.

Macquarie: We Had Our Doubts 

Kentucky chose to establish a partnership with Australia’s Macquarie Capital to develop the project. The investment bank has an array of infrastructure projects on its resume, including bridges, wind power, and broadband networks in Asia. Communities and broadband researchers have encountered the organization before when it sought to invest in the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency (UTOPIA) back in 2014.

Several communities served by UTOPIA chose not to authorize a public-private partnership. Macquarie wanted to invest in the network that was facing financial trouble at the time, in exchange for building out the network. The firm would have collected a guaranteed utility fee from every premise in the average amount of approximately $18 - 20 per month. At the time, only six of the 11 member communities voted to proceed forward with negotiations with Macquarie; the deal fell through and the firm moved on. According to Free UTOPIA’s Jesse Harris, “Macquarie is probably dead, and that’s probably okay.” 

Since then, UTOPIA has seen better days and is expanding to serve several local communities through franchise agreements beyond its member towns. However, it will take many years of incremental expansion to achieve the scale that Macquarie would have allowed it to quickly hit. 

Nonetheless, having seen Macquarie at multiple events and listening to their pitch leaves us suspicious of the value they contribute, aside from strong boosterism of any project in which they are participating.

Poles, Poles, Poles 

Obtaining the ability to place fiber optic cable on existing utility poles has proved to be difficult for the Macquarie crew. In fact, executive director of the KCNA Phillip Brown said in July that the agency’s inability to obtain the necessary agreements might require some redesign. The result of changing the route would be that some communities would not have access to the network. At the time, approximately 6,600 poles were inaccessible because the Authority had not procured agreements with utility companies, municipal utilities, or telecommunications companies that own the poles.

We’ve seen other instances of municipal network projects delayed because of pole attachment issues. Often an incumbent telecommunications provider owns a utility pole that becomes part of a municipal network design. In order to delay the deployment as a way to stave off competition from a municipal network project, the incumbent might drag their feet on an agreement or make unreasonable demands.

On other occasions, ownership of poles can be used as a delay tactic. In locations where poles have been in place for many years or in rural communities where record keeping has not been kept up to date, determining who owns the utility poles may be a challenge. In Lake County, Minnesota, a municipal network project ran far behind schedule and over budget when the local municipality didn’t verify ownership of utility poles that had been used in the city for many years. Incumbent Frontier Communications wasn’t sure who owned the poles either, but took advantage of the situation to hold up the deployment. Even though the city had maintained and replaced the poles for years with not a peep from Frontier, the ISP raised objections when it faced possible competition. The two entities eventually worked out agreements, but only after Lake County had already significantly invested in their infrastructure and after a costly delay.

Every time a new venture requires use of a pole, proper procedure can cause a bottleneck. Traditionally, each entity that owns wires on a utility pole will send a crew to the pole to move the wires and, since safety dictates where each wire must rest on the pole, each crew will complete their task in a particular order. Again, incumbents can use the opportunity to delay a deployment by slowing down the “make ready” work.

In Kentucky, however, Louisville and AT&T recently tested the old make ready approach and now we know that it doesn’t have to hamper the KentuckyWired project. When Louisville passed a One Touch Make Ready (OTMR) ordinance, AT&T sued to stop them. OTMR allows one pre-approved crew to make one trip to a utility pole in the public right-of-way and move all the wires at one visit. This method greatly reduces make ready time and prevents AT&T and others from using the procedure to slow deployment of new entrant networks.

Usually, the FCC has jurisdiction in settling this type of issue, but Kentucky chose to opt out of the Commission’s purview years ago. As a result, the court found in favor of Louisville, and OTMR was not overturned. AT&T and Comcast filed a similar lawsuit in Nashville when the city passed a OTMR ordinance. Other communities that want to encourage competition and create policies that welcome new entrants are putting OTMR on their books. Even West Virginia's state legislature sees the value of OTMR policy.

According to news reports, Macquarie’s team is having difficulties obtaining easements from private property owners in order to run fiber optic cable on utility poles. In addition to private property owners, there are also local community leaders whose towns have already invested in municipal networks. Billy Ray, who heads up the municipal network in Glasgow, Kentucky, says leaders from communities such as Glasgow hesitate:  

"You don't expect a new entrant financed by the government to come along and compete with you. We have some concerns about what is their ultimate goal.” 

In the case of municipal objections, we are curious about how much work the state of Kentucky has spent working with local groups to get their feedback and include them in the process. Given the arrogance we have seen from Macquarie officials, it isn't hard to believe local folks are annoyed at having to deal with KentuckyWired on any level. 

Lack of Support At The State Capitol Doesn’t Help Much

Since Governor Bevin assumed office in 2016, enthusiasm for the project appears to have waned. Macquarie says that, “We have the utmost confidence that we can work through these challenges,” and reminds the public that:

"KentuckyWired is pioneering the use of the public-private partnership model in a new sector, and therefore the model is subject to temporary setbacks.” 

There has also been talk of scaling back the project as a way to reduce the overall costs (and make AT&T happier - often a priority of governors in AT&T states). Governor Bevin has thrown out the idea of reducing the size of the project to only covering the eastern areas of the state where the need for Internet access is the greatest. Changing direction midstream might sound like a simple way to reduce the price tag in the short-term, but it could sacrifice the long-term viability of the project. Oh and there is that matter of the signed contract with Macquarie (one of the pesky negatives of partnerships that are rarely remembered by those who extoll partnerships as the solution to all policy woes). 

It’s true that the more rural and less economically stable areas in the eastern part of the state need the economic stimulus that high-quality connectivity can bring, but the urban centers in the other sections of the state will help set KentuckyWired on a strong financial path. The infrastructure needs to be in areas where there is ample opportunity for business and residential subscribers. Only then will ISPs see the value of using the middle mile infrastructure to serve last mile subscribers. Through those business arrangements, adequate support will help maintain the entire network, including the infrastructure in the sparsely populated Appalachian areas.

Middle Mile Dreams

For the past 10 years, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance has explained on multiple occasions that middle mile investment is only a piece of the necessary investment needed for rural America. States like Massachusetts and the NTIA in adminstering the BTOP broadband stimulus program have suggested that middle mile will catalyze last mile investment.

It might, a little. But there is no good evidence of it. The barrier to last mile investment is a capital investment and a strong middle mile network changes the capital cost of last mile very little. Good middle mile can reduce operating costs by lowering backhaul cost to the rest of the Internet - but (and this is a big but) that can come at the cost of key community anchor institutions taking service from the middle mile network rather than the last mile network. And that makes the economics of last mile worse again. 

Building last mile networks can create a market for middle mile networks because last mile networks will pay the middle mile networks for transit. But middle mile networks rarely change the capital cost of last mile networks, which are vastly more expensive. 

The Silver Lining 

The KentuckyWired project has some problems to overcome. The state of Kentucky could have chosen a better partner or better yet, hired a good team to manage it themselves. Nevertheless, they are beginning to establish good rural policy that they can expand and others can emulate. Rather than spending public dollars on expensive services from incumbents like AT&T, Kentuckians will own the fiber optic infrastructure that can be leased out to other ISPs at reasonable rates.

Time, money, and politics will limit whether Kentucky stays steadfast and completes the project as planned, or decides to reassess the choices they've made so far. However they move forward, they've established some important lessons on scale, partnerships, and thoroughly preparing a sound plan. From our perspective, it has not done much to change our argument that large scale investments are best done at the local level and public-private partnerships are significantly riskier than many realize. 

Image of the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington courtesy of USA Reisblogger via pixaby.

Image of the Kentucky Capitol staircase by Erin Pettigrew (Mom at the Capitol) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Tags: kentuckymiddle milestatestate policyfundingbondsopen accessruralpartnershipmacquarieowensboroglasgowfrankfortappalachianspolespole attachmentsschoole-rateutopiaminnesotalake countyone touch make readynashvillelouisvillestate lawsleaseeconomic developmentdslat&t

Community Broadband Media Roundup- October 23

October 23, 2017

California

San Francisco moving closer to building a city-owned Internet network By Dominic Fracassa, SF Gate

 

Colorado

Avon mayor: Vote ‘yes’ on 2B to allow town authority to provide broadband services by Mayor Jennie Fancher, Vail Daily

Loveland City Council Ward I candidate Lenard Larkin, Reporter-Herald

I support municipal broadband. It is the most cost efficient, customer-responsive form of broadband. Customer service can be in Loveland. Any private interference will mean overseas customer support. From Sandy, Oregon, to Chattanooga, Tennessee, this is shown to be the best format for our future.

