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Broadband is Affordable Infrastructure Fact Sheet

February 21, 2019

Local governments spend billions on all sorts of infrastructure every year to advance the public good for their communities. Roads and bridges keep day-to-day activity moving. Investments such as water and sewer infrastructure keep cities clean and livable. Fiber infrastructure is used for a wide range of purposes, including economic development, education, and to keep a city’s administration connected. To get a look at how fiber network infrastructure compares to other public investments, we've developed the Broadband is Affordable Infrastructure fact sheet.

Download the fact sheet.

Side-by-Side Comparisons

The fact sheet looks at investments in both larger and smaller cities. Each of the projects that we compared to fiber optic networks required similar local investment and contributed to the well-being of the communities where they were developed. The fact sheet offers a snapshot of cost, how the projects were funded, and the results.

Some of the projects we compared are located in Wilson, North Carolina; Lafayette, Louisiana; and Chattanooga, Tennessee, where the networks have been in place long enough to bring economic benefit and other public benefits.

We found that:

Communities invest in a wide range of infrastructure projects. Fiber optic networks fit well within the historic role of municipal investment to improve the business climate and quality of life, and are often lower cost when compared with other essential infrastructure.

This fact sheet helps illustrate how high-speed networks are public infrastructure and it helps with a visual of how that infrastructure stacks up compared to traditional forms of municipal investment. Share this resource with city managers, city council members, mayors, and other elected officials. The fact sheet will also help when discussing municipal investment with other people interested in how to improve local connectivity.

Download the Broadband is Affordable Infrastructure fact sheet.

Tags: fact sheetinfrastructuremuniresourcefiber

OTO Fiber in Maine Releases RFP; Responses Due March 8th

February 20, 2019

The neighboring towns of Orono and Old Town in Maine are working with the University of Maine System in an effort to bring better connectivity to their region. The three launched the nonprofit OTO Fiber several years ago in an effort to join forces for better broadband. After battling for funds with the incumbent cable Internet access company, they’re finally in a position to release a Request for Proposals (RFP) for fiber optic construction. Responses are due March 8th, 2019.

Read the full RFP.

Open Access for A University Community

OTO Fiber aims to deploy an open access network in order to spur economic development, to encourage innovation and local entrepreneurship, and to improve access to University resources. The project described in the RFP is considered a pilot and will cover a limited area in each of the three communities. OTO Fiber’s intention for the pilot is to determine take rate and the benefits in order to establish whether or not to expand the symmetrical gigabit network to businesses and residents in both towns. Network designers have strategically developed a plan for the six-mile backbone to facilitate later expansion.

Orono is the location of the University of Maine’s flagship campus, where symmetrical gigabit connectivity is a necessity. According to the RFP:

The University of Maine System provides networking to schools and libraries across the State of Maine and provides multiple paths into and out of the State for research and education. Furthermore, the University is the largest concentration of computational resources and data storage in the State. These connections and resources, both computational and human, are expected to help make the proposed project successful. 

Past Problems

In 2015, the OTO Fiber partners had been awarded ConnectME funds for the project, but cable ISP incumbent Time Warner Cable (now Spectrum) successfully blocked the $125,000 grant. The partners had planned to work with Maine ISP GWI for a stretch of about four miles in which 320 potential subscribers would have access to a larger network.

The cable company argued that the state had no authority to grant the funds to OTO Fiber. The ConnectME grants were earmarked specifically for unserved and underserved premises and overbuilding could only occur in areas with less than 20 percent of the customers of an existing Internet access provider. OTO Fiber applied for and received a larger grant, however, from the Northern Border Regional Commission, which allowed them to get the project back on track.

With the open access model they seek, the Orono and Old Town communities will encourage competition via their publicly owned infrastructure. Typically, when competitors enter the marketplace, monopolistic corporate ISPs such as Spectrum improve services and rates.

Important Dates

Responses to Questions Posted on OTOFiber.com : Friday, February 22, 2019 

RFP Responses due by 5 PM EST: Friday, March 08, 2019 

Award Announced (Estimated): Friday, March 15, 2019 

Read the RFP and check out the OTO Fiber website to review the relevant attachments and exhibits.

OTO Fiber Request for Proposal - Fiber Optic Network ConstructionTags: maineold town meorono mainenonprofitrfp

Pemiscot-Dunklin Electric Cooperative Steps Up, Offers FTTH in Missouri's Bootheel - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 344

February 19, 2019

Missouri is one of the states where electric cooperatives are taking the lead in bringing high-quality Internet access to rural areas. This week, we talk with Jack Davis, Vice President of IT and Special Projects at Pemiscot-Dunklin Electric Cooperative. The co-op is in the midst of deploying Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to members in their service area, located in Missouri’s “Bootheel” region.

The mostly agricultural area consists of three counties that extend down from the southeast corner of Missouri and is surrounded by Arkansas, Tennessee, and Kentucky. The co-op brought electric service to homes in the region in the 1930s and Jack and his colleagues are performing a similar service today by bringing broadband to a region where large corporate ISPs haven't invested much in infrastructure. In this interview, he describes what Internet access is like for people in the region before the cooperative decided on the project, and how strong support from residents and businesses has helped the cooperative determine the services to offer.

Jack and Christopher also discuss how the geography and environment influenced engineering and design plans, how locals are responding to the new service, and potential plans for growth in the region. In this conversation, you’ll also hear about some of the partnerships that Pemiscot-Dunklin has forged with other cooperatives in order to offer better services to cooperative members.

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

This show is 26 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

The transcript for this podcast is available 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: missouriPemiscot-Dunklin Electric Cooperativerural electric coopFTTHruralfiber-to-the-farmcooperativeco-mo cooperativesemo electric cooperativepodcastbroadband bitsaudio

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 344

February 19, 2019

This is the transcript for episode 344 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. In this episode, Christopher speaks with Jack Davis, vice president and CTO of Pemiscot-Dunklin Electric Cooperative, about the co-op's Fiber-to-the-Home project in rural Missouri. Listen to the episode here.

 

 

Jack Davis: The goal of our Fiber-to-the-Home project is to serve our rural membership, for the ones that have the desire. Now you know, obviously if we have some rural members way out in the middle of nowhere that aren't interested, we're not going to build it out there, but if the desire is there, we're going to serve 100 percent of our membership.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 344 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Jack Davis's grandfather also worked for the Pemiscot-Dunklin Electric Cooperative. While his grandpa worked to bring electricity to people in Missouri's Bootheel region, Jack is working on a project that will connect residents and businesses to high quality Internet access. The electric cooperative is deploying a Fiber-to-the-Home network, and people who have had poor connectivity for decades are signing up. In this interview. Jack and Christopher discuss the decision to invest in fiber versus other technologies. They also talk about the storm 10 years ago that influenced that decision, how the project is going, and how it's being received by rural residents. Now, here's Christopher and Jack Davis talking about the rural Fiber-to-the-Home project from the Pemiscot-Dunklin Electric Cooperative in southeast Missouri.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance up in Minneapolis. Today I'm speaking with Jack Davis, the vice president and CTO of Pemiscot-Dunklin Electric Cooperative. Welcome to the show, Jack.

Jack Davis: Thanks Chris. Great to be here.

Christopher Mitchell: So the first thing I should ask you is where you're located because I understand you're a bit sensitive if people accidentally type the "boot hill" of Missouri. [laughs]

Jack Davis: That's a common mistake with people that aren't from here . . . But we're in the little appendage at the southeast corner of Missouri that looks like it should be part of Arkansas, pretty much, and it's called the Bootheel just because it looks like the heel of a boot. That's where the name comes from. A lot of times people will think "boot hill," like "h-i-l-l," but it's actually a "bootheel," like "h-e-e-l."

Christopher Mitchell: Right, and you're one of the early electric cooperatives — one of the first ones formed after REA, it looks like.

Jack Davis: We were formed in 1937 — is when the co-op got its start. It's been a big part of the community here for years and years. My grandfather was a service foreman here. He worked here for 42 years and retired. I've been with the cooperative now for about five.

Christopher Mitchell: All right, and one of the things that you just mentioned to me is that if we look back in history, it's 10 years since a major ice storm. And so before we get into the broadband discussion, I'm curious if you could tell us a little bit about that and maybe how it changed the direction of the cooperative's thinking.

Jack Davis: Yea, whe had a storm in 2009 and this is right at the 10 year anniversary of that. There's a lot of information, pictures and things like that, out there on the Internet about it, but having lived through it, we were predicted to get a major ice storm. They were calling for it for days ahead of time, and I remember going to bed that night thinking, "Well, you know, we're in for it." This was before I was with the cooperative, but I was still a member. And the next morning, we woke up and we still had power, and I thought, "Boy, we made it," you know. At about 9 or 10 o'clock that more in the power went out and I thought, "Well, here we are." And you walk outside, and it was just creepy because there was about an inch and a half to two inches ice load on everything, on trees. You could hear branches just crashing and falling everywhere, ad it was kinda creepy because there were none of the ordinary sounds that you hear.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, it just sucks it all up.

Jack Davis: Yeah, and then night fell, and this whole area was just black. Anyway, that lasted for about three weeks — where I live, anyway. We had people out from anywhere from — I think we got the first ones back on in about two weeks, and a lot of people didn't have power for three to four weeks. It took out about 80% of our system at the time and our G&T was working hard to get the substations going again, so we were prioritizing on that, what they got going, we were able to go in and get customers back online. It was a major ordeal. We had thousands of linemen here from other cooperatives helping, and like I said, it took out about 80% of our entire system.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, that much ice, you sort of — I was just thinking that maybe if you had everyone running as many appliances as they could all night long, you might have gotten enough heat to prevent it from forming. That seems like it would have been a potential experiment.

Jack Davis: Yeah, it was definitely an ordeal, hopefully a once in a lifetime ordeal, but since then we've replaced most of the damage in our system. We work, you know, every year or two to shore that up and make improvements to hopefully avoid this in the future.

Christopher Mitchell: Sure. So let's talk about the way that you're getting into fiber. You're doing Fiber-to-the-Home. What's the goal of the Fiber-to-the-Home. Is it to serve everyone then?

Jack Davis: The goal of our Fiber-to-the-Home project is to serve our rural membership, for the ones that have the desire. Now, you know, obviously if we have some rural members way out in the middle of nowhere that aren't interested, we're not going to build that out there. But if the desire's there, we're going to serve 100 percent of our membership.

Christopher Mitchell: And what's the name of it?

Jack Davis: It's Pemiscot Dunklin Fiber. We looked at some different names, and we were trying catchy names and things like that when we started. And in the end we wanted people to realize that this was tied to the co-op because we're proud of our co-op and the majority of our membership are as well. And we wanted those two things closely associated, so we just went with Pemiscot-Dunklin Fiber.

Christopher Mitchell: When I was typing up some notes, I had a little mistyping error and I was thinking you could call it "DunkLink" if you wanted to — put a "k" on the end.

Jack Davis: We went through a lot of iterations in the planning stages and in the end we settled on Pemiscot-Dunklin Fiber and for short, a lot of times we'll just call it PD Fiber.

Christopher Mitchell: And so when you decided to do this, was there a demand from membership? Were they coming to meetings? Were they contacting the GM and the board? How did you . . . Or was this something that you decided to do, you know, as the management team?

Jack Davis: We had a lot of membership contact, and some of this was before my time, talking to our manager, to our CEO, to our board members, seeing what we could do as a cooperative to bring broadband to the rural membership. About the only other option here besides satellite is fixed wireless at the moment. And you know, you're seeing speeds on that system of 2 to 3 Meg, and people were just starving for broadband. One of the first things after the CEO hired me, we were walking down the hall the next day, and he said, "Okay, you're here. Now what can we do about Internet service?" At the time, I really didn't think fiber was an option. I just felt like it was probably too costly — which I come from a dial-up ISP background, back in the 90s. So we started checking into it and we thought, well, a wireless system's probably going to be the way to go, so we kind of started moving in that direction. I was not looking forward to it because I've operated wireless in the past, and I know the issues associated with that. Our CEO wanted to continue checking on the fiber route, so we worked with Conexon — which I think you've had Jonathan Chambers on before.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes, many times.

Jack Davis: Yeah, he's a great guy. Conexon is a wonderful partner in this; they're our consultants. So they did a study for us to determine if it was feasible or not, a feasibility study, and the results of that study just blew me away. They showed that not only would it work, but you know, it should work well. So we deliberated for several months there. We had a presentation with the board. There was a lot of questions and answers provided there. And in the end, we decided that if we're going to move forward, that Fiber-to-the-Home is the way to go.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, let's talk a little bit about how you're doing it because not only are you doing it, but common wisdom is that it's easier for rural electric cooperatives such as yourself to do it in extremely rural areas because you have access to the poles. But from what I know, and as we talked about with the ice storm, you're not even using that advantage.

