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Commission Created For Fiber In Centennial

February 22, 2017

In December Centennial, Colorado’s City Council voted to establish Centennial FiberWorks, a program focused on making optimal use of the city’s fiber-optic backbone. In January, they took the next step by creating a Fiber Commission to manage the program.

One Step At At Time

In 2013, voters chose to opt out of Colorado’s restrictive state law SB 152 that prevents municipalities from offering telecommunications services alone or with a partner from the private sector. As in most other local referendums on the opt out question, Centennial overwhelmingly supported reclaiming local authority.

Since then, the community has established a Fiber Master Plan, which includes investing in a 50+ mile publicly owned fiber backbone. Last fall, Ting Internet announced that it had put Centennial on its list of cities where it’s considering offering fiber-optic connectivity. Since then, Ting has been assessing demand from the Centennial community and should decide soon whether or not they intend to bring Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to the city.

Ducks In A Row

Regardless of whether Ting offers residential Internet access, or some other entrants wish to bring services to Centennial, the city now has a commission to manage the use of the network and the future network. According to a recent press release:

Centennial FiberWorks and the Fiber Commission will continue efficient and cost effective planning, construction, operation and management of the City's fiber optic infrastructure. FiberWorks is formed as an operational department of the City and serves as a publicly-owned business operation. The continuing construction, use, maintenance, and extension of the City’s fiber optic infrastructure falls under the purview of FiberWorks. The Commission provides policy direction, management and day-to-day oversight of FiberWorks.

More On Centennial

In October, Christopher interviewed Tim Scott, Director of Fiber Infrastructure for Centennial, for episode 222 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Tim described how fiber for an Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) started the city’s fiber investment and how the project to improve connectivity has grown from there.

Tags: centennialcoloradotingpolicylocal

The Cable UnBundling Challenge - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 241

February 22, 2017

One of the most recurring complaints about cable television is the bundles - people resent having to pay for channels that they do not watch. Especially when those cable prices go up consistently. The cable companies tend to absorb most of the blame and anger for this model, but they aren't entirely responsible.

To explain how the cable industry works, Public Knowledge Senior Counsel John Bergmayer joins us for Episode 241 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. We talk about overlapping monopolies, market power, and how the cable companies themselves are somewhat imprisoned by content owners. 

As fits with our focus, we also talk specifically about how smaller firms (which includes all municipal networks) are particularly harmed by the status quo and even more harmed by the ongoing consolidation of the largest cable companies becuase they then have far greater negotiating power. 

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

This show is 30 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or via 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 Admiral Bob for the music. The song is Turbo Tornado (c) copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. Ft: Blue Wave Theory.

Link: Tags: economicscablecompetitionmonopolyantitrustaudiopodcastbroadband bitspublic knowledgecomcastchartertelevisionvideofccpolicysatellitehistorycontentviacomespn

Christopher On "The Takeaway": Monopolies, Munis, And Making A Difference

February 21, 2017

Christopher recently took some time to visit with John Hockenberry on The Takeaway from PRI and WNYC. The conversation covered municipal networks, big cable and telephone monopolies, and how local community initiatives for better connectivity are raising the bar in rural areas.

WNYC wrote about the show: 

Net neutrality advocates got some bad news when Ajit Pai was tapped by President Donald Trump to be chairman of the Federal Communications Commission — it appears that Pai wants to largely reverse the Obama administration's approach to the Internet.

Large telecommunications monopolies have been digging their heels in, but some citizens are fighting back. The Takeaway considers the broadband debates that currently are taking place with Christopher Mitchell, the director of Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self Reliance.

Listen to the interview; it’s about 4 minutes.

Tags: audiochristopher mitchellinterviewresourcelocalruralpress center

TN Bills Worth Watching, Supporting

February 21, 2017

While Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s “Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act” has been in the news, several other Legislators have introduced companion bills earlier this month that deserve attention.

A Few Gems

SB 1058 and HB 0970, from Senator Janice Bowling and Representative Dan Howell, would allow municipal electric utilities, such as Chattanooga’s EPB, Tullahoma Utilities Board, or Jackson Energy Authority to expand beyond their electric service area. SB 1045 and HB 1410 reclaims local authority for municipalities that want to offer telecommunications service either alone or with a partner.

HB 0970 has been assigned to the House Business and Utilities Committee; SB 1058 was referred to the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee.

Bowling has also introduced SB 1045, a bill that allows municipal electric utilities and electric cooperatives the ability to offer telecommunications services either on their own or with private sector partners. SB 1045 and it’s companion, HB 1410, sponsored by Terri Lynn Weaver in the House, specifies that there are to be no geographic limits to the service area. SB 1045 and HB 1410 are also in the same committees as SB 1058 and HB 0970.

Correcting Existing Problems

The EPB challenged restrictive state law in 2015; the FCC determined that the law was inconsistent with federal goals. The agency preempted both Tennessee and North Carolina's laws that inhibit municipal electric utilities from expanding. When Tennessee and North Carolina appealed the FCC decision, however, the appellate court determined that that states had the right to impose those laws on local communities and reversed the preemption.

Tennessee's current state law prevents municipal electric utilities that offer Internet access and/or video within their electric service area to expand beyond those geographical limits. These new bills propose removing the restrictions; they also contain a clause that would require expanding municipal electric utilities to obtain permission from other munis or cooperatives that already operate in the areas in which they plan to expand.

Leading The Charge Again

Bowling, a Republican from Tullahoma, has fought for several years to bring back authority to local communities. She’s a Tennessee elected official who is taking the lead on pushing smart policy that will improve connectivity in rural areas of the state. Bowling's own community owns a municipal network, LightTUBe, and Tullahoma has benefited while other rural areas have continued to suffer

For Cooperatives

SB 0301 and its companion HB 0950, introduced by Ferrell Haile and Art Swann, respectively, allows electric cooperatives to offer high-quality Internet access, but limits them to areas where no other private providers are already operating. Terri Lynn Weaver is also signed on to HB 0950.

Local Folks Working For Local Solutions

Sustainable & Equitable Agricultural Development is a group out of Tennessee that has established a Rural Broadband Campaign. They’ve put together a list and quick summary of current relevant legislation and even established a way for constituents to easily contact Legislators to express their opinions.

Tags: tennesseestate lawslegislationchattanoogatullahomajackson tnfccpreemptionrural electric coopgrassrootsEPB

Community Broadband Media Roundup - February 20

February 20, 2017


Hunstville, Alabama is suddenly awash in broadband competition, showing why Comcast is so afraid of municipal broadband by Karl Bode, TechDirt



Broadband advocate brings rural perspective to California Assembly by Samantha Young, Government Technology

San Francisco community groups tapped for input on city broadband rollout by Dominic Fracassa, San Francisco Chronicle



Ex-FCC chief warns of concentrated Internet ownership, lax regulation by Greg Avery, Denver Business Journal

Firms make pitches for broadband by Grand Junction Sentinel



'Bridge to nowhere'? So far, a middle mile with revenue problem by Patricia LeBoeuf, Berkshire Eagle

According to the RFP, eight potential providers indicated an interest in using the middle mile for those end-user connections that haven't materialized for most of Western Massachusetts.

"That was basically a bridge to nowhere — though the [community institutions] desperately needed it," said Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative based in Minnesota and an expert on community broadband networks. "Dollar for dollar, it was not a wise investment at the time." 

Editor's corner - Mount Washington, Massachusetts, municipal network shows can-do approach to community broadband by Sean Buckley, FierceTelecom

Cambridge Broadband Matters: The future of community broadband by Cambridge Community Television




What's Traverse City's best fiber option? by Traverse City Ticker



The need for speed - rural Internet access by Caitlyn Mahlum, Granite Falls Advocate Tribune



Missouri bill would condition muni broadband buildouts by John Eggerton, MultiChannel News

Municipal broadband backer the Institute for Local Self-Reliance called it another attempt by entrenched "monopoly" providers and their lobbyists to protect themselves.

"This legislation is trying to cut off communities at every turn by limiting any sort of 'competitive service,' whether it comes from public broadband infrastructure investment or a public-private partnership," said the Institute's Christopher Mitchell. "Missouri should be encouraging investment and local Internet choice, not working with monopoly lobbyists to prevent it."

