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Vernon Communications Cooperative Connecting Rural Southwest Wisconsin

August 1, 2017

Vernon Communications Cooperative (VC Co-op), serving much of rural Vernon County, Wisconsin, was recently named a Certified Gig-Capable Provider by NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association. VC Co-op joins a growing list of rural cooperatives that are offering gigabit connectivity to members in places where national Internet service providers don’t want to invest in infrastructure. The certification requires that "gigabit technology is currently commercially available within 95 percent of one or more exchanges within [the provider's] serving territory and that such service can be provided without new trenching or stringing new aerial facilities."

Why Do Co-ops Always Start? To Fill A Need

VC Co-op started as a telephone cooperative in 1951 when local farmers collaborated, obtained funding from the Rural Electrification Act, and formed the Vernon Telephone Cooperative. After partnering with other telephone companies in the region to establish Internet service in the early 1990s, VC Co-op also began offering long distance voice and television services in 2001.

VC Co-op has also made a name for themselves by offering twelve community television channels that broadcast various local events, including school sports and concerts, local weather, and even radio shows.

By 2008, VC Co-op had finished upgrading their network in the county seat of Viroqua (pop. 4,400), replacing copper lines with fiber. Viroqua has taken advantage of the fiber in ways that touch almost all aspects of daily life. In addition to public safety, healthcare, and education, local businesses using fiber connectivity have been able to grow beyond the limits of Viroqua. All the while, the VC Co-op has served the community with the same spirit we see from other cooperatives.

Organic Valley, a farmers cooperative with headquarters in Vernon County, suffered a catastrophic fire in 2013. Without missing a beat, VC Co-op connected 21 temporary locations to house Organic Valley employees and established a connection for the farmers cooperative in another building.

VC Co-op is in the process of expanding its network to members throughout the county and, according to its fiber construction map, it has almost reached its goal. In addition to voice, video, and Internet access, VC Co-op offers a home security and automation service.

In Vernon County, Wisconsin, about 30,000 people live on 816 square miles. Agriculture is one a key part of the economy in the rural southwestern part of the state. Vernon County’s western border is along the Mississippi River with Minnesota on the other side. It’s located on a ridge known as the “drift less” region because the glaciers didn’t reach the area, leaving it filled iwht bluffs, ridges, and hills.

Room For Improvement

Unlike many other cooperatives that offer fiber connectivity, VC Co-op's service isn't symmetrical. We were surprised and disappointed to see that they offer slow upload speeds of only 1 Megabit per second (Mbps) and that they charge extra to increase upload speeds. This type of business practice doesn't recognize members as participants in e-commerce who use the Internet to send data, but considers them to be consumers who only receive it. Limiting members to only 1 Mbps for upload speeds prevents members from telework unless they pay extra for increased capacity.

Check out the video below for more about Viroqua, VC Co-op, and the story on Organic Valley. The video also offers testimonials from others who swear by the network, including officials from local schools, public safety, and local business owners.

Tags: wisconsinruraltelephonecooperativegigabitvideo

Community Broadband Media Roundup - July 31

July 31, 2017


Longmont's success leads to dozens of followers: When is 'crazy fast' Internet coming to your town? by Jason Gruenauer, The Denver Channel WGBH-7

The city built an entire fiber grid network that now has the potential to connect every residence and business in the area to 1-gigabit internet speeds. 

For comparison, the FCC considers anything that is 25 megabits per second or faster to be "high speed." One gigabit per second is 40 times that.



Broadband expansion vote for downtown Holland postponed until Aug. 2 by Sidney Smith, Holland Sentinel



Atlantic Broadband extends fiber network to support emergency response in Maryland by Bevin Fletcher, CED Magazine


North Carolina

Fibrant in focus: Story of Wilson's, Salisbury's fiber optic networks a 'tale of two cities' by Josh Bergeron, The Salisbury Post

Connecting to what matters by Laura Mitchell, Wilkes Journal Patriot

Guests on the show included Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, who weighed in on circumstances surrounding those 39 percent of Americans living in rural areas lacking broadband access, compared with 4 percent of those living in cities, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

The town that had free gigabit Internet by Kaleigh Rogers, Motherboard Vice



Country connection: Rural residents ask FCC to improve Internet by Benny Becker, Ohio Valley ReSource

Mitchell argued that too much of the federal money intended to expand rural internet access goes to large companies who’ve been building substandard networks. The problem with counting on large companies like Frontier to build rural broadband, Mitchell said, comes down to a question of money and incentives. Urban areas have more customers in a smaller area, which means they’re more appealing to companies that are publicly traded and profit-driven.



Chattanooga has its own broadband - why doesn't every city? by Jonathan Taplin, The Daily Beast

This city has its own broadband - why can't we? by Carrie Ann, Industry Leaders Magazine



What's next for broadband Internet on Virginia's Eastern Shore? by Carol Vaughn, Delmarva Daily Times

Editorial: Minnesota offers Virginia a lesson on rural broadband by The Roanoke Times



Rural Internet can help shrink economic gap by Jon Talton, Seattle Times

Broadband and rural economies - maybe small is better by Craig Settles, The Daily Yonder

A people-owned Internet exists. Here's what it looks like by Nathan Schneider, The Guardian

In cities and towns, it’s probably through a municipal government, or even neighborhood mesh networks, which can swell across whole regions. Rural areas can piggyback on existing electric and telephone cooperatives, or start new co-ops from scratch.

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance is one of the best organizations tracking these options, and its Community Networks website is full of resources about who is doing what where, and why.

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

Tags: media roundup

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 263

July 28, 2017

This is the transcript for episode 263 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Anne Fifield and Nick Nevins discuss how Eugene, Oregon, uses a dark fiber network to encourage economic development. Listen to this show here.

Anne Fifield: I think we're going to start running out of office space downtown that we've had firms grow. We've had firms come just to locate here. They're here because of the fiber.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 263 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. This week, Chris talks with two folks from Eugene, Oregon where the community is working on a dark fiber project to improve connectivity to the downtown area. He's joined by Anne Fifield who works in economic development and Nick Nevins from the Eugene Water and Electric Board, also known as EWEB. In this conversation, we learn about the collaboration between the two entities, including how the infrastructure is already improving Eugene's downtown, how they're funding the project, and more about the decision to expand existing fiber in Eugene. Before we start the interview, we want to remind you that this commercial-free podcast isn't free to produce. Please take a moment to contribute at If you're already contributing, thank you for playing a part and keeping our podcast going. Now, here's Christopher with Anne Fifield and Nick Nevins from Eugene.

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 talking with Anne Fifield, Economic Development Planner for the city of Eugene in Oregon. Welcome to the show.

Anne Fifield: Hi, Chris.

Christopher Mitchell: We also have Nick Nevins on the line and he is the Engineering Technician for Eugene Water and Electric Board. Welcome to the show.

Nick Nevins: Thanks for having me, Chris.

Christopher Mitchell: I'm excited to learn more about what Eugene's doing and what the results have been. But let's start off with just a little bit of a background on what Eugene is for people who haven't been out there on the West Coast. Anne, can you tell us a little bit about the city?

Anne Fifield: So, Eugene is in Western Oregon about halfway between Portland to the north and the southern border of Oregon. We're about 160,000 people. One of the big notable things about our town is University of Oregon sits in Eugene and that drives a lot of our local economy.

Christopher Mitchell: It's a pretty progressive place, as I remember it.

Anne Fifield: Yes. Very politically liberal. Very much a blue part of Oregon.

Christopher Mitchell: Nick, I'm curious. You have an electric board there and I guess some people might just assume a really progressive city, you would have just gone out and started building fiber a while ago. But the approach is somewhat different. So, maybe you can just give us a very brief overview of what's going on with the electric board.

Nick Nevins: We did start to build fiber back in the early 2000s for our own use and leased out spare capacity, mainly to public agencies. Just in the last handful of years that we really reached out or branched out into the commercial market, leasing to ISPs, we just provide dark fiber.

Christopher Mitchell: When you say, "We just provide dark fiber," I think we're going to be exploring that a bit because I think the impact has been somewhat greater than that might suggest. But I think it's worth just going back to this decision. Anne, I'm curious if you can give us a sense a little of the city's perspective in terms of the challenges Eugene is facing in terms of Internet access.

Anne Fifield: So, we're a midsize city. We're not a large city. We're never going to attract a lot of competition unless we initiate it ourselves. If we're going to do it, we have to bootstrap it ourselves. It's been a conversation for a very long time. There's been a lot of work. I'd say over 20 years that has slowly built up to this. But we decided that we had a technical and a political will locally to see if we could build a municipally owned fiber network. The idea was that EWEB, because they already owned this fiber that served themselves and they had a little bit of movement in that direction of leasing towards private ISPs, that we would build on that existing capacity to pilot a dark fiber network in the downtown of Eugene. One reason we focused on downtown is there's a lot of software companies that have existed in Eugene. We have a very surprising number of video game developers in Eugene. So, there was one company here and when the big company pulled out, a lot of folks who lived here stayed and there's a lot of startups here. We've got a lot of video game programmers. If you look at the product that those guys make, when I was young, you had to go to Pizza Hut to play video games. Then people started getting consoles at home and you would buy the game on a CD. You don't do that anymore. My kids buy their games over our Internet connection. It's not just the video games. There's a lot of other software here. They deliver their product over the Internet. One of the biggest barriers for those firms to grow was adequate Internet access. There's a lot of other markets that would be very happy to have those jobs. We've had companies leave for other markets and we've had a lot of those local companies really advocate for a better Internet connection. I think that's really where that political will came from was local companies who wanted to stay in this town, it's a great place to live. But this was this huge barrier for them to access the global market with their product.

Christopher Mitchell: For people who may not be familiar, you have a lot of software development, a lot of open source in particular, up north in Portland. So, it's not very surprising that you have a lot of this in Eugene as well. You mentioned, Anne, that you often get the games delivered over the Internet. I wonder if there's any games your children play that aren't involved with the Internet in terms of the actual gameplay as well.

Anne Fifield: Sometimes they play outside. But no. It may not have an active connection, but that's how the product's been delivered to the house is over the Internet.

Christopher Mitchell: Nick, I'm curious in terms of the dark fiber leases. These kinds of big video game companies, they're ones that can use dark fiber. They have no compunction about hiring the kind of technicians, that probably not unlike the background you have, to be able to manage the dark fiber connections. I'm curious if there's any other businesses in Eugene that are also really taking advantage of dark fiber.

Nick Nevins: Historically, we've dealt more with the public sector, like Anne was saying, the city, the county, health, school district is a big user of our dark fiber. But getting more into the private sector, our projection or current path has actually been leasing to ISPs so that those smaller, more customer focused ISPs can reach out too and get that last mile connection to business and buildings that they wouldn't be able to build to otherwise. They just don't have the infrastructure around town, so they lease from us to get their product to various parts of town.

Christopher Mitchell: I think you were suggesting the smaller ISPs, more regional, local ISPs, I'm guessing.

Nick Nevins: Correct. Yes.