Jack Davis: That's correct. That's generally one of the reasons co-ops get into this because they can leverage existing infrastructure to build their network out. In our case, with that ice storm that we referred to, our engineering firm calculates an inch and a half of ice load on everything we do pretty much and have to account for that. And just by adding another fiber on our pole spans, we were going to have to go through and do so much make ready, that it was just going to be enormously — it was going to be very costly. So we started checking into the option of going underground. Luckily we have a local company that has done a lot of fiber work for various companies. I won't mention any names, but they're very experienced in the underground boring and plowing. And so, we went to them and, and they were really honestly interested in being home for a while. They'd been on the road for so many years —

Christopher Mitchell: Right.

Jack Davis: — that they cut us kind of a sweetheart deal for the project because that way they could be home. So in the end, we decided that instead of going aerial that we were going to go underground. It added a little bit of cost to the overall cost of the project, but if you figured in, factored in the make ready we would have had to do on our poles, it's gonna wind up saving us some money. Plus, it's going to be a more robust system. And with that being said, we're using public right-of-way as well, so now we're not limited on where we go. We no longer have to have pole attachment agreements with other utilities. If we want to go into an area we don't serve, we use public right-of-way and go underground.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that we're hearing from some of the rural electrics is a challenge with easements. Is that a concern in Missouri? Is that something you had to work through?

Jack Davis: There's been just a handful of times that we've had to get an easement signed from a landowner or something like that. In general, we stick to public right-of-way. We've met with counties; they've been very helpful. They want us in there, so they've been very good to work with. The state has been excellent to work with, Missouri DOT, on giving us the permits that we need. It really hasn't been an issue.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I'm glad to hear that because too often we hear the opposite, so I'm glad that the system's working for you. What kind of services are you making available?

Jack Davis: So we're offering triple play services. We have broadband Internet, phone, and TV, as well. One of the decisions that we made in the beginning is that we didn't want to invest a lot of money in a headend for video, so we partnered with a Co-Mo Connect, which is another cooperative here in Missouri. They're one of the first ones to get into the broadband game here in Missouri, and they've already got an established headend and they're already partnering with other cooperatives to provide TV service. So we utilize them for our TV service and then we use another company for phone, and so we're providing all three to our membership.

Christopher Mitchell: And do you overlap with any telephone cooperatives?

Jack Davis: We do not. There are no cooperatives here. We've got just the standard — I believe AT&T is the only company that's had landline service here. We do overlap with a cable company in a few of the smaller communities that we serve, but that's really about it.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay. What kind of Internet speeds are you offering? What do your tiers look like?

Jack Davis: We only have two tiers. We're offering 100 Meg for $50 a month and one Gig for $80.

Christopher Mitchell: Have you started turning people on yet?

Jack Davis: We have. We've got about — we're right at 600 active subscribers right now. We began turning people on about July of last year

Christopher Mitchell: And what's the mix in terms of what people are subscribing to?

Jack Davis: We're about probably 80/20 of 100 Meg versus Gig. We do have several Gig customers, and that's probably about the ratio as far as the speeds go. As far as TV goes, it's probably a 60/40 mix of Internet only versus Internet and TV customers. And then phone, we're probably having around 15 to 20 percent of our customers take landline phone.

Christopher Mitchell: I'm really curious coming from the Midwest as well — sometimes people talk about Tornado Alley or you know, where the most tornadoes are. It switches almost every year, but you're right there in the path obviously. So is th fiber that you're building going to help the electric system and its resilience?

Jack Davis: We believe it will. We haven't started yet, but we're going to utilize that network for SCADA and things like that on our electric side — outage management. Currently we use a power line carrier system to read our meters, but we are going to connect our electric controls and so forth to our network so that we'll have that real time data that quite honestly we just haven't had in the past.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the other things I was curious about regarding the ice storm is, I presume you had to replace a bunch of poles then. Was it the case then that you still had a lot of original poles? I'm just trying to get a sense of what the pole mix is like for an REC like you in the Midwest because we hear concerns from a lot of folks about poles and you know, putting the fiber up to load them up even further. I'm so in the dark about the kind of policies you have in terms of pole replacement. I mean, is the problem typically that the poles are old or is it just the size of them? I mean, what determines whether or not they are going to be reliable in the event of an ice storm?

Jack Davis: Well, it's a combination of factors. Pole age is definitely one of the factors — class of the pole, which is the sturdiness of it, how well it's built. The structure of the pole is another one of the factors. But when you've got an ice storm the way we had in 2009, there's almost — I mean, it's a act of God. There's almost nothing —

Christopher Mitchell: Right, that's game over at that point for that scale of store.

Jack Davis: Pretty much. About the only thing you could do is go with higher class poles and shorten your span length way down. You know, when you start getting a inch and a half to two ice load on your power lines at some point, you know, the more it builds up — and plus the wind is a factor as well, which you can do things like put devices on your lines to prevent the galloping that you get with wind. But at some point, you know, with that catastrophic ice storm we had, I think we were right in the bullseye of the worst area hit here. And you know, at some point, there's not a lot you can do except sit back and try to rebuild when it's over.

Christopher Mitchell: What kind of a mix of plowing are you looking at? Because, you know, you mentioned the boring and I haven't looked at the map. I'm okay at geography; I'm not great. I'm not sure how much mountainous area you're in there with the Ozarks

Jack Davis: We're several hours away from that. We're actually in a very flat, non-rocky soil here, so that's another reason that we were able to get a great rate as far as our underground installation. This whole area used to be kind of a swampy area back in the 1800s. The Corps of Engineers has done a lot of work putting in flood control here. It's a huge agriculture area now, and it's very flat. The soil, like I said, it's non rocky. The only place you're gonna find rocks are on the county roads, so it's very easy to plow and very easy to bore.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. Okay, because that's where up here in Minnesota, in some of our farm country as well, we have that same benefit. But if you had received a sense of, from the feasibility study, that it would have been prohibitive to go underground, if the costs were so great, would that have pushed you back toward wireless or would you have been trying to figure out how to get some of the fiber on the poles?

Jack Davis: I believe we would have done more work towards shoring up our poles and shortening spans. It would have cost quite a bit, you know, more money, but I think in the end we were pretty much set on going with the fiber as long as long as we could make it work.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. The last question I wanted to ask you is the reaction, and first I think the reaction from some of your members that have had it but also I'm curious about the neighboring RECs — if your building it has made them more likely to consider something like that.

Jack Davis: We've only got one neighbor electric cooperative that's doing a Fiber-to-the-Home system at the moment and that is SEMO Cooperative, GoSEMO. They're just north of us, and we've actually partnered with them. We're under the same G&T, generation and transmission cooperative, that provides us our power, and so we're actually connected via a fiber network already. And we partnered with them on some transportation issues that we had, transportation routes. So basically, we purchased a route and they purchased a route, and then we bonded our networks together and provided paths for each other in and out and provided some redundancy for both of our networks. It's worked out really well.

Christopher Mitchell: How have your own members reacted?

Jack Davis: Our own members are elated. We've got one — and keep in mind, these are members that in the past have only had, you know, 2 or 3 Meg connections. But we've got one pretty well known photographer in the area that does a lot of photography work. He got his fiber connected and he bought the Gig package and after they installed it, they said, well, you know, try it out. So he sat down and he had a portfolio that he normally uploads. And that morning he called me and he was laughing so much that he couldn't hardly talk.

Christopher Mitchell: [laughs]

Jack Davis: But he said that normally when he uploads a portfolio package — which is, you know, I don't know how many raw pictures he uploads or whatever to the processor. He said normally he starts it, he types out his description and information, and then he just lets it run. And it usually takes six to eight hours to complete. And he said it was literally done uploading before he got the description typed out. So he was just beyond ecstatic. He was so happy that he almost couldn't talk. But that's just one example. You know, it's almost like thirsty people getting water around here. There's just a lot of excitement, lot of people wondering when they're going to get it — because this is a four year project that we're working on. We're just in the beginning of the second year right now. A lot of the members are seeing the excitement of our other members that have just received service, and they're wondering when they're going to get it, you know. And we've tried to tamper the expectation down. You know, we want people to realize that this is a longterm project and that we're going to get to them just as soon as we can, but it's just going to take time.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. Have you seen any population change in terms of areas that might be adjacent to your electric territory, where they're probably served by maybe AT&T or not at all and they're moving over to your area?

Jack Davis: I think we're so early in the game right now that I think it's a little premature to judge anything like that. I haven't noticed anything in particular. I do know that we're getting a lot of inquiries from areas just around our territory wondering if we'll build service out as well as a lot of the communities here that we don't serve electrically. They're wondering if we'll come into town and serve them, and that's something we're going to take a look at, if they're within our electric footprint but we don't serve that little community or whatever. So that's definitely something that we're going to take a look here.

Christopher Mitchell: All right. How are you financing all of this? Is this something that you're able to do with loans or have you needed to find some subsidies? How does all that work?

Jack Davis: Everything that we've done so far, we're 100 percent self-financed. We were not able to get any of the CAF auction money. The FCC wound up taking off just about every census block in our area before the auction due to an incumbent wireless provider that's here, so we were not able to participate in the CAF auction and take advantage of that. So at this point we're 100 percent self-financed through loans. We did receive one $750,000 grant from the Delta Regional Authority, which is a local organization here to us. We received $750,000 and SEMO received $250,000, but beyond that, we're 100 percent self-financed with loans.

Christopher Mitchell: You mentioned that the wireless providers most people are using in that area are not delivering anything even close to broadband, and so can I assume that you were pretty frustrated at some of the claims that might have been made or if in fact, it was just the anomaly that that a WISP could provide service to a few households and then therefore entire census blocks were removed [from the auction]?

Jack Davis: We were extremely frustrated. We worked with Jonathan and talked to the FCC a lot. In the end, there just wasn't anything we could do. A lot of it had to do with the way the 477 data is reported. This particular carrier also operates a copper network in a couple of towns here where they provide phone service as well as like DSL, and it wound up taking the whole area off the block, which was pretty disheartening. But we decided, hey, we started this without it and we're gonna finish it without it if we have to.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, and what would the difference have been? I mean, obviously it would have been easier on your finances, but is this something that you could have done more rapidly if you had the support of the Connect America Fund?

Jack Davis: That was the idea. You know, we're very interested in building our entire area, not just our electric footprint — you know, everything that that lies within our electric footprint, even if we serve it electrically or not. And this would have allowed us to go into some of those more quickly than we'd be able to otherwise.

Christopher Mitchell: And just to clear up for people then, I'm assuming that you have electric footprint and then there's holes within it basically.

Jack Davis: That's correct. Yeah. There's some larger towns that a private utility has electric service in that we do not cover. We just cover pretty much the rural areas with the exception of a few small communities.

Christopher Mitchell: Sure. Thank you Jack for coming on. I appreciate it, and it's just so great to hear more stories of how — you know, frankly, in four years, everyone that you serve is going to have better access and I'll bet I can get in a major urban area in Minnesota. So it's a great investment you're making. Thanks for telling us about it.

Jack Davis: Yes, sir. Thank you.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher and Jack Davis from the Pemiscot-Dunklin Electric Cooperative in southeast Missouri. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at muninetworks.orgs/broadbandbits. Email us at podcast@muninetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @communitynets. Follow muninetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @muninetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other podcasts from ILSR, Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them wherever you get your podcasts. Don't miss out our important research from all of our initiatives. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ilsr.org, and while you're there, please take a moment to donate. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and thank you for listening to episode 344 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcript

Community Broadband Media Roundup - February 18

February 18, 2019

Alaska

Why the future of satellite Internet might be decided in rural Alaska by Erin Winick, MIT Technology Review

 

California

San Jose launches new fund to bring Internet to thousands of off-line homes by Emily Deruy, The Mercury News

The city estimates that, even today, around 95,000 residents have no Internet access at home.

San Jose, CA to bridge digital divide with new inclusion fund by Chris Teale, Smart Cities Dive

 

Georgia

Georgia House OKs electric co-ops to offer high-speed Internet by Mark Niesse, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution 

“Families and children are being left behind because they don’t have access to Internet in our community,” said state Rep. Winfred Dukes, a Democrat from Albany.

 

Maine

Maine’s rural broadband may get a boost by J. Craig Anderson, Portland Press Herald 

Town of Oakland receives broadband grant from Maine Community Foundation by Elaine Theriault-Currier, Bangor Daily News 

Maine one of eight states chosen to update national broadband availability map by Kate Foye, Bangor Daily News 

 

Maryland

Rural Broadband Task Force releases final report by Alan Van Wormer, The Bay Net

 

North Carolina

Community initiatives share a vision for North Carolina at IEI Forum by Sarah Glova, WRAL TechWire

“A big challenge in our state, is rural residential connectivity,” said Davis. “The idea that elderly patients in their homes don’t have the connectivity to be able to access telehealth services to manage their diabetes or their heart diseases… the idea that our kids go home at night in these rural counties and don’t have a connection, so they’re not able to access all the digital resources that other kids are able to access.”