Telco, cable-backed Missouri bill could limit municipal broadband growth, opposition groups says by Sean Buckley, FierceTelecom


New York

Not just Time Warner: NY AG wants to know about all Internet service providers by Dan Miner, Buffalo Business Journal

“Millions of New York families and businesses depend on reliable internet for everything from running a business to communicating with family and friends,” Scheniderman said in a statement. “No one should be paying a premium for speeds and services they aren’t receiving.


North Carolina

Broadband solutions sought by Mountain communities, given by nonprofits by Davin Eldridge, WCQS Western North Carolina Public Radio

Chris Mitchell is the director of community broadband internet initiatives at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance—a D.C.-based nonprofit that focuses on policy and advises local governments in matters of autonomy. He says rural municipalities are increasingly lacking in the realm of broadband internet connectivity.

“There’s so much need to improve high-quality internet access, particularly in the Appalachians, in a lot of rural areas. In North Carolina, there’s been a split historically where I think the telephone companies have worked hard to make sure they’re the only ones that can get taxpayer dollars and they really wanted to limit competition.”

Martin sponsors bill to grow rural broadband by Corey Friedman, The Wilson Times



Work on broadband network expansion in Roanoke County posited to begin by Alicia Petska, Roanoke Times

Broadband now, broadband for all by Virginia Del. Lashrecse Aird, Richmond Times-Dispatch

Senate should reject bill limiting broadband by Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star Editorial Board

The legislation is now before the state Senate Labor and Commerce Committee for review. We urge senators to study it closely. Will it, as Caroline officials and the Virginia Association of Counties fear, be counterproductive to efforts to expand internet access? Does it play into the hands of big providers who have been reluctant to cooperate with local efforts?

If the Senate somehow fails to see through this transparent effort by large broadband providers to put roadblocks in the way of localities’ plans to serve their residents, it becomes Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s duty to veto the legislation.

Virginia is for lovers, not lobbyists by Christopher Mitchell, Bacon's Rebellion

Reshaped broadband bill heads to Senate by Carmen Forman, Roanoke Times

Virginia bill now passes muster with broadband authority by John Eggerton, MultiChannel News

What's left of Byron's broadband measure moves forward in Senate by Alex Rohr, Lynchburg News & Advance

Virginia Senate considers stripped-down broadband bill by Michael Pope, WVTF Public Radio

Public hearing coming on establishing broadband authority by James Invancic, Fauquier Times

Bill would hinder municipal broadband program by Charniele Herring, Alexandria Gazette

CVEC, AcelaNet announce broadband partnership by Emily Brown, Lynchburg News & Advance



Bill to help Washington state's rural communities get Internet approaches legislative deadline by Monica Nickelsburg, GeekWire



Millions need the broadband program the FCC just put on hold by Issie Lapowsky, Wired Magazine

Anti-municipal broadband legislation progresses at state level by Joan Engebretson, Telecompetitor

The debate over muni broadband expansion by Stephanie Kanowitz, GCN

Trump FCC Chair's promise to expand America's broadband is empty by Libby Watson, Gizmodo

What happened to Google Fiber? by Libby Watson, Gizmodo

Another problem that’s faced Google Fiber: convincing people to sign up. According to Mitchell, while customers love the super fast speeds once they get them, it’s often hard to convince people to switch “even from a provider they hate,” because they don’t have time to wait at home for installation or spend time on the phone with their provider. Switching is a pain in the ass, basically. While adoption rates have been high in middle- and upper-class areas, low-income areas haven’t adopted Google Fiber as fast.

Why American Internet should be a public utility by Rick Paulas, Pacific Standard Magazine

Picture of the cows at sunset courtesy of sneeze via pixaby.

Tags: media roundup

Subsidies For Big Boys? Knoxville News Sentinel Op-Ed

February 20, 2017

In January, Governor Bill Haslam announced that he and Senator Mark Norris would introduce legislation to provide grant funding and tax credits to private companies in order to expand rural connectivity in Tennessee. In a recent Knoxville News Sentinel, Christopher took another look at more subsidies to large private providers and how that strategy has worked out so far.

We've reprinted the op-ed here:

Christopher Mitchell: State needs better broadband, not subsidies

If you were tasked with improving the internet access across Tennessee, a good first start would be to examine what is working and what’s not. But when the General Assembly debates broadband, it frequently focuses on what AT&T and Comcast want rather than what is working.

Broadband expansion has turned into a perennial fight between Tennessee’s municipal broadband networks and advocates of better connectivity on one side and AT&T and Comcast on the other. On one side is a taxpayer-subsidized model, while the other depends solely on the revenues of those who choose to subscribe. But which is which?

AT&T has received billions of taxpayer dollars to build its networks, whereas Chattanooga, Tullahoma and Morristown, for example, financed their fiber-optic networks by selling revenue bonds to private investors and repaying them with revenues from their services. The big telephone companies are massively subsidized, whereas municipal networks have generally not used taxpayer dollars.

It is true that after it began building, Chattanooga received a Department of Energy one-time stimulus grant for $111 million, but that was actually less than AT&T is getting from just one federal program in Tennessee alone – over $125 million from the Connect America Fund. And most of the money to Chattanooga went into devices for its smart grid that have since led to massive job gains.

These community networks offer modern connectivity. Chattanooga offers 10,000 Mbps to anyone in its territory. AT&T is getting enormous checks from Uncle Sam to deliver 10 Mbps. Comcast will soon offer 1,000 Mbps, but only for downloads. If you are a small business trying to upload lots of data, Comcast won’t get you there.

According to a 2016 Consumer Reports study, Comcast and AT&T were among the most hated companies across the board. Chattanooga’s Electric Power Board was the most liked. Ask around. People love the service from these local companies.

But Tennessee law will not allow municipal networks to serve their neighbors – neighbors who have often been left high and dry by AT&T and Comcast. And in announced plans to improve internet access across the state, Gov. Bill Haslam declared he would rather give $45 million in taxpayer dollars to companies like AT&T than simply allow Chattanooga to go where it is invited.

A quirk of the law is that Chattanooga could actually offer telephone service anywhere in the state. But selling advanced broadband connections has been deemed too risky to let the most successful fiber network in the nation expand 1 mile outside its current footprint.

When the General Assembly considered this dispute last year, Comcast and AT&T worked overtime. You can bet they weren’t late for any of their appointments, unlike the last time you waited at home for them. The Times Free Press in Chattanooga reported that they had 27 lawyers working to kill a bill that died after a 5-3 vote in committee.

Municipal networks like Chattanooga's are not asking for taxpayer dollars to expand, unlike AT&T in Tennessee and Comcast in other states like Vermont and Massachusetts. Strange as it may seem, if you want to expand high-quality internet access across Tennessee, local governments offer a good option at lower costs to taxpayers than the big cable and telephone companies.

But without a large grassroots effort, AT&T and Comcast will win again because they have rigged the game. The governor and Legislature know that crossing AT&T and Comcast will make political advancement more difficult. The only way to break these monopolies is for people and local businesses to demand more from elected officials.

If next year you are wondering why more businesses are moving to Chattanooga while your taxpayer dollars are going to AT&T headquarters in Dallas and you still can’t get an affordable internet connection, you’ll know why.

Read the piece in the Knoxville New Sentinel here.

Tags: tennesseeop-edchristopher mitchellruralsubsidygrantstate lawslegislationpress center

Connectivity In Maine Never Looked So Good: New Video

February 18, 2017


The Maine Broadband Coalition recently released a video on the value of fast, affordable, reliable connectivity in Maine. The group focuses on different needs in Maine and how better Internet access improves small business, home healthcare, education, and general quality of life.


The organization describes itself as:

[A]n informal federation of public policy professionals, educational institutions, businesses, non-profit organizations and individuals who care deeply about Maine’s economic future. An important purpose of the MBC is to assemble cogent, fact-based information to help public policy makers and Maine citizens make the best choices about building a robust and productive information technology infrastructure — decisions we are all facing right now. We welcome one and all to this effort.

In the video, they visit a couple of communities, including Islesboro, one of the communities that we've covered that has invested in publicly owned Internet infrastructure.