Christopher Mitchell: Right now, there's so much support. We saw a pew poll saying seven out of 10 Americans are supportive of municipal networks. We see a lot of places where people are just saying, "Look, we just need to build a municipal network." I'm curious if you can give us a sense from a utility point of view, what are some of the challenges of getting involved with what you've done with the dark fiber that might be a little different from your traditional mission?

Nick Nevins: That's the thing. As a primarily electric and water company, fiber is not our core business. So, we started out using basically our spare capacity and that's the mindset of what we have now. We dabbled or explored the option of actually becoming an ISP ourselves and realized there's people, they're better. That's their core business. So, they're just better suited for that. The people and the experience that we have is actually stringing the lines and putting in the infrastructure. That's the knowledge base that we have on hand. So, we decided to utilize that.

Christopher Mitchell: Critics of municipal networks will often suggest that the utility and the city and inseparable, that they're basically one entity. I'm curious, and I'm definitely open to hearing from both of you, how it actually is on the ground in terms of the challenges of making sure that you're on the same page.

Anne Fifield: We are not the same entity. We have two different elected boards and we're not always on the same page. But we're important partners, and ultimately, we're both serving the exact same community. There's always a political element to this and we at the city, the city's bringing a funding to the project while EWEB is actually implementing the project. So, it took a big political push to make sure that we had the political will within the city. But then as we worked with EWEB, we have an intergovernmental agreement between the two of us over this project. It was a lot of work to get to that agreement that satisfied both parties. It protects EWEB financially and ensures that the city's investment, it continues to be implemented by EWEB. It seems it's sort of simple, but I think with Nick, it came down to a three page intergovernmental agreement. But it took months to get there.

Christopher Mitchell: Nick, any comments?

Nick Nevins: I agree with what Anne said. We're definitely two different agencies. Sometimes we agree, sometimes we don't. But I think both agencies realize that we're partners in the same community and ultimately, like Anne said, service the same people. We generally find ways to come to common grounds and work through any issues that arise.

Christopher Mitchell: Nick, I'm curious if you can tell us a little bit about other partners. Who else, what other agencies or people have to be involved to make this project a success?

Nick Nevins: The two other agencies that aren't really on this call right. The Lane Council of Governments and then the Technology Association of Oregon are the two other players that are helping make this project a success.

Christopher Mitchell: What is the Lane Council of Governments?

Anne Fifield: We lie in Lane County. So, Lane County's Council of Government. The COG, it's called. It's a quasi-public agency that provides service to the local communities all across Lane County. Lane County's a really big, geographically very large county. It extends all the way from the mountains in the Cascade range to the coast. So, what they do is they provide a lot of intergovernmental service and as well as they'll provide specialized services to the smaller governments who don't have the staff capacity to work on special projects. Everyone calls them LCOG. They've been a key player. They're one of the players for 20 years, slowly adding in infrastructure that has expanded the regional telecommunications network. They've implemented grants. They had a stimulus grant that built a dark fiber across much of Southwestern Oregon extending well beyond Lane County. So, they have a lot of that technical expertise that individual agencies lack because we tend to be smaller agencies because we're smaller communities.

Christopher Mitchell: I'll bet the coordination really helps for these kinds of networks. Let's dig into the financing. How does the financing work for this project?

Anne Fifield: This project is focused on Downtown Eugene. We had to identify what that was because the funding sources have geographic components to it. What we decided was our service area, about 50% of that is covered by two different urban renewal districts that are part of the city of Eugene that the City of Eugene city council are the officials of the urban renewal agencies. We had the Downtown Urban Renewal District, which is an old district, was set to sunset. Last year, there was a lot of political advocacy by the community to amend the plan and get the urban renewal district, keep it alive for another few years with four specific projects. One of those projects is to build the fiber network. So, the primary revenue source is that urban renewal district. All local funds is funding this. Also, we're asking as we build the network, individual property owners are asked to pay a small fee to connect to the network, a small fee of $2,000. That adds a little bit of money to the project. But from there, we still have a funding gap. We can't quite get 100% built. We had pursued state funds and were not successful. But last summer, we began the process to apply for a grant from the Federal Economic Development Administration. We found out just under two months ago that we have been awarded a grant and they're awarding us $1.9 million. So, that seals the gap on the project.

Christopher Mitchell: So, when property owners connect, is that something they have to pay in a lump sum, then?

Anne Fifield: Yeah. We're asking for a lump sum payment at the time they're connected.

Christopher Mitchell: Are there any individual homeowners in this area or is this entirely commercially focused?

Anne Fifield: It's downtown. The project is an economic development project. But it's a downtown. So, there's all kinds of different uses. There's a movie theater, there's a regular public theater, there's a few apartment buildings, there's some affordable housing, and then there's a lot of office buildings as well. It goes to anybody who's willing to pay the $2,000, really. So, your connection comes into your building and whatever the use is, it doesn't matter. There are no single family detached houses in the service area. So, it's all multi-floor apartment buildings that are in the area.

Nick Nevins: The service area that we determine, EWEB has a web of underground electric conduits in our downtown area. Electric system forms an electric network system down there. When all the duct banks were put in back '50s or '40s, '50s, something like that, they actually had the foresight at that time to reserve or identify a conduit as a communications conduit. Of course, what that means has changed over time. But we're actually installing this dark fiber network through existing infrastructure, pulling it through, pulling microduct through existing conduit and actually even getting into the buildings through the electric service conduit that actually enters the building. So, this entire project serving roughly 120 buildings, we're actually only going to disturb soil in just a few select areas. That's one of the main cost savings and benefits to this project.

Christopher Mitchell: It's a reminder how important policy can make many, many decades of difference when you do it correctly. Nick, can you tell me a little bit more about, I pay $2,000, I'm a business owner. What do I expect? What are my ongoing costs? How does it work?

Nick Nevins: So, basically, a typical building would sign up on our website. As we move through the project, the first step is I actually go out to the building, just make sure nothing visually looks like there would be any red flags, like that we couldn't pull the microduct through, as I mentioned with the electric service, to get it into the building. Once it gets into the building, we actually terminate the fiber, typically in the same room of wherever their electrics equipment is. From then, because it's an open access network, it's up to the individual ISPs that lease fiber from us to go around and basically sell their product or the tenant, the business owners, can go to these ISPs and basically have them compete for their product. Then once they sign up with one of those ISPs, they ISPs actually lease fiber from us. So, once the fiber's in the building, we really don't have a lot of interaction with the individual tenants.

Christopher Mitchell: Is there a maintenance fee?

Nick Nevins: Yeah. We charge a lease fee to the ISPs, then the ISPs charge whatever they charge to the individual businesses. But we actually don't have any lease fees or anything for the buildings.

Anne Fifield: Any kind of maintenance fee is incorporated into the lease rate that EWEB has.

Christopher Mitchell: There's an interesting question as to how technologies change. I'm presuming that most people, they use an active technology and you terminate the other fiber. I guess it goes wherever you want it to go. Different ISPs may take it to different places.

Nick Nevins: All of the fiber for this project all goes back to a centralized location to the Willamette Internet exchange. They're actually in LCOG. So, there's actually five or six ISPs that have a presence there in that data center. So, they can serve them from there. But to your point, we could patch across, jump across to one of our other cables that then serve any part of Eugene. So, yes. Any business downtown could get to a different part of the city or even to other cities on other fiber.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things I'm curious about how services may evolve in the future so you may have a business that wants to have multiple ISPs serving it over the same fiber and that would just be something you'd have to work out at that Willamette Internet exchange, I'm guessing.

Nick Nevins: Yeah. Typically, what we found is that the fiber going into a single building would have multiple ISPs leasing fiber to get into that building because maybe ISP number one is serving Tenant A and ISP number two is serving Tenant B. But there's nothing that says one tenant might reserve or get service from two different ISPs.

Christopher Mitchell: So, let's talk about the impacts as we wrap up. What's happened in Eugene as a result of having made these investments?

Anne Fifield: The project is still under construction. We've only just gotten, I think 16 buildings are fully connected right now and we're moving forward on getting the rest of the 120 buildings or so connected. You can see the impacts. There's one company where they own the whole building. So, it's a single tenant building. So, the fiber connection just serves one client. It's a big software developer. They develop games for both the private market as well as they work with the Department of Defense building games that train soldiers. They told us that if they got their fiber connection and they could take on a new project, that would require them to hire 40 people. On the promise of us getting it to them by a certain date, they started hiring those people. So, one business downtown increased a number of jobs by 40. Then in the other buildings, most of the buildings that are served are multi-tenant buildings. Those buildings that are served have some of the lowest vacancy rates in town. A lot of them have zero vacancy. I think we're going to start running out of office space downtown that we've had firms grow. We've had firms come just to locate here. Parking guy in the city came to talk to me to tell me that he's running out of parking spaces. I said, "That's a great problem to have that we're actually getting so busy that we're running out of space." So, yeah. It's busier downtown. There's more stuff happening, there's more business in those office buildings. They're here because of the fiber, which then has a positive feedback loop. There's more restaurants, there's more other activity. So, it just keeps growing and growing and growing. But it wouldn't be happening without the fiber.

Christopher Mitchell: Nick, I'm curious if the utility is planning for decades ahead in terms of when you're doing other water projects or other electric projects. Are you putting in lots of extra conduit then as part of those investments?

Nick Nevins: Yes and no. It's not a standard practice across the utility, but there's definitely, I and other people definitely keep their eyes open for opportunities where we think there'll be good growth. We'll definitely look at investing. If nothing else, just throwing a stick of conduit in the ground.

Christopher Mitchell: Is there a reason that it's not a standard practice? Is it that you have so many different types of investments? I don't know really know. Sometimes I've heard that if you're trenching for a water main, you may have to make it a lot wider to incorporate fiber and that's going to be a challenge that you may not want to do. What's the real world scenario there?

Nick Nevins: I think the biggest reason that hasn't happened more or become a standard practice has just been a matter of it's not viewed as our core business right now. In the past, it's been a little forgotten about. We're trying to get that to change now.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the nice things about utilities that have been around for many decades to a hundred years is that they figured out how to succeed over a long period of time. But unfortunately, the short term, what that can often mean is resisting change and making sure that something's really important before just committing to it. So, there's a double edged sword there, I think, with these long lived utilities.

Nick Nevins: Yeah, definitely.

Anne Fifield: One of the reasons that I think it's a partnership is that the city's the one whole really wanted this to happen and we're the ones paying for it.

Christopher Mitchell: I would just assume that you're getting some phone calls at city hall because I have yet to talk to anyone at city hall that's not hearing from people on this.

Anne Fifield: I take the calls from people who want to know, "When's it coming to my neighborhood?" I get at least one a week. It's a pretty regular question. People are very excited about it. We'll see what happens after we're, finish out downtown, if we're able to extend it beyond. Right now, we're just focusing on getting the downtown done.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. It's one of those things that I feel like people can ask the question to city hall, but if they really want it in their neighborhood, they better be out there talking to their neighbors about it and making sure that it's a priority because city council's got a lot of problems to deal with and they need to input on how to prioritize.