Broadband access fundamental right by Bunny Sanders, Reflector

 

Virginia

Botetourt County moving ahead with broadband by Craig Settles, Roanoke Times 

 

General 

Rural electric cooperatives have an important role in our broadband future by Alyson Moore, Telecompetitor

Here's what you need to know about the T-Mobile, Sprint CEO testimony to Congress, CNBC

 

 

Tags: media roundup

Broadband in the Bootheel: Missouri Electric Co-op Delivers

February 18, 2019

Missouri’s Bootheel is the ultimate southeast corner of the state, extending south and surrounded on three sides by lands in Arkansas, Tennessee, and a smattering of Kentucky. The area’s known for having fertile soil and vibrant agriculture but now that Pemiscot-Dunklin Electric Cooperative  is deploying Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH), it's also becoming known for high-quality Internet access.

The Region and Lack of Connectivity

Jack Davis has worked in several fields. His tech career started when most people in the area reached the Internet via dial-up connections; at the time he worked as a network administrator for a local dial-up ISP in the 1990s. His second career was in agriculture and now he’s back in the tech field. Davis’s multiple work experiences have given him insight into the increasing broadband needs of rural residents who either farm or work in some other aspect of the agriculture industry.

When Davis went back into tech, he joined Pemiscot-Dunklin because the electric cooperative, which had never had IT staff before, needed to fill a long-existing personnel gap. With approximately 8,800 connected meters, the cooperative is a modest-sized organization. Approximately 20 percent of their load goes toward irrigation, revealing the important role agriculture plays in the region. Internet access in rural areas is limited to fixed wireless. Cooperative members who used to subscribe to the wireless service typically found top speeds were around 3 - 4 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and much slower upload speeds.

Time for an Upgrade

Discussion about the project began in 2014 soon after Davis started at Pemiscot-Dunklin. The way Davis tells it, his boss said “Now that I’ve got you hired, what can we do about Internet service?” The cooperative researched for about two years, examining a variety of options because they anticipated FTTH would be too expensive to deploy. In 2016, they worked with Conexon, the consulting firm that works with electric cooperatives interested in broadband deployment. Conexon's Jonathan Chambers was on Community Broadband Bits, episode 229, to discuss electric cooperatives and rural broadband access:

After a feasibility study determined that FTTH would work well for Pemiscot-Dunklin’s service area, the cooperative decided that they would abandon other technologies in April 2017 shifted their focus to exclusively FTTH. Construction started in October of the same year.

One of the reasons for the Bootheel’s agricultural success is its flat, soft soil with no rock; underground deployment is less challenging than in other regions. Damaging ice storms, however, can damage aerial infrastructure. In 2009, a massive ice storm took out approximately 80 percent of the Pemiscot-Dunklin system and the cooperative had to rebuild. When adding to existing infrastructure, engineers from the cooperative must always consider the ice load, which increase the cost of aerial deployment.

The favorable geology, the added expense to cover ice load, and a local contractor that offered an affordable price on underground deployment, convinced Pemiscot-Dunklin to bury 99 percent of their fiber. Access to the public right-of-way and the ability to deploy without the need to negotiate pole agreements with other utility companies weighed in favor of underground deployment. It was a common sense decision that reduced deployment costs and resulted in infrastructure that will endure the elements tucked safely underground. They began connecting members to the network in July 2018.

Making Progress

The co-op is already offering high-quality Internet access in much of their service area, but once they’re finished deploying infrastructure, the fiber will run approximately 1,200 miles in total. They recently finished phase one — the majority of Dunklin County — of a four phase deployment plan. Phase one begins at the southern edge of Campbell in the northern area of the county and expands south to midway between Kennett and Senath. With the exception of some rural areas in the southern half of the county, even the most rural areas have FTTH. Pemiscot-Dunklin intends to also deploy in these areas. 

The cooperative hopes to obtain a 37 percent take rate, or approximately 1,000 subscribers, in the regions where they’re installing fiber. At this point about 750 have committed with contract, and the cooperative is connecting them one at a time. Approximately 1,700 potential subscribers across the deployment area are pre-registered. About 600 subscribers are connected and active. Davis estimates 3,000 members will subscribe by the time deployment is complete.

Creating Competition

When planning deployment strategy for phase one, co-op engineers worked from population density. Their approach makes the service available to as many subscribers as possible, which in turn helps grow the network. If more people can connect in the earlier stages, word quickly spreads and it’s easier to connect those who are interested in switching. Connecting more addresses sooner also allows the co-op to maximize the revenue earlier. As the cooperative connects premises in the remaining phases where population density isn’t as intense, they’ll consider demand foremost.

Phase two will take the cooperative’s network into central Pemiscot County. Davis says that there are at least three small rural areas that don’t take electric service from the cooperative where they will deploy broadband. As word gets out about the deployment, more communities that obtain electricity elsewhere have contacted Pemiscot-Dunklin and asked the co-op to build within their community. They’re considering each request on a case-by-case basis.

Pemiscot-Dunklin provides electricity in the rural areas around towns in the deployment area, but doesn’t serve within town limits of several of the towns. They're considering overbuilding to compete with incumbent providers within town limits of several towns. The advantages that led them to deploy underground in rural areas and the ability to construct in a neighborhood without the need to negotiate for pole attachments is encouraging.

Funding

The co-op estimates that the entire project will cost around $28 million. The Delta Regional Authority (DRA) recently awarded the co-op a $750,000 grant toward the project, but the cooperative will be funding the remainder of the project.

The FCC eliminated a large number of census blocks in the Pemiscot-Dunklin service area region as possible candidates for the Connect American Funding Phase II Auction (CAF II). The co-op wasn’t able to bid for grants to serve large areas in the region because census blocks were removed from eligibility. The local fixed wireless ISP began years ago as a local telephone company and, een though they only offer telephone service in three small towns in the area, reporting to the FCC reflects that they offer service to a much larger area. Pemiscot-Dunklin or any other entity could not bid for CAF II funding for broadband infrastructure to serve those census blocks. 

What Do Subscribers Get From Pemiscot-Dunklin?

Unlike many new entrants into the broadband market in recent years, the co-op has decided to offer triple play services. After talking to members to determine what services were in demand and available in the region, and partnering with neighboring co-ops, Pemiscot-Dunklin has been able to find affordable methods to bring Internet access, voice, and video to members.

Davis says that voice service has been a surprise. They’re working with a telephone provider that’s using the co-op’s infrastructure for VoIP. For example, the old phone service at the cooperative offices often suffered from buzzing and static and when it rained, it was almost unusable. With the new service, connections are clear and reliable. Even though take rate for voice services isn’t high, says Davis, the subscribers who have it, love it. 

Cooperative leadership decided to offer video in part because many members are elderly people more inclined to use a video service than switch to streaming video services. Pemiscot-Dunkin is partnering with Co-Mo Electric Cooperative and reselling the video services that Co-Mo offers their own members. SEMO Electric Cooperative also borders Pemiscot-Dunklin’s service area and the two have forged an additional partnership for video services much like the Co-Mo collaboration. The partners include local video channels in their lineups, which are favorites among members.

Upon Reflection

Looking back, Davis is surprised at the ease of the phase one process and he attributes much of that for the strong demand for high-quality Internet access. In the Bootheel region, there’s a high percentage of lower-income households and large corporate ISPs haven't been interested in deploying in the sparsely populated area. People in the region have been “starved” for good Internet access; when word spread that the cooperative was planning to deploy gigabit connectivity to members, locals did whatever they could to support the project.

The co-op board talked to members at annual meetings to get their thoughts and opinions on whether or not to pursue the project and what services to offer. Board members also approached farmers and other constituents to hear their thoughts. To meet the needs of their members, the cooperative is working with several farmers interested in using the network for automation, including climate monitoring, rain gauges and well controls, and they anticipate more demand for similar services.

PDFiber offers several options for residential subscribers, all are symmetrical with no data caps:

  • 100 Mbps for $49.95 per month
  • 1,000 Mbps (1 gig) for $79.95 per month

VoIP service is available for $29.95 per month and subscribers can choose from several TV packages. The cooperative has additional add-ons, bundles, and business options. Installation is free if subscribers sign up to be connected during construction in their area.

Outstanding Feedback

So far, subscribers have been thrilled. A professional photographer in the small rural town of Hornersville subscribes to gigabit service called the office about his new service. When he uploaded his work to an online portfolios for clients, the process on his prior connection took six to eight hours due to the large size of the image files. With his new gigabit connection, the uploads finished “before he could finish typing the description.” The photographer posted about his experience and a screenshot of his upload speeds on Facebook, prompting an uptick in calls from potential subscribers.

When he called the office to let the co-op know how it was going and thank them for the service, "he was so giggly he almost couldn't talk" says Davis.

Image of Senath, Missouri, by formulanone from Huntsville, United States [CC BY-SA 2.0].

Tags: missourirural electric coopPemiscot-Dunklin Electric CooperativeruralFTTHgigabitcooperativefiber-to-the-farmvoicevoipvideo

Georgia's Pineland Telephone Cooperative Reaching Across Counties With Commercial Fiber Connectivity

February 14, 2019

Pineland Telephone Cooperative is known for providing Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) services in southeast Georgia’s rural areas between Savannah, Augusta, and Macon. Now the co-op’s subsidiary Pineland Communications is expanding south and west into Americus, where they plan to provide fiber connectivity to local businesses.

Partnering for Pineland

In January, Pineland began deploying fiber to the delight of potential commercial subscribers. The project should start offering gigabit Internet access, voice, security, and computer services to local businesses this fall. Pineland is considering expanding to residential connections in Americas and Sumter County the future. Pineland invested $2 million toward the project and local donors also contributed.

The project was spearheaded by the One Sumter Economic Development Foundation and began with a feasibility study three years ago. In August 2018, when the Foundation and Pineland announced the project, Rene Smith from the Foundation told WGXA:

"For our businesses, it means an opportunity to access high speed data -- which we see as vital for business success as well as education for our young people in this community. We feel like it's vital for our future."

 In addition to the feasibility study from the Foundation, the local hospital authority also contributed by selling property for the central office to Pineland at market value. Sumter Electric Membership Corporation, Georgia Electric Membership Corporation, Georgia System Operations Corporation, and Georgia Transmission Corporation all assisted with the project. As a result of the efforts of all the entities involved, Americus can market itself to potential new employers as Gig-Certified.

Coming to Americus 

The small city is home to businesses that need high-speed options and reliability that only fiber can provide. Americus is somewhat geographically removed, however, from larger cities where big corporate providers are more inclined to offer it. As Executive Director of One Sumter Mary Beth Bass described in an interview with WRBL, larger employers were finding ways to get the connectivity they needed, but the cost was high. 

Pineland’s entrance into the community will provide much needed competition to lower prices. With an office in town, it’s also likely that potential service calls will be resolved quicker. Customer service may also reflect the improvements that accompany Internet access from local providers. 

The co-operative offers additional services that commercial subscribers may want. While Internet access, voice, and data are standard fare, Pineland also maintains security services and computer support. Local businesses that may not keep IT people on staff or who want fire and theft monitoring at their businesses will be able to contract with Pineland.

Future Co-Op FTTH in Americus?

Pineland serves an area of more than 1,300 square miles, encompassing nine counties in the southeast area of the state. Their headquarters located in Metter are about 150 miles and approximately six counties east of Americus, but the project will give the co-op an opportunity to chart new territory.

While current plans are for commercial subscribers only, Americus community leaders hope the project will lead to residential service. Mediacom and AT&T offer cable and DSL Internet access in the community, but rates are high compared to more urban locations. Last August, State Senator Greg Kirk told WRBL:

"You've got to get that Internet to the last mile in all of Georgia, so that kids can study when they are at home…there's so much that's happening today on the Internet, if you're not able to connect or have a good connection, it really hinders you."

Tags: georgiacooperativepineland telephone cooperativebusinessfiber-to-the-business

ILSR Joins 4Competition Coalition to Oppose Sprint and T-Mobile Merger

February 13, 2019

At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we believe that competition for goods and services helps communities, consumers, and the economy. This belief carries over into the mobile Internet access market, which is one of the reasons we oppose a merger between Sprint and T-Mobile. We’re not alone and we’ve now joined with other organizations as part of the 4Competition Coalition.

As the prospect of 5G wireless connectivity becomes more probable, these two companies claim that they need to merge in order to remain competitive with the other two mobile Internet access providers. In reality, reducing mobile subscriber options from four to three, creates no benefit for anyone except the companies with less competition.

In a press release announcing ILSR’s decision to join the Coalition, Christopher stated:

“Market competition between Sprint and T-Mobile has made mobile Internet access available to millions of low-income households. We are deeply concerned that this merger will harm those households and leave them without any affordable Internet access.”