Check out the video fro the Maine Broadband Coalition:

Tags: maineislesboro mevideomarketing

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 239

February 17, 2017


Duffy Newman: The reason the carriers are using this type of technology is because they're trying to improve coverage but they're also looking at capacity.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 239 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Last week, we talked to Lincoln, Nebraska, a community using its fiber and conduit resources to improve wireless service in the city, using small cell technology. In this episode, Christopher gets the perspective of an infrastructure company that works on small cell deployment with wireless carriers. Duffy Newman is the acquisitions manager and corporate development in strategy for Crown Castle. Chris and Duffy touch on the function of Crown Castle and Duffy offers more detail on how small cells work and the difference between the new small cell technology and the traditional mobile wireless systems.

Christopher Mitchell: Hey folks, this is Chris Mitchell, the most of Community Broadband Bits. I just wanted to ask you if you could do us a real big favor to help us spread this show around. That's to jump on iTunes or Stitcher, wherever you found this show, and to give us a rating. Give us a little review, particularly if you like it. If you don't like it so much, then maybe don't do that, but if you're enjoying the show, please give us a rating and help us to build the audience a bit. Thanks.

Lisa Gonzalez: Now, here's Christopher talking with Duffy Newman, acquisitions manager and corporate development and strategy for Crown Castle.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Today, I'm speaking with Duffy Newman, the acquisitions manager and corporate development and strategy at Crown Castle. Welcome to the show, Duffy.

Duffy Newman: Thanks, Chris.

Christopher Mitchell: I'm very glad to have you on. This show is following one week after we've just talked a little bit about what Lincoln is doing with small cells. I'm excited that our audience has some sense of how one city's dealing with it but now, I think we're going to talk a little bit more about what small cells are and offer people a better explanation. I think the best place to start would be with what Crown Castle does. Can you tell us a little bit about this company?

Duffy Newman: Yeah, you bet. For those of you who wonder, we're a publicly traded company. We provide wireless carriers with the infrastructure they need to keep the carriers going and businesses connected. Because of that, we're the largest shared wireless infrastructure in the Top 100 Markets. We have about 2,800 employees nationally with local intimate knowledge of all of our assets. We're based in Houston, Texas but our operational headquarters are in Pittsburgh. From an infrastructure perspective, we've got about 40,000 towers and we also refer to them as macro sites. We currently have around 18,000 small cell nodes. We support over 26,000 miles of fiber with our recent acquisition of FPL. Essentially, what we're trying to do is design, develop it, and operate a fiber-fed DAS and small cell networks that our clients can improve their overall signal strength and network capacity and coverage. I think it's important to note that we don't look at the network just as outdoor, we also do indoor installations as well for our small cell solutions. From our outdoor solutions, we really focus in on public Right-of-Ways. We look at doing deployments at universities and colleges. Some of the venues include stadiums and arenas, theme parks, hotels and resorts and things along those lines, but we also focus in on very densely populated areas. The reason is, from a marketing perspective, that's where the carrier is using their spend. We also look into HOAs that have high end exclusive communities.

Christopher Mitchell: HOAs are?

Duffy Newman: Housing authorities. Something smaller, like you might have in your local neighborhood, where you pay a HOA fee. $30 bucks a month, that might be your trash. They might do some snow removal, depending upon the part of the country that you're in. In essence, they're a local owned agency. I think it's also important, Chris, that we let you know a little bit about who we are. That is, it seems like what I described there, is a behemoth nationally. Really, what we're trying to do, is make as much impact to the local community as possible. We do that by trying to be environmental friendly and conscious. We are also aware that nobody wants to see a big red and white lattice structure in their backyard from a wireless perspective. We also do a very specific and detailed job to abide by all local jurisdictions, municipalities, rules, NEPA requirements, SHPO requirements, things that have historic elements is what a SHPO would be. I think from an environmental perspective, I think it's also important, and you and I have talked about this before, but if we're looking at construction in a community for deployment of wireless infrastructure services, we like to use the expression of "dig once." That's where we're minimally invasive to the community. We're minimally invasive to those that are seeing us out there. Dig once, from an infrastructure perspective, is something we're pretty big on.

Christopher Mitchell: You had mentioned different tower locations, but let's just make sure people recognize what do you do. You're not competing with Verizon and Sprint and AT&T and Team Mobile, those companies and others. They're actually your clients, right?

Duffy Newman: That's exactly right. In fact, through the years, we've actually purchased towers from AT&T and Verizon and the carriers in the past. What they're looking at trying to do is offload non-essential assets that they have because they realize that they're in the service of providing wireless customers capacity, which is a spectrum play. Non-core assets for them would be owning a network. They would like to defer their costs as much as possible to offset that. That's where Crown Castle gets in.

Christopher Mitchell: We're going to talk toward the end a little bit more about how this interfaces with local governments, local fiber networks and that sort of thing, but you mentioned small cell and you also mentioned DAS, which is a distributed antenna systems. Can you just give us a sense of what small cells are and maybe also how they might differ from DAS? Are these terms interchangeable?

Duffy Newman: Some people refer to them synonymously although from a technology perspective, they're not necessarily the same. What I mean by that is a small cell is generally a small ecosystem originating out of a hub, which is different then a distributing antenna system or a DAS. A hub system or small cell system, generally the system is going to be designed and built back to a macro site location or tower site location where, in this case, Crown Castle owns real estate, that we can build another box and put six or seven elements for equipment in there. Those components control the small cells, which is different then a distributed antennae system, which is more of -- I think of it more as a venue installation where you're generally constrained based on the size of a building. It's got a little different RF, radio frequency issues, that have to be designed out there. Generally speaking, the systems from a DAS network and a small cell network operate very similarly. What they need to operate is from the main electronics controlling everything, what we call backhaul, which is going back to a main switch network, but they also have generally fiber that is pulled out to the small cell nodes or to the DAS nodes. We would call that fronthaul. The reason the carriers are using this type of technology is because they're trying to improve coverage to such as shopping malls or stadiums, but they're also looking at capacity where a macro network as it has been designed, is not necessarily meeting all of the customers' needs and requirements. A small cell system is generally installed in the public Right-of-Way. We can do it on private property as well, but it comes with a little different complexities there. It's also important to know that we do everything we can to utilize existing ducts and fiber that a municipality may have or have access to. We also utilize existing infrastructure from utility poles or light poles. The idea is that we try to blend our equipment into the atmosphere of what's going on in a neighborhood. For example, if it's a gas lamp district, nobody wants to see an eyesore out there. We'll design a technology that can be deployed that might replace an antique gas lamp with something that looks like an antique gas lamp, but it has electronics for a small cell node. We try to use the Right-of-Ways as much as possible.

Christopher Mitchell: I think that one of the reasons that I felt like it's important enough to talk about small cells is that it seems like this isn't just a new thing. This is the direction that wireless is going in that this isn't something that's going to be happening for a few years. It's that we're going to see more-and-more small cells for possibly the rest of my life. Who knows? Certainly for at least the next 10, 15 years, right?

Duffy Newman: I would totally agree with that. If you think back of how wireless got started, let's rewind say 20 years ago or when I was getting in the industry. We're looking up and driving along the side of the highway and you might see a 400' tower out there. On top of that 400' tower, you might look up really closely and see a couple of things hanging off of it. Those are the antennas. Those antennas are at 400'. What they're doing is they're actually propagating RF, which is a spectrum, which is what actually enables your phone to operate. When you're driving along the highway, your phone is actually connected to only that 400' tower.

Christopher Mitchell: Let's just be very clear. Our phones are not talking to satellites. They're talking to towers that are nearby.