Anne Fifield: Yeah. I think you're right. We've had a lot of political agitation for the downtown because it was economic development effort. The rest of it, I think it'll be more expensive. The financing will be really different because it's lower density, not downtown. So, you get fewer customers per mile.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. We have seen a few miles. Actually, oddly enough, many of them are in the Pacific Northwest where the homeowners are basically putting their money where their desire is and they are finding ways of self financing in local districts. So, who knows what the future will hold? But thank you very much both Anne and Nick for coming on to tell us more about what's going on in Eugene.

Anne Fifield: Thanks for having us, Chris.

Nick Nevins: Thank you.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Anne Fifield, Economic Development Planner from Eugene and Nick Nevins, Engineering Technician from EWEB. They were talking with Christopher about their downtown dark fiber network project. Check out our stories on Eugene at 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. Follow stories on Twitter where 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. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at Thank you again to Arne Huseby for the song "Warm Duck Shuffle", licensed through Creative Commons. Thanks for listening to episode 263 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast.

Tags: transcripteugeneeconomic developmentdark fiberutilitycollaborationoregoncompetitionfinancingtax increment financinglocal improvement districtmunijobs

Anza Electric Cooperative: High-Speed Internet Service in Southern California

July 28, 2017

Just south of Mount San Jacinto in southern California, several small communities hope for better Internet access. The local cooperative has submitted a plan to build a next generation network fiber network further into Riverside County.

Anza Electric Cooperative wants to expand its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network through another 200 square miles of its service territory. This $3.7 million project should connect another 1,200 residents to the growing network.

New Project Proposed by Anza Electric

Currently, Anza Electric is drumming up funding for the proposed project. The co-op already has about $1.5 million to put toward the venture and is now requesting a $2.2 million grant from the state.

This network, called Connect Anza, will bring high-speed Internet service to several small, rural communities in Riverside County: Pinyon Pines, Garner Valley, and Mountain Center. High-speed Internet service of 50 Megabits per second (Mbps) will be $49 per month; service is symmetrical so upload and download speeds are the same. Residents will also be able to get phone service from the co-op for another $20 per month. Local fire stations and the Ronald McDonald camp for children with cancer will receive free Internet access through this project. 

Anza Electric Built a Network

The deployment continues Anza Electric’s previous project to connect more than 3,000 underserved households around Anza, California. The previous project was pushed forward by the overwhelming support of the electric cooperative’s member-owners, residents who receive electric service from the co-op.

Anza Electric first started adding fiber optic lines for electricity management in July 2015. Later that year, at the annual cooperative meeting, more than 90% of members present voted to include fiber optics and high-speed Internet service in the cooperative’s bylaws. The vote encouraged the cooperative to continue to build fiber optic lines.

In December 2015, the state of California approved a grant of almost $2.7 million for Anza Electric to which the co-op matched with another $1.8 million to build the FTTH network. As Anza Electric finishes up the project, the co-op is preparing to start the next deployment in Pinyon Pines.

State Grant Programs Support Local Control

Although the California Advanced Services Fund does give some funding to AT&T, it is similar to many other states' programs, such as in Minnesota. The grant program requires participating providers to match about half of the grant amount. 

Many cooperatives have taken advantage of state grant programs to build FTTH networks. By connecting farms, small businesses, and homes in some of the hardest to reach areas, telephone and electric cooperatives are closing the digital divide. Anza Electric Cooperative is part of that growing movement of cooperatives building the infrastructure necessary to keep rural communities strong. Learn more about cooperatives on our resource page.

Tags: rural electric coopFTTHcaliforniacooperativeruralgrantsymmetryfundingvoice

The Many Networks of Williamstown, Kentucky

July 27, 2017

Among the rolling hills and mountains of Appalachia sits the small city of Williamstown, Kentucky, in central Grant County. Home to about 3,500 people, Williamstown is the center of connectivity for the county. The city’s fiber provides high-speed connectivity to local businesses, while its long-running cable network keeps folks connected in the town. Williamstown operates a small Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network in the southern half of the county and offers much of the rest of the county fixed wireless service.

Williamstown Cable Center of Connectivity

Roy Osborne, the Superintendent at Williamstown Cable told us how this small town had developed so many different projects throughout the county. Within the town itself, the network is a hybrid fiber-coax (HFC) system that supports speeds from 20 Megabits per second (Mbps) to 100 Mbps download for residents and businesses alike; upload speeds vary from 2 Mbps to 10 Mbps.

For large institutions, Williamstown Cable builds fiber lines to provide reliable, fast connectivity. It serves most county facilities, such as the courthouse and detention center. It even brought a fiber connection to the theme park just outside of town -- the Ark Encounter, based on the biblical story of Noah’s Ark. Osborne recalled the high level of Internet service in the small town surprised the developers. 

The community was not going to let its rural neighbors remain without connectivity. In 2007, the town started a project to bring fixed wireless service to the surrounding county. Williamstown Cable found a way to bring some of the fastest, most reliable Internet service to a small community of Corinth in southern Grant County in 2010. They used federal funding to build a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to the 200 people in the town. 

How Williamstown Built So Many Networks

Like many communities, Williamstown started providing services because no one else would invest in their rural sparsely populated area. The department first built a cable system in 1984 to provide television service, connecting the small town residents to the news. Williamstown Cable paid its own way, reinvesting money earned from the television service back into the network. In the early 2000s, the city spent nearly $2 million on a major upgrade to the network - overbuilding the old cable with a hybrid fiber coaxial system that was state-of-the-art technology at the time. That system still supports Internet service within the town limits.

They launched Internet service in 2005 after patiently waiting for years for the telephone company to offer something faster than dial-up. In 2007, the community started offering fixed wireless service, building radio towers and using existing water towers to spread the signal throughout the county.

While expanding their network, they came across an abandoned cable system that had been deployed by a small company years earlier and then bought by Time Warner Cable, but the company was actively looking to sell the infrastructure. Williamstown Cable seized the opportunity. They purchased the system for a single dollar and started upgrading it. The head-end, where the electronics that make the network function, had been a portable shed. Williamstown Cable obtained grant money through the federal American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) to revamp the abandoned system. 

The federal government gave Williamstown Cable about $500,000 for their project, and Williamstown Cable matched the grant with its own funding sources. They quickly built out an FTTH network around Corinth in 2010 for $1 million. Previously, Corinth didn't have any Internet service - not even DSL. Now Willaimstown was able to offer Corinth the best connectivity available.

The Federal Government's Role

While the ARRA projects were underway throughout the country, a shake-up started on the federal level. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which manages these connectivity programs, began to transform some older programs into the new Connect America Fund (CAF). This didn’t seem to affect Williamstown much until the Connect America Fund Annual Support program rolled out. 

The program gives $1.5 billion each year to ten large Internet Service Providers (ISPs) across the country. The ISPs submitted to the FCC which areas within their service area were unserved or underserved, and then the FCC subsidized new networks in those areas. In order for the program to work effectively, the FCC needs to know exactly where good, high-speed networks are in the U.S. Unfortunately, information on the location of underserved and unserved areas is often outdated or incorrect.

One of the large ISPs happened to submit areas in Grant County that were already served by Williamstown Cable’s projects – specifically, areas served by the FTTH project from the federal ARRA grant. The company assured Williamstown Cable that they would not overbuild the existing fiber network but instead would use the grants to improve Internet access nearby.

Looking Forward

The "little network that could" has grown by leaps and bounds since it started off in the 1980s. Grant County residents now have high-speed Internet access, and Williamstown Cable has spent less than $4 million out of its own pocket. Superintendent Osborne noted that they were responding to community needs and that the networks have been self-supported. Soon, they will offer phone service as well - many people like having a single bill for their phone, TV, and Internet service offered by a local provider who understands their needs. 

Picture of Williamstown by W.marsh (Own work) GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Tags: kentuckyFTTHhfcfederal fundingfederal grantwilliamstown kymuniappalachiansfixed wireless

We're Hiring! ILSR Looking For Interns!

July 27, 2017

We’re looking for an Intern to join the Community Broadband Networks Initiative team. The position is flexible with regard to hours and is based in our Minneapolis office. If you’re interested in working with us on Internet policy, check out the position posting and let us know.


Interested in Internet policy issues? Want to work in an exciting field to build more resilient economies and encourage more vibrant democracy? Want to have fun doing meaningful work?

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance seeks a part-time or full-time paid intern for its Community Broadband Networks program.

Our Ideal Intern

  • Is enthusiastic about technology policy and believes in balancing private interests with public interests
  • Writes compelling, well-researched and concise articles on a short deadline
  • Can juggle multiple tasks
  • Works independently
  • Is creative – graphics, videos, audio, whatever. Multimedia is wonderful.
  • Is confident calling people to interview them over the phone
  • Is self-directed
  • Has some background knowledge of economics and public policy

The Kinds of Things We Do

  • We run – the hub of the community networks movement
  • Create fact sheets, reports, videos, podcasts, and the occasional comic. The White House relied on our research for its own report on broadband networks
  • Advise communities on how to improve Internet access for businesses and residents
  • Educate the media and policymakers on Internet policy


  • Send an email to with Subject Line: ILSR INTERNet Application
  • Explain in 3 paragraphs why you are the ideal intern.
  • Attach a resume and writing sample (or relevant creative work)
  • Please do not call


  • Flexible hours
  • Experience in the fast paced high tech public policy world
  • Pay based on qualifications and time commitment.

Get your responses in by August 18, 2017. If you are incredible, we may create another position. Never hurts to try.

Tags: jobsresearchinstitute for local self-reliance

Dark Fiber Brightens Downtown Business Climate in Eugene - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 263

July 26, 2017
Community Broadband Bits Episode 263 - Eugene Economic Development Planner Anne Fifield, EWEB Engineering Technician Nick Nevins

Eugene is a good example of recent public-public partnerships developing to expand fiber optic Internet access. The city of 166,000 in Oregon helped finance a downtown dark fiber network by the Eugene Water and Electric Board (EWEB), which is publicly owned but has an independent governing board from the city. 

Eugene's Economic Development Planner Anne Fifield and EWEB Engineering Technician Nick Nevins joined us for episode 263 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast to discuss the project and early results.

We talk about what businesses have been the early adopters of the dark fiber availability, how it was financed, and how it has helped to fill downtown office locations with businesses. 

Read the transcript of the show.

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

This show is 25 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can 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: dark fiberoregoneugeneeconomic developmentutilitymunijobscompetitionfinancingtax increment financinglocal improvement districtaudiopodcastbroadband bits

Times Editors: Rural Virginia Deserves Better Connectivity

July 24, 2017

People who live in rural America have known for a long time that urban areas have better access to Internet services. Recently, however, the issue has become a hot topic of conversation and analysis by policy experts, lawmakers, and the telecommunications industry. In a recent editorial by Virginia’s Roanoke Times, the outlet's leadership explained why “Third World standards” for Internet access won’t do for people who, by choice or circumstance, live in rural areas.