Along with ILSR, trade group INCOMPAS joined the 4Competition Coalition. INCOMPAS also strongly advocates ample choice in the broadband arena and recognized Sprint and T-Mobile’s past work to keep competition alive.

So Much to Lose

Losing a mobile Internet access provider as an option is bad, but it isn’t the only consequence that we face if the merger goes through. The Coalition recognizes that results will likely be job losses, higher rates, locking out new entrants to the market, broken promises regarding 5G, and harm especially to people in rural areas. At least 11 states are also not convinced that a Sprint/T-Mobile merger is in the interest of their citizens and are reviewing the proposal.

In order to help spread the word and share information, the 4Competition Coalition is making resources available online. In addition to Petitions to stop the merger that have already been filed, anyone can access and read relevant research on expected impacts of the merger. There’s also a list of Legislators who aren’t convinced; is your elected official on the list? If not, perhaps you should contact them and get their opinion about the harmful proposal.

You can see a list of the entities that have joined the Coalition and follow the news at 4competition.org.

You can also follow them on Twitter @4CompCoalition.

Tags: mergercompetitionruralmobilet-mobile5Gilsrsprint

State of Maine and Dakota County, Minnesota, Looking to Fill Key Broadband Positions

February 13, 2019

 

Maine’s Department of Economic and Community Development is currently seeking a Director of their Broadband Office. The closing date to apply for the position is February 22, 2019.

Learn more about the position at the State of Maine’s online posting

According to the announcement on the search, the position will: 

[P]rovide leadership and guidance for Statewide broadband deployment in Maine. This position provides direction to the ConnectME Authority Board, manages staff, provides oversight and coordination of grant funding programs, interacts with public and private sector leaders and management, engineers, attorneys, accountants, construction and financial experts, and the public relating to the mission and implementation of ConnectME initiatives.

Some of the Director’s tasks will be:

  • Monitor emerging technologies on national and industry initiatives and trends in broadband; prepare recommendations and position papers; conduct research and analysis to identify best practices toward broadband adoption and improvements.
  • Research new and existing technologies to ensure that all areas of the State have access to optimum service.
  • Through dedicated website and social media channels, explore all opportunities to engage service providers and existing and potential subscribers on the benefits of broadband.
  • Provide guidance and direction to the Office of Broadband Staff and ConnectME Authority Board.

Read more about the role of the Director of Broadband Office and the qualifications for the position on the state posting.

Work in Minnesota

The Dakota Broadband Board is also seeking to fill a leadership role as they look for an Executive Director. The Board asks that interested individuals submit their application materials by 4 p.m. CST on February 28th.

Read the job announcement.

As part of their position:

Duties include Board administration, budgeting & financial administration, marketing of commercial dark fiber, legal & compliance oversight, contracting and contractor management. The position reports to the Chair of the DBB and takes direction from the Chair of the DBB Executive Committee.

For a more thorough list of the Executive Director’s duties and responsibilities, along with more about the qualifications, knowledge, skills, and abilities that Dakota County seeks to fill the position, check out this more thorough job description.

Dakota County has been developing its publicly owned broadband network since the 1990s and was an early adopter of smart conduit policies, saving significant public dollars. Learn more about Dakota County's network by reviewing our coverage and listening to episode 117 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast, an interview with David Asp, who works for the county as a Network Collaboration Engineer.

The folks at Dakota County have also asked us to circulate the following to help them reach the most qualified people as possible:

Applicants can submit their signed materials by February 28th:

  • Via US Mail to—City of Mendota Heights, Attention: Cheryl Jacobson, Assistant City Administrator, 1101 Victoria Curve, Mendota Heights, MN 55118; or
  • Via email in PDF format to--cherylj(at)mendota-heights.com; or
  • In person at-- City of Mendota Heights, 1101 Victoria Curve, Mendota Heights, MN 55118
Dakota Broadband Board Executive Director Job Announcement Dakota Broadband Board Executive Director Application Dakota Broadband Board Executive Director Application Supplement Tags: dakota countyminnesotamaine

Conversing with Crawford: Community Broadband Bits Podcast 343

February 12, 2019

Harvard Professor, author, and broadband champion Susan Crawford has been incredibly busy ever since she released her latest book Fiber: The Coming Tech Revolution — And Why America Might Miss It. Fortunately for us and our listeners, she hasn’t been too busy to take some time for Community Broadband Bits listeners. She’s here this week to talk about the book, her experiences researching it, and discussing policy recommendations aimed at bringing better connectivity to rural and urban areas.

The conversation between Christopher and Susan is one of our best podcasts. They touch on technology, competition, and how we’ve come to the point when local communities are leading the charge to bring high-quality Internet access to their residents and businesses. Susan shares some of the stories she encountered — both favorable and not so favorable — of places where local leaders are either working to hard to put broadband infrastructure in place or barely moving the dial on getting their communities better connected. 

She’s travelled all across the world to learn about how other countries approach fiber connectivity and how they’re reaping the benefits. Now, she wants to share some of those policies and ideas to help Americans realize that if we don’t adjust our mindset, we could miss out on fiber’s potential.

Order Susan's book online at Indiebound.org. Learn more about the book by reading Christopher's review.

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

This show is 33 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

The transcript for this episode is available 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: fibersusan crawfordaudiobroadband bitspodcasttechnologyFTTH5Glocalpolicyfederalruralurban

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 343

February 12, 2019

This is the transcript for episode 343 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. In this episode Christopher speaks with Susan Crawford, Harvard law professor and author of Fiber: The Coming Tech Revolution — and Why America Might Miss It, about the book, broadband policy, and so much more. Listen to the episode here.

 

 

Susan Crawford: The first step is getting everybody together, having a real consensus that this is important, and then taking the necessary block and tackle steps to figure out what needs to be done, what the gaps are, where the capital will come from, and what the plan is.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 343 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. If you haven't picked up a copy of Susan Crawford's most recent book, hit pause, head over to your neighborhood bookstore, get your copy, and then come back and continue listening to this week's podcast. The Harvard law professor and author of Fiber: The Coming Tech Revolution — and Why America Might Miss It took some time out of her schedule to talk to Christopher about broadband policy and about her book. Susan shares her thoughts on the differences between rural and urban issues and solutions to overcome them both. She talks about the lack of competition in the U.S. She and Christopher talk about some of the communities she visited, and Susan shares some policy recommendations. It's a great interview to get you ready to read a great book. Now, here's Christopher and Susan.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minneapolis, and I have one of my favorite guests back today: Susan Crawford, a professor at Harvard Law and more recently the author of Fiber: The Coming Tech Revolution — and Why America Might Miss It. Welcome back to the show, Susan.

Susan Crawford: Well, it's an honor to be here, Chris. This is really your movement; all I'm doing is writing it down.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, you have supercharged it and I am eternally grateful for you doing that. You know, one of the fun things about this interview is that I don't have to ask you the first question you get from almost every other interview that you give because we can assume the audience is mostly on board with not only what fiber is, but the importance of it. And so therefore, my first question to you is actually just sort of a general question of: do you differentiate between rural and urban Internet access problems?

Susan Crawford: Well problems, yes, but solutions, no. I don't see any reason why people living in rural areas should have second class access, and it's just a policy decision. We did that as a country for telephone systems and for electricity, and it should be the same for the basic communications network. So when we get to the end of this policy road, everybody should have ubiquitous, mostly fiber if not exclusively fiber, cheap, persistent, reliable connectivity in their homes and businesses — wherever you are in America.

Christopher Mitchell: I entirely agree with you, and one of the things that I like about your analysis is the focus on fiber and I think that's important for several reasons that you and I agree on. But, since the last time we've talked, the cable companies are on a path to do DOCSIS symmetrical, where it looks like they'll be able to offer very high quality, symmetrical, very fast speeds. And so I'm curious then if you would think that the urban problem is kind of solved.

Susan Crawford: Absolutely not. First, at what price is really important. How much are people having to pay for this service? Because it looks to me as if the entire country is paying rent to about four or five companies that are doing extremely well. So that's one issue that remains for urban areas — at what cost, and how many people are left out of that great network connectivity because they simply can't afford it? And the second point is that yes, that looks good as an upgrade to their existing capacity, but unlike hybrid fiber coaxial lines, glass fiber really is, as far as we can tell, infinitely upgradable. There is a top limit to what you can do with that cable capacity that will not approach what's possible with fiber. So the two technologies are just not the same, and the idea of making sure that we're matching the rest of the world with our basic wire makes a ton of sense to me and it does to most people in these other countries that I keep visiting. So, long story short, that is not a solution if it's too expensive and not upgradable without extraordinary effort.

Christopher Mitchell: And so then, I feel like we're actually left in a situation in which, as you say, rural areas have second class service — they should not into the future. But given your analysis of the cable monopoly, it strikes me that we're moving into an era in which over time, more rural areas will actually have the first class service and people like me in a cable monopoly area in an urban region will have second class service, in some ways.

Susan Crawford: I think that's right, and I think that sets up some terrific incentives for people in the urban areas to be even more interested in the idea of a public option or a wholesale network or dark air conduit available to lots of competing fiber providers in every city or dark fiber available for lease — something that is a wholesale version of a public option that is available to everybody at a reasonable price, so the retail market emerges in those urban areas. Look, nobody wants to see cable not competing except for the cable companies. So I'm happy for them to be successful businesses, but they have to be subject to competition like everybody else.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I think the final step of this, walking through this analysis, is that in some areas — you know, and I would be very clear — in some parts of some neighborhoods in urban areas are seeing fiber investment from AT&T, from CenturyLink, from some other of the telephone companies. And so where we see that — you know, you just mentioned creating an open market. Why isn't that competition between, like, AT&T and CenturyLink fiber good enough for a first class city or . . . in this case, a first class city.

Susan Crawford: Again, because of the switching costs. There's a huge lock in effect when you sign up with any one of these operators — very difficult to move to a competitor, and that's a problem because over time, the company that has you locked in can just steadily raise prices and you'll feel sort of helpless to do anything about it. So as a matter of public policy and just respect for human ingenuity, we should make sure that that competition is real, not just temporary and fake.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay. So now that we've gotten there, what is the argument that you've made in the book in terms of what cities should be doing? Because, you know, I think it's clear. We celebrate Chattanooga and Lafayette and Wilson, and they're champions in the book. You tell great stories about them. And yet, if you're advising a city, you're not advising them to go down that particular path.

Susan Crawford: Right, and so many of these cities that are heroes now have depended on their existing municipal electric utilities as a first step towards breeding fiber, and that can't be necessary, right? Because, you know, there are only a few thousand cities in the United States that have a municipal electric facility available, so there has to be a broader plan. So what I'm — what we're all advocating for, Christopher, and I think you more effectively than anybody else in the country, is taking stock of local realities with a broad cross section of the community, making sure that civic officials and the business community and residents and local government all understand the opportunity that they're missing by not figuring out what to do about their fiber situation, and then getting in help to do a feasibility study about what might be possible there, and then moving ahead with political leadership at the political level. It's all about lowering the cost of capital ultimately because it's not rocket science to build these networks, but it is about lowering the cost of capital and getting sterling leadership in place and supporting that leadership to move forward. Increasingly, I'm excited about regional opportunities, not just municipal ones. Watching what's going on in the South Bay, just south of Los Angeles, where a whole bunch of communities are talking about getting together and issuing a joint RFP for dark fiber services — that makes a lot of sense to me. There are ongoing economies of scale that operate at the public level, just the same way they do at the private one. But the first step is getting everybody together, having a real consensus that this is important, and then taking the necessary block and tackle steps to figure out what needs to be done, what the gaps are, where the capital will come from, and what the plan is.

Christopher Mitchell: I'm curious. What gives you hope that we're going to see more of these approaches and more of these regional collaborations, as opposed to this just being a kind of a footnote over a period in which, you know, we'll muddle along for many more years?

Susan Crawford: Well, MuniNetworks.org gives me hope because every day you're putting out stories of different places working on this and learning from each other. It's such a terrific community of people learning from past mistakes, making things work better, becoming increasingly professional in their approach to these networks. And Americans at their best are never cynical. And what also gives me hope is that this is such a thoroughly bipartisan movement across the country. So many of these areas working on fiber are Republican, or labeled that way, as well as Democratic. And that everybody, once they understand this issue deeply enough, is moved to do something about it. So far, every conversation I've had, let's say, with my dry cleaner or the local music store or anybody on the street, once you take the time to explain it, they just say, "Well, of course. Of course that's the way things should be. Why aren't they?" And Americans don't like to be behind and we are so behind the rest of the world, so I'm optimistic because of the American character. I'm very proud of being American, and I know that we will want to get this right and we won't be frustrated by a few companies that didn't do anything.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I really appreciate that. I know that Lisa will, too. My son is now three years old, so I know that Lisa has done almost all of the work on MuniNetworks.org for the past three years because that's when I kind of handed it off. And since then, I still get the credit, but she does all the work.