Duffy Newman: That's exactly right. People think that if you and I are in the same room together and I call you on my mobile phone to your mobile phone, that they have an instant connection. Then, they recognize there's a delay. What's happening is if I'm on Carrier A, then I'm actually going up through the wireless air, mike to a tower, that then is switched through fiber to the public telephone switching network. That public telephone switch network identifies where your phone number may be and it goes back and it finds your cell site that you're currently registered to, and it sends it back down to your network. I may be Carrier A, you may be Carrier B, the only wireless that we have is from our handset to the tower. As you can imagine, at 400', that's a lot of distance to cover. As time has gone on, what the carriers have done, is with the number of users getting onto the system, is they've actually lowered, we call them "RAD Centers." They're lowering effectively the height of the antennas, but when they do that, they actually need more towers and sites, which is why we've got 40,000 macro or cellular tower sites. We're trying to cover as best, as we possibly can. Now, for example, at a market where we might have been at 400', we could in theory be at 120' high, but that same distance that we were covering at 400', we might have five towers. Let's fast forward here to the rollout of the smart phones and the connected phones where everybody loves to be connected and watch YouTube videos of their cats or what's going on, on ESPN or the latest CNN blurb from the current President of the United States. When that happens, we are consuming an enormous amount of data on the systems. In order for the carriers to provide a unique user experience that has low latency, which means it doesn't buffer where your phone is going into queue, you're actually having a good, almost a real time experience when you're watching video. For them to do that, they would take a particular cell site, let's call it now at 120', and off of that cell site, they might deploy what's called "small cell nodes." In that ecosystem of small cell nodes, they could deploy anywhere between six to ten small cells. What they're trying to do is have a very close unique user experience that is different then going up to 120' high. These small cells are deployed at roughly 20 to 25' in the air. As you're driving along the highway, you're actually picking them up more frequently, especially in more densely populated areas.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes. Rather than having hundreds of people presumably on 120' site, you'd probably have tens of people on a small cell site. You're sharing it with fewer, other competing devices.

Duffy Newman: Exactly. Exactly.

Christopher Mitchell: This comes up then, so, I mean, in order to deliver this high quality experience, to actually get some of these benefits at 4Gs capable of, that most of us may not be seeing on our daily basis, because 4G can do much greater capacity than most of us experience. These small cells are often connected by fiber, it seems like. Is that right?

Duffy Newman: That's absolutely correct. Initially, the technology we felt in the industry we could have done it through microwave. Microwave is a very small bandwidth spectrum that has limited capacity. Initially, when these networks were deployed we were like, "Hey! We can microwave these things. We don't actually have to tear up streets and drill and pull fiber in every location." What we found is that the users are consuming far too much data for them at this point in time to go over a different microwave spectrum. That brings us to the opportunity, which is, "How do we connect better?" That is, through fiber. From the fiber perspective, I think before I mentioned, we have somewhere around 26,000 miles of fiber. What we're doing with that fiber is we're not just connecting our cell sites back to the carriers main switches, we're actually trying to deploy those small cell nodes on our existing fiber networks. The importance of that is that if we have fiber in a marketplace and a carrier says, "We want to deploy." Chances are pretty good, we're going to win that opportunity to build that network out. If we do not have any fiber in that particular area and the carrier says, "Hey, we really want to build another market." Then, we're looking at trying to do what we'll call a public private partnership. We'll look at a community and say, "What assets do you have available? Is there municipal fiber available? Is there municipal conduit available that we can pull fiber into and through and connect these small cell nodes?" All-in-all, it's an ecosystem of fiber really being the glue that binds everything together.

Christopher Mitchell: We're actually talking about fiber that's pretty deep into neighborhoods. I mean, it may not be down your street, but it's going to be within walking distance, it seems like it will have to be.

Duffy Newman: It is. Generally speaking, a small cell, the way they're designed and how they cover the area, you can assume if it's radiating in a full circle, and let's say that there's not a hill, there's nothing really restricting its ability to get it out there, we're saying the small cell might be able to cover maybe the distance of two football fields, side-by-side. If you're looking at saying, "Hey, we're going to have these on every light pole and every street along small town USA, big town USA, it's going to depend upon what the carriers' requirements are. It's not something that people should really be afraid of, but it's really something that people should say, "Hey, we see this thing. We know our coverage is better. It makes sense."

Christopher Mitchell: Right. In some cases, I think a lot of people won't even notice because especially when you have what's called the cantenna, it may be a slightly different shape to a street pole. They may not even really realize it although if they look closely, there would be some differences they could tell.

Duffy Newman: I was challenged recently, Chris, in a very connected city to identify all the cell sites. I've been in the industry for 20 years. I looked around and I only found about half of them. The reason is, that the city was not just connected with small cells and macro cells, but I missed the obvious ones, which is what a Wi-Fi connected building looks like. When they pointed it out to me, I was like, "Oh, man." I started looking. It was amazing the number of wireless deployments that existed in this particular location. It was what we would call, maybe a Tier 2 city. It was fascinating.

Christopher Mitchell: That is interesting. I'll have to play that game myself. When I'm around someone, they'll be able to tell me if I'm getting it right or not.

Duffy Newman: That's right.

Christopher Mitchell: Otherwise, I just won't know if I found them all. Tell me, how can local governments play a role? In particular, you and I had talked about how there may be opportunities for local governments that have some infrastructure to work with you and lease it out.

Duffy Newman: You bet. I think suffice it to say, that the public Right-of-Ways are essential pathways for the deployment of assets. I was speaking with a lobbyist today and the current House of Representatives' agenda does not have infrastructure on their docket for early this year. It's going to be likely hitting the docket in the fall. The reason I was asking that question is, "I'm wondering where the White House is going to come out with this from an infrastructure perspective." Currently, we think of infrastructure as water, sewer, and power, but communications doesn't necessarily fall within the critical infrastructures guidelines unless it has to do with first responders. I'm of the mindset, and I think we, as an industry of the mindset to say, when we lose communications or if we lose communications, we're going to have some other challenges to handle. Having critical infrastructure communications in that as well would really help us out there.

Christopher Mitchell: As you're saying that, it's just worth noting that 48 US senators have just signed onto a letter urging the President to expand broadband access. It is something in which I think a lot of people agree, it is urgent infrastructure, although it doesn't always spring to mind in that same way. I think you're just going to get back to the local government, so I'll let you do that.

Duffy Newman: From a local perspective, what infrastructure we're trying to get access to, and I'll use that expression "dig once" to be minimally disruptive in a community, is we'd like to have access to the ducts, to the conduits, to the fiber. If there are utility poles and associated equipment being deployed in the Rights-of-Way, we'd like to facilitate and help with the build-out of those broadband networks. Municipalities experience the Right-of-Ways by use of the electric companies, the cable providers, and we should use that as a guideline for all small cell infrastructure as well going forward. Some of the things that might hurt us or slow us down from the communications' perspective, would be perhaps excessive requirements such as like zoning for each new utility pole, provided that a pole that's in the ground today is substantially similar to what the existing infrastructure is. Or, allowing us to -- They could now allow us to co-locate on existing structures where the fees are not out of line with what might someone else have access in the Right-of-Way.

Christopher Mitchell: A lot of cities in the past, because of these 120' towers-type applications, they've gone on and they've wanted to do an in-depth review. What I notice is happening in Lincoln and in Boston and in other places, is they basically set up a system in which they're for the small cells -- They're like, "Okay, if you want to replace this kind of street light in most of these neighborhoods --" It might be just a few neighborhoods that have historic designations that don't count, but 90 percent of the city, that's going to be an expedited process. It provides a little bit more certainty. It's a streamlining that I think is pretty reasonable.

Duffy Newman: You're spot on. We looked at each, we'll call it utility pole. We have to look at the structural integrity of each and every pole to be certain that effectively it's not going to get blown over. We're going to be able to load the equipment that we have on there without putting anybody in jeopardy in that area. If there is a like-for-like replacement, for example, if it's a wood pole, we'd want to replace it with a wood pole that may be more straight or a wood pole that has been tested and does not have bug decay or we may want to do a concrete pole or a steel pole or aluminum pole. Whatever like-for-like might be, that can meet the requirements for the deployment of the equipment, but also fit and blend in within a community as well. I think some of the model legislation really recognizes that expediting the process with reasonable and non-discriminatory rates and fees for each deployment, are really essential for the construction and maintenance of the networks. Our goal is to do it right, every single time out there.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that I always like to highlight is where communities are doing it well because I think a lot of communities are struggling with what a good model is. If we can highlight those, hopefully, we'll have more of them. What is one that you'd point to that other communities should look at emulating?

Duffy Newman: One of the greatest examples of success that Crown Castle has had and the carriers have had, happened about a year ago when the Pope came to Philadelphia. That's a very historic area, a lot of Philadelphia is. The Pope was going to be basically going from downtown out to where Rocky climbed the steps.

Christopher Mitchell: I think he was doing a tour of the cheese steak locations. He's a very, very new Pope.