"Third World Connectivity"

The editors at the Times point to reporting done by the Wall Street Journal (reprinted here by MSN Money) that describes how rural America’s lack of high-quality Internet access puts it on the same economic footing as “the new inner city.” The Times quotes the WSJ:

Keep in mind the Journal is not some liberal organ typically associated with calling for more government intervention; editorially, this is the conservative voice of the nation’s business community. Its view (like ours) is purely an economic one: “Counties without modern Internet connections can’t attract new firms, and their isolation discourages the enterprises they have . . . Reliance on broadband includes any business that uses high-speed data transmission, spanning banks to insurance firms to factories.”

While the urban areas of the state average connectivity higher than the national average, much of the state - the rural areas - must contend with speeds that compare with countries like Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Nigeria.

The editors at the Times point out that, much like in the 1930s when President Franklin D. Roosevelt vowed to electrify every rural community, private firms don’t venture where lack of profit doesn’t justify an investment. "This points the way to one possible fix that even the Journal highlights: Government intervention," writes the Times editors.

But they understand the hurdles that exist today that weren't so high when Roosevelt was working his plan to light up the farms. Public efforts to connect rural America face hurdles from giant telecommunications companies who fear any competition today or in the future. Lobbying at the state level is powerful.

We saw an example of that in the most recent General Assembly, where Del. Kathy Byron, R-Bedford County, sponsored a bill that would have crippled existing municipal broadband authorities (such as the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority) and made it difficult for new ones to form.

Byron was inexplicably working against her own constituents’ interests. Forest averages 8.4 mbps, slower than Sri Lanka. Bedford averages 6.3 mbps, just barely faster than Peru. Byron’s ideology may be pure, but when it comes to a key part of modern infrastructure, her constituents are living under Third World conditions.

That ideological purity is also simply wrong. If telecoms could make money in these rural areas, they would. They can’t. So should we just let them wither and die?

Economic Development: More Than Tax Breaks

People who live in rural areas of the state know that economic development is the only thing that will keep their communities from disappearing. They also know that today’s businesses rely on high-quality connectivity to function and stay competitive:

Ultimately, any talk of rural economic development is fruitless if there’s no infrastructure to support modern businesses. Some — such as Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem — hope that President Trump’s much-ballyhooed infrastructure bill will include money for rural broadband. It’s unclear, though, whether such a bill will ever really happen. Still, Griffith’s support shows that this isn’t a left vs. right issue.

Not Waiting For D.C.

Editors at the Times don’t suggest waiting for rescue from Washington, D.C., although they don’t suggest turning down any assistance that may come from the new administration. They do something better - call on current candidates for governor to let voters know whether or not better rural connectivity is a priority.

Read the full editorial here.

Image of the countryside courtesy of pixaby and is in the public domain.

Tags: editorialroanoke valleyvirginialobbyingeconomic development

Community Broadband Media Roundup - July 24

July 24, 2017


The race is on for better Internet service in some areas of the High Desert by Rene Ray De La Cruz,



Could Fort Collins run with the big dogs of Internet service? by Kevin Duggan, The Coloradoan

Muni could pave way to high-speed fiber broadband by Tim Schoechle, Boulder Daily Camera

Longmont's NextLight Internet service wins national award by Karen Antonacci, Boulder Daily Camera



Editorial: Hartford's homework gap by Hartford Courant Staff



EMC: HEMC's growing business model includes fiber optics, broadband by Northeast Georgian Staff 4-Traders



Broadband expansion in downtown Holland to be approved by city council by Sentinel Staff, Holland Sentinel



New fiber-optics Internet service coming to Callaway by Jenny Gray, Jefferson City News Tribune


North Carolina

Macon pushes forward with broadband expansion by Jessi Stone, Smoky Mountain News



Logan Tele named gig-capable provider by News Democrat & Leader Staff

As a Certified Gig-Capable Provider, Logan Telephone joins a national campaign to build awareness and industry recognition of community-based telecom providers that have built communications networks capable of delivering Internet speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second, which is 100 times faster than those currently available in many U.S. households.



Country Connection: Rural residents ask FCC to improve Internet access by Benny Becker, Ohio Valley ReSource

As good and capable as Frontier’s employees may be, Mitchell said, “in our economic system, they have a responsibility to get a good return on their investments for their shareholders. And if we’re trying to solve connectivity for rural America, trying to get them to do it is the wrong approach.”

Mitchell hopes that more money will go toward local governments and cooperatives, who have more incentive to build long-term solutions, including fiber optic networks that have the speed, capacity, and durability to meet communities’ needs for decades to come.

Summit hopes to bring broadband to appalachia by Susan Tebben, WOUB Digital

A keynote speaker at the event will be Chris Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Mitchell said the summit is important so that people across the country can know what an important element broadband access plays in the growth of communities.

“You can really make a region totally undesirable for people to move into or remain in if they do not have access to modern technology,” Mitchell told WOUB.

The Internet ripoff you're not protesting by Susan Crawford, BackChannel

Major tech firms pressure FCC to stay the net neutrality course by David Jones, E-Commerce Times

The backlash against the FCC likely will result in some form of compromise legislation, suggested Christopher Mitchell, director of community broadband networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which advocates for more competition in rural areas.

Tags: media roundup

Co-ops And Counties Improving Indiana Connectivity

July 24, 2017

Like other states with significant rural populations, local communities in Indiana have been working to come up with ways to improve connectivity for residents and businesses. Two more areas in Indiana can expect better connectivity as county government invests for economic development and a rural electric co-op decides its time to offer Internet access to members.

Jackson County Rural Electric Membership Corporation

In the south central section of the state, Jackson County Rural Electric Membership Corporation (REMC) serves members in ten counties. Their members don’t live in areas in and around the larger towns in the region because most of those premises already had electric service when REMC obtained a federal loan to electrify the area in 1937. Their service area covers about 1,400 square miles and they serve 24,200 members.

In June, the cooperative announced that it had approved a five-year plan to provide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connectivity to every member in its service area. In their press release, REMC compared the project to rural electrification, which launched the cooperative, and wrote: 

Several factors were taken into consideration: enhancing the quality of life for members, agricultural and agribusiness needs, providing an enhanced path for education and healthcare opportunities, keeping our communities economically viable, and developing a plan where no REMC member is eft out. All of these facts fall under Cooperative Principle #7: Concern for Community.

A Big Project

REMC will invest approximately $5.43 million for the project’s first phase; the entire project will cost $20 million in Jackson County alone. The investment for REMC’s entire service area will be $60 million. Co-op officials estimate the project will be cash positive in three years and will be completely paid for in 16 years.

In June, Jackson County Council unanimously approved a tax abatement for the cost of phase 1, which establishes the backbone for the system and snakes through most of the counties in REMC’s service area. Phase 1 will also include an opportunity to test the network by connecting approximately 990 members in order to work out problems before offering services to members across the entire network.

According to the local Crothersville Times, local realtors have expressed concern about the county’s lack of high-quality connectivity, said Executive Director of Jackson County Industrial Development Corporation Jim Plump.

“I would point out that Jackson County REMC serves customers in 10 counties in southern Indiana and the total investment in this project over the next five years will top $60 million throughout the service territory,” Plump said.

“Less than 6% of Jackson county REMC members have access to what the FCC defines as minimum download speeds,” he noted.

REMC plans to start phase 1 construction August 1st with completion date expected about one year later.

This past session, the State Legislature passed SB 478, which will help streamline the process as REMC deploys a FTTH network to members. The bill, also known as the Facilitating Internet Broadband Rural Expansion (FIBRE) Act, allows electric cooperatives to rely on existing easements for electric lines to use those easements for fiber infrastructure.

Meanwhile, In Elkhart County…

At the other end of the state local government officials are constructing a fiber optic network to spur economic development. Along Indiana’s north central border, Elkhart County (pop. 198,000) is wooing advanced manufacturing companies and trying to stay competitive:

“Depending on the company, there are a lot of businesses who have maybe looked at moving into this area, locating here, or building new facilities in the past that have passed over this area because the bandwidth that they want is not available,” said [Ryan] Coates. 

Coates is from Maplenet Wireless, a local provider that is working with Elkhart County to install a stretch of fiber for connecting businesses along County Road 6 where they hope to draw commercial investment. About 83,000 people in Elkhart County live in the northern area near the cities of Goshen and Elkhart but the fiber optic project is located on the county's rural southern border. The county will own the infrastructure.

Co-ops And Local Government Forging The Rural Path

As we’ve noted before, rural cooperatives and local government, such as municipalities and counties, are tired of waiting for big national telecommunications companies who don't seem interested in serving low denity areas. They understand that high-quality connectivity is now an essential service for business, education, government, and the quality of life that keeps families in their communities. Rather than watch rural towns dry up and disappear, local leaders and cooperative members are taking the initiative and making investments in Internet network infrastructure.

For more on rural connectivity and rural cooperatives, catch Christopher's keynote address at the recent Appalachian Ohio-West Virginia Connectivity Summit.

Image of the Shieldstown Covered Bridge in Jackson County, Indiana, by Chris Light (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Tags: indianarural electric coopelkhart county inFTTHregionalcooperativerural

Considering Connectivity On The Coast: Lewes, Delaware

July 21, 2017

The small seaside community of Lewes, Delaware, is considering investing in a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet network for connectivity to its 3,000 inhabitants.


According to the Lewes Board of Public Works (BPW) General Manager Darrin Gordon, the city electric utility has a plan to connect to Fibertech Networks infrastructure, which reaches Lewes. Fibertech obtained a $1 million state grant in 2015 to expand its infrastructure in rural areas of Delaware.

BPW has been investigating the possibility of bringing high-quality Internet access to households and businesses for a while now. The BPW plan envisions a publicly owned network that connects to the Fibertech network and extends throughout Lewes that will be deployed in four phases. "The rolling deployment will help recover costs and help with funding the next phases," Gordon said. 

"We want to take it slow to ensure that whoever does take the service that it's the very best and everything we promised it was going to be," Gordon said. "We know that word of mouth around here can be the saving grace or the death knell."

BPW anticipates that the first phase could be finished as soon as four to five months from commencement and the second phase two months later. The first two phases will be aerial deployment with later phases consisting of underground plant.

The city is working with a consultant to estimate a final cost to make the investment and to determine what residents and businesses would pay for the service. BPW will survey customers to obtain a better idea of the amount of interest before moving forward.

Lewes, Delaware

Lewes describes itself as “the first town in the first state,” having started as a trading post by Dutch settlers in 1631. The community changed names and hands several times between the English and the Dutch; William Penn and gave it the name “Lewes” in 1682 and it’s kept the name ever since.

The town is a popular vacation and resort town for Washington D.C. residents. In addition to its location along the Atlantic, the town’s historic character draws tourists. It has a Fisherman’s Wharf and multiple museums.

Most of the community has access to DSL service through Verizon, while Comcast is available in some areas.

Tags: lewes dedelawareelectricutilityruraltourismnew englandconsiderationFTTH

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 262

July 20, 2017

This is the transcript for Community Broadband Bits Episode 262. Harold Feld and Christopher Mitchell discuss Microsoft's announcement on TV White Spaces and what it means for rural areas. Listen to this episode here.