Susan Crawford: Yay, Lisa! Yay!

Christopher Mitchell: You know, one of the things that you just said actually reminded me of a conversation I just had in North Carolina with a small business owner who has CenturyLink fiber, and we were commiserating because I also have CenturyLink fiber in our office now. And in my experience, 100 Megabit symmetrical service is amazing. He has not had as good of a result, and we both agreed that the Voice over IP that CenturyLink uses is just awful. I mean, I frequently can't complete calls. I have all kinds of problems with it. And that's just a reminder of something we were talking about earlier in terms of just one fiber line is not enough.

Susan Crawford: Right, quality of service will only come from competition. And the only way that telco or communications competition has ever emerged is requiring structural separation between the wholesale operator or, you know, the dark fiber or dark air part of this and the retail services. As soon as people are allowed to choose hats or wear multiple hats, they start carving up markets and discriminating against others and making sure that they don't have to invest any more capital than they need to. So I think what we're driving at with this idea of dark fiber, dark air wholesale networks is encouraging investment in a tremendously useful facility for all Americans. And that will mean great persistent Voice over IP as well as very high capacity data services that I hope someday we will simply take for granted.

Christopher Mitchell: I'm curious who you aimed the book at when you were writing it. In part, I have to say, the timing is almost miraculous in that it came out in January and here we are at the beginning of February, and I think we're starting to see the media finally catching on to the fact that a lot of the 5G hype was bait and switch. And you lay that out in the book. And so when I was reading it, I was thinking it might go over the heads of a number of people, but increasingly I think, you know, it was just right for certain kinds of people. But I'm curious who you are aiming at.

Susan Crawford: I was aiming it at anybody who is curious and reads the newspaper. It's very approachable as a book. It really tries to tell the story in very human terms and get everybody all excited about the capacity of fiber. And so, I was writing for any small business owner, householder, trying to make this a — it should be a pedestrian subject frankly. And it has seemed sort of technical and far away, but that's because that's the way it's been framed by the incumbents. Actually, it's very sensible. So that was my audience. Everybody's my audience.

Christopher Mitchell: Your first book, Captured, came out and the cable companies had a plan to try and ruin you, they attacked you relentlessly. You know, one of the things I remember is they had, on the day it was published, multiple one star reviews on Amazon. Now, I think they're just desperately trying to ignore you and hoping that no one notices you. Is that your impression?

Susan Crawford: I think that's true. I'm still seeing a little bit. I have a particular detractor funded by Comcast who is always putting comments on Facebook and Amazon, so he's still out there. But I think their goal right now is just to make sure this goes away, and what I'm hoping is that it won't. I'm doing my best to get into mainstream news outlets, whatever I can do to keep pushing the story along.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I went to what for an employee of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance is great extremes: I wrote a review on Amazon.

Susan Crawford: Thank you.

Christopher Mitchell: And I really hope that other people will too, even if they are also scared of Amazon because Amazon remains one of the key places people turn to to look for reviews. And so I hope people that have read the book or who are about to read the book, will do a review on Amazon even though I hope you buy the book somewhere else.

Susan Crawford: Oh, I appreciate that. And yes, I support independent bookstores and I want people to buy it there. I should do a better job of urging people to write reviews on Amazon. I just don't. And in part, I sort of feel my role is just to write the book and then everybody else will do what they want to with it. Other authors are more active in promotion, and this is just a failing of mine. Not to get an army writing about it, but I appreciate the plug and I hope that does happen.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I did notice that you don't start off every answer to a question with "As I say in my book."

Susan Crawford: No, I don't do that. And I really should.

Christopher Mitchell: So I am totally on board, as anyone knows who's listening to us, with our arguments that local leaders are the ones that have to step up. You make that case very compellingly, but I'm curious because you have worked in the executive branch for President Obama. You know, when you think about this, my impression is that the Obama administration in the last two years tried to figure out any way the executive branch could encourage these types of networks and more or less came to the conclusion that they just don't have much authority or power to do so. So if we had, you know, a president right now that was both competent and willing to take action on this, do you think there's anything that the executive branch can do today?

Susan Crawford: Oh, absolutely. In fact, in the last chapter of my book, I make a lot of these recommendations. Setting a standard for what constitutes the basic telephone service in the United States, that's the role of the executive branch, and having a lot of tax and loan guarantee and subsidization programs depend from that definition would be extremely helpful. For example, operators still running copper lines across the country could be essentially forced through tax policy to abandon those lines and replace them with fiber — and with wholesale fiber, by the way. Operators in particular regions could be given loan guarantees by the Fed, which operates regionally, to lower the cost of capital there and increase and incentivize the deployment of wholesale networks. Gosh, we could just make another kind of Tennessee Valley Authority operation exist in rural areas that would be a wholesale provider of transmission services with connections only to publicly operated or publicly supervised last mile networks. There are all kinds of things the federal government could do, but setting the standard and declaring that this is a priority of the United States would be a very first step. And that the Obama administration did not do.

Christopher Mitchell: That's a very good answer. I did not see that coming. Even though I read the last chapter, I think I was, as I noted, so euphoric for some of the stuff that came right before then in the stories. But I want to note something, that some of the people who listen to this show are more of a fan of cooperatives and that sort of approach than municipal networks. There is some animosity between them. And when you say the kind of authority that might do the wholesale access, I assume you're including the cooperatives as a major component of that.

Susan Crawford: Oh, absolutely, and I'm also harking back to what happened at the time of the formation of the TVA, that it's policy was to make business arrangements only with cooperatives and municipals. So you know, a definite bias in favor of these alternative modes of getting basic network connectivity out to people in rural areas.

Christopher Mitchell: You know, there's a line that I read from a 1950s political science paper about the meeting where that decision was made. Harold Ickes, who was a person — I actually have like, I don't know, it's like 2,500 pages of diary for him that was published that I want to read that I haven't gotten around to yet. But apparently, in one of the early meetings about rural electrification, they were trying to figure out how to make it work, and one of his people on the committee said, "Well, we're going to have to work with the electric trusts." And Harold Ickes said something along the lines of, "I won't have it. We're not going to talk to those sons of " — we have a clean tag so I'm not going to finish that off — and he said, "We're going to find another way." And as you said, they focused on the cooperatives and the munis, and I think we've saved probably trillions of dollars in rents because of that.

Susan Crawford: I think that's right. And it takes character to do that because in the current American context that sounds like heresy. What?! Not have the private sector do absolutely everything? And I'm not saying that public-private partnerships couldn't work, but they would be the public in charge and the private operator as a vendor, essentially, helping with construction or operation of networks but at the behest and under the control of the public entity or the cooperative.

Christopher Mitchell: Now I want to talk about Greensboro, North Carolina, because I think Greensboro makes this book work so much better than if you had excluded it. In this book, you talk so much about the great things that Wilson has done, RS Fiber with Mark Erickson and the many people that made that possible. You talk about MINET and we actually just interviewed Don Patten recently using some of the material from the book. You talk about Chattanooga. You talk about so many where there's great things happening. Greensboro, you actually mentioned that you'd read it just after reading George Packer's The Unwinding, which is a fantastic book. So why is Greensboro important for your argument?

Susan Crawford: Greensboro is important because I went to Greensboro expecting to find this kind of scrappy, spunky North Carolinian we-can-do-anything attitude about fiber, as well as everything else, and what I found was not that. What I found was that Greensboro's sort of sinking into a genteel irrelevance in a state that is booming really. Greensboro hasn't really gotten over it's a past of excluding poor and black people from civic life, that was my finding, and can't really see it's way past its current Internet access situation too. Then these things are really of a piece. So the reason why Greensboro is so important narrative, is that the overall story here is that places that can think about fiber as part of a decent respectable life, just a basic affordance, can also think about treating everybody with respect and making sure that the entire community is thriving. That's true and more and more true in places like Wilson, but it is not yet true in Greensboro. They haven't made that turn. It's still suffering from the past and kind of convinced that it's important just because it's Greensboro. And what I found was that although there's some champions in Greensboro, they're not gaining any traction because local government isn't really interested in fixing the Internet access situation, which is dominated utterly by Spectrum, and there doesn't seem to be much will for overcoming the somnolence, really the sleepiness, of the city's business approach. So that's why it's important. It was in contrast to these other places.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. For me, it was such a reminder of the importance of true local leadership, not just someone who's willing to say, "Yeah, that's nice."

Susan Crawford: Right. Exactly. Yeah, they would sort of wave their hands at it and then not do anything. And there are great people there, and I hope they see that I respected what they were up to when I wrote the book but that I could also see that nothing was gonna happen — that it was sort of a plan towards a procedure towards a process without any real leadership behind it.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. Well, one of the things that I felt a little bit shown up on is the story you tell about Tiffany Cooper because it's so great and it just so illustrates why Wilson's municipal broadband network in North Carolina, in the eastern part of North Carolina, which we've talked about many times on the show because they're so pathbreaking — but her story is just a reminder that talking about low income households, you know, isn't just sort of a policy issue; it's real people's lives. And so I'm curious if you want to tell us a little bit about her.

Susan Crawford: Oh, I'd be delighted to. And I also hope people will buy the book — I know I need to start plugging — but I'm delighted to tell the story because it's an important centerpiece here. It was so moving. I just about burst into tears when she said it. So I went to visit Tiffany Cooper, who is a young mom of three sons living in public housing in Wilson. And she told me that being able to add $10 to her rent bill in public housing and have that result in a terrific fiber connection from the city of Wilson was the best thing that had ever happened to her and that she hoped it would happen to everybody else in this country. She said a funny thing. She said, "Whoever came up with this idea, this was genius," essentially. And what she was really excited about was that her sons' grades were improving because they could do their homework from home. She can't get them to the library. She has no ability to drive anywhere, and public transit in Wilson isn't great. And she knows that they are doing better and really focusing on grades because of the network's presence in her home. And she's also getting new training, medical certification for new sorts of jobs by having this fiber connection right there. And whenever I tell this story across the country, people just gasp. You know, of course you should be able to just treat this like a utility and pay an affordable amount and have it present wherever you are: in public housing, expensive houses, wherever. But Wilson really thought this through and they said, "Look, we've got this sunk network cost going into public housing. We're going to make this available to people in multidwelling units and public housing across the city, and we're very proud of it." And so it's one of my proudest moments in this book was being able to report that and then have other people from other cities just gasp when they hear the story.

Christopher Mitchell: It's a great story, and I will note that there are many similar moments like that in the book. I wrote two case studies with Todd O'Boyle, who is a Wilson native, about how Wilson built their network and then how Time Warner Cable fought back in the legislature. As I entered those parts of the book, I was thinking, well, I'm going to know all this, and there was details in there I wasn't aware of. And so, you know, if you found things that surprise me, anyone who picks this book up is going to find interesting things they did not know.

Susan Crawford: Yeah. And what's particularly — thank you for that nice compliment. What's particularly great about the Wilson part of the story is that they were willing to talk about the shenanigans with Time Warner Cable in getting the state law passed and talk about them in detail. And I don't think that's been on the record before. We all sort of know it, but it's great to have it written down and important for us as we attack this issue across the country.

Christopher Mitchell: I think that's right. I mean, I know that's right. I was trying to get into this point which is that, you know, I think one of the challenges is as many of us are bitter about the way, in particular, Republican state legislators but sometimes Democrats have accepted the arguments from the industry, and I think whenever we talk about that, we use language that is guaranteed to antagonize half of the people thinking about politics in the U.S. And so, when I'm trying to talk to people in North Carolina, in particular legislators, I have to remember that I think a number of those Republicans who voted for those bills are now angry at Time Warner Cable. And they may not say so publicly and I think we might think they should have known better at the time, but they did think that the private sector would do better than it has.

Susan Crawford: That's right. We should always assume positive intent on everybody's part, even on the part of the companies because good Lord, we haven't restrained them. We haven't given them any reason to act differently coming from the rule of law, right? So, everybody's acting according to their best interests, and what we need to do is help people understand that the best interests of the country and of our place on the global stage and our ability to act coherently and with respect towards everybody depends on reframing this entire issue — that this is not a luxury, that it's not something that only rich people should have, that it's basic to every form of business in every policy we care about. And that reframing is just beginning to come into view, and whatever we can do to push that along is our job, I think, on earth right now.

Christopher Mitchell: So as we wrap up, I want to ask you about a phrase that you used on the Diane Rehm show, which is one of my favorite phrases. It has a deep history behind it, but I wasn't sure that everyone would have caught it. And that is ruinous competition, and I'm sure you use that for a specific reason. Tell me about that phrase.