About $20,000 invested in Fort Collins broadband ballot issue by Kevin Duggan, The Coloradoan

Fort Collins looks to Longmont for broadband lessons by Kevin Duggan, The Coloradoan

Louisville Question 2G: High-speed internet authorization, Daily Camera

 

Florida

Commissioner Justin Troller makes pitch for Lakeland broadband service by Christopher Guinn, News Chief

 

Michigan

Bill would bar Michigan communities from using public money for internet infrastructure by Virginia Gordon, Michigan Public Radio

Critics of the bill say it would harm Michigan communities with inadequate internet access and hurt their economic development.

According to Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative with the Institute of Local Self Reliance, the bill would leave the businesses in underserved communities less competitive, hurt their children's education, and result in declining property values.

Michigan Mulls New Restrictions On Muni-Broadband by Wendy Davis, Media Post 

Republican fight against municipal broadband heats up in Michigan by Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica 

Michigan Introduces New, Awful Bill to Ban Community Broadband by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

The bill proclaims that local communities cannot use federal, state, or even their own voter-approved funds to invest in even the slowest Internet infrastructure.

And while it doesn't ban public/private partnerships outright, it does its best to discourage them, notes the folks at Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which has been fighting such ISP-written protectionist drivel for years.

"(An) exception allows local communities to engage in public-private partnerships, but the bill’s ambiguous language is likely to discourage local communities from pursuing such partnerships," the group notes. "Rather than put themselves at risk of running afoul of the law, prudent community leaders would probably choose to avoid pursuing any publicly owned infrastructure initiatives."

 

North Carolina

Lacking Broadband Service to Blame for NC County’s Business Woes by Wicki Hyatt, Gov Tech (Originally published in The Waynesville Mountaineer

The solution to better broadband service across Haywood is probably a combination of different things, including wireless, aerial and underground service, Clasby said, but whatever the combination, it will cost a lot of money…. “The last mile is what we’re trying to get,” Clasby said. “It is essential — kind of like electricity was in the 1930s to let people have access.”

 

Virginia

59th District candidates propose ways to increase rural broadband access by Margaret Carmel, The News and Advance

Roanoke County lights broadband extension, inching municipal network closer to original vision by Jacob Demmitt, The Roanoke Times

 

Washington

Seattle Reconsiders Municipal Broadband, and Comcast is Nervous by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

Seattle may take another stab at municipal broadband by Colin Wood, StateScoop

Washington City Seeks Input on Potential Muni Broadband Service by Skagit Valley Herald, GovTech (Originally published in Skagit Valley Herald

Cary Moon will pursue city-owned internet if elected Seattle mayor because ‘it is an equity issue’ by Monica Nichelsburg, GeekWire

“Municipal broadband is one of those issues where we know the right thing to do and we keep not doing it because of power and money,” Moon said. “The way you combat that is with an irrefutable vision and a broad coalition that’s building that vision together. Because, until we all band together and hold the city leadership accountable, it will be very hard to pull it off from the mayor’s office.”

Comcast and CenturyLink Spent $50K in Seattle to Support a Mayoral Candidate Who Opposes Community-Owned Internet by Kaleigh Rogers, Motherboard

 

West Virginia

6 West Virginia Counties Seek Federal Cash to Weigh Broadband Buildout by Kathy Plum, Government Technology

 

General

Turning Broadband Access Into a Social Movement by Michelle Chen, The Nation

Drawing from local activists and institutions, neighborhood enterprise and public infrastructure, micro-broadband networks are springing up in enclaves that commercial Internet service giants traditionally ignore as “unprofitable.” The Roosevelt Institute’s analysis of New York City as a laboratory for municipal broadband shows that, with political will and public investment, even a tech-poor community can reorient its communications ecosystem. Even when Congress malignly neglects infrastructure, the thirst for technological access can be an avenue toward self-reliant community development and grassroots democracy.

Democrats promote internet access, but affordability is the big issue by Rakeen Mabud, The Hill

Now Is The Time To Fight For Fast Internet By Craig Settles, The Daily Yonder

Tags: media roundup

More Colorado Towns Put Opt Out Question on The Ballot

October 23, 2017

This November, more Colorado towns and counties will be voting on whether to opt out of the 12-year-old SB 152, a state law that restricts broadband development. 

Sweeping Out the Old

Senate Bill 152 has hindered communities’ ability to invest in Internet infrastructure and provide service themselves or with private sector partners. Many communities are realizing that national carriers can’t be relied on to provide high-quality Internet access. To date, at least 98 communities across the state of Colorado have voted to reclaim local telecommunications authority by opting out of SB 152; a handful are considering actually pursuing a publicly owned network. 

Opening the Door for Options 

For some towns and counties, the ballot question is simply a way to keep their options open and to reclaim local authority that the state took away in 2005. As we’ve seen in Westminister, Maryland, public-private partnerships can be a great option for communities. Being out from under SB 152 will allow these municipalities to explore high-quality network options if the opportunity arises. Additionally, when towns give themselves the ability to explore new providers and different models, current ISPs tend to take notice and adapt accordingly. Beyond these options and ripple effects from shedding SB 152, some towns simply want autonomy and freedom from sweeping state regulation. 

In Eagle County, they recognize climbing out from under SB 152 will allow them to consider more substantial steps for taking back local power and implementing a high-speed network. They’ve yet to conduct any feasibility studies but in their yearly Legislative Policy Statement they made it clear that they’re motivated to improve connectivity. 

Ushering in the New 

The town of Greeley is moving more decisively. Ahead of the November election and vote on SB 152, Greeley has agreed to fund a joint feasibility study with neighboring Windsor. Avon Mayor Jennie Fancher authored an op-ed urging citizens to support the ballot question, saying:

Many communities around the state have already passed similar ballot initiatives in order to provide or partner in the provision of broadband services, and a  "yes" vote also enables residents to make the best decisions based on the needs of our own community, without raising taxes. 

Fancher notes the success of neighboring Red Cliff after opting out of the restrictive law two years ago and working on fixed wireless solution for the rural mountain town. In the nearby Colorado towns of Fort Collins and Longmont, the communities have also moved forward after opting out of SB 152. This election cycle Fort Collins voters will decide whether high-speed Internet should be categorized as a municipal utility, and Longmont has created a community broadband network to support their buzzing city. 

Come November, Boulder and Eagle counties will be voting on SB 152, along with a dozen sixteen towns. We've collected sample ballots: 

Update: Since publishing this story, we've learned of two more communities that will be voting on the SB 152 opt out provision: Fort Lupton in Weld County, Idaho Springs in Clear Creek County, along with Silverthorne and Dillon, both in Summit County.

City of Alamosa Ballot SB 152 opt out Eagle County, Avon, Eagle, Gypsum, Minturn Ballot SB 152 opt out Georgetown Ballot SB 152 opt out Greeley, Fort Lupton Ballot SB 152 opt out Boulder County, Louisville Ballot SB 152 opt out Manitou Springs Ballot SB 152 opt out Monte Vista Ballot SB 152 opt out Snowmass Village Ballot SB 152 opt out Vail Ballot SB 152 opt out Idaho Springs Ballot SB 152 opt out Silverthorne Ballot SB 152 opt out Dillon Ballot SB 152 opt outTags: coloradoballotreferendumelectionsb 152greeley cofort collinslongmontboulderboulder countyeagle countyeagle coalamosa coavon colouisville comonte vista cosnowmass village covail co

Up North Blandin Border to Border Conference Reminder!

October 20, 2017

Next week’s Border to Border Broadband Conference from the Blandin Foundation promises to be a great opportunity to meet like-minded people with an eye on infrastructure. This year, the event is titled “Bridging the Gaps - Expanding the Impact” and will take place at Madden’s on Gull Lake. If you haven’t already made your plans, now is an excellent time to plan on heading up north to enjoy some fall weather, Minnesota style. 

The folks at Blandin shared more information about the event and we want to pass it on to you:

Minnesota is hosting its annual Border to Border Broadband Conference October 25-26 in beautiful Brainerd Minnesota on Gull Lake.  Come learn about Minnesota's broadband innovative broadband infrastructure grant program that has had a significant impact on broadband deployment in some of the most rural places in Minnesota. 