Harold Feld: It's the openest public airwaves, because we actually let the public use it.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is Episode 262 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. TV White Spaces and White Space Technology has been in the news lately. Microsoft recently announced a plan to use White Spaces to bring high-speed internet access to rural areas across the country. This week, Harold Feld, from Public Knowledge, takes some time to talk with Christopher about the announcement and White Space Spectrum. Microsoft has raised a stir with their proposal, and Harold explains why. Before we start the interview, we want to remind you that this is a commercial-free podcast, but it isn't free to produce. Please take a minute to contribute at If you're already a contributor, thank you for playing a part in keeping our podcast going. Now, here's Christopher with Harold Feld from Public Knowledge.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, and I'm talking today with Harold Feld, the senior vice president for Public Knowledge. Welcome back to the show, Harold.

Harold Feld: Thank you.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that you've been working on for a very long time is something called TV White Spaces. Why don't you tell us a little bit about what they are?

Harold Feld: Yeah, so this is always very confusing, because like a lot of things, the name doesn't actually make any sense if you're not immersed in this. In wireless spectrum talk, white spaces are frequency bands that haven't been assigned to anyone, because they appear -- Usually, if you have a chart of how spectrum is allocated, who's doing what in which frequency bands. Something that has not been assigned to anybody appears in white, so engineers call that a white space. So, television needs a lot of these because television's very old technology. It uses very powerful transmitters, and the way it was developed was that to prevent interference from television stations interfering with each other, or radio stations interfering with each other, you had to have spaces between the channels. So, in every market, there are these empty television channels. In a lot of markets there are a lot of empty television channels, but there just isn't enough -- There aren't financial reasons to have lots and lots of channels in the less crowded areas, but even in places like New York City or Los Angeles, you have a lot of these empty channels called white spaces, and for a long time now, people have been pointing out that the technology for wireless has advanced to a point that you can let people use low-power devices in these unassigned TV channels, these TV White Spaces, and use them to do things like Wi-Fi, or other kinds of internet access services like Bluetooth or these other things. And because these frequencies are what we call low band, their physical characteristics make them very valuable and very useful, even at low-power. So, if you've ever set up Wi-Fi in your house, you'll notice that sometimes there's a wall or something, and you can't get through it, and you need to put another router on the other side. With TV White Spaces, the way this works, those frequencies will go through solid objects a lot more easily, and they travel further. So, it lets you set up these devices, sometimes they call this super Wi-Fi, so that you can use fewer routers to provide coverage. They can work in places where standard Wi-Fi frequencies don't work, so this has been a really important FCC proceeding for a while now.

Christopher Mitchell: And this is something that we've talked about, it's been deployed. Certainly we've actually with Don Means before, and the work that they're doing with the gigabit libraries project. So, this isn't anything particularly new. What does the Microsoft announcement that they're going to be working with local groups to deploy more of these white spaces networks, what does that mean?

Harold Feld: Every technology goes through a bunch of different phases. It starts to come out in the first generation technology. People get very excited about it, then you have the real world developments. People have to go back to the drawing board, tweak things. But then for a lot of technologies, there's a second act that when the pieces, as Microsoft's general counsel Brad Smith said in his presentation on this, there's a moment when things gel and it's ready to roll out, and companies are ready to make a commitment. So, we had white spaces rules were finalized in a way that was useful in 2010, so that was about seven years ago. The first generation technology came out around 2012, 2013 when you've seen some first generation deployments in this, Don Means a couple of others. Those real world experiences got taken back to the drawing board. Microsoft has been doing it not just here in the United States, but in a lot of places outside of the United States as well, and their announcement says, "Okay, this is now ready to go big. We're ready to invest in it, you'll get the economies of scale." Think about the difference in cellular coverage from the early 90s to late 90s. We first started cell phones out in the late 80s. Big, brick things that were basically toys for rich people, and everyone was like, "Oh, that's crazy. Why would I ever want that? It's super expensive." But then the technology changed. We went from 1G to 2G, the second generation wireless technology, and suddenly the technology was better, the phones were lighter, and they became a lot of affordable for people. A lot more companies started getting into it, started building towers, and in just a few years in the 1990s, we went from almost nobody having a cellular and very few wireless networks being deployed, to lots of people having wireless phones, and national coverage built virtually overnight. That was the moment when things came together. When we look back now, with our 4G stuff, that was just so super primitive, but at the time, it was amazing and revolutionary to people, just how quickly mobile phones came to be deployed in the years between 1994 and 2000, whereas the technology had been approved all the way back in the mid-1980s, and nothing much happened until we got to the '94, '95. So, we're seeing the same thing here, and Microsoft's announcement is really the seed that brings it all together.

Christopher Mitchell: One of our mutual friends, Matt Rentenden, has been also using the TV White Spaces, and he was noting that it's pretty expensive to deploy. It's on the order of 800 to $1,000 per unit, and one of the things you were telling me is that we would expect that price to be dropping now with Microsoft's commitment.

Harold Feld: Right, exactly, because it's all about the economies of scale. Brad Smith, again, in his speech, held up an Adaptrum unit and said, "Right now this costs $800. By next year it's going to cost $200." So, that's a big drop. That's because when you have a company like Microsoft that comes in and says, "We're now betting on this technology for a whole bunch of different things, not just for rural broadband, but for precision farming, a whole bunch of internet of things type platforms," we're going to buy enough of these units to start driving the price down, and that's something that can have a really quick, dramatic effect. I mean, again, we saw this with cell phones, where the prices came down very dramatically. We saw this with laptop computers, which used to be $5,000 devices, and then now you can get them cheap. We saw this with Wi-Fi. Unlicensed spectrum, where Wi-Fi takes place, was approved by the FCC in the 1980s. It took them til 1999 for the IEEE standards body to approve what is the kind of core Wi-Fi standard, and the first year or two it was -- Those were pretty expensive gadgets, but then people started putting them in every laptop, and that kind of economy of scale drove the price down to be very cheap, so people started trying to networks with them, and now we expect to find Wi-Fi pretty much everywhere we're going.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the interesting things that's been a reaction is the broadcasters seem not just opposed to this, but really over the top in terms of making really outlandish claims about Microsoft being a bad actor, and this and that. Why are they so upset?

Harold Feld: Well, I mean, there are a couple of things here. One is the broadcasters have always been junkyard dogs in terms of defending what they see as their spectrum. Now, of course, it's the public airwaves. You don't own this stuff, and broadcasters in particular, who got this for free, are treating it like, "Hey, this is our backyard. Even the stuff we're not using is our backyard, and everybody keep out of it." And unfortunately, that's very typical of the way the broadcasters behave. This goes back a long, long way when the FCC was actually looking at opening up the rules back in the 1980s, as I said, for unlicensed technologies. The broadcasters were able to keep the FCC from opening up any kind of underlay in their frequency bands because we're special and you shouldn't do this, even though you're putting it in a lot of other places. But we're special, and don't mess with us. So, there's just a history there of them being all like this, but additionally, there's a financial thing. Broadcasters are actually going to the FCC right now, asking for free spectrum. They're saying, "Hey, we want to upgrade the digital television standard from what it is now," which is something called ATSC 1.0. They want to upgrade this to something that's called ATSC 3.0, and that technology would let them offer much more easily the same services that people are talking about, offering using the TV White Spaces, except they would be able to charge people for them rather than have people just do them themselves. So, they are trying to keep competitors out, while they push the FCC to give them freebies. There's a delightful irony here of the head of the National Association of Broadcasters getting out there and saying, "It's true. We got our spectrum for free. We're right now asking the FCC to upgrade our spectrum access for free. We want to be able to use these white spaces ourselves for free, but Microsoft is bad because they could have bought stuff at auctions and didn't." And again, the thing that's most frustrating to me as somebody who doesn't have a product is TV White Spaces is unlicensed open spectrum. It's like Wi-Fi; nobody owns Wi-Fi. It's not like open this up, that was like a giveaway to Sysco or Broadcom, or anybody who makes the Wi-Fi routers and sells the equipment. No, it's anybody can use it. It's the openest public airwaves, because we actually let the public use it, and only in Washington DC could opening up the public airwaves to the public be called a giveaway by a lobbying organization.

Christopher Mitchell: I have to say, it strikes me as saying that public parks are a giveaway to the frisbee industry.

Harold Feld: Right, exactly. Or, in the copyright world, it's like saying public domain is a giveaway because it somehow doesn't let Disney own Mickey Mouse forever.

Christopher Mitchell: The last thing I wanted to make sure we covered was just what we can expect from this technology, because the term super Wi-Fi, I think, might lead people to believe that it's super in terms of being insanely fast, where I don't think it's as fast as Wi-Fi even is today. The super part is that it's much more capable of going through obstacles. So, what kind of speeds might we expect from this equipment?

Harold Feld: Yeah, I mean, look -- And again, it's important to recognize that TV White Space isn't so much a technology as a bunch of frequencies we're opening up so that people can develop new technologies. Right now, and again, it's important to keep in mind there's a difference between speeds you get in the laboratory, versus speeds that you can actually get in the real world. Right now, I think what they're talking about is putting out networks that would operate at 45 megabits per second, symmetrical both ways, which, in a lot of rural areas, is much better than what you now. Even for a lot of folks in urban areas, if you do it cheaply and affordably, that's better than the options that are available at much higher prices from the cable companies. The problem is wireless is very complicated, and we're talking about devices that are operating at comparatively very low power. Television stations operate at 50,000 watts. Your TV White Space device is operating at one watt for the fixed devices, even less than that in microwatts for the more mobile devices when those come out. So, the other thing that people have to keep in mind is your speed or your broadband network isn't just about the wireless part, it also then depends a lot on the back haul, what's available. If you're using wireless to bring it back to some place where it will land on fiber for back haul, then every hop cost to you moves from one tower to another, costs you more speed. So, we're probably talking initially things that are more in the range of 10 megabits per second down with potentially the same or slightly less up. So, initially, this is going to be good for people who don't really have anything, and it will give them stuff that's useful, but not up to where it needs to be. Now, again, the technology's going to keep getting better as it moves along, and the Microsoft folks have said, "We're depending on a bunch of other inputs; we're depending on the FCC doing things to make it possible to use the spectrum more effectively; we're depending on finding ways to do things like getting fiber out, not in the communities to serve the communities, at least close enough that we can use it as back haul for the networks that are set up with these TV White Space devices." So, everybody should keep in mind -- Listeners should keep in mind that we're at the beginning here. In rural areas, you have a lot of open TV White Spaces, because you have a lot of unused channels. That gives you a lot of capacity so you can get better speed on the wireless side, but that's offset by having, in a lot of places, still needing to use copper, or some kind of wireless for you back haul. So, that drops the parent speed. I would say look for this to be more like eight to ten megabits locally, at least in the first generation deployments.

Christopher Mitchell: Thank you for that. I want to thank you for your -- All the information you've given us, the advocacy you've done, and also recommend that if people aren't reading your Tales From the Sausage Factory, it's both entertaining and informative, so thanks for that as well.