Susan Crawford: All of these businesses that seem to us today like ATMs with lawyers on top, like oil or communications, and sometimes banking —

Christopher Mitchell: Electric companies.

Susan Crawford: — electric companies, they have very high upfront costs to set up these initial networks. And so it is in the interest of the companies eventually to divide up markets, to say you take Minneapolis, I'll take Sacramento, because if they start actually competing with each other, they'll just run each other out of business. And that's what's known as ruinous competition. There's a long history of the use of that phrase in the railroad industry around the turn of last century and in oil. It's only rational to have pricing power, to have control over entire markets, and that's what's happened with telecommunications. We can't allow that to happen. This is essentially a natural monopoly service. It only makes sense to have one wire connection going to homes and businesses and that wire should be fiber. And the way to create competition, we've known for a hundred years, is to make sure that that facility is shared and shared according to really clear rules that keep the operator, the wholesale facility, from having any incentive to pick and choose retail providers. That's where we need to get. And the problem is that absent any restraint from law or oversight, these companies and legislators, everybody, will act in their own self-interest to keep the status quo in place.

Christopher Mitchell: So let me add onto that just briefly, and you can tell me that you think that I'm wrong. My way of thinking has shifted over the past 10 years, in part because of where we are and also in part because of economic theory. And that's if I could wave a magic wand and have a publicly owned or cooperatively owned fiber to everyone's home and ban all other forms of of access that would compete with that, I would not do that. And that's because I think it is important, even though I think it might be inefficient in some economic analyses. I think it is good to have a little bit of infrastructure competition to keep the owner honest. My thought is the local ownership and accountability provides the best opportunity for that in itself, but also having a competing provider, I think, creates the right incentives, if at least one of those pipes has to be open in the way that you envision to multiple providers

Susan Crawford: Yeah, and I do disagree because we've seen this over and over again. If we believe in intermodal competition, which is what we did when we deregulated the telecom world, that we thought these wires would fight it out with themselves and that would protect consumers, inevitably there's consolidation and they buy each other out. And then you're left with a monopoly and no oversight, so you get the worst of both worlds. So actually, I think the competition comes from benchmarking wholesale providers against each other. This is the way Japan does it, so there's NTT East and NTT West. And you have to keep prices down coming from that wholesale provider. But then a genuine retail marketplace does emerge on top of that wire, and that is the way it should work because otherwise you just have private equity buying out competing networks and consolidating markets.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I think this has been one of the best interviews we've had. I love all the different topics we got into, and I really hope that people appreciate it and they go out and buy your book.

Susan Crawford: And I hope everybody reads MuniNetworks.org everyday.

Christopher Mitchell: Thank you. Thank you so much, Susan.

Susan Crawford: Thank you, Christopher. Talk to you later.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher and Susan Crawford, author, Harvard law professor, and broadband champion. Find her book at your local bookseller, indiebound.org, or from Yale University Press at yalebooks.yale.edu. We have a transcript for this and other podcasts available at muninetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email us at podcast@muninetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @communitynets. Follow muninetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @muninetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other podcasts from ILSR, Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them wherever you get your podcasts. Don't miss out on our original research from all our initiatives. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org, and while you're there, take a moment to donate. Thanks to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and thank you for listening to episode 343 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Link: Tags: transcript

Community Broadband Media Roundup - February 11

February 11, 2019

Arkansas

Senate committee approves rural broadband bill, KARK 

 

Colorado

Fort Collins municipal broadband will offer first service in August, Reporter-Herald

 

Iowa

VMEU holds last meeting before the final vote concerning broadband by Valerie Close, Vinton Today

 

Indiana

Foundation partners fund study by Bill Rethlake, Daily News

 

Mississippi

Why rural broadband could take years to implement by William Moore, Daily Journal

 

Nebraska

Midlands Voices: Broadband is a basic service for all Nebraskans by Johnathan Hladik, Omaha World-Herald 

We are often contacted by families who lack broadband access but live in a Census block that the state marks as served. For these forgotten households, there is little hope for change. Providers lack incentive to extend service their way. Limited state resources are spent elsewhere.

Lack of broadband in rural Nebraska creating a 'digital divide' by Chris Dunker, Lincoln Journal Star

 

North Carolina

Trainees see the light: Greenlight and Wilson Community College partner in fiber optics class by Drew C. Wilson, Wilson Times

"This is just a huge moment for the city of Wilson,” Rice said. “They have the state’s first fiber-to-the-home, community-owned gigabit network. They are all about fiber, so what a great opportunity to start establishing Wilson as the fiber experts for the state and maybe beyond the state."

 

General 

 

USDA ReConnect rural broadband deadlines extended by Phil Britt, Telecompetitor

We need a national rural broadband plan by Christopher Ali, New York Times

USDA launches rural broadband toolkit to boost expansion by Stephen Huba, The Tribune-Review 

Google Fiber's secret weapon in its gigabit comeback has failed by Jason Hiner, CNET

5G can’t fix America’s broadband problems by Karl Bode, The Verge 

“Absolutely no way is wireless service ever going to be competitive with high-speed wireline services,” Ernesto Falcon, legislative counsel at the EFF, told The Verge. “The fastest speeds the industry is boasting about for the future of wireless has already been surpassed by fiber to the home years ago.”

Rural download speeds are worse than reported, Microsoft study says by Roberto Gallardo, The Daily Yonder

Rural electric cooperatives: The digital divide’s salvation by Alyson Moore, GovTech

FCC struggles to convince judge that broadband isn’t “telecommunications” by Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica

 

Tags: media roundup

Arkansas Senate Considers Bill to Lift Restriction on Muni Broadband

February 11, 2019

*Update: After amending the bill significantly, SB 150 passed through the Arkansas Senate to the House. We were initially excited because the original version of the bill reinstated local authority to develop publicly owned broadband networks. The amendment adopted in Committee, however, changed the bill to only allow communities that apply for and receive grants and loans to invest in community networks and only to specific areas and at the speeds defined in those grants and loans. We still consider it a step in the right direction, but the move forward is miniscule. Read the amended bill here.*

 

This session, a new force in the Arkansas State Legislature — the Republican Women’s Legislative Caucus — has decided that they’ll take on the issue of poor connectivity. As part of their “Dream Big” initiative, they’ve introduced SB 150, a bill to restore local telecommunications authority.

"Dreaming Big" Means Bigger Broadband

The bill was introduced on January 23rd along with a suite of four other bills aimed at a variety of issues, including juvenile justice and education. Senator Breanne Davis of Russellville is the lead sponsor of SB 150, which would repeal restrictions preventing communities from developing broadband networks. Current law has an exception for communities that have a municipal electric utility but if SB 150 is adopted, any government entity will be able to offer high-quality connectivity.  

Legislators are focusing on opportunities for local communities to partner with private sector ISPs as a way to solve some of the poorest access to broadband in the country. They're also emphasizing that, if no partner wants to work with a government entity, this bill will allow a city, town, or county to invest on their own.

In a recent conversation with Talk Business & Politics, Davis described the impetus and goal of the bill: 

“About 40% of Arkansans don’t have access to broadband as defined by the FCC, so we decided to change that,” she said. “Our bill simply lifts the ban on cities and counties being able to either partner in a public-private partnership or go out on their own when no one will partner with them and apply for some of these grants that are available through the federal government.”

Sailing Through the Senate?

SB 150 unanimously passed its first committee stop on February 7th in the Insurance and Commerce Committee. It was amended from its original language to allow it to take effect immediately so local communities to can apply for federal USDA funding to be made available in Arkansas for broadband infrastructure. The committee sent the bill back to the Senate for full consideration. 

 

Correcting A Bad Situation

Last fall, Legal Aid of Arkansas determined that high numbers of people depending on Medicaid had lost the benefit due to their inability to adhere to a new state reporting requirement. Arkansans on Medicaid who were required to work or volunteer had to report their hours but the only way to do so was online. In a state where Internet access is hard to come by, thousands lost their healthcare. 

If Arkansas insists on using an online-only reporting method, Internet access in Arkansas needs to be widely available. SB 150 can allow local communities to fill in the gaps created in places where large ISPs aren’t interested in developing broadband networks.

Share Your Thoughts

If you live in Arkansas and suffer from poor Internet access or have no access to FCC defined broadband speeds of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload, contact your Senator and your Representative and let them know you support this bill.

Read the bill here.

Thanks to podcast listener Kevin Butler for bringing SB 150 to our attention!

Image of the Arkansas Capitol Building by Daniel Schwen [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons

 

SB 150 as Introduced SB 150 as AmendedTags: Arkansaslegislationsb 150 arsenatemuni

Plan Now for Broadband Communities 2019 Summit in April

February 8, 2019

April will be here before you know it, and with the spring comes the 2019 Broadband Communities Summit. This year’s event will be held in Austin, Texas, April 8th - 11th at the Renaissance Hotel. The theme is “Fiber: Putting Your Gigs To Work.”

Register online for the event and check out the agenda.

Special CLIC Program

As in prior years, the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC) will host a special program during the afternoon of the first day of the summit. “An Action Plan for Local Internet Choice in 2019 and Beyond” will focus on the policies, the politics, and the people that can lead to better connectivity for local communities.

CLIC will host three panel discussions that address federal developments, the FCC’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC), and nonpartisan approaches to managing the politics of local broadband initiatives. Christopher will speak on this last panel that aims to address lessons learned and recommend strategies that have worked to bring better connectivity to local communities.

Read more about the CLIC program.

Christopher will also appear on panels addressing economic development, including “Broadband at the Crossroads: Our Experts Weigh In.” He’ll also moderate “Lessons Learned From Turn-Around Communities,” a panel that will host Dan Patten from MINET and David Post from Salisbury, North Carolina.

Susan Crawford Keynote

If you haven’t yet read Susan’s latest book, you still have plenty of time before April’s summit. On April 11th, she will deliver the Keynote Address to discuss her findings as she researched for Fiber: The Coming Tech Revolution — And Why America Might Miss It:

That’s the title of fiber broadband champion and Harvard Law School professor Susan Crawford’s new book – and what you’ll hear her address at Thursday’s working lunch. The great promise of cheap, ultra-fast fiber-optic connectivity is limitless communications capacity that will radically transform everything from business, education and medical care to urban and rural problem-solving. Why might America miss out? Crawford notes that 84 percent of homes here are still connected to the Internet through far more limited copper wire. China, on the other hand, is installing some 20,000 FTTH connections daily. Crawford has lots to say about the whys of America’s sluggish and haphazard efforts to switch to fiber and about the ways we can fix it. She’ll share them and follow up with a Q&A and book signing.

So Many Tracks, So Little Time

In addition to the economic development track, organizers have created a multifamily track and rural broadband track, each loaded with speakers and panel discussions that focus on unique aspects related to the broader topics. Considering that so many of these issues overlap, you may have a difficult time deciding which discussions to attend.

You’ll have several opportunities to network and follow up with one-on-one discussions during the Opening Night and Cocktail Receptions.

Take a look at the event agenda and start planning your time at the Summit.

You can also book your room at the Renaissance Hotel online.

Tags: broadband communities magazineeventconferencesusan crawfordchristopher mitchellfibereconomic developmentcoalition for local internet choice

Michigan Lame Duck Legislature: Lip Service on Rural Broadband Investment

February 7, 2019

Big cable and telecom lobbyists managed to locate a legislative vehicle for the components of last December's bill to fund rural broadband, locking out some of the state's most promising opportunities to bring better connectivity to those who need it the most. There’s still time for Michiganders to express displeasure and the result and possibly influence change. You can file a public comment online through February 15th.

The Problems

When we reported on Michigan’s HB 5670 in December, it was set to appear before the House Communications and Technology Committee. Prior to the hearing, however, Chair Michele Hoitenga removed it from the agenda. Regular readers will remember Hoitenga, whose support from cable and telecom companies has inspired her to introduce anti-muni legislation in the past.

The bill, dubbed the “Broadband Investment Act,” established a fund to provide grants for infrastructure deployment, but specifically locked out municipalities and other government entities from eligibility. Consequentially, local ISPs that might want to provide services via publicly owned fiber were also stifled from projects because this provision essentially ended the possibility of public-private partnerships or any competition with large incumbents.

According to the language of HB 5670, “broadband” was defined as 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload. While we have seen state broadband legislation from several years ago falling back upon this outdated definition of “broadband,” Michigan condemns rural residents to slow, unreliable, last-century technology. It indicates a thinly veiled attempt to hand over state funds to telecom companies with no interest in providing anything better than what they already offer in rural Michigan — DSL or satellite Internet access.

Language in the bill also goes to extreme lengths to ensure that funds will only go to projects that have not received funding from any other source. What will prevent many projects from ever receiving funds, unless those projects are being developed by big corporate incumbents, is the fact that funds can’t be awarded to projects in places where other ISPs are planning to develop infrastructure.