Blandin Foundation will present new research demonstrating the impact of investment in broadband infrastructure and adoption on five rural Minnesota communities where world-class broadband is meeting smart economic development strategies.

Providers and communities will host eight interactive learning stations showcasing successful rural projects funded through Minnesota’s Border-to-Border grant program.

Pre-conference sessions will include a Broadband 101 Workshop and a Digital Inclusion Showcase:

Laura Withers, Director of Communications, NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association; Roberto Gallardo, Assistant Director, Purdue Center for Regional Development; and Aaron Brown, Iron Range storyteller, blogger (http://minnesotabrown.com/)  and broadband advocate; are among the conference’s featured speakers.

Learn more at the conference website.

Tags: minnesotablandin foundationeventruralinfrastructureconferencecooperativepartnershipgrant

Local Voices Support Muni Telecom Utility In Fort Collins

October 19, 2017

With election season fast approaching, Fort Collins is buzzing with the possibility of municipal broadband entering the quaint Colorado town. In addition to talk among neighbors, advocates supporting the measure are expressing themselves with letters to the local media.

If ballot measure 2B is voted through, it would allow the city charter to be amended to include high-speed Internet as a municipal utility. It’s been two years since Fort Collins and other Colorado communities opted out of SB 152. And this November they’ll vote on whether municipal broadband should be an option for their community.

Talk of Muni Broadband Bubbles Up

Recent op-eds have raised the ballot issue and unflinchingly come down in support for municipal broadband. Zach Shelton, a Fort Collins dentist explained in his piece that

In order to continue to grow and facilitate healthy families and communities, we must have access to reliable and fast Internet that can connect our medical record system and servers between offices. Broadband is the glue that connects all of us in the medical field and has increasingly become an equally important tool in our doctor bag.

David Austin-Groen admits his initial apathy to the municipal broadband debate, but concedes, finding foresight, and gets right to the heart of the problem:

We simply cannot rely on the private sector to provide this service, if they ever do, and we certainly can’t live on hope that they will act in the community's best interest.

Community members and organizations have begun a lively debate over the issue. The Citizens Broadband Coalition is actively advocating for a yes vote on the ballot measure. Colorado State University recently hosted a presentation and panel discussion that shed light on both sides of the debate.

This isn't the first that locals have written to the news to show that they believe Fort Collins is capable of offering high-quality Internet access. This summer, resident Ray Franklin wrote in to compliment the city's knowledgeable staff. He pointed out that personnel will be a major factor if the community moves forward with the municipal telecommunications utility. "Does the city have the right technical staffing for the job? My answer is an unqualified yes."

Tim Tillson of Fort Collins urged voters to look to the future when considering how to vote:

The argument that 1 gigabit is more than any application needs is like arguing that Los Angeles doesn't need four-lane freeways because no car is four lanes wide. It's about total traffic, and how demand will grow as internet applications needing higher capacity are deployed nationwide.

Competition is Key

David Austin-Groer has taken heed to this essential aspect of the community-owned fiber model and emphasizes its ability to also strengthen local economy. “Fast internet makes Fort Collins competitive, attractive to current and new businesses, and new residents to empower our local economy.”

A New Approach

Fort Collins was in talks with potential private sector partner Axia after voters opted out of SB 152, but the prospective deal fell through. With that option off the table, and with the potential pitfalls that accompany public-private partnerships, creating a publicly owned broadband utility is considered a good option. As echoed by many commentators, the town's economic viability is dependent on high-quality connectivity; passing this ballot measure would be a critical step in getting closer to that goal. The discussion will no doubt hurdle on and in the coming weeks, Fort Collins may have a new tool for building local power.

Tags: fort collinscoloradoelectionutilitylettermediasb 152

AT&T Accused of Digital Redlining in Detroit

October 18, 2017

In Detroit, AT&T is facing a formal FCC complaint accusing the telecom giant of deploying discriminatory “digital redlining” tactics. This is the second such complaint filed against the telecommunications giant since the first of the year.

Demanding Equality in Connectivity

The complaint filed by civil rights attorney Daryl Parks says the FCC violated the Communications Act which forbids unjust and unreasonable discrimination. A month earlier, Parks filed a similar complaint on behalf of three Cleveland residents. In both instances, Parks and community members maintain that AT&T is withholding high-speed Internet from minority neighborhoods that have higher poverty rates.

These complaints fall under Title II of the Communications Act, which contains not only net neutrality rules but important consumer protections regarding discrimination. Title II SEC. 202. [47 U.S.C. 202] (a) clearly specifies:

It shall be unlawful for any common carrier to make any unjust or unreasonable discrimination in charges, practices, classifications, regulations, facilities, or services for or in connection with like communication service, directly or indirectly, by any means or device, or to make or give any undue or unreasonable preference or advantage to any particular person, class of persons, or locality, or to subject any particular person, class of persons, or locality to any undue or unreasonable prejudice or disadvantage.

The first complaint filed in Cleveland last March was prompted by a report from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance and Connect Your Community group. Their analysis concluded that the disparities among neighborhoods are a product of over a decade of deliberate infrastructure investment decisions, resulting in digital redlining. Their well-documented maps help visualize these disparities among neighborhoods.

The Roots of Redlining

Redlining is defined as denying or withholding services to residents of a certain area based on its ethnic or racial demographic. Redlining has been deployed for decades, most notably by the banking sector and their mortgage lending departments. Beginning in the 1930s, the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) compiled homeowner data for booming cities— primarily in the rust belt— and they drafted maps with red outlining city blocks containing “undesirable inhabitant types” of high-risk. The maps were sectioned off into four categories: Grade A (“highly desirable”), Grade B (“somewhat desirable”), Grade C (“declining”), and red were Grade D (“to be avoided”). In Richmond for example, the damning red of Grade D was almost exclusively assigned to areas described as “negro”. The historical consequences have been disastrous, primarily for low-income communities of color across the nation.

This history, coupled with the onslaught of ballooning telecom monopolies following the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, created a favorable environment for disinvestment in low-income neighborhoods. From the mid-1990s onward, FCC regulators have allowed numerous monopolies to form under the condition that they strive to provide universal service— this same sentiment was echoed with the recent merging of AT&T and DirectTV. But in the absence of any real FCC oversight, these mega companies are willfully ignoring agreed upon terms and neglecting to invest in less profitable areas like the lower income neighborhoods in Detroit and Cleveland. The same neighborhoods that were subjected to racist housing policies and loan services more than eighty years ago lack high-speed Internet access.

NDIA’s report does not specifically invoke race or ethnicity— opting for the phrasing ‘lower-income neighborhoods’. The socio-economic realities of these communities, a result of the banking industries mid-century redlining tactics, has become the impetus for new types of discriminatory investment in these same areas. Moreover, the current low-income status’ of neighborhoods in Detroit and Cleveland are very much a product of earlier redlining tactics by mortgage lenders. This low-income status is now being touted as a rationale for skirting telecommunication investment (“digital redlining”) in these neighborhoods. Bottom line: high-speed Internet service isn’t offered based on your individual income levels, it’s very much dependent on where you live.

AT&T is avoiding investment in low-income communities because they don’t expect substantial returns. Private companies need ever-increasing profit that will keep their shareholders happy. It’s the same logic for not investing in rural communities. Parks argues that in these communities of color, AT&T is knowingly or not, perpetuating an oppressive legacy rooted in racism and demands a shift from this damaging legacy.

Exploiting Already Underserved Communities

The FCC complaint cites Dr. Brian Whitcare’s analysis of publicly available datasets submitted by AT&T on its Form 477. Whitcare specifically looked at Detroit and found that AT&T hasn’t made significant investments to support its improved fiber technology in census blocks with poverty rates above 35 percent.

Joan Marsh, AT&T’s chief regulatory and external affairs officer plainly stated

“We do not redline,” adding “Our investment decisions are based on the cost of deployment and demand for our services and are of course fully compliant with the requirements of the Communications Act.”

When AT&T and DirectTV merged in 2015, there was a clear condition mandated by the FCC: AT&T would be required to offer an affordable Internet plan for low-income households. AT&T created a program called “Access” that allowed low-income residents access to their lowest-tier 3 Mbps plan for $5 per month. But because of insufficient infrastructure in many sectors of Detroit (outdated copper wires), many households’ maximum download speeds topped out around 1.5 Mbps. As in Cleveland, AT&T’s decrepit infrastructure in these communities created atrocious download speeds that, through an absurd loophole, allowed AT&T to manipulate the mandated FCC terms and deny these households enrollment in the Access program. The sole remaining option for households deemed ineligible for the Access program was a normal plan that was six times the cost. That said, it appears AT&T has revised the stipulations recently so these households can join the Access program and pay a reduced rate for their sluggish Internet.