Duffy Newman: Exactly. The carriers got together. There was an estimate of 900,000 people that were going to come out and greet the Pope. There was an enormous stress and strain that was going to be put on the network. It's one thing from the perspective of you and I sitting there watching the Pope come by in the Popemobile and being able to communicate. There is a more pressing issue. That is the Secret Service had to have connectivity. Secret Service, yes, they utilize their own network, but they also use a lot of commercial services on many of the carriers. What the carriers were looking at and saying from a public safety first responder perspective, "We have to make this go." What happened there, Chris, is that we coordinated with the planner of event and obtained approvals from six separate departments in Philadelphia. In addition, we obtained permits from the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Offices. We had six or seven different entities that we had to coordinate out there because each piece of the infrastructure had to be thoroughly utilized and had to have a shared solution across multiple carriers to preserve the beauty of what was going on there. You lay all this together and you say, "Well, that's pretty cool but what does fiber have to do with it?" Fiber had everything to do with it. We had to design the fiber network. We had to get approval. We had to install all the equipment. We had to test it. We had to calibrate it. Everything had to be done within nine months. All of this, in an effort to support you and I sitting there watching the Pope come by in the Popemobile, and now we're on Facebook live. It was a huge suck on the whole system out there. What we did was, we submitted the solution to handle everything out there. Not just for what was going on in the parkway, so that we could have coverage there, but we also said this infrastructure was going to stay out there. We installed 37 new small cell nodes on all these poles in the Right-of-Way. They were all designed to blend in with the existing street lights. As with the other historic areas that we've done like in Central Park and the French Quarter in New Orleans, the installation was virtually unobtrusive to the high standards of what was going on in Philadelphia. At the end of the day when the crowds came and the Pope came by, the carriers were just overwhelmed with the amount of data. One carrier reported that they used over 12.6 terabytes of data on their network. In comparison, that 12.6 terabytes of data is almost seven-and-a-half times the amount of data in 2015 as for the Super Bowl.

Christopher Mitchell: Wow!

Duffy Newman: It all happened because the three carriers that tied into our neutral host infrastructure network connected directly.

Christopher Mitchell: That's just a reminder to people that you really need fiber to move that kind of data.

Duffy Newman: I tell you, without it, the system is just going to be -- You won't be able to connect. Nothing will go through.

Christopher Mitchell: Duffy, I really appreciate all your time in talking about these issues.

Duffy Newman: Absolutely, Chris. It's been my pleasure. Thank you so much for your efforts in what you're doing there.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher talking with Duffy Newman, acquisitions manager and corporate development and strategy for Crown Castle. We have transcripts for this and other Community Broadband Bits Podcasts available at Email us at with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. You can also follow stories on Twitter where the handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and all of the podcasts in the ILSR family on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research, subscribe to our monthly newsletter at Thanks to Admiral Bob for the song, Turbo Tornado, licensed through Creative Commons. Thanks for listening to Episode 239 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast.

Tags: transcriptsmall-cellcrown castleconduitpolicyright-of-wayphiladelphiaWirelesspermitting

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 238

February 17, 2017

David Young: This infrastructure is coming and you should be prepared for it.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is Episode 238 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. David Young, Right of Way Manager for the City of Lincoln, Nebraska, has been on the show before to tell us about the city's investment in its extensive conduit network and fiber resources. This week David's back to talk to Christopher about a new project that involves improving mobile wireless service throughout the city with small cell technology. Lincoln has recently entered into an agreement with a private provider and, thanks to the resources that are already there, taking the next step to better service in Lincoln is a win-win for the entire community. David and Christopher go through the details and discuss how small cell technology is something local governments can be ready for.

Christopher Mitchell: Hey, folks. This is Chris Mitchell, the host of Community Broadband Bits. I just wanted to ask you if you could do us a real big favor to help us spread the show around and that's to jump on iTunes or Stitcher, wherever you found this show, and to give us a rating, give us a little review. Particularly if you like it. If you don't like it so much, then maybe don't do that. If you're enjoying the show, please give us a rating and help us to build the audience a bit. Thanks.

Lisa Gonzalez: Now here's Christopher talking with David Young, Right of Way Manager for the City of Lincoln, Nebraska.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Today I'm back with David Young, the Fiber Infrastructure and Right of Way Manager for the City of Lincoln, the Public Works Department. Welcome back to the show.

David Young: Good morning, Chris. Thanks for having me back.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes. I'm very excited to have you back. I've always enjoyed our conversations, especially the off-the-record ones. I'm hoping that for people who maybe are turning in on their first show, you can just give us a quick, quick reminder of what Lincoln is like. I think a lot of people might think of it as just being cornfields.

David Young: There is a lot of corn in Nebraska. Lincoln: 250,000 people; state capitol; a university seat; exciting, growing population; great place to live. Come visit us.

Christopher Mitchell: I have. I really enjoyed it. I'll be coming back. We talked before. You've actually done two different shows with you over the past 13, 14 months talking about the really great conduit system that you've built as a community. Today we're going to talk a little bit about small cells. There's some integration between them. Let's just start off for people who may be thinking, "Small cells? My cell phone's already pretty small." What's a small cell?

David Young: Our cell phones are very small. Those of us who are old enough to remember the old Motorola bag phones are pretty amazed.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes.

David Young: The conversation should start off with macro cells, right? The big cell towers. Nobody wants them in their backyard. Those are the older technology. They cover generally 30 kilometers, are about five miles in radius coverage area. Small cells are generally smaller antennas connected generally by fiber and cover about 3/4 of a mile for coverage area. If you put four small cells inside the five-mile coverage radius, the macro cell, you'll increase the efficiency of that macro cell by 75 percent. That's the math on why carriers are going to small cells. They're easier to deploy. They're cheaper. A macro cell can cost you, base rate, $250,000 and go up from there, depending on where you're putting it. A small cell can cost as low as $25,000 to put in.

Christopher Mitchell: We're talking about primarily wireless from the big wireless companies, kind of mobile wireless rather than a fixed wireless, right?

David Young: Correct. Correct. This is specifically cell phone coverage. Not to confuse Wi-Fi with wireless, but this is licensed by the FCC frequencies, Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, those kind of carriers. Regional carriers who license frequency from FCC and provide retail service over it.

Christopher Mitchell: Is this 5G? I hear a lot of times people talk about small cell and 5G in the same breath.

David Young: Well, yes and no. Is it 5G? No. Is it laying the infrastructure for 5G? Yes. Not to get too into the details, but 5G is based on the 5-gigahertz frequency.

Christopher Mitchell: And above, I think.

David Young: And above, right. The distance that the higher frequencies travel is shorter than, say, the 2.4-megahertz range. They can have a lot more information packed into them, but they can't go through trees or buildings as much. What carriers are doing in advance of that is rolling out these smaller antennas, which are closer to the end user, so that when they want to change to or when the technology is actually ready - it's not ready yet - but when they want to change, they can go out, replace the antennas, replace the radios with 5G-compatible, and then start broadcasting the new frequencies. This is laying the infrastructure for 5G, but 5G is several years away, as you know.

Christopher Mitchell: Let's talk a little bit about why the City of Lincoln cares about small cells. You're an employee of the city. Why have you gone to a lot of effort to make sure you had these sorts of policies available that we're about to talk about?

David Young: Well, a couple of things. Starting in 2012, the city adopted a broadband master plan. We wanted to have diverse carriers for businesses. We wanted to have diverse carrier choices for residents, including a Fiber-to-the-Home project. The third leg of that program was global broadband, making sure that the infrastructure was available for carriers to come in and upgrade for the next 25 years of mobile broadband in Lincoln. Obviously, our conduit system downtown was focused on businesses. Our Fiber-to-the-Home broadband franchise was focused on residential. Now our small cell program is really catered to allowing carriers to come into Lincoln, have one rule book to play by, and deploy as fast as possible and invest their money in Lincoln.

Christopher Mitchell: Let's just dig into that a little bit and let's just pretend that I'm Verizon. I come to the city and I say I'd like to deploy X number of small cells. I'm imagining the city, as a Roman emperor, just thumbs up or thumbs down. What actually goes on to the process behind there? Actually, it might make sense to start with just a sense of are we talking about hundreds of cells, thousands of small cells? What's the universe of the size?