Harold Feld: Thank you very much. Always a pleasure.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Harold Feld from Public Knowledge, talking with Christopher about different white spaces and a recent commitment from Microsoft to work with ISPs in order to bring connectivity to rural areas using white space technology. Check out our stories on white spaces at, including information on several library projects. Also, if you go to and investigate their information on spectrum reform, you'll find more. 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. Follow stories on Twitter where 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. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and thanks for listening to Episode 262 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcriptwhite spacesspectrumharold feldfixed wirelessruralpoint to pointWirelessbroadcastWi-Fitelevisionfccpolicyregulation

Watch Video From Appalachian Ohio-West Virginia Connectivity Summit

July 20, 2017

If you weren’t able to make it to the Appalachian Ohio-West Virginia Connectivity Summit in Marietta, Ohio, on July 18th or if you’re just interested in learning more about improving connectivity in rural areas, you can still almost be there. Video of Christopher’s keynote address is available to view.

The event occurred on July 18th at Washington State Community College in Marietta, Ohio. In addition to Christopher’s presentation, there was a panel discussion about community ownership models. Other experts offering information included Marty Newell from the Center for Rural Strategies, Kate Forscey from Public Knowledge, and former chairwoman of the FCC Mignon L. Clyburn, who also spoke at a Town Hall that evening.

For more information on connecting rural America, including the Appalachian regions, check out these resources:

More Resources:

Access Appalachia page - Our page includes federal statistics on broadband availability and federal subsidies for large Internet Service Providers. Find toolkits and detailed maps of 150 counties in Kentucky, Southeast Ohio, and northern West Virginia.

Central Appalachia Broadband Policy Recommendations from the Central Appalachia Regional Network

The Fiber Broadband Association's Community Toolkit from the Fiber Broadband Association

Broadband Planning Primer and Toolkit from the Appalachian Regional Commission


Get more information from:

Appalshop of Whitesburg, Kentucky

Blandin Foundation

Common Cause

Center for Rural Strategies

Public Knowledge

Generation West Virginia


Tags: eventvideochristopher mitchellappalachiansappalshopohiokentuckywest virginiamignon clyburntoolkitblandin foundation

Talbot County, Maryland, RFI: Due Date September 1st

July 20, 2017

Talbot County, Maryland, has issued a Request for Information for Partnership for Deployment of High-Speed Broadband (RFI). Submissions are due no later than September 1st.

Looking For Ideas From Potential Partners

The RFI describes the county’s desire to work with a private sector partner who can bring gigabit capacity (1,000 Megabits per second) to the community. While county leaders prefer Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) they note that the rural character and geography of the region may require a hybrid fiber/wireless solution.

The county plans on offering assistance in obtaining grant funding, providing access to rights-of-way and existing public assets, and easing any partner through the permitting process. The county encourages all types of entities to submit responses, including incumbents, cooperatives, and nonprofit organizations.

This Is Talbot County

Approximately 38,000 people live in Talbot County, which is located on the state’s eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay. Both Baltimore and Washington D.C. are 90 minutes away; Easton (pop. approx. 16,000) is the county seat.

Agriculture has been an important part of the county’s economy since European settlers landed there in 1630 and it continues today with corn, soybeans, and poultry. Healthcare is also an economic driver in part due to the high number of retirees in Talbot County. Tourism that centers on the community’s proximity to the ocean also employs many residents.

The Connectivity Situation

Fiber-coaxial networks exist in Talbot County, including a municipal network in Easton and areas in the county where private provider Atlantic Broadband offers Internet access. Many of Atlantic Broadband subscribers are in the bay communities in the western areas.

The RFI states that incumbent Verizon supplies DSL via its copper infrastructure to more populated areas. There is also fixed wireless available in some areas.

The other side of the county is underserved and contains almost 2,800 households and commercial premises. Population density is low but many of the properties have high home values. County leaders want the results of the RFI to address connectivity in this area. An electric cooperative and a larger power company provide electricity in the underserved section of the county, but neither offer broadband.

Multiple sectors of Talbot County have expressed concern over the future unless Internet access improves in the region. School officials are worried about availability and cost, as are people working in tourism. Real estate professionals have described loss of home value and farmers are increasingly depending on connectivity for day-to-day operations.

Open Minds

From the RFI:

The County may also consider models which could include, but are not limited to, the following scenarios:

  • Private construction, operation, and maintenance of privately-owned fiber optic infrastructure;
  • Publicly or privately constructed open-access infrastructure that allows other qualified providers to offer service over the network;
  • Private provisioning of services over infrastructure that is constructed, owned, operated, and maintained by the Partner.

The County will also consider any combination of these models as well as alternative suggestions proposed by respondents.

Important Dates:

July 28, 2017 – Deadline for submitting letter of intent to respond to RFI

August 4, 2017 – Deadline for submitting questions about RFI 

August 18, 2017 – Responses to questions issued 

September 1, 2017 – RFI responses due

Read the full RFI here. You can also access the county's website for more information.

Request for Information for Partnership for Deployment of High-Speed BroadbandTags: talbot county mdmarylandrfiruralunderservedverizondslFTTHpartnership

More FTTH Projects In Massachusetts Hilltowns

July 19, 2017

Two more western Massachusetts towns are ready to move forward with their municipal networks. Ashfield and Shutesbury both plan on working with Westfield Gas+Electric (WG+E) to bring Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to their communities.

Funding Release Allows Projects To Move

Earlier this year, state officials at the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) decided to release state funds to local communities so they could finally begin their last-mile projects. Ashfield, population approximately 1,750, received $1.4 million and Shutesbury, population about 1,800, received $870,000; each town’s award should cover about one-third of the cost to deploy their planned municipal FTTH networks.

Shutesbury hopes to connect every premise for an estimate of $2.5 million and expects the project to be complete by 2019. Ashfield also intends to include every property; its Municipal Light Plant (MLP) will operate the infrastructure and partner with a private form for network operations and ISPs for service to the community. WG+E will provide support to Ashfield for design, engineering, and construction. Shutesbury plans to work with WG+E during planning and construction.

Westfield Showing The Way

The two communities join nearby Otis, a town of 1,687 premises, which also hired WG+E to help them deploy their fiber optic network. In June, WG+E trucks started to roll into Otis and begin work on the new project. Towns in western Massachusetts that qualify for the funding have looked to Westfield for guidance ever since the community deployed its WhipCity FTTH network. Westfield has expanded within its own borders and is now embracing its role as a mentor and agent.

Learn more about WG+E’s WhipCity Fiber from Christopher’s conversation with Operations Manager Aaron Bean and Key Accounts & Customer Service Manager Sean Fitzgerald for episode 205 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: massachusettsashfield mashutesbury mawestfield maFTTHmassachusetts broadband institutefundingotis ma

Microsoft Supercharges TV White Spaces - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 262

July 18, 2017
Community Broadband Bits Episode 262 - Harold Feld of Public Knowledge Explaining Microsoft's TV White Spaces Announcement

After a recent announcement from Microsoft committing to building rural networks using TV white spaces [NYT, Ars Technica stories], we asked Public Knowledge Senior Vice President and long-time TVWS enthusiast Harold Feld to explain the significance. 

We discuss what TVWS are and why this announcement is such a big deal given that we have previously covered multiple deployments of TVWS over the years. In short, Microsoft's commitment can drive TVWS from niche to mainstream. 

We also discuss why some TV Broadcasters are very opposed to this development and are trying to smear Microsoft. And finally, we explore what kind of bandwidth TVWS may be delivering soon and how the technology could mature. 

Don't miss Harold's wonderfully sci-fi-reference-packed blog posts at Tales From the Sausage Factory

Read the transcript of the show here.

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

This show is 18 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: Wirelesswhite spacesbroadcastWi-Fiharold feldruralpoint to pointtelevisionfccpolicyregulationaudiobroadband bitspodcast

RS Fiber Upgrades: Gigabit Speeds With No Price Increase

July 18, 2017

As if bringing high-quality connectivity to rural central Minnesota wasn’t enough, RS Fiber Cooperative has recently established the “Cornerstone Member” program. Now that gigabit connectivity is available, existing residential customers can upgrade from 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) with no price increase. As long as they continue service uninterrupted through 2017, they offer stands.

General Manager Toby Brummer:

“We wanted to do something for those customers who made that early commitment to RS Fiber. We thought they should be recognized in some special way for their loyalty and support of the cooperative. Future Internet applications will likely require higher speeds and this will set our customers up for broadband success for the foreseeable future.”

It's What They Do

The upgrade to gigabit connectivity for existing subscribers with no increase in price follows the same pattern we’ve seen from other publicly owned networks. Recently, we presented detailed data from municipal networks in Tennessee that showed how rates have changed very little over decades, even though speeds have consistently increased.

Vermont’s ECFiber also recently announced a speed increase at no extra charged for subscribers. They also plan another increase in 2018.

RS Fiber Cooperative has been connecting towns and rural areas in Sibley and Renville County. For more about the cooperative, check out our 2016 case study, RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperative. The last four communities to receive services will be connected later in 2017.

Tags: rs fiber coopminnesotacooperativegigabitFTTHrates

Community Broadband Media Roundup - July 17

July 17, 2017


Why did Alabama stop pursuing rural Internet access? by Christopher Harress,



Telecom bill would hurt California's poorer, inland cities: Guest commentary by Sandra Armenta, San Bernardino County Sun

Senate Bill 649, by Sen. Ben Hueso, D-Chula Vista, is a give-away to the world’s largest telecom companies at the expense of local control, local public services and citizen voice in the future of our neighborhoods. The bill is crafted to pit California communities against each other and benefit those who are already at the top.

San Leandro, Calif., Chief Innovation Officer Deborah Acosta on creating a 'tech and innovation ecosystem' by Noelle Knell, Government Technology



Superior urges slow approach to pursuit of faster, cheaper broadband by Anthony Hahn, Boulder Daily Camera

A future Superior, one connected by a plexus of sophisticated, townwide fiber that provides a growing number of homes and businesses faster internet at prices competing with the likes of Comcast, could be realized sooner than expected.



Internet gap puts Hartford's North End students behind by Elin Swanson Katz, Hartford Courant



Editorial: Buildling broadband access tough, necessary by Memphis News Staff, Memphis Daily News



Virginia first to join public safety broadband network by Associated Press, idaho Statesman

Broadband project aims to connect Buchanan County residents to high-speed Internet service by Charles Boothe, Bluefield Daily Telegraph

Residents forming Internet cooperative by Laura McFarland, Richmond Times-Dispatch



The digital divide between urban and rural areas remains, and some question government grants aimed at addressing it by Rick Barrett, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

When the service providers focus on short-term profit, rather than building the best possible network, it’s not good for rural America, said Christopher Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self Reliance, a Minneapolis nonprofit that helps communities with internet access issues.



Why the Internet fast lane has bypassed rural America by 1A, WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

Analysis: How will Microsoft's investment affect rural communities? by Craig Settles, The Daily Yonder

What’s really at issue here is that if communities are not holding the driving wheel on broadband projects and they don’t own or at least rent the vehicle, they are ultimately a passenger in someone else’s ride. At some point, the needs of the network owner could trump the needs of the community.