Even with the revised plan, Parks adamantly opposes the poor connectivity and service being doled out to Detroit's low-income and historically disadvantaged communities of color.

"There are some commodities we ensure people have. We don't give people inferior water service if they live in the wrong area. We don't give people inferior electric service if they're living in the wrong area."

Tags: detroitmichiganlow-incomelawsuitfccclevelandnational digital inclusion alliancedigital divideinfrastructureincumbent

Garrett County Builds Better Connections By Combining Technologies in Rural Maryland - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 275

October 17, 2017
Community Broadband Bits Episode 275 - Natural Resources Business Specialist Cheryl DeBerry and CIO Nathaniel Watkins

Maryland may be home to our nation’s bustling, urban capital, but on the other side of the state are the Appalachians and many rural communities that struggle with poor Internet access. One of those communities is Garrett County. Residents, businesses, and institutions have limped along for years using outdated connections.  Some people don’t have any access to the Internet; all that is changing.

In episode 275 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, the county’s Natural Resources Business Specialist Cheryl DeBerry and county CIO Nathanial Watkins join Christopher to discuss the initiative that is changing the local connectivity landscape.

Cheryl, Nathaniel, and Christopher discuss the project that combines fiber, fixed wireless, and TV white space technologies in order to reach people and businesses across the county. They also talk about how a significant portion of people in the rural community simple can’t afford the high cost of satellite and how mobile Internet access just doesn’t cut it in a rural area like Garrett County. Cheryl describes how the project is an economic development initiative and Nathaniel shares more details about their need to combine technologies and the results.

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

This show is 23 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

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

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

Tags: garrett county mdmarylandappalachiansruralregionaleconomic developmentfixed wirelessmobilewhite spacespodcastaudiobroadband bits

Eastern Tennessee: Newport Smart Grid, Morristown Incubator

October 17, 2017

Approximately 30 miles separate Morristown and Newport, but the two are joining forces to better connect local businesses and residents as entrepreneurs take up residence in the region's newest high-tech work space.

An Incubator for Innovation in Morristown

SkyMart Venture Place is a new cooperative workspace stirring innovation in the quaint downtown district of Morristown.

Morristown was on the forefront of implementing city-wide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) back in 2006. Today their gigabit network MUS FiberNET is fostering innovation in this thriving co-working space and helping neighboring communities bridge their connectivity gaps. Lynn Wolfe explains that the new space has helped support her in the early stages of her business. “[SkyMVP] gives me a place—with super-fast internet—to come and do my internet marketing, and it has been very beneficial for that and being able to upload my training videos,” Wolfe said.

SkyMVP’s doors opened in August of last year and it’s become a hub for local entrepreneurs. The space allows members to hold workshops, rent office space, and network with other professionals.

Similar incubator projects are underway in Virginia’s Roanoke Valley and Indianola, Iowa. SkyMVP is yet another example of how gigabit connectivity can spur positive transformations for local communities. Morristown’s decision to invest in FTTH infrastructure is emboldening their local economy and potential for small business growth in the area is promising. Sky MVP has even begun offering a course for budding entrepreneurs and a handful of free workshops.

Expanding the 'Net in Newport

Morristown’s leap in connectivity is spreading. Morristown Utility Commission (MUC) is partnering with Newport Utilities (NU) to expand Internet connectivity in the region. MUC and Newport officially announced a 7-year contract in which MUC will supply NU wholesale Internet access and third-party Voice over IP services.

As part of a smart grid project, Newport is able to capitalize on their proximity and relationship with Morristown and bring better connectivity to residents, businesses, and other entities. The initial stages of laying 13 miles of the community-owned Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks is underway and Newport residents expect to start obtaining services from NU Connect by January 1st.

This is an exciting development for building local power and expanding connectivity, but it also has the potential to become a model for other similarly situated communities. The agreement has allowed Newport to improve its local telecommunications at a cheaper cost than if it had to deploy the project from the ground up. Inline with other FTTH communities in Tennessee, Newport Utilities plans to offer a affordable monthly plan; $40 per month for 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) and gigabit access is available for $100 per month. All speeds are symmetrical.

Newport recently received a $21 million loan from the USDA Rural Utilities Service (RUS) to expand their smart grid project, which will allow them to bring high-quality connectivity to their entire service area. The smart grid applications will also allow NU to maximize the electric system's efficiencies and reduce outages. They anticipate construction to be completed during 2018.  

Tags: gigabittennesseeincubatorFTTHnewporteconomic developmententrepreneurshipmorristownruralmunismart-grid

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 274

October 16, 2017

This is the transcript for episode 274 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Justin Holzgrove and Joel Myer join the show from Mason County, Washington, to discuss how a publicly-owned network delivers high-speed Internet service throughout the county. Listen to this episode here.

Justin Holzgrove: They didn't bring pitchforks, but they brought their pens and they were ready to sign up with their checkbooks. And they said, "Bring it on. We want this now."

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 274 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Public Utility District 3 in Mason County, Washington, delivers symmetrical gigabit connectivity to every customer in its service area. They have no speed, capacity or data thresholds. You have access to a gigabit regardless of whether you are in a rural area or within city limits and whether or not you're a household, business, or one of the ISPs that work with PUD 3. This week Justin Holzgrove and Joel Myer from PUD 3 in Mason County spent some time talking with Christopher about how the Public Utility District is working to bring high quality connectivity to each customer. In addition to describing their plan to build out and manage their network, Justin and Joel share the story of how connectivity has come to be offered from PUDs in Washington. Now here's Christopher with Justin Holzgrove and Joel Myer talking about Public Utility District 3 in Mason County, Washington.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I am Chris Mitchell at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance up in Minneapolis. Today I'm speaking with Justin Holzgrove the Telecommunications and Community Relations Manager up at Mason County's Public Utility District number 3. Welcome to the show.

Justin Holzgrove: Hey how's it going?

Christopher Mitchell: It's going well. I'm excited to learn more about what you're doing. But first I have to introduce our other guest. Joel Myer the Public Information and Government Relations Manager at PUD number 3. Welcome to the show.

Joel Myer: Thank you it's a beautiful day in the Fiberhood.

Christopher Mitchell: That's good. Joel I'd like to start with you. Could you just tell us a little bit about maybe Mason County, how it's situated, and a little bit of the background of the Public Utility District.

Joel Myer: Sure. Mason PUD 3 is located on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State. The main city in our service territory is the city of Shelton. The county has about 60 somewhat thousand residents, and it's relatively defined by natural resources including forest and aquaculture. We have a large number of seasonal customers that we serve for Mason County PUD number 3. About 25% of our customers as a matter of fact are seasonal, they come here for the beautiful views, the water and the forest. But we have approximately 34,000 customers that we serve with electricity but we also of course as is the focus of this interview have a fiber optic network that supports our network and also provides services via wholesale to customers throughout. But in terms of the history of PUD 3, it's an interesting rocky start but I think that it is proved for the customers of Mason County a real benefit. The Washington State Grange back in the 1920s was very upset that there wasn't enough electricity being brought out to rural areas in Washington State and if it was brought out by the companies that provide electricity at that time, it was brought out at extremely high cost and high rates. In the 1920s the Grange started a petition drive in Washington State and Washington State's initiative number one, the very first one that was brought to the legislature in the state's history to form Public Utility District for electricity and a number of other services that are outlined in the state law. It got onto the ballot and was overwhelmingly approved. Mason County PUD number 3 and its partner that were the only county in Washington State as two operating public utility districts within its boundaries PUD 1. PUD 1 started service in 1934, PUD 3 had to go through a long list of legal challenges until in 1939 we were authorized by the state supreme court to start serving customers. Our first customer base was eight customers and that's grown over the years as it's gone forth but public utility districts in general and Mason PUD 3 in particular has always had kind of the long view. What do our customers need to be successful in either their home life or in their businesses? How could we provide better service to do that? We've just slowly grown our systems benefits and its capabilities to meet that. In the late 1990s we started looking at using the fiber optic network to support our facilities and in 2000 the state legislature authorized the authority to sell wholesale. But Justin has a lot more information of how we went from there.