David Young: We expect in 2017 to have between 50 and 100 installed in Lincoln. It depends on if we have two carriers or three carrier partners. Overall, over the next five years, we expect more than 400 to be installed around the city. We think we'll cap out probably at 500 or 600 total in the City of Lincoln. That's when our population grows up to about 300,000.

Christopher Mitchell: That number, several hundred of 500 small cells, that is considerably more cells than you've had before. You mentioned that the macro towers go quite far, but this would be a significant increase over this kind of permitting from historical norms, right?

David Young: Yes, it would be. We're planning for that. We have been planning since the beginning on our broadband. Part of the issue was you can make yourself as attractive as possible, business-friendly, reach out to the community and have a single point of contact, but if you can't get permits through quickly, there's going to be a problem for everybody on the execution side of the agreement. We consolidated all of our permits into one office, a Development Services Center, DSC. Started in 2011, actually. We created a Right of Way permitting process where we have standards. If it's submitted by a licensed professional engineer in the state of Nebraska, then generally you get your permit in two days. The engineer has gone through, done the work, validated that where you're putting your underground or aerial facilities will fit with the city's comp plan and then move forward quickly. With small cells, there's the additional problem or challenge of dealing with aesthetics. We have a Capitol Environs Committee. If you're building in any of the visual corridors that view the capitol building, you have to go before this committee and small cells will go before that committee where they're located in those corridors. We also have an Urban Design Committee for anything in downtown. We have a Historical Preservation Committee for historical areas. Generally, those committees are always focused on the aesthetics of any visual improvement, so building an underground conduit, they really don't care. They're actually quite happy with that and I actually have a good relationship with those committees. Putting in small cells, especially on an ornate pole or something like that, is a challenge. What I'd like to jump back to if I can: why this is a big deal for cities. Some carriers are coming in and saying, "It's a small cell. It's small." In general, the amount of equipment can weigh between 250 and 300 pounds that they're putting on these poles.

Christopher Mitchell: Those poles, they can vary obviously, but you're talking about a significant amount of weight that can be 20 feet up. That creates some hazard potentially.

David Young: Correct. That's from our city's perspective on the safety side. That's why it's a big deal. Some version of this, if a carrier comes in and asks to retrofit your pole, are they taking on the liability if that pole falls down because they added 250 pounds to a pole that was not designed for it? In Lincoln, we require as part of our small cell agreement that the pole be replaced with a pole that is designed for small cell applications and it is double the diameter. Most of our poles are six inches. This is an eight-inch. I say double, but it's an eight-inch diameter pole. Significantly stronger. Significantly thicker side walls. Designed specifically to hold this weight for 25 years, which is the life expectancy we have for these poles in Lincoln. I'm always cautious when some communities say they do retrofit and some say they require new poles. It's a very nuanced discussion. If you have concrete poles and you don't mind conduit and wires strapped to the outside of them, okay, maybe small cells attached to your pole is the thing to do for your community. In a dense urban environment, or urban environment, where you have a lot of cars, I think that it's, from Lincoln's perspective, putting in a pole that was designed to hold the weight of this equipment was paramount. That was what we have included in our agreement.

Christopher Mitchell: As we start talking about this agreement that you've recently signed with Verizon, which I expect is a template agreement we'll see you signing with other carriers as well in the future, I don't get the idea that Verizon thought that was unreasonable. In some ways, I suspect that they would like the ability to standardize on a single pole and things like that.

David Young: That was the one thing that they really did like is if we would agree to a single pole design for the majority of the city and we did. They actually assisted us in the design of the pole. The pole cost is about $2,600. Their equipment cost is $25,000. Adding 10 percent to the equipment cost for them was not a deal-breaker. They felt they would get more reliability from a pole designed specifically to support this load than having to go out if it was knocked down or otherwise fell down and deal with that issue. They were very amenable to that. Now the standard pole design we have fits about 90 percent of our poles. The other 10 percent are historical, entertainment district, capitol environments poles. Those are excluded, but there is a process where they can go get approval for those areas because we want them to deploy this technology. We just want to do it in a safe and considerate manner.

Christopher Mitchell: I think it's worth noting a couple of things, just key details that I want to make sure people really got. That's that we're talking about light poles. We're not talking about utility poles that hold lines and wires and things like that. These are light poles.

David Young: They're streetlight poles, so it's not a traffic pole. It is specifically for lighting the roadway. It doesn't have the red/yellow/green lights on it, if you will. Those are two different styles of pole: traffic pole versus streetlight pole.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. Then the other piece is that in the downtown area, you have banners on it, which will be pretty nice.

David Young: There's two components to a small cell, generally. There can be more. The radio, which is a suitcase-sized piece of equipment that is attached to the side of the pole. Generally, there are two of them - one for each frequency. Then there is the antenna. Many people see them as flat antennas. What we have in our design is called a cantenna, if you think of a stove top hat put on the top of the pole.

Christopher Mitchell: Ah, the City of Lincoln with the stove top hat.

David Young: Yes, yes, I know. Very original. Which you could put three antennas inside that cantenna. As antenna technology changes, you can actually put more of them in there.

Christopher Mitchell: Although, those would be still from a single provider. You're not going to get AT&T and Verizon sharing that is what you've told me.

David Young: Correct. Pole location on poles, while desirable from certain perspectives, it's not desirable from every perspective. Each carrier has their own frequencies. Those frequencies carry/attenuate differently, right? They're on different macro towers around the city. The carriers attenuate, their signals attenuate differently. What the technology is right now, you could end up with 500, 600 pounds of equipment on a single pole. Basically, taking a macro cell tower and shrinking it, but not having an aesthetic improvement. There are several examples where Chicago did something like this a couple years ago. If you get on the Internet and lookup "Chicago small cell colocation," you'll see some pictures. It's not very pretty. It definitely does not meet the aesthetic bar that we were looking for. Allowing carriers to pick from any of our 40,000 poles, we're very unconcerned about which pole you choose as long as it's outside one of our sensitive areas. Put your equipment up, very fast process, you agree to the pole design that is in the agreement, and go forward and grow your infrastructure. That's specifically what we wanted. What we did not want was a shrunken down version of a macro cell on the street corner with 60 antennas on it.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. One of the things that you've told me before is that as we're thinking about what Verizon gets out of this agreement, their ability to rapidly deploy, I think, is very important, right? They have a standardized design. They have a sense that when they put in a permit, you'll turn around pretty quickly and they'll be able to get it out there.

David Young: Correct. Our permit process for small cells is we took two existing processes: our administrator review process, which we use for most of our planning, which is actually run by the Planning Department. Planning events when you're wanting to come in and do a new building downtown or a force main sewer for development, you go through the administrative review process. Then the second process is Right of Way Construction, which is just a two-day permit. By utilizing existing processes to run this through, the Planning Department reviews the small cell application. Is it in a sensitive area - yes or no? Are you using the standard pole - yes or no? If you're proposing no to sensitive areas and, yes, you're using the standard pole, you should get your permit back in less than 10 days. Very quick turnaround. Then on the Right of Way Construction side, we process 500 Right of Way Construction permits a year right now with our Fiber-in-the-Home project. We'll just stick it in there. We're not worried about another 50 or 100 permits in that queue.

Christopher Mitchell: Let's talk about I think the area that I'm more interested in, that a lot of folks are more interested in, which is what does the community get out of this agreement in terms of the way you've set it up?

David Young: The most important thing for us with the broadband community plan was to get better coverage and more investment by private partners in Lincoln. Lincoln and many other communities our size are competing with Houston, Texas, Chicago, New York City for investment dollars. We need to deploy and make ourselves able to have carriers deploy this infrastructure in our community affordably, but not in a way that compromises our principles or agreements that we have of existing carriers. For us, the single most important thing is getting better cell coverage in Lincoln. Period. That's the reason we went into this in advance of being reached out to by any carriers. Going from an average of 12 to 15 megabits a second on a good day to 150 to 180 megabits on a small cell day, as a mobile customer myself, I'm pretty excited about that.

Christopher Mitchell: This seems like one of those things that people don't always appreciate, which is that a company like Verizon is trying to figure out, "Where are we going to invest?" It's not just necessarily the entire United States, but they make look regional. Lincoln wants to be getting that better technology than Omaha. You want to make it easier and hopefully you'll get it and have better coverage than Omaha has.