50 million US homes can't get 25 Mbps from more than one ISP by Karl Bode, TechDirt


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

Tags: media roundup

Resource Page on Cooperatives and Building Community Networks

July 17, 2017

Throughout the country, telephone and electric cooperatives have found ways to bring affordable, high-speed Internet service to rural residents. This resource page is a one-stop shop for facts and figures on cooperatives and thier role in offering high-speed Internet service. 

From Alabama to Oregon, cooperatives have taken on the challenge of bringing fast, affordable, reliable, connectivity to rural America. This page highlights model projects and discusses what state governments can do to support cooperatives' efforts to connect rural America.

We feature electric cooperative fiber optic projects, cooperatives offering gigabit (1,000 Mbps) service, and the first Internet cooperative - RS Fiber in Minnesota. As of July 2017, almost 90 cooperatives offer gigabit service to their members, and more than 50 electric cooperatives have programs or projects to improve connectivity.

Check out all the information, including several of our podcasts and videos, on our cooperatives resource page.

Suggestions, comments, or questions? Drop H. Trostle an email at


Image of the barn courtesy of backituptech on pixaby.

Tags: cooperativeresourcerural electric coopruralgigabit

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 261

July 14, 2017

This is the transcript for episode 261 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Dane Jasper of Sonic joins the show to discuss how the company, publicly-owned infrastructure, and public-private partnerships. Listen to this episode here.

Dane Jasper: I think a city that adopts an open access, dark fiber model creates the greatest opportunity for a diversity in choices for the consumer and a diversity in the performance and price of services. That's the model that I think would be the most interesting.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is Episode 261 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Dane Jasper from the internet service provider Sonic visits with Christopher this week. We've written about Sonic on and how the company has used publicly-owned infrastructure to bring better connectivity to Brentwood in California. In this interview, Dane offers his perspective on different types of publicly-owned community networks, and how those networks affect a potential partnership with a company like Sonic. Before we start the interview, we want to remind you that this is a commercial-free podcast, but it isn't free to produce. Take a minute to contribute to If you're already a contributor, thanks. Now here's Christopher with Dane Japer from Sonic.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell, and today I'm speaking with Dane Jasper, the CEO and Co-founder at Sonic. Welcome to the show.

Dane Jasper: Thanks, Chris.

Christopher Mitchell: Dane, I suspect most of our listeners are familiar with Sonic. Although you serve three cities in California, your reputation is much wider and deeper than that. Maybe you can just enlighten those who haven't heard of Sonic. What is Sonic?

Dane Jasper: Sonic is an alternative access provider, so we're a regional, competitive, local exchange carrier and internet provider. Today, we offer broadband services in 125 California cities using copper technologies, VDSL, pair bonding, ADSL2+, and three cities, as you noted, with gigabit fiber to the home. We have a little over 400 employees and about 100,000 customers.

Christopher Mitchell: Dane, one of the things I'm always curious about for a company like you is that there was, what, 8,500 ISP CLECs at one point. You're one of the ones that has flourished. Many of the people that you grew up with, I think, have gone on to close their businesses down and search out other avenues for entrepreneurialism. What did you right I guess is the question?

Dane Jasper: I'm not sure I know the answer to that. It's hard to self-diagnose when you're in it, but as you note, we founded the company in 1994. We were a dial-up ISP, an early user of Linux, and deploying modems, and terminal service to provide dial-up access. We were successful at that. As you noted, that was a time when there was thousands of dial-up providers. We moved on to DSL and we provided DSL both to our own retail customers and also to smaller, regional ISPs around the state of California. We became a competitive local exchange carrier in 2006, which is sort of late as a CLEC. A lot of CLECs, they all were founded in the late '90's. The 1996 Telecommunications Act created the opportunity for a competitive, last-mile access. Most of those competitive carriers went out of business in the early 2000s. We did not become a CLEC until 2006. Again, we deployed competitive services in 200 local serving offices around California. It's a large footprint. We provide wholesale access to a lot of other smaller service providers that are regional. We provide backhaul and middle-mile service to rural, wireless ISPs, and alternative access providers, and small cable companies. Then the latest, and really it's the fourth big thing, from dial-up, to DSL, to CLEC, and now fiber, and that's where our focus is today.

Christopher Mitchell: How much do you charge for you gigabit fiber access?

Dane Jasper: Our gigabit fiber to the home service is $40 monthly. That is an introductory price for the first 12 months. After that, it goes up to $50 per month.

Christopher Mitchell: $50. Sorry.

Dane Jasper: It's a great product. I should also mention that also includes a home phone line with not only all the voice features like caller ID and voicemail, but unlimited calling nationwide, and unlimited calls to fixed lines in over 60 countries around the world. It's a global calling for free, unlimited use phone line, plus gigabit, symmetric fiber internet for $40 a month for the first year, and then $50.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that I want to just mention before we get on to the main topic, which is really how you would like to see cities doing dark fiber to encourage businesses like yours to flourish. One of the things that I find interesting is that you are a strong advocate for network neutrality, which seems to fly in the face of the common theory within the D.C. Beltway, which is that you need to be able to charge higher prices, and have fewer consumer protections in order to be able to invest in high-quality networks. I'm just curious how you respond to that.

Dane Jasper: You're right in noting that the majority of cable companies, telecommunications carriers, providers of internet access, even wireless ISPs, have by and large aligned themselves against network neutrality protections, and even privacy protections. Sonic is amongst a smaller group of, I would say, strongly-principled internet access providers who think that regulating privacy and neutrality is important. I think the reasons to regulate privacy are obvious, but network neutrality bears some discussion. There's two sides to this. One is I feel like we're in a really privileged position to be able to sell people a subscription where they pay us every month to gain access to the internet. We don't own the internet. We didn't make it. We didn't create all the amazing applications, and services, and websites that exist there. There is a risk to that innovation ecosystem. If large monopoly/duopoly internet access providers across the country have the ability to pick and choose winners and losers, particularly amongst the emerging sector of services that require low latency, things like gaming, and augmented reality, and virtual reality, or which use a lot of bandwidth, replacing pay TV basically with streaming video services, network neutrality is critical to protect the internet in the future of innovation on the internet. The second reason that network neutrality is important for a competitive service provider is that whether it's a small municipality building a network, or a competitive alternative access provider like Sonic, both of those kinds of entities are too small to have the market power to extract rents out of the web services that might seek high bandwidth or low latency. In other words, if I dash off a note to Netflix and say, "Please send me a dime every month for every single one of my customers," I don't think that they'll respond to that. But when a large, nationwide cable carrier does the same, and in fact congests the interconnection in order to compel that payment, they successfully extract that. That creates an unlevel playing field where a large provider has the ability to create this other source of revenue.

Christopher Mitchell: Let's talk about what we can do locally within communities. One of the things that I've come to believe is that we can't just wait around for 50 new Sonics. I wish that we could. I like to see that you're growing. I like to see that Ting is growing, many of these companies. My concern is they're not growing, or new firms are not being created, fast enough. As you know, I'm a strong proponent of municipal networks for a variety of reasons. Why don't you just tell me, first off, what you think about local governments involved in this before we talk about a prescriptive approach for how they might want to?

Dane Jasper: I think you're right in noting that there aren't enough Sonics, and Tings, and Google Fiber type entities. We have to recognize that a lot of the issues that we have in the U.S., whether it's issues around privacy, or neutrality, or customer service, or pricing, or speed, or other innovations, they're all symptoms of what is effectively a failed competitive market. The majority of American consumers, if they want a decent amount of bandwidth, have one choice. That is resulting in many, many of the issues that we see here. If there were literally hundreds, or perhaps even thousands of companies like ours building innovative new networks across the country, maybe a lot of these problems wouldn't exist. To the point of municipalities building networks, I think that there are a lot of opportunities for good there. I particularly rail against the idea of state laws, legislation, that would disempower communities from taking local control if they're being neglected by the service providers that own infrastructure. On the other side, we're uncomfortable, I think obviously, with the idea of competing with our own government. I think it is important to find a way to meet in the middle there, to engage in public/private partnerships, with neutral open networks that allow municipalities to take control and drive the infrastructure forward where necessary, but which don't completely eliminate the idea of commercial service providers serving those cities.

Christopher Mitchell: How do you feel about a Chattanooga, for instance, where one could still come in and build alternative infrastructure, but you would be competing against the city in that case?

Dane Jasper: Chattanooga is an interesting example. They've had a lot of success. They have successfully leveraged federal funding for, as I understand, the energy system modernization to create a fiber network that has benefited their community. The concern I have with a model like that is that they've created a vertically-integrated triple play service provider, plus the power system. What they've traded is a crummy duopoly for a new city monopoly. I think while that solves the near-term problem, I think it creates in the long-term real limits in what occur in innovation. It leaves consumers with they had two choices that were poor, now they have a third choice. There's no telling whether or not that choice will be any good in the future. An open infrastructure model allows for future-proofing, whether it's around customer service, or technology innovation. Obviously, as a company that seeks to provide customer service and reliable technology, we'd like to continue to serve consumers.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. I'm not going to argue with you about it. I respect your viewpoint and I wanted to make sure people understood where you were coming from. I certainly think that Chattanooga is an outlier in that. I think if any municipal network is going to do well in the future, it will probably be Chattanooga, but I take your point about the concern about creating a vertically-integrated entity, particularly when we're talking about the internet, which has such potential for overlapping networks and all the benefits that come from that. I want to get a little technical. You're much more technical than I am, so I'll do my best to try and keep up and maybe ask clarifying questions. We don't have to use San Francisco as an example. It's worth noting that San Francisco is considering some kind of open network, but I'm curious, hypothetically, if you were advising a mayor on how to invest in infrastructure that would enable your business model, and that of your rivals even, to thrive and create this platform, what should they do?

Dane Jasper: There's a spectrum of deployment. At one end, a municipality can have a dig-once policy, allow carriers to join trenches. Moving a step further, a municipality can put in conduit, lots of conduit, and then let carriers put fiber in that conduit. Moving further, a municipality can build fiber to premises, but not light it, and leave that to carriers. Moving towards the vertical integration, while still remaining open, a municipality can light the fiber, but have it be an open network. The UTOPIA network in the cities in Utah is an example of an open network which is lit fiber. Then, finally, you have that vertically-integrated, the city is the retail service provider. The challenge is cities think that they need to go all the way to the far end of that spectrum and provide retail services, or there's a decision to do open access, but for the city to manage the network, to light it. I think that misses an opportunity because the management of conduit or fiber infrastructure is relatively easy once it's constructed, and a city that adopts an open, dark fiber infrastructure model can drive that network wherever they would like to see it delivered, can build the amount of capacity that they'd like to see. For example, a city might build two or three strands of fiber to every parcel, premise, or apartment. Then consumers could choose from one service provider for their television, if they wanted it, another for their internet. They might have a roommate who chooses a different provider for some reason. I think a city that chooses to invest in infrastructure, but that adopts an open access, dark fiber model, creates the greatest opportunity for a diversity in choices for the consumer, and a diversity in the performance and price of services. That's the model that I think would be the most interesting.