Justin Holzgrove: I think it's a really great story when we talk about the origins of public utility districts, how they were formed for the very purpose of bringing a required utility, a necessary utility, an essential utility to the rural communities in that case it was the electricity. We take that for granted now but today, we're looking at that as high speed broadband as an essential utility, and we're working as a public utility to bring high speed broadband to communities that are in the rural setting, rural context that don't have other options for high speed Internet. We see a lot of parallels between the electrification of rural Mason County, rural America if you will and the high speed broadband infrastructure being put into rural America. We're happy to continue our legacy to help support our customers in that way.

Christopher Mitchell: Justin I get a sense that with the utility district the fiber was probably built first to support actual infrastructure probably electricity, water services maybe, but the infrastructure that you are already doing.

Justin Holzgrove: Yes absolutely that's correct. The primary goal of our fiber optic network is to support as you said electrical infrastructure. That means we network our facilities in the field such as substations or reclosers, regulators, different offices. We have several communications towers throughout Mason County. We have the fiber backbone too and they support things like our grid modernization project, advance metering infrastructure and our radio system. So they are increasingly communicating to each other and operate the system. We do have a very extensive fiber network throughout Mason County, but it is primarily backbone and part of our history on that is when we first started putting this up there was a great interest from some of the larger customers as well, as we were putting this up. They had a real need for higher bandwidth services. As we expanded for electrical needs, we also were able to pick up a couple of our larger customers. We had goals of picking up our top 20 and then it grew to top 50 customers. We brought our fiber network to area such as our poor districts and throughout our downtown districts. But when it gets into the rural communities, we found ourselves in, we didn't have a plan to have a long-term expansion and a long-term plan to serve all customers in our neighborhood if you will. We had to really solve that problem.

Christopher Mitchell: This is something that I actually in some way sympathize I suspect with you Joel in that I've seen where residents can get quite forceful about really wanting to see the utility district being more aggressive in building out fiber. Whereas, you might find other people are equally aggressive about the public utility district not doing it. I'm curious, tell us a little bit about that, and I think that maybe things came too ahead a bit in 2015 for you.

Joel Myer: That's a very good point because over the years, I think the word we became somewhat the victim of our success on the electric side, and the expectations of what we could provide on the broadband side. For example over the years that we have had the authority from the state legislature to provide wholesale telecommunications. We have heard long, loud and often from many of our customers that not only do they want broadband in their areas, they want PUD 3 broadband because their expectation is that our servers would be as good if not better than our electric side. Which brings the discussion of the wholesale versus retail relationship that we can have with our customers. But I would say on our list right now of our 34,000 customers, we have a continuous list of about 4,000 residents, customers that are clamoring for it in their neighborhood. Some, they just don't have service. Some, they don't like the service they have because it's either too expensive or too slow or not reliable and then they look at us and they go, "You're always reliable with your electricity, and your prices are pretty good. Why don't you work to get it out to us so that we can have the same type of quality for our broadband." The big balance is that wholesale, retail relationship kind of holds us back but also provides the opportunities for local economic development through the formation of businesses that can be that retailer for us.

Christopher Mitchell: And Justin I'd like to get a little bit of your perspective on this with how you are expanding the fiber network to some of these residents, what that plan is. Maybe we can just start by where Joel left off. I looked at your website and there's several companies that are offering very high speed services. How exactly is that working out for you?

Justin Holzgrove: I think it works out well and it works out better for our customers when we have a selection of retailers for them to choose from. As we know competition brings price down, it brings the best out of everybody whether it's sports or in business and as we've had more retailers join our network and offer their services to our customer, our customers are benefiting. They're benefiting by a faster speed and lower prices. That's one of the things that we really like about our network, it's open access non-discriminatory so our customers can choose any of the retailers that are partners with us and that's a really big win.

Christopher Mitchell: Justin let me ask you this because one of the criticism we've had sometimes in theory, sometimes in practice is that in an open access environment like you have in which there's actually a fair level playing field. Inevitably one or two firms capture most of the market anyway. Is that something you see or the distribution of subscriber split a little more evenly among the service providers?

Justin Holzgrove: We have a handful of service providers. They all are participating from my perspective at a level that suits their business desire. So we have one service provider that maybe isn't so much interested in growing their business. Their desire is to focus on the handful of customers that they have and they're doing well with that. We may have another business retail service provider that's been there since the beginning and they have the majority of the customers because they have maybe a more robust name and the history there. And we have one who is a little bit newer and they're doing a really good job of being competitive and doing a lot of marketing and advertising about the benefits of fiber all the way to the home. So they are, as we expand the network are picking up their share of customers as well. It seems to work out really well for us. We also have two providers that are focusing on business or enterprise services and that's a really good niche for them and that's working out well for them as well. They aren't interested in doing residential and in some cases not the other way vice versa. So it seems to work out well.

Christopher Mitchell: I think that it's a really good perspective of a reminder that even if businesses isn't capturing a massive part of the market, they might be fine with that. It's a good reminder. So how are you expanding the network given all this incredible demand to go further with it?

Justin Holzgrove: Well, Chris I want to go back a little bit to the 2015 kind of point that we ran into and I think that that's a good place to tell the story of where we sort of pivoted with our network. We have extended the network to most of, not all of but most of the areas where we need it for the electrical distribution system. Well, that's always growing. Mason County is a defined area and we're pretty well spread throughout there. We've also worked with NoaNet and we've established several contracted cell phone towers. They have paid to expand the network to some areas as well. So we have a pretty widespread backbone.

Christopher Mitchell: NoaNet for those who haven't run across it is the Northwest Open Access Network. Let me strongly encourage you, if you're unfamiliar with it to go back in our archives, we've done several interviews with them. So Justin please pick up with how you're expanding it beyond the electrical and where it was in 2015.

Justin Holzgrove: In 2015 we really were beginning to make a pivot with our philosophy on how we approached the expansion of our fiber network. As you know we've talked about this, we're able to sell the excess capacity on our network with fiber and today's optics in electronics, that is near limitless. The only thing that we are limited by was where the actual physical connections, the physical strands of fiber. So we're just really working hard to try and figure out what's our philosophy? What are our construction centers, how are we going to engineer and design this. We're a bunch of electric utility folks not so much telecom folks. With electricity, it's easy, you find the wire you cut it back and you put a hot clamp on it and there you go. But as you know fiber it's a little bit different. As we are exploring on the construction side on how to do this, we're really getting a lot of pressure and interest from our customers to expand fiber to them. Everybody wants it and they want it now. We had a high speed broadband expo where we invited our customers in, then we focused on several areas that were rural, folks on several areas where we thought there maybe some possibilities in doing some pilot project expansion. We had over 800 people join us on a Thursday evening, I believe it was in May 2015.

Christopher Mitchell: That's crazy.

Justin Holzgrove: They didn't bring pitchforks, but they brought their pen and they were ready to sign up with their checkbooks. And they said, "Bring it on. We want this now."

Christopher Mitchell: When 100 people show up at a meeting on a Thursday night that's considered huge, 800 is off the charts so congratulations and I guess caution.

Justin Holzgrove: I think you're on it there. I don't know that we were so wise with this. It was all part of the process and the process is necessary. We had 800 people ready to sign up right now and that was a big deal. We had a place for them to share their interests, record their address, we had this thing where you could stick a dot on your home location in Mason County and so we have this large poster size chart of Mason County that looks like it has a chicken pox because everybody wants it all over the place. We had a bunch of stations that could need our retailers, the active ones that are on our network, ones that interested in expanding, see their services. Really it was a positive step because it made our customers' interests very clear. They want to see the fiber network expanded. Unfortunately you mentioned caution, we have this term that we sort of developed around that point called anticipointment. This is where people are anticipating something but are disappointed when they can't get it. That really sort of became the theme of our fiber network unfortunately, that wasn't the intention but that kind of became a reality. So we went from 2015 from that kind of big kind of landmark event to really needing to buckle down and get our construction standards figured out. So we tried several different ... We had been working on several different distribution models and we were able to identify a couple of ways that we wanted to go about it. We moved into a distribution hub and a RC terminal ready to connect terminal model for our neighborhoods and we focus on areas where there's overhead power or where there's a conduit available. And so we built a couple of networks in several of the more 'densely populated' and I put that in quotation, areas in rural Mason County where they didn't have any other access to high speed broadband available. So we've built these networks and we're able to work out some things with our process and really establish some really good construction and engineering standards and establish some cost measureables so that we could move forward and look and see what it would take to really roll this out much, much broader. While we were doing that, we also did a survey. We did survey with our customers, that's in this past Winter 2016 to 2017. We did a statistically valid phone survey. So asked several questions such as, "What kind of broadband do you have now so we can measure the need?" Then we wanted to measure the desire. "Are you interested in seeing the PUD expand?" We also asked, "If we expand are you interested in paying a little more per month on your broadband bill to pay for the cost of the expansion?" And the overall answers were, "No we don't have broadband access or we're not satisfied with it and yes we want PUD to build it and yes we're willing to pay extra." So that was the part of serving our customers with a statistically valid phone survey and then several months later we did an online survey so that we could give everybody the opportunity to respond if they wanted. We also had a mail and valid as well if you will. And the results were pretty consistent across the board.