David Young: Right. Broadband is pervasive in our life these days and it's very painful when you travel and go to a place that does not have that. It really brings into focus how much we become reliant on this technology. I can imagine the rollout of the telephone in the 1900's. The minute you get it, you didn't know what you were living without it. Competing with other places, getting the investment here in Lincoln is kind of the overarching goal. There are several benefits that we have as part of our agreement, which we think are mutual benefits, actually for both the carrier and the city. When the infrastructure goes in, there's fiber for the city placed inside the pole and from our conduit system to the pole. There's power in the pole for public applications. There is what we call a public access port on the pole, which is a standard opening size that is designed to connect either cameras, or public Wi-Fi, or smart radar for vehicle-to-vehicle communication. That's included as well, so we will be able to hook up those applications directly to our public network as soon as the pole's installed really.

Christopher Mitchell: Some of the geekier folks, the utility-minded folks, might be looking at, I mean, there's some things like Verizon will have to take on the cost of maintaining the pole, if presumably lightning hits it or a car drives into it or something. If that happens to a regular pole, your utility has to fix it. If it happens to a pole that Verizon's replaced, then it's on them.

David Young: Well, you have a 12-page contract and there's all kinds of details in there. Maintenance of the pole is the responsibility of the carrier who leases the pole. If it does get knocked down or needs to be painted, that maintenance cost is on the person leasing the pole. The city still owns the pole. In return for that, the carrier gets the speedy deployment and to get to choose their own pole. The city is really not active in saying, "We want you to choose this pole versus that pole." From a philosophical perspective, we're letting the engineering dictate where the pole goes, not the business case, because it's the same price wherever they choose to build their pole. We want good coverage. A few of the other things that are included in the agreement are security. They have a $50,000 letter of security with the city that if there's ever a problem, we contact them. If they don't respond, we will go out, do the work to remove the equipment, and then charge their letter of security. That protects us as well, so we're not exactly concerned about it. I know there's been instances where people are concerned, or other communities are concerned, what happens in 10 or 15 years when this technology is depreciated and they decide they want to move to another area and do something else. How do they get rid of the equipment? That covers us from a risk standpoint to get that equipment removed. For us, I think the most important thing is we're taking an asset that was costing us money and repurposing it for provisioning of services so that our citizens get better cell coverage and faster cell coverage. We get no maintenance cost for the pole and we get the partnership, and investment, and jobs that are created by developing and deploying this infrastructure. We get a few nice things like fiber and maintenance cost to the pole, power, and a little bit of money on the end.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes. Just to be clear, there's an upfront for Verizon to apply, and then there's a recurring fee for every year that they're on the pole.

David Young: That's correct. We want, we expect, we want, we designed this program specifically to be carrier neutral. Verizon was the first one to work with us. We are very hopeful that AT&T or T-Mobile, Sprint will come as well. We're actually working with one of those carriers right now to sign another agreement. The city charges $1,995, so just under $2,000 a year rent to attach to the pole and then there is a $1,500 permit fee. That $1,500 permit fee covers actually quite a bit: going out looking at the pole, site visits, multiple-type visits, communicating with property owners adjacent to the pole. At $2,000 a year, you have 100 poles, you have $200,000 a year. It's not that much, but over the next five or six years, when you get into 400 and 500 poles, it's a million dollars a year, which is not a bad program to have for a city for taking something that was costing us money and turning it into something that is achieving multiple goals.

Christopher Mitchell: I think one of the things that people don't always realize, I just saw this story out of the Research Triangle in North Carolina, where there's been some challenges with some of the entities that are working in the right-of-way having damaged other people's equipment and not restoring things the way they should be. Those are the sorts of things the city has to be able to check on and that costs money to send people out there and do those investigations, right?

David Young: There's no philosophy behind it. The city is obligated to manage construction that occurs in the public right-of-way. That management of the right-of-way can be very limited in some areas. It can be very robust in others. If you can imagine somebody digging in downtown New York City, that's probably a very sensitive area to dig in.

Christopher Mitchell: Or Washington D.C.

David Young: Versus the western part of our city, which is cornfields. We don't have a lot of infrastructure out there.

Christopher Mitchell: Aha. I knew it. You have cornfields in Lincoln.

David Young: Well, they don't call us the Cornhuskers for nothing. There's 250,000 people in Lincoln and Lincoln is not a big city, so it is a very urban environment digging downtown in the middle of the street. I can tell you you will get a lot of phone calls very quickly due to traffic backup. Basically having enough money. $1,500 is not a lot of money. I mean, it's a lot of money, but it's not a lot of money to go out, send the inspectors multiple times, coordinate the excavation of the pole base, pouring a new pole base, erecting a new pole, putting on the new LED light fixture, and getting everything turned up. That's not a lot of money. We expect two to four weeks for each one of these to be installed, a construction timeline.

Christopher Mitchell: This is something that I want to just touch on quickly and move on to the final question because of time running short, but the things you just noted, there are laws proposed in several states in which localities would not be able to recover those costs. In the past, that is something that I've argued and I'm pretty sure others agree. I think you agree. If a state is going to limit that, then basically that's a shift to taxpayers. One might say, "Well, we were so excited about small cells that we want taxpayers to subsidize it." I don't actually think that's an argument that many people would say given the profitability of the telephone companies today.

David Young: Not very many people I know of would want that. They have a bill proposed in Nebraska as well that does the same thing. It does not allow the city to cost recover for inspection. It doesn't allow the city to charge rent for the pole. I think it's challenging in that carriers want to move quickly and deploy this infrastructure in advance of 5G. Okay, I agree. I get it. From a city's perspective, we feel it's our competitive advantage by being ready and having the agreements and actually actively pursuing these investment dollars. What I do have a problem with is when carriers, small businesses come in - and these are not small businesses - come in and say, "We want the taxpayer to subsidize the deployment of our infrastructure, which we make a profit on." If you're going to pay the taxpayer back, fine. I have no problem with that. If you're creating an unfunded mandate at the state level for municipalities to hire people to manage these construction and then in an area of declining municipal revenues, that's tough. I don't know of any municipality that just has additional positions laying around to go out and inspect projects like that, especially specialized positions. I guess we'll have to see if the state legislatures agree.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. I think it's worth noting I don't want to cast the big wireless companies totally under the bus in the sense that there are areas that I've heard of where communities reject towers. Then they have poor cell service and they're frustrated. To some extent, let's hope that small cells, properly designed, will mitigate that because they'll be less aesthetically displeasing. To some extent, we do have to recognize we cannot have it all. We have to make sure the wireless companies are able to build the infrastructure they need if we're going to get good service. That's where I think Lincoln is setting a good example. I want to end by asking you for advice to other communities that are looking at this and trying to figure out what kind of policies, or what kind of mindset even, they should have to make sure that they can balance public needs with the needs of the wireless companies.

David Young: Well, I think two things. One, I think you should realize as a community that this infrastructure is coming and you should be prepared for it. There's so many resources out there today: The Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Next Century Cities.

Christopher Mitchell: Those sound like really wonderful groups that people should support.

David Young: They are wonderful groups. They have draft agreements. I think there's really almost no excuse not to have an agreement in draft form, a place to start when a carrier comes to you now. There's been so much talk about small cells and the deployment of small cells that Right of Way managers, IT directors, should have this information at least in their law department being reviewed, any one of the several draft agreements out there. I think San Francisco, Boston, Dallas, ours. Just pick one of the draft agreements and at least have a starting place to have a discussion. I don't think that telling the carrier, "Come back to me in six months or a year," is viable because they have customers they need to serve. This is an impediment to them improving the service and being competitive with the other carriers in the market.

Christopher Mitchell: You've already mentioned that you are discouraged using existing poles. You think it makes a lot of sense to find ways of getting properly-designed poles in there. I don't think we have to rehash that, but do you have any recommendations in terms of the processes that need to be created?