President of the Michigan Broadband Cooperative (MBC) Ben Fineman also points out that the legislation only allows the funding to be used for infrastructure. Due to the fact that only $20 million has been allocated for the fund, the Cooperative believes that the funds would be better used as grants for planning.

The Dance of Legislation

When the bill was set to be heard in committee, Fineman and MBC, along with other state groups interested in community broadband, encouraged constituents to contact their elected officials to express concerns about HB 5670. As a result, the bill was pulled from the agenda. At the time it appeared to be finished, but this wallflower found its way on to the dance floor by being folded into a huge appropriations bill, SB 601. The bill was approved by the Governor on December 31, 2018.

Read the specifics in the bill on pages 34 - 36.

Constituents Can Cause Change

Now, Fineman and MBC request that folks in Michigan who may be dismayed by the result in the bill or annoyed by the legislative process in this case file a comment by February 15th to the Connecting Michigan Communities (CMIC) Grant Program. Perhaps, by educating the folks at the agency that manages the fund and sharing your concerns, they will be better to advocate for changes to how the funds are distributed.

For the best results, keep it brief, polite, and personal.

You can email your comments directly to: DTMB-CMICGrant(at)michigan.gov

Tags: michiganstate lawslegislationfundingmichigan broadband cooperativerural

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 340

February 7, 2019

This is the transcript for episode 340 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. In this episode, Christopher speaks with Don Patten, general manager of MINET in Oregon, about some of the challenges that MINET had to overcome and the new expansion into the nearby community of Dallas. Listen to the episode here.

 

 

Don Patten: You know, I stress to my people, if they never fail at something, they're not working hard enough, and that holds true with those ventures that we look at for growing our business.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 340 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Christopher has been out on the road again. This time he was in D.C., at a launch event for Next Century Cities' new toolkit on broadband readiness for local communities. While he was there, he spoke with Don Patten from Oregon's Monmouth Independence Network, a regional Fiber-to-the-Home network that serves the two cities of Independence and Monmouth. In the past, the network has faced some challenges, but in recent years the situation has changed, and now they've turned it around with a take rate higher than 80 percent. Don and Christopher discuss some of the problems that MINET has endured and the choices that led to those problems. Don describes the changes that they implemented to overcome those challenges, including a shift in their approach from utility to competitiveness. Don also talks about the need to push the envelope to keep up improvements in rural connectivity and gets into the details of their current expansion into Dallas. Now, here's Christopher with Don Patten from the Monmouth Independence Network.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, sitting across from a chuckling general manager of MINET in Oregon, Don Patten. Welcome to the show.

Don Patten: Well, thank you very much Chris. And I was not chuckling at you; I was chuckling with you because of your enthusiasm. I appreciate that.

Christopher Mitchell: There's actually — one of the people who has listened to every episode, Travis Carter, who runs US Internet in Minneapolis, his wife is supremely annoyed by hearing that every Wednesday morning. So I ham it up a little bit for her, for both of them.

Don Patten: [laughs] Just for her.

Christopher Mitchell: That's right. So let's get started, and let me ask you, what is MINET?

Don Patten: MINET is actually an acronym for Monmouth Independence Networks. Monmouth and Independence are two adjoining communities in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.

Christopher Mitchell: Which I have to admit, the first time I saw that and pronounced it, I got laughed at for "Williamette."

Don Patten: Or "Willaminette" or something like that. Actually, you know, the hint that we give non-Oregonians is "It's Willamette, dammit." [laughs] It's one of the most beautiful places on the planet. We're about 45 minutes from the coast, we're about 15 minutes from the state capital of Salem, and we're about 45 minutes from the grand city of Portland.

Christopher Mitchell: And MINET was one of the early networks. I'm sure you know the history. I know you haven't been there since the beginning of it, but how did it come to be that the twin cities worked together on this?

Don Patten: Well, you know, it's actually amazing that these two cities were able to pull together on a joint project because it's like many cities. Minneapolis and St Paul have a similar kind of a Hatfields and McCoy feud going on, on just about everything.

Christopher Mitchell: And that one is clearly better than the other.

Don Patten: Oh, absolutely. Very competitive and at least in the political arena, not always in a real nice fashion either. But in this particular instance, they saw joint need, they both had the same need, and it's the traditional reason why they got started. They realized that they were going to be overlooked for broadband. Western Oregon University sits in Monmouth, and they realized that they were going to be on the have nots side of the formula and said that's not acceptable. The communities did reach out to the incumbents and said, "What can we do jointly with you to bring broadband into our communities?" And they got the traditional answer: "We'll tell you when broadband's available. We'll tell you when you need it." And they said that's not going to fly here and chose to go ahead and build their own network.

Christopher Mitchell: And that was — was it 2005?

Don Patten: That was almost 12 years ago now. Yeah.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, so it's been quite a ways. Now what I find interesting and what I want to talk about — there's several interesting things to talk about with you, but the thing that I really want to get out of you is the secret sauce of how you came into a network that, from what I could tell from afar, was succeeding but barely. It was not a pretty picture in terms of repaying the debt over time, there were some struggles to get the take rate up, and after you had been there for awhile, all of a sudden, it seemed like things were going very well. And so I'm curious if you can just walk us through how it was when you got there and what you did.

Don Patten: Well, yeah, I'll try to. And there is no secret sauce, first of all. It's merely rolling up your sleeves and not — if you had become what you tried to replace, to unwind that and definitely no longer become what you're replacing. And that was certainly the case with MINET. MINET had some significant debt issues because the cities chose to borrow money to pay for the original borrowing to build the network, which was a very poor business decision on the city's part and they're very open to admitting that, but that's what they did.

Christopher Mitchell: I'm sorry. So just to understand what that means. So, borrowing money to build the network?

Don Patten: They initially borrowed money to build the network, and then they borrowed money to operate the network, from which they were making the debt payments to the original bonds from. And that's just not a good business model in any stretch or sense of that.

Christopher Mitchell: Let's talk about why for a second. One of my understandings is that if you need to borrow money, typically it's hard to borrow money, so probably it's coming with a higher interest rate. I mean, is that one of the issues or is it just that there's less pressure on you to make those operating expenses pay for themselves?

Don Patten: The latter.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay.

Don Patten: Because cities do enjoy the ability to borrow money at very attractive rates.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay. So that's the issue then, is that they didn't have the right incentives to really dig into their business model to make sure it could stand on its own two feet.

Don Patten: Well, you know, I think the very original business model probably applied, but the operation was poorly managed quite frankly from the get go. As with so many municipal projects, there [were] too many political hands in the kitchen. There were too many government employees attempting to operate a business that government certainly has and should invest in doing it, in some form of partnership, but they got absolutely no business operating it. One of the very first things that I had to do is wrestle away the operating influences from the cities and from the political aspects of the cities.

Christopher Mitchell: And so, one of the things that we often see is a marketing challenge in particular cities. I mean, cities do a fine job operating electric utilities, water utilities, and things like that, but one of the things that sets them apart is marketing. And so I'm curious if that was one of the issues or if you can elaborate just a little bit more on where the challenge was. I mean, procurement and personnel issues can be challenging . . .

Don Patten: I would say this: that there was the mentality that if we build it they will come. And that has never worked anywhere ever, and that was the case with this operation as well. Plus there was the expectation that it could be operated like a municipal utility, and quite frankly we can't because we compete with Charter, we compete with CenturyLink, we compete with both the dish networks.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. I remember that from one of the talks you gave. You don't like calling this a utility. This is one of sort of the downfalls of the English language I think. The term utility means something different to everybody, and so a lot of the arguments sort of go past each other. But for your point of view, you really have to understand that you're in a competitive environment.

Don Patten: Absolutely. It has to be operated exactly like a competitive environment because in fact it is.

Christopher Mitchell: And so what does that mean? Does that mean having fewer staff than might be convenient? You know, what's one of the differences?

Don Patten: Well, utility is merely a monopoly. If you want that service, you have to go to that monopoly source to get it. In our instance, we're not the only source to get the products that we vend.

Christopher Mitchell: So the difference between operating as a utility, certainly that's the experience from the consumer's point of view, but if you're running the operation, how do you run it differently? Is it that you just can't afford — because this is one of the things I'm curious about. Municipal networks that have struggled in my experience, one of the things is they have too many people, which drives their operating costs too high relative their revenues.

Don Patten: Well I think there's a natural tendency to have built in inefficiencies in a utility. And that has to do with government process and until that process has changed, it's almost required law. But the difference between a for-profit business and a utility — a utility has the ability to set their pricing based upon their expenses, and a for profit business has to earn the money, earn the margin that they can obtain and do so against their competitors' pricing. But quite frankly, one of the things — and you're correct — one of the things that I had to correct when I got out there was a bloated staff, an inefficient staff, and make the operation as absolutely as efficient as we could possibly make it and do it very, very quickly because MINET was on the slippery slope.

Christopher Mitchell: This actually reminds me a lot of the Chattanooga story. It's something that they did before they got into the telecom business. They significantly reduced their FTE staff, and they improved on every single metric that they were tracking. And so it's this same sort of culture shift away from the idea of a utility and into a more nimble, you know, competitive enterprise.

Don Patten: Exactly. And until our most recent expansion endeavor, we have been operating with roughly about — we've been able to bring the customer count up. I'm very proud to say we've been able to bring the customer penetration rate up to in excess of 85 percent.

Christopher Mitchell: And that puts you in like the top five percent of municipal broadband, from what I understand, take rates.

Don Patten: Indeed it does, but far more importantly, we're able to hang onto it. We didn't just reach it by lowering prices or throwing some shiny special out on the marketplace. We just earned it the hard way with good old customer service and making sure that we were talking to everybody that could possibly be our customer. But the point I wanted to make was, as far as efficiencies, we support somewhere between 5,600 and 5,800 customers in our legacy markets of Monmouth and Independence. For the longest time, we did that with 14 FTEs, full time employee equivalents. In our industry, that is tremendously low. You know, there's companies even in Oregon with municipal ruts that have that customer count that are needing 50 to 60 employees to do that same.

Christopher Mitchell: So the secret sauce, you haven't said it officially, is you kidnapped all of the children in the town and told their parents they had to sign up for your network before they can see them again, right?

Don Patten: Well, yes we did do that. [laughs] No. The secret sauce is this: we applied business acumen in everything that we did.

Christopher Mitchell: So I mean, I can see that getting to 70 - 75 percent. An excess of 85 percent — is this a matter of hometown pride that then emerged to put you over the top?

Don Patten: Well, we certainly tried to take advantage of it, if in fact we could take advantage of it, if in fact people felt guilty not supporting their hometown entity.

Christopher Mitchell: Right.

Don Patten: But you know, that's very, very difficult to quantify. Even [with] as many questions as we ask every customer as to why they're there to become our customer or why they're there to leave us as a customer, some things are just impossible to quantify and that's very hard to do. But if we were able to do it, we were certainly trying. Actually, I think we closed out December at 87.3 percent penetration rate. And we have absolutely current counts on available passings, so we know that our penetration rate is extremely accurate. But one thing to remember is that with the other 12 or 13 percent that we don't have available to us, by and large, we really don't want them. I mean, we'll continue to try to get them, but most of them have been our customers at one time and in fact, they're probably still in our system. They just happen to be in our accounts receivable system because they forgot to pay their bill, and that's why we don't really want them back.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. That's a hard case.

Don Patten: And, you know, there's also another 4, 5, 6, 7 percent of the available customers [that] are always going to be changing, chasing that next shiny object. They'll be our customers sometimes; sometimes they won't be.

Christopher Mitchell: I interviewed Doug Dawson last year and he had said that you guys were — one of the things you were doing was recruiting farmers to the area. Now you're in an area that's outside the state capital, but it's still fairly rural.

Don Patten: It is.

Christopher Mitchell: And so, one of the things you're trying to do is to use your system to see what you can do on the farm, from what I understand.

Don Patten: One of the things that we are trying to do is to not — and you know, at today's meetings, today's symposium, we were talking a lot about thinking outside of the box to make rural broadband more successful. And quite frankly, thinking out of the box isn't going to get it done. You got to blow the box up.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay.

Don Patten: There can be no boundaries, even in your rear view mirrors. We're looking at doing anything and everything that we can possibly do to not only attract new potential customers into our system or to attract businesses into the communities as well. If that includes putting mobile devices on hops and wine grape trucks and bringing them through the community so we can have them ping through our system to report the quality and condition of those crops, we're trying it. You know, one of the things that — I hail originally from South Dakota, and we had a governor that was notorious for saying, "Just do — even if it's wrong, go do something." And we at MINET have that attitude in spades. You know, I stress to my people if they never fail at something, they're not working hard enough. And that holds true with those ventures that we look at for growing our business.