Christopher Mitchell: Joel I'd like to bring you back into this. One of the thing we've seen with surveys in some of the other public utility districts is a question of whether they want to modestly increase the price of electricity to help finance the cost of the fire burning. It sounds like you're actually focused on making sure the broadband customers alone are the ones paying for the expansion. I'm curious can you tell us a little bit about your thinking about that.

Joel Myer: We've seen this question come up again and again at other utilities in Washington State as to whether or not customers, A want it, B would be willing to pay extra on their electricity bill to share the costs of bringing the service out. And it's been kind of mixed in the answers and the results. For example in one study I remember there was a question about that and so the utility started to expand and when they expanded and started talking about an adder on the electricity bill. People suddenly got all excited about it. So it proved that while your survey may say that the actual implementation may not be as real life there. So we wanted to make sure that those who would benefit from the broadband service would be the ones that would be actually paying for it, which is their vote, if you will paying with their dollars, that "Yep we want it, we're willing to pay for it, here's my check." That would come through the retailer. Seeing those experiences and also our gut feeling as to how our electrical customers would feel if there was an adder on to their electricity bill for it, gave us that kind of weathervane to move us in that direction. We did and I think it's really interesting when you start taking the look at the Fiberhood project, which we will discuss later that people are boarding with their dollars and their feet on this. That they want it, they're willing to pay for it and will.

Christopher Mitchell: Joe one of the things that we recently did an interview with Kitsap where they're using a model where the people in a neighborhood can petition the utility to expand it. I think you're going in a little different direction. Maybe you can explain that model and just enlighten us a little bit about that.

Joel Myer: There are various funding models that are available to the public realm in Washington State help fund facility expansion and growth. Most of those tend toward the local utility district, local improvement district type model. They're very, very intricate and cumbersome and take a long time to form and also to close out. One of the things that Kitsap has done and I applaud them for that is that some of their local utility district extensions have been in part of other utility extensions as well. So it's kind of a package of utilities that's moving into a community so there's a greater benefit than just the broadband coming in which makes it a little bit more easy to use those state funding models. Because one of the things that you run up against is if you do an improvement through a local utility district or a local improvement district, the value of your property increase is the most that you can charge for an assessment for bringing that improvement to the property. So if the property improvement is $1000 in valuation, that's all you can charge them under state law. Your extension could cost more than that per customer. So taking not only the cumbersome nature of those funding measures but also some of the legalistic restrictions that are placed on you and how you can access it, that for local utility district expanding broadband and no other public utility is part of it becomes a little bit of a problematic approach.

Christopher Mitchell: Justin you want to just dive in and talk about you've expanded.

Justin Holzgrove: We were looking at all of these different inputs and pieces and of information from our engineering standards to our customers desire to the survey responses to the LUD models that some of our neighbors were using and we decided that there had to be a way to blend all of this together and create a solution that would be able to meet everybody's desire. And that's birthed our Fiberhood program. Fiberhood program is really quite simple. The PUD has reviewed its service territory and has designated specific boundaries or borders, we have 20 onwards and that represents the potential to serve several thousand customers. Within these Fiberhoods we've let customers know that they are up for consideration of potentially receiving a fiber network being expanded to and built throughout their neighborhood. We've partnered with COS systems, coos is what we've been calling it in-house, systems they're out of Sweden and they have a fantastic software platform that we've been using to communicate and interface with our customers on this.

Christopher Mitchell: That's the service zones platform right?

Justin Holzgrove: Our customers log on to our website, pud3.org/fiberhood and they launch the COS system service zones application and all they have to do is type in their address. If their address is within a Fiberhood, then they're able to make a commitment. Once 75% of the customers was in the Fiberhood, make commitment, PUD 3 will extend fiber and build a distribution network to serve them. It really is quite simple and it's very, very successful so far. As I mentioned we have about 20 Fiberhoods, we launched it in early August and we have several that are very, very close. One Fiberhood is about seven signups away and we have others on its tail we are very excited about that process and we're looking forward to launching that.

Christopher Mitchell: I'm curious, the ones that are the most popular, that are the closest to hitting fruition. Are they ones that have zero service providers currently or are they ones who are more ... They have an option but they're not happy with it?

Justin Holzgrove: We didn't qualify customers that have other service provider options in Fiberhood. Really if you're Fiberhood, you have a DSL or worse so these people are ones that don't have any high speed broadband options available. We have several providers in Mason County and we are staying out of their territory for several reasons. The first is we want to focus on those that don't have service, just like that public utility model in the beginning that we talked about. We want to make sure we're providing service to those that don't have it available. We also don't want to infringe upon or over-build a private company, that's their deal. They should be working on that. We also don't want to expand the network very near them in which case they would then over build us. That's not good either. We have our focus on our customers that don't have other service options.

Christopher Mitchell: Some of my aggressive listeners, myself included would say, I hope that over time you will be expanding your network to everyone. Presumably it will be up to people themselves whether or not ultimately you are competing with some of the existing providers. I'm just in the sense that while I certainly agree with you that you want to be careful about respecting the private investments that others are making to some extent you may see some negative side effects if you have partner areas that have over high quality network and areas that served but served poorly by a cable company or something. They might get more frustrated. In the longer term I'm curious if you think that you'll be expanding that network into more areas.

Justin Holzgrove: I would say that in the longer term is a long term for us. We have a very large and very real community, Mason County and there are many, many, many areas that do not have other options. The work ahead of us is great and we want to make sure that we are meeting the needs of those that don't have options before we need the needs of those that do have options or maybe are receiving poor options. So well, that may change, right now our focus really is on those that don't have options. I think that that's just a look at Mason County. Our trees outnumber our people by a lot and so we are quite rural here.

Christopher Mitchell: It is worth remembering that western counties can be the size of eastern states.

Justin Holzgrove: Yeah, that is a good point. We are the size of Rhode Island I believe. Is that correct Joe?

Joel Myer: That is correct.

Christopher Mitchell: There's some good perspective there.

Joel Myer: It is correct. It's interesting to note when you take a look at the various municipal broadband models throughout the United States, that there's a panoply of it. I mean you've got cities who are given broad authorities by their states to provide a number of services for their citizens. In Washington State where the law is silent on an authority, it's assumed that a city or a county or a general government have the authority to do it. That's why you see some cities are going out and they're building municipal broadband networks on their own and competing as a retailer because they have authority under it. You have electric coops that can pretty do almost anything they want, going out as a retail service provider and using their member revenues to build that up. They are not under a state chatter so therefore they can do things like that. Whereas, Washington State Public Utility District law is a little bit different. Whereas as I mentioned where cities were silent on authorities, that they have it as long as it's legal. Public utility district only have the authorities that are expressly given to them under Washington State law. So if it doesn't mention it, we don't have the authority. So specifically the authority we have is wholesale, broadband services or telecommunication services that will always require a retailer as the contact with the customer. Our customers are initially the retail server providers, the ultimate customers of those retail servers provided are the end users and we have to make sure that that model is followed very carefully because it's being very closely watched not only by the legislator and state regulators but also folks who see this as competition.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that we've seen in a lot of places is that model is particularly challenging financially, which is one of the reasons that we've mentioned that no one at the Northwest Open Access Network because you were one of the founding members. I think the success of that organization is one of the reasons we've seen Open Access be more successful on Washington State than in other states.

Joel Myer: I agree the NoaNet has gained the capacity and the reputation of being a very good partner with people who either are funded or get service from it. We are really proud of that because it's a unique type of organization. I think that it will only continue as that reputation for a can do it attitude and good management of assets continues for NoaNet. It will continue the expansion to very rural areas of Washington state.