David Young: I would use existing processes, if possible. Creating new processes for a city can be painful. Depends on your culture. Using an existing process. We repurposed the administrative plan review process for small cell reviews. We just created a new category within it. It follows the exact same workflow. The exact same people see it. We've had education with those staff getting ready for this permit. Then on your construction side, our construction permits, having been doing this for 16 years now in the construction space, they should be easy to get, but the follow-through should be significant. I can come in and ask for a permit, that's great. If I have an engineer stamp it, or whatever your municipality requires, fine. If I don't do what I say I'm going to do, then the penalties are pretty significant. I think that way you put the onus on the business to actually get out there and do what they say they're going to do. I think that's what businesses want.

Christopher Mitchell: Great. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to come on once again and tell us some more about what Lincoln's up to. It really is a great place. Strongly recommend people swing through if you're nearby. Thanks again.

David Young: Thank you for that, Chris. Good to talk to you.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher and David Young, Right of Way Manager for the City of Lincoln, Nebraska. They were discussing the community's new small cell technology project. Learn more about Lincoln at, where we've written about their investments. You can also hear David talk with Christopher in Episodes 228 and 182 of the podcast. We have transcripts for this and other Community Broadband Bits podcasts available at Email us at with your ideas for the show. You can follow Christopher on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. You can also follow stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and all the podcasts in the ILSR family on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out in our original research - subscribe to our monthly newsletter at Thank you to Admiral Bob for the song, "Turbo Tornado," licensed through Creative Commons. Thanks for listening to Episode 238 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

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FierceTelecom Follows Up on Missouri Anti-Municipal Broadband Bill

February 17, 2017

FierceTelecom - February 15, 2017

Telco, cable-backed Missouri bill could limit municipal broadband growth, opposition group says


Written by Sean Buckley

A new broadband battle is brewing in Missouri as the state’s largest telcos and cable operators are backing a new bill to limit municipal broadband.

The new bill, SB 186, which was introduced by Senator Ed Emery, R-Lamar, seeks to limit the power of municipalities to provide competition to entrenched incumbent service providers.

SB 186, according to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, imposes restrictions on local governments to provide retail and wholesale bandwidth services.

“This legislation is trying to cut off communities at every turn by limiting any sort of ‘competitive service,’ whether it comes from public broadband infrastructure investment or a public-private partnership” said Christopher Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in a statement. “Missouri should be encouraging investment and local Internet choice, not working with monopoly lobbyists to prevent it.”


Read the full story here.

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Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority Improves Connectivity

February 16, 2017

In 2008, the counties of Accomack and Northampton created the Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority (ESVBA) to serve local needs and boost economic development. NASA provided key funding to build the backbone of the regional network. Today, the ESVBA has already improved wireless services in several communities and is at work on a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) test project.

The space agency played a key role in bringing high-speed connectivity to rural communities on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia, employs 1,100 people, launches rockets, and features a visitor center. Government agencies, local schools, and healthcare institutions on the shore all needed reliable connectivity for their programs.

Internet Service Like Lightspeed

The FTTH test project started last September in Harborton, Virginia, as part of the Town Broadband Initiative Project. The landscape is typical of rural Virginia with little density as houses and businesses spread out into the woods. They have recently signed up the first few customers; this small town on the eastern shore has about 100 homes.

Community Effort: Local Seed Funding

In 2008, the counties of Accomack and Northampton created the public, not for profit entity through the Virginia Wireless Service Authorities Act to solve a growing problem on the shore. The lack of connectivity was having a negative impact on local rural communities. The counties provided an initial sum of about $270,00 to ESVBA to plan the network. 

Then the ESVBA went in search of further funding. They received about $8 million in federal and state support - nearly half of which came from NASA - to build the middle mile backbone. Funding for the last mile to residential properties and small businesses came from the communities themselves, with about $1 million of support from a Community Development Block Grant (see also Nelson County, Virginia). When the network became sustainable, the ESVBA decided to repay the seed money, returning the initial investment to the counties.

In addition to NASA, the Navy and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration connect to the network along with most of the schools and healthcare institutions in the region. 

Open Access, Middle Mile Network

The ESVBA network is an open access, middle mile network that wireless ISPs, cellular providers, and others can use to deliver both residential and businesses services throughout the Eastern Shore. Several ISPs use the infrastructure, including national provider Windstream Communications and the local Eastern Shore Communications LLC. 

Over the past few years, the ESVBA has been able to lower prices for the wireless ISPs while using revenues to expand the network and upgrade equipment. The network stretches down the coast and also provides free Wi-Fi hot spots for visitors

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Bills To Allow PUDs to Offer Retail Broadband In WA Legislative Committees

February 16, 2017

Two Washington state bills in separate committees would allow public utility districts (PUDs) to offer retail communications services. HB 1938 and SB 5139 are the kind of legislation that would allow local communities to improve connectivity. Now, PUDs are restricted to the wholesale-only model, but businesses and residents in rural areas question the wisdom of the restriction.

Unfortunately, big incumbent providers have sent their lobbyists to fight against the two bills and the efforts to pass them are having a difficult time competing. A few representatives from local public utility districts testified in the House committee hearing, but the telecom industry sent out its army in full force.

In order for this bill to go anywhere this session, it needs to be passed by the House Technology & Economic Development Committee and the Senate Energy, Environment & Telecommunications Committee this week. While the bill has had some attention in the House Committee, it has yet to be voted on. It isn’t on the Senate Committee’s agenda, so it doesn’t look likely to move in that body.

Nevertheless, this is an opportunity for Washington constituents to call their state elected officials and let them know that, even if this bill doesn’t go anywhere this session, this is the type of legislative change they want for better connectivity.

You can contact House Committee and Senate Committee members and also touch base with your own Representatives and Senators and express your desires to see more legislation like this. Even if the bill doesn’t go anywhere this session, lay the groundwork for future change.

Video from the brief discussion of the bill in the House Committee:

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BT Advisory Board Preps For Sale, Local Co-op Is Ready

February 15, 2017

Last spring, the BT Advisory Board (BTAB) released a report that recommended the city of Burlington, Vermont, try to find a buyer with local ties to purchase its network with the troubled past. As the deadline draws near and the city seeks out the right entity to take the reigns, the community holds on to that goal. Keep BT Local!, the local organization that has been working since 2012 to turn the network into a cooperative, has announced that it will make an offer on the network.

According to Seven Days:

Alan Matson, vice chair of Keep BT Local, said the local co-op will put forward an offer for the utility. The member-funded effort likely won’t put forward as substantial an offer as a private tech company would, Matson acknowledged. Still, he said, “We hope to be one of the finalists in July.”

Matt Cropp, a member of Keep BT Local, said the co-op model would “build broad-based community wealth” and urged Burlingtonians to pitch in. He said he was willing to commit a portion of his retirement savings to the cause. 

Matson and Cropp were among a group of citizens who attended a public meeting with Advisory Board members to discuss options and offer advice on choosing a buyer. As expected, many of the attendees described the network as a valuable public asset and expressed concern that it not fall into the hands of a large, absentee telecommunications conglomerate such as Comcast. 

Choosing Finalists

As part of the process, the Board voted to send its proposed sale process to the city council for approval. Last year’s report established a set of criteria which the city will use to evaluate interested parties. Once the city council approves the process they propose, the BTAB will create a list of interested buyers and officially launch the sales process. They intend to create a list of finalists who would then present publicly before the city council and, by the end of July, the council would choose a buyer.

The sale to a private entity must be complete by January 2018 in order for the city to obtain the highest possible portion of proceeds from the sale, 50 percent. After that date, the city’s share decreases. Blue Water LLC, a company formed to provide financing so the city could pay off its settlement with Citibank, will obtain an increasing amount of the funds from a sale that occurs later than the deadline. Blue Water can also sell to whomever it chooses, if the city cannot find a buyer by the deadline.

Citibank sued the city for $33 million when it was revealed that a prior administration had covered up financial problems and mismanagement. In order to settle, a local businessman formed Blue Water, paid off the settlement, and now leases the network to the city.

Love It Local

Regardless of what entity takes over BT, it has clearly made its mark on the local community. 

"We want to find the right buyer, the right partner and not just identify the maximum amount of potential buyers," board member and city council president Jane Knodell said…

"I think there's a consensus that just selling to the highest buyer is not what we're looking for because we need to weigh that against the longer term benefit of having a company that works closely with government in Burlington and local businesses to build a strong local economy," Knodell said.

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