Christopher Mitchell: I think that there is a challenge with these models in terms of financing in that many people expect the network to pay for itself. I think that is what leads cities to go vertically integrated, whereas the open access may pay for a part of itself, but is unlikely to pay for its full costs. When you talk about building infrastructure, one of the things I would like to see is cities to recognize that we massively subsidize roads. I think that's been good for the economy overall. It has had negative consequences. I just got back from L.A., but nonetheless, the benefits of that have been tremendous because we didn't have user fees paying for everything. I'm just curious if you would agree with me on that, that this dark fiber model may be more difficult to pay for itself, and therefore requires some subsidization that we should not even shy away from, but embrace.

Dane Jasper: The interesting about it to me is you think about city utilities like water or if you have a municipal electric power. In that case, they have both an infrastructure component, the pipes or wires, and then a consumption component, the water or the power. Those consumables have substantial cost. This is an infrastructure component that the pipes are part of it, but the usage is extremely relevant to the long-term costs. Whereas, setting aside for a moment maintenance, which is applicable both to a fiber network or a system of roads, once you build a road, cars can drive down that road and the cars consume fuel, but the city doesn't have an ongoing cost to keep the road fueled up or something like that. It's a bad analogy, but the point is that a dark fiber network is just a conduit of glass from one point to another, a strand of fiber. It doesn't have an operational expense for a city until such time if somebody breaks it, someone puts a backhoe through it, or knocks down a utility pole. There's a repair issue. That needs to be dealt with when those incidents occur, but the infrastructure itself doesn't actually have an ongoing cost. To your point about investing, or subsidizing, the concept of home owners paying for the infrastructure over time, or the city paying for the infrastructure over time, is an interesting one. If you get rid of the idea of user fees, and you instead just say, "Every home is going to have a couple strands of fiber back to a central point," then offer that fiber to carriers or, rather, allow consumers who control and own the fiber to their home to decide what to plug it into, this is this "Homes With Tails" concept that Derek Slater and Tim Wu published around 2008. The idea is if a homeowner has this stub, this tail of fiber that might go miles away to the central point, and if they own that, maybe they've paid for that over 20 years as part of property tax, if that's a funding mechanism that voters want to opt into. The idea is that you've then got this infrastructure component that goes to the central point and service providers don't need to pay to use it because the homeowner has bought it. It goes to the central point. This is like a centralized data center, a carrier hotel, where there might be many service providers. The consumer simply says, "Plug me into Service Provider A, B, or C." The service provider doesn't have to pay for the infrastructure back to the home and can instead focus on the services, lighting that fiber, and delivering the lowest cost, fastest speed, customer service, et cetera. I think we haven't seen any municipalities take up a concept quite like this. Instead, there's always, "We're going to buy this network. How much of it is going to get used? Who are we going to rent it to? How are we going to pay for it?" There's a lot of question in that. If instead you simply say, "We're going to make an investment infrastructure, we're going to buy this network," whether that's paid for by the municipality or paid for by the homeowner, I think it's an interesting concept.

Christopher Mitchell: I agree. I think it's quite similar to what Ammon, Idaho, is doing, although in that case they are using software to find networking, and one fiber to each home, in order to slice it up among multiple service providers. I think that's the one that comes to the closest to what you're describing.

Dane Jasper: As soon as you light the fiber, you eliminate the potential for innovation by the service providers, and you add a lot of complexity to the operations of the network. If a municipality wants to build a dark fiber network that goes from every home back to a central point, that can be engineered and constructed, and then it just sits there. There's no operational cost. It doesn't use any power. It doesn't require any network engineers. It doesn't require an equipment refresh every five to seven years.

Christopher Mitchell: Although, there are decisions that have to be made. Now, I would guess that given your description of the kind of network you'd like to see, you would not consider the dark fiber approach of Huntsville, Alabama, using a passive optical network in working with Google among others to fit your criteria, I'm guessing.

Dane Jasper: No, that doesn't meet the criteria because it is a passive optical network, a PON, which is split and, therefore, shared. The idea there, as I understand, and the way they've configured that is that service providers would buy a feeder into a neighborhood, and then buy a splitter, which could then serve 32 homes, say, or 64 homes, and then construct a connection to the individual home, a drop to the home. That doesn't allow for consumers to simply make a plug-in decision. The consumer doesn't really own the fiber to their house. Google is going to pay something per splitter, per backbone segment, per drop, per month. The model that I'm suggesting is end-to-end dark fiber, one or more strands to every premise, which goes to a central point, which is owned and controlled by the homeowner. The homeowner can say, "Well, plug this into that." This allows for the simplest network management. In fact, if the consumer gets to direct what this is plugged into, there's really no need for any billing relationships between cities and carries, so there's no billing staff. There's no billing system. There's no bad debt. The consumer defines what gets plugged into which carrier. There's really no recordkeeping even. The network is completely flat and simple. As a municipality thinks about, "Well, how do we take this on," on the far end of the spectrum, a vertically-integrated, triple-play provider has to build an IPTD platform, a head-end, internet access, backhaul, the central optical line terminals, the consumer side equipment, Wi-Fi in the home, routers, Internet of Things, home security, this unlimited plethora of challenges and tasks that you can take on. That means a lot of staffing commitment for a municipality in the long-term. If a city instead builds two or three strands to every home, or even just one, they've built that physical infrastructure, and then it just sits there until it gets broken by a catastrophic event. You have to have a break/fix task, which is just like a water line breaks, somebody goes out with a backhoe, digs it up, and fixes it. The capability that a city needs to have either in-house or outsourced is repairing conduit and fiber. It's not running a network, let alone negotiating with content providers for, "How much does it cost to get MTV for the next three years?" The complexity of running a dark fiber network, I think, is clearly much, much lower, and it presents the opportunity for innovation. You mentioned Ammon, Idaho, and software-defined network, and light the network. Well, now you've got a full-time network engineer who's dealing with that and running that. Then what if that person's on vacation? How do you back him or her up? You've added all this complexity and then you have a service provider who says, "Well, I want to deliver television using RF over glass." Or you have a television provider who can't put the content over someone else's IP network for security and rights reasons. You have a service provider who wants to deploy very low-cost, one gigabit EPON, while another service provider wants to deploy 10 gigabit, NG-PON2, or a 10-gigabit active ethernet, or even a faster service. Once you light the network, you take on the management complexity, and you eliminate all the potential for differentiation and innovation in the network layer.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that I've come to believe is that there's not necessarily one best model. It's more that cities need to find the model that works for them. I just wanted to note that one of the things that we've seen is that cities have moved progressively through your list of the different options cities have to take on more responsibility, in part because they were unable to identify ISPs that were willing to work with them. I think what you're describing would be attractive to a majority of cities that might consider building a municipal network, or this dark-fiber approach that would let them focus on the long-term investment.

Dane Jasper: Yeah, the challenge is is the city large enough to attract an ecosystem of service providers to use it? If the city is 300 households, if it's isolated, and if backhaul to the city from major population centers is expensive, it will be challenging to find a service provider who wants to have space in that carrier hotel and light that fiber. If the city has thousands or tens of thousands of households, I think it's much more viable to see an open dark infrastructure be competitively viable. I think the other side, and this is a temptation, I think that city leadership needs to resist the temptation to add complexity to the tasks that they're doing in choosing to build a network. If you're going to build a network and just have dark fiber available to an array of service providers, and that could be incumbent operators who say, "Well, gosh, this fiber is bought and paid for by the homeowner, so let's just use it and stop maintaining our old coax system, or our old twisted-pair system, or a new market entrant," but the temptation for a city, and you see this sort of nation-building thing occur in organizations, both commercial and municipal, is everybody wants more responsibility, and a bigger team, and more challenges, and more tasks. A city will say, "Let's build a fiber network. Okay, well, let's light the fiber network. Well, let's deliver services over the fiber network." Pretty soon you have a team of 12 people, the ongoing payroll of a city staff of a growing, growing team. I would certainly encourage leadership in communities to consider the idea instead of building a dark-fiber infrastructure, which requires no operations over the top of it, this concept of a "Home With a Tail," which is owned and directed by the consumer, creates no billing overheads, no carrier relationships on a per-circuit basis, and doesn't require a small team to manage. In fact, when the fiber is broken via some catastrophe, the way that that occurs is somebody drives their car into a pole and knocks it down, or they're digging and they dig up the fiber. You hire a third-party contractor to engage in an emergency response, come in and fix that, and then the person who hit the pole, or the excavator who dug it up, gets the bill for that. This can be a very simple, simplified approach. It can eliminate any, I think, long-term cost risks that exist for a city that spools up a bunch of staff to run a network.

Christopher Mitchell: I don't feel comfortable that I've never run into this empire-builder that you've run into, but in my experience, the cities that I've worked with have often been reluctantly thrust into taking on greater responsibilities. I just want to defend some of the cities that might be listening. But I think the final question I'd like to ask is to get a sense of you mentioned cities that have tens of thousands of households. Do you have a sense that a lot of those cities already have ISPs, or are you expecting that as this infrastructure becomes available, we'll see new companies learning from you and Ting in order to try and copy what you've done?

Dane Jasper: You know, I think that there are more internet access providers still in the market than folks are really aware of. Certainly, companies like Google Fiber, and Ting, and Sonic, people have taken notice, but there are smaller companies, and wireless, and ISPs, resellers, a variety of internet access providers scattered across the country. I think if there isn't one in that city, I think one will arise, or one will come there. The other possibility is that the incumbent cable and telephone companies stop choosing to maintain their own infrastructure and just use the city-owned, or homeowner-owned, infrastructure. Then as a result, deliver faster or more reliable service. I definitely take your point that it isn't necessarily nation-building that's under way. It's the perception of the necessity. I would agree that in a very small community, it may be challenging to find a service provider who will come there. I think key to that is that if the city's building a fiber network and then saying, "Please come in, service providers, and for $10 or $20 a month, we'll sell you fiber to a home," it's challenging to prove that there's a business model there. If instead communities, members of the public, voters, can make a leap of faith and say, "We want to build an infrastructure; We want to buy and pay for a piece of infrastructure that we're going to own," but then the homeowner has this connection to this carrier hotel, the idea there is that you're saying to service providers, "Come have some space in this data center, in this carrier hotel, pay for your power usage there, and gain access to fiber that goes to thousands of homes and homeowners may want to connect to you." I think that flips the script a bit and it creates, I think, an environment where you might see a lot more adoption and a lot more innovation.

Christopher Mitchell: I'd really like to see that somewhere. I think it would work well. I hope that perhaps next time we talk it will be about the lessons we're learning from it. Thank you so much for coming on the show, Dane.

Dane Jasper: Of course. Thanks for the time, Chris.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Dane Jasper from the internet service provider Sonic, talking with Christopher about different publicly-owned network models. Learn more about Sonic's network in Brentwood at, and learn more about the company at

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 this 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're enjoying the show, please give us a rating and help us to build the audience a bit. Thanks.

Lisa Gonzalez: 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. Follow stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and all the other podcasts ILSR podcasts, including Building Local Power, and the Local Energy Rules podcasts. You can access them on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research by subscribing to our monthly newsletter at Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song "Warm Duck Shuffle," licensed through Creative Commons. Thanks for listening to Episode 261 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

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