Christopher Mitchell: Justin speaking of expansion to rural areas, there's always the question of how one pays for it. So within the system that you've described, with the service zones from COS. How exactly does it work then that you can afford to build this out?

Justin Holzgrove: Add that to the challenges of being wholesale only and as a public utility district, we have to do everything at cost so there's not a profit margin here. Our revenues need to equal our costs and that's to the benefit of our customer. The way that it works is once Fiberhood reaches 75% threshold in economic construction list and we build the network, we have what we're calling a construction adder. This will be $25 charge per month on top of the customer's Internet, retail service providers bill and this $25 per month is to recover the cost of building the fiber extension, the distribution network and all the way to the home. So we're building all the way to the home with fiber and this $25 per month will last for 12 years. So it is a 12-year term and if a customer comes in and takes service on day one and we build to their home and connect them, they take Internet service then they pay their $25 per month. But maybe life happens. Two years down the road, they move or lose their job or life changes somehow and they say, "Gosh, I just can't afford to have Internet again or right now." Then they don't take Internet service and they don't pay that $25 per month. On the other side, let's say somebody maybe has a piece of property that they haven't developed yet but they still are interested when they do move into the county to get fiber, they may sign up on the COS software and see if they're interested but once they reach their goal and once we've built the network then they're not ready to connect. Maybe six years down the road, they do show up and they build a home and want to connect with fiber, well their $25 per month starts when they start taking service and it only lasts until the end of that 12-year term that the Fiberhood is under. So it really is tied to only the customers that are taking service are paying to help recover the cost of the investment. I think we talked about that earlier in the show, that was pretty important that we weren't having all electrical subscribers subsidize the cost of the fiber expansion and even within the Fiberhood, if you aren't interested in it, you didn't sign up for it, you're also not paying for it. I think that's the really key piece here.

Christopher Mitchell: I think one of the things that may help you out with that where that may not be as viable in other areas is that you are building to areas where they have no choices and so you know that you're going to get a lot of people to connect and so you don't really have to worry too much that those economics won't pencil out for you I'm guessing.

Justin Holzgrove: Correct, yeah that's exactly right. We are looking at a cost recovery model basis that is pretty conservative and it lasts over a longer period of time. In these rural communities what we often see is that there are lower economic abilities to pay for the large line expansions upfront. So by spreading it out over that 12-year time, we're also allowing maybe some of our lower income or the customers that couldn't afford that to be able to have access to high speed broadband. I think that's a really key piece to it too. To other listeners that might be interested, we looked at several models, many. But two of them that came to the front that we really explored were they putting a lien on a property for the investment and we found that that was just going to be too cumbersome both legally and in enforcing. And the other was the personal loan. We thought that also was very limiting in ability and so instead of tying the $25 to the customer's PUD electric bill, we decided to tie it to their Internet service provider bill. That way we could ensure that if you weren't taking service and therefore weren't benefiting from the network, you also weren't contributing to it. Our customers I will say in the survey preferred it to be on the PUD's bill, I think it's because we're a trusted community partner but we found that there were some struggles with that. If a customer didn't pay their Internet bill, could we disconnect their electricity? No. If a customer didn't pay their electricity bill, could we disconnect their Internet? Well that really is tied together. Maybe they didn't pay their Internet extension payment, so then we'll have to let their retail service provider know we're going have to disconnect them and that would be exposing potentially a personal hardship to the retail service provider or that would get in the way of their business relationship. So that was messy as well. So we found that putting that $25 construction adder on top of the $35 per month for gig service which goes to the retailer bill, it just became really clean and it would nice defining line on who's paying for what service.

Christopher Mitchell: That's a great description of a interesting approach on one of many that I hope is going to bring high quality Internet service to everyone in rural America. So thank you both for coming on the show to tell us more about what you're up to.

Justin Holzgrove: Happy to do it Chris. That's really great of you to invite us and we look to tell the story, we're really proud of it and we're also in agreement if everybody in Mason County could have a gig up gig down service through PUD 3 fiber that'd just be fantastic.

Christopher Mitchell: Thank you it's been a pleasure.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with Justin Holzgrove and Joel Myer talking about Public Utility District #3 in Washington and how they're bringing high quality connectivity to every customer in Mason County. We have transcript for this and other community Broadband Bits podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/BroadbandBits. Email us at podcast@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter his handle is @CommunityNets. Follow MuniNetworks.org stories on Twitter the handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other ILSR podcasts Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them on Apple podcasts, Stitcher or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research by also subscribing to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle licensed to Creative Commons and thanks for listening to episode 274 the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcriptmason pud 3pudpublic utility districtutilitynoanetopen accesswashingtonwholesale-onlypublic meetingruralgigabiteconomic developmentelectricityelectrificationgrassrootsfiberhood

Community Broadband Media Roundup- October 16

October 16, 2017

 

Colorado

Letter: Municipal broadband connects us all by Zach Shelton, The Coloradoan

Broadband is the glue that connects all of us in the medical field and has increasingly become an equally important tool in our doctor bag. Please vote yes on 2B to ensure we have the opportunity as a city to improve our internet infrastructure to meet the needs of our clinic and many other businesses and individuals in Fort Collins.

Letter: Broadband represents Fort Collins' future by David Austin-Groen, The Coloradoan

FAQ: Fort Collins broadband on the November ballot by Kevin Duggan, The Coloradoan

 

Florida

Commentary: Cable competition? Winter Park considers it, and Spectrum gets nervous by Scott Maxwell, The Orlando Sentinel

For consumers, though, fear and competition can be good.

Don’t take it from me. Take it from consumer-advocate groups like the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which is cheering on Winter Park and other cities, encouraging them to invest in technology and become less reliant on cable and internet providers that have near-monopolies in many markets.

Of course the cable companies will protest, said Christopher Mitchell, the president of the Minneapolis-based Institute. “They’ve fought it in every single city,” he said. “But this is like Starbucks telling a city they shouldn’t have their own coffee machines.”

 

Idaho

SDN Streamlines Virtualized Open Access Network for Idaho Municipality Ammon Fiber by Joan Engebretson, Telecompetitor

 

Massachusetts

Milton to study town broadband service by Fred Hanson, The Patriot Ledger

“Comcast, with its market power, is able to charge whatever they want” and provide subpar service, subpar speed and capacity,” he said….The town could provide the service cheaper because they would not need to make a profit, Chamberlain said. It could also lease out portions of its system to third parties for additional revenue.

 

North Carolina

Officials boost innovation economy by Brie Handgraaf, Wilson Times

 

Pennsylvania

Our view: Push needed for high-speed rural internet by The Editorial Board, Go Erie

 

Tennessee

How Chattanooga used fiber to buoy the rest of its tech community by Anna Hensel, Venture Beat

 

Virginia

King George survey looks at internet gaps by Cathy Dyson, The Free Lance Star

 

Washington

Who wants a fiber network? City asks residents to take survey by Joan Pringle, Go Anacortes

Another Shot for Municipal Broadband in Seattle by Heidi Groover, The Stranger

 

West Virginia

Commission to hold broadband hearing by Hampshire County Commission, Hampshire Review

Broadband co-op begins to take form by Tina Alvey, Register- Herald

 

General

Comcast Is Abandoning Customers In The Name Of Free Speech by Susan Crawford, Wired

FCC’s claim that one ISP counts as “competition” faces scrutiny in court by John Brodkin, ArsTechnica

Led by Chairman Ajit Pai, the FCC's Republican majority voted in April of this year to eliminate price caps in a county if 50 percent of potential customers "are within a half mile of a location served by a competitive provider." That means business customers with just one choice are often considered to be located in a competitive market and thus no longer benefit from price controls. 

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

ISPs don’t want to tell the FCC exactly where they offer Internet service by John Brodkin, ArsTechnica

"Rural areas may have large census blocks in which only a few people have access to Internet service," the non-profit Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) told the FCC. Address- or street-level data would be the most useful for analyzing rural areas, the advocacy group said.

"For rural census blocks, at least knowing which road segments Internet Service Providers can reach will help with estimating how much of the population in a rural census block actually has access," the ILSR said.

The ILSR also suggested an alternative to address-level data that might be easier to compile. ISPs could report which road segments they can reach in rural areas, the group said:

"This information should be easier to compile than geocoding addresses and can be compared to locations of small towns and other roads. Most state and local governments have information on their road networks publicly available, and providers can use that as a starting point."

Tags: media roundup

Anti-Muni Bill In Michigan Pulls No Punches

October 16, 2017

Torpedo legislation aimed at municipal network initiatives don’t usually appear in October, but Michigan’s year-round legislature is making 2017 atypical. Last week, Freshman Representative Michele Hoitenga from the rural village of Manton in Wexford County introduced a bill banning investment in municipal networks.

HB 5099 is short; it decrees that local communities cannot use federal, state, or their own funds to invest in even the slowest Internet infrastructure, if they choose to do it themselves:

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN ENACT: 

SEC. 13B. (1) EXCEPT AS OTHERWISE PROVIDED IN SUBSECTION (2), A LOCAL UNIT SHALL NOT USE ANY FEDERAL, STATE, OR LOCAL FUNDS OR LOANS TO PAY FOR THE COST OF PROVIDING QUALIFIED INTERNET SERVICE. (2) A LOCAL UNIT MAY ENTER INTO AN AGREEMENT WITH 1 OR MORE PRIVATE PARTIES TO PROVIDE QUALIFIED INTERNET SERVICE. (3) AS USED IN THIS SECTION, "QUALIFIED INTERNET SERVICE" MEANS HIGH-SPEED INTERNET SERVICE AT A SPEED OF AT LEAST 10 MBPS UPSTREAM AND 1 MBPS DOWNSTREAM.

The exception allows local communities to engage in public-private partnerships, but the bill’s ambiguous language is likely to discourage local communities from pursuing such partnerships. As we’ve seen from partnerships that have successfully brought better connectivity to towns such as Westminster, Maryland, communities often took the initiative to invest in the infrastructure prior to establishing a partnership. Typically, the infrastructure attracts a private sector partner. If a community in Michigan wants to pursue a partnership that suits the exception of HB 5099, they will first have to grapple with the chicken and the egg dilemma.

Rather than put themselves at risk of running afoul of the law, prudent community leaders would probably choose to avoid pursuing any publicly owned infrastructure initiatives.

Munis Gaining Ground In Michigan

Michigan already has a significant state barrier in place; municipalities that wish to improve connectivity must first appeal to the private sector and can only invest in a network if they receive fewer than three qualifying bids. If a local community then goes on to build a publicly owned network, they must comply with the terms of the RFP, even though terms for a private sector vendor may not be ideal for a public entity.

Nevertheless, several communities in Michigan have dealt with the restrictions in recent years as a way to ameliorate poor connectivity. They’ve come to realize that their local economies and the livelihood of their towns depend on improving Internet access for businesses, institutions, and residents.

Sebewaing

In 2013, ”Sugartown,” became the state’s first publicly owned FTTH network. The community’s municipal power and water utility operate the network, which has significantly reduced connectivity costs for local businesses and community anchor institutions (CAIs). Residents used to depend on dial-up, but now they pay about $35 per month for symmetrical 30 Megabit per second (Mbps) Internet access and can obtain gigabit connectivity for $160 per month.

Learn more about Sebewaing, Michigan’s First Gigabit Village, in episode 126 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Holland

Just this past summer, Holland decided it would offer services directly to the public and recently decided to expand its pilot project offering FTTH services. Holland also allows other ISPs to offer services to the public via its fiber optic infrastructure. It’s too early to tell if HB 5099 will affect Holland’s plans to expand their pilot project, but they are probably preparing for the worst.

Christopher spoke with Broadband Service Manager Pete Hoffswell for episode 269 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. They discussed the long history Holland has with its fiber optic network, their plans for expansion, and the plan behind offering services to the public.

Lyndon Township

The most recent community to take steps toward publicly owned Internet infrastructure is Lyndon Township. Forty-three percent of registered voters in this rural township turned out to overwhelmingly approve a measure to increase property taxes to fund the project. People in the southeastern rural community are fed up with useless Internet access from satellite and DSL. They’re tired of being rejected by the incumbents who refuse to upgrade to high-quality services because the community doesn’t offer the profitability to justify the investment. 

Christopher talked with people from Lyndon and the Michigan Broadband Cooperative (MBC) about the initiative in episode 272 of the Community Broadband Bit podcast.

Seven communities in Michigan belong to MBC and are searching for ways to improve connectivity in their community. The growing interest and willingness to invest locally in publicly owned networks reveals the problem in rural Michigan. As a legislator from a rural community, it’s disappointing that Hoitenga would rather work for incumbents AT&T and Charter Spectrum than for her constituents.

Fingerprints Of The Telephone Companies

HB 5099 refers incorrectly to “high-speed Internet access” as 10 Mbps/1 Mbps, which are the typical advertised speeds for DSL connections. It appears as though the drafters made a printing error by flip-flopping the speeds for upstream and downstream. As DSL subscribers know, rarely do their connections reach the advertised speeds, especially at peak usage times. Another factor to consider is that 10 Mbps/1 Mbps is well below the FCC's definition of "broadband," which is 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. Once again, policy makers are trying to drive speeds in the wrong direction in a thinly veiled attempt to keep speeds slower so CenturyLink, AT&T, and Charter Spectrum don’t feel pressured to invest to upgrade services. Here we have another legislator going out of her way to satisfy incumbents, rather than allowing constituents to pursue their own initiatives to improve local connectivity.

In Committee

Republican Hoitenga is Chair of the state’s Communications and Technology Committee, where the bill now rests, so HB 5099 is likely to be heard. If you live in Michigan and want to contact members of the committee to express your displeasure about this bill, you can obtain contact information for all the members at the committee page.

Did She Really Mean It? 

In a recent announcement about the public safety FirstNet project, Hoitenga said:

“The continuing amazement around certain technological advances is made up of three core factors – how the technology better connects us all, how it improves our everyday lives and how it makes us safer.”

Hoitenga’s HB 5099 contradicts her statement on FirstNet. If the bill passes it will prevent local communities achieving the factors she considers "amazing" by blocking their ability to tap into high-quality connectivity through local self-reliance.

Image of the Michigan Capitol Dome by San906 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.

House Bill 5099 TextTags: michiganlegislationmi hb 5099Sebewainglyndon township miholland miincumbent

Say "Hi" To Our New Policy Interns!

October 13, 2017

You may have noticed two new writers at MuniNetworks.org lately. Welcome Christopher Barich and Matt Marcus to the Community Broadband Networks team. Chris and Matt will be contributing to research, writing stories, working on resources, and helping keep up with all the developments in this sphere: 

 

Christopher Barich: Before joining ILSR, he interned with the U.S. Department of State and the Hudson Institute. He is a current MN Army National Guard officer and veteran. Christopher holds a Master’s of Public Policy in Global Public Policy from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota.

You can find him on twitter at: @chris_barich

Matthew Marcus: Matthew has a BA in Political Science and International Relations from CUNY Hunter College. Before joining ILSR, he worked as a Communications Associate at Medha Learning Foundation in Lucknow, India. He is a freelance writer, avid music collector, and lover of short fiction.

He’s on twitter at: @matthewmarcus91

We feel lucky to have both Christopher and Matthew aboard to help us share the news about publicly owned networks and telecom policy.

Tags: newsinstitute for local self-reliance

Webinar: Municipal Broadband Feasibility Studies, Oct. 18th

October 13, 2017

When your community needs better connectivity, the best place to start is with a feasibility study, but each community's needs vary and what should you expect from such a study? What kinds of question should you ask? What should a consultant offer your community?

There is no single answer, but the best way to prepare is to seek out information on feasibility studies and determine what is right for your region or town. For communities in the planning phase of developing a municipal broadband network, Vantage Point Solutions is hosting the webinar: “Feasibility Studies for Municipal Broadband: The Good, the Bad, and the Best Practices.”

From the invitation:

When it comes to developing and expanding municipal broadband networks, there is no one-size-fits-all model. Proper planning will ensure the right solution is identified before significant time and money is invested.

In this webinar, Vantage Point Solutions will provide you with best practices and guidance on what you should do during the planning phase of a broadband project - and what you can save for later. This session will help you avoid pitfalls that create delays and problems and maximize the success of your planning process.

The webinar discussion will be led by Dusty Johnson and Lori Sherwood on Wed Oct. 18th at 3:00 pm. Register here.

Learn more about the art of the feasibility study from some of our Community Broadband Bits podcast episodes: 

Tags: webinarfeasibilityconsiderationevent