Christopher Mitchell: So, speaking of growing your business, we'll talk a little bit about what you're doing in Dallas. And that's Dallas, Oregon, not Dallas, home to the worst team in the NFC East by my opinion as an Eagles fan. So you're in Dallas. It's a unique approach and for people — we'll talk about it but also Doug Dawson wrote about in his blog, POTs and PANs, so there's a little more detail there. But what's the broad sketch of what's happening?

Don Patten: Basically, you know, Doug Dawson and I have been kind of partners in crime for a lot of years, and so we knew each other in a lot of past lives. And I was stressing to Doug that, you know, our efficiencies and our abilities should afford the attention of investors, and Doug at the same time was talking with some institutional investors that were looking for new growth opportunities. Investors that were traditionally building prisons and schools and leasing them back to states and counties were looking for new investments because quite frankly we as a nation aren't building more prisons and all the schools were built 10 or 12 years ago that are ever going to be built because brick and mortar schools are going by the wayside as a result of data, right — broadband. Because of our effectiveness and our efficiencies, Doug agreed with me that we'd be a strong candidate to expand our network if there was a private investor group interested in doing so. We've talked about a number of expansions, but Dallas is the closest community to our existing footprint. It's really about 10 miles away. We already have a path, a backbone path, going through the area, which makes it a lot easier to serve. We don't have to do much headend expansion to serve that community. And being that close, we knew that there was a great deal of interest in Dallas in MINET coming there simply because literally on a daily basis we would get calls from Dallas customers wanting to know when we were coming to their community. And we started tracking the volume of that and it was very substantial. And that's when we started doing some surveys into the community in conjunction with CCG, Doug Dawson's group, and found out that this might be a very viable partnership to pull together. So much so that the investor groups took a look at the data that we'd pulled together for them and they actually drove it to fruition. They wanted to do this. They wanted to do more communities with us, larger communities, more and larger communities off the bat, but together we decided we're writing a new book. We're going to see how Dallas goes, and if it goes as expected, I suspect we'll be doing some more expansion. Because really we have unlimited capability as long as we can reach them with fiber.

Christopher Mitchell: So the question that I like to wrestle with is the unpopular one, which is kind of what happens if things don't work out as expected? So, who's taken on the risk of this project?

Don Patten: First of all, the cities have absolutely no risk. MINET has a risk in that its name would be dragged through the mud as a result of a failure in that marketplace, but we don't have any financial risk that could potentially fall on the cities if that were the case. But that is not the case. It's purely the investors. It's no different than investing in Google or investing in General Motors.

Christopher Mitchell: So who owns the network, in that, if I came along and I said, "I really like what's going on here. I want to buy it from someone," who do I talk to?

Don Patten: Our services or the network?

Christopher Mitchell: The network.

Don Patten: Well the network is actually owned and being built by American Fiber Optics, the company that is marketing it is Willamette Valley Fiber, and MINET is hired to manage that network and to sell our services as Willamette Valley Fiber.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay.

Don Patten: Eventually, and without getting into details which I'm not at liberty to share, part of our agreement is that eventually MINET will own that network that's being built.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay. So this is a . . . I mean, I think of it as similar to a capital lease kind of arrangement then.

Don Patten: Very similar.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay. And so then the cities of Monmouth and Independence will own the fiber and the services and everything at the end of the term basically.

Don Patten: Yes. Exactly.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay. Are you serving rural areas outside of Monmouth and Independence?

Don Patten: We've been approached by a number of nearby communities, mostly populations of, I would say, 10,000 or less — maybe 5,000 or less. In one case, a couple of thousand individuals. Because we are government, other governments, other communities are reaching out to us to get advice, direction, guidance, whatever you want to call it, on how do they get broadband into their communities. And we've been working very closely with a number of very small communities. I think we're coming getting closer to a solution for them, but we've got a number of political hurdles to cross here in Washington, D.C., to make that happen for those small communities. The formula is very similar to what we're doing in Dallas, only with the city either getting grants or borrowing money to build a network and then hiring someone — perhaps us, perhaps someone like us — that would operate it for the city because again, a city has no business being in the business we're in. They have every reason [to] and should be investing with those who can operate it successfully, but they themselves should not be the operator.

Christopher Mitchell: The question I guess I want to wrap up with is, how is MINET different than if Verizon had made a priority to build Fiber-to-the-Home to everyone in Monmouth and Independence? What do you do differently that helps the community in ways that go beyond just the technology that's available?

Don Patten: There's the obvious ones. Our customer service is local. Our employees live in the towns. We see each other in the grocery store. When you call with a technical issue, chances are our technician's going to be in driveway in about 20 minutes and you're probably going to know that individual. But the other is, is that we are a partner with the city in creating economic development opportunities for the cities. And I don't know that a Verizon's business plan or a Charter's business plan or Comcast's business plan, would ever afford them to actually go hand in hand with the city after seeking economic development opportunities that does not play out or does not feed Verizon directly, does not feed Comcast directly, etc.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that we've been hearing for years is that partnerships are a major way forward, and I'm curious what you're thinking about in the way of partnership,

Don Patten: Chris, they really are as far as I'm concerned, and they give us a lot more opportunity to increase our margins. You know, traditionally every operator would only use network that they built or they owned. They would not lease it to anybody, and they wouldn't lease any network from anybody. If they couldn't build it and own it themselves, they didn't have any interest in it. We've taken the position over the years that we do a lot of fiber sharing with other entities, and it's proven very valuable to us to be able to reach out using someone else's network and having a profitability tool that wouldn't have been at our disposal if we would have had to build it.

Christopher Mitchell: Now, when you say sharing, I've heard of swaps and I've heard of leases. Is this something different, or is it along those lines?

Don Patten: Same thing, different terminology. But as an example, you know, I have a significant number of unused fibers going to one of our POPs, one of our colocation points where we reach out to the Internet as a whole, and one very large — very large — commercial entity was looking to get access to a number of those fibers. And I was interested in giving them access to a number of those fibers as long as I could get access to a number of fibers that they had that, quite frankly, were headed over to Dallas. And we've determined the value of "by mile" like you always do, and we found the right agreement by which they could use our network, we could use theirs, and we support one another.

Christopher Mitchell: And so —

Don Patten: And that really does open up a lot of opportunities to do business that we couldn't have done on our own.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. One of the things that I wanted to make sure to ask you about came up in Susan Crawford's new book, which is called Fiber and is terrific — just came out. She talks about a program that I think sort of gets to the root of what we want broadband to do for us, which is to give people more opportunities and improve quality of life. And it's teledentistry in your schools. Can you tell us what's going on there?

Don Patten: Where we live, we have a very diverse population. In fact, we have probably I think somewhere between a 38 and 42 percent hispanic population because of the amount of migrant workers that we have working in the valley. But unfortunately, the income level of that demographic is not very high. And we've worked very closely with Central School District — one of the largest school districts in the state of Oregon by the way, individual school districts in the state of Oregon — to bring telehealth into reality so that the children would have access to healthcare. At that time, we weren't able to get an interest from our regional health traditional health partners. We were able to get an interest from dental providers, and we actually have a teledental clinic setup for Central School District, which to give you an understanding of Central School District, they have near 68 percent free or reduced lunch participation. And these children are able to come in and actually receive dental services via telemed, no charge.

Christopher Mitchell: And this is remarkable. I mean they both have, you know, information about whether they have a cavity or not, but they also use a procedure that allows them to have the cavity filled. And it's very little pain, no drilling, by people that are able to — you know, I don't know exactly what their title is, but they're not full dentists, so there's a lower cost for them to work for the school or work for this program.

Don Patten: That's exactly right. And this is another thing that a small town, a small entity such as ourselves, when we're engaged with the community, we actually sat down with the school district and determine what would be needed in conjunction with the teledentistry program as far as bandwidth, and we decided to build fiber directly into the building that was providing that so that we would have no latency, no bogged down, because it is a high bandwidth pig operation. And for, you know, the other providers, the traditional providers in the community which would be Charter or CenturyLink, getting them to build to that entIty probably isn't ever going to happen.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. Well then the final part of it, which I know you're not an expert in but I'm guessing you may have a sense of the impact on the community, is that a lot of these children would have been trying to go to local dentists with Medicaid dollars. A lot of dentists either have a long waiting list or struggle to deal with Medicaid patients because of the reimbursement rate. And now, those dentists can use their time to work with patients that have more significant problems, and the kids that just need a routine exam or basic cavity filling, they're not sort of in line at the dentist when other people may need to get that spot.

Don Patten: That's exactly right. And quite frankly, what drove my decision to participate in and to absorb some of the economic costs of building it correctly for the school district was that while yeah, they may be doing it with state subsidized dollars, more likely than not, they would just avoid dental services altogether.

Christopher Mitchell: Sure. Right.

Don Patten: And that just breaks my heart that children would have to go through life like that.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. It leads to all kinds of problems. And so these are the kinds of outcomes that I love to see. I mean, it's easy to talk about, oh, we have lower prices and we have good local customer service, but here you're giving these kids much more opportunities, and they're going to do better at school not having a tooth ache every day, if they're having a problem.

Don Patten: That's exactly right.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. Well thank you so much for taking the time while we're here in D.C. for the Next Century Cities bipartisan tech event. It's been a good day, and tomorrow, which will have been in the past by the time people listen to this, but you're going to help launch the toolkit for Next Century Cities.

Don Patten: Yeah. I'm looking forward to it. And Chris, thank you very much for taking the time to talk with me.

Christopher Mitchell: All right, thank you.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with Don Patten from the Monmouth Independence Network in Oregon. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts avaIlable at muninetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email us podcast@muninetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @communitynets. Follow muninetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @muninetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other podcasts from ILSR, Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them wherever you get your podcasts. Don't miss out on our original research from all our initiatives. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ilsr.org, and while you're there, take a moment to donate. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and thank you for listening to episode 340 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcript

Promo Video Focuses on Fiber Benefits in Rio Blanco County

February 6, 2019

The Rio Blanco County Economic Development Department recently published their promotional video to share information about their Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. The video highlights some of the benefits the infrastructure is now bringing to the communities of Rangely and Meeker by offering interviews with people from different segments of the population. In addition to county administrators, people in the fields of education, real estate, and business leaders discussed how the open access network is positively impacting their fields.

Check out the video, that runs just under five minutes:

Rio Blanco County Broadband Initiative from Align Multimedia on Vimeo.

 

Getting Out the News

The video is an excellent tool to help Rio Blanco County spread the word about their publicly owned infrastructure that will help them stay competitive. One of the recurring themes in the video and from other rural communities throughout Colorado and elsewhere, remains the ability to live and work in an environment unspoiled by urbanization while still having access to connectivity that rivals or surpasses that in urban areas. As Rangely Town Manager Lisa Pierling states:

"You can have the best of both worlds. You can have all of the modernization you need to run your business, but you can still take a step back and just enjoy a little slower paced life than rush to work, rush home."

Learn more about the Rio Blanco County FTTH project by reviewing our coverage.

Tags: rio blanco countycoloradovideoruralFTTHgigabitopen accesspromotional

RiverStreet Networks Reaching Across Rural North Carolina - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 342

February 5, 2019

While in North Carolina at the recent Let’s Connect! speaking tour, Christopher sat down with Greg Coltrain, Vice President of Business Development of RiverStreet Networks. Greg participated in panel discussions in all three communities where the community meetings occurred: Albemarle, Fuquay-Varina, and Jacksonville.

RiverStreet Networks is the product of evolution of what began as Wilkes Communications. They’ve acquired several local providers in different areas across the state and are set on bringing high-quality Internet access to rural North Carolinians. In this interview, Greg shares some of the cooperative’s history, including information on how they’ve funded their deployments.

Greg also discusses his experience on the practical side of cooperative life, such as comparative operating costs between fiber and copper, working with electric cooperatives, and the ins and outs of leasing assets from public entities. Christopher and Greg also talk about future plans that RiverStreet has to partner with North Carolina’s electric cooperatives across the state to bring connectivity to more people in rural areas.

Learn more about Wilkes Communications and RiverStreet Networks from our conversation with Eric Cramer from 2016 for episode 188 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast.

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

This show is 22 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

The transcript for this episode is available 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: audiopodcastbroadband bitscooperativewilkes communicationsriverstreet networksrural electric coopnorth carolinaexpansion

Film Screening and Discussion in D.C.: "Do Not Pass Go" on Feb. 20th

February 5, 2019

The story of tiny Pinetops, North Carolina, and how large corporations blocked their ability to obtain high-quality Internet access from a nearby municipal network comes to life in Do Not Pass Go, a documentary by Cullen Hoback. On February 20th, you can attend a screening of the film and stay for the discussion after. The event will be in Washington, D.C., at the office of the National League of Cities/National Association of Counties from 5 - 7 p.m.

Register for the free screening and discussion.

Join the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC), Next Century Cities, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), and the National League of Cities (NLC), who will be guiding the discussion about the film and the policies that come into play. The group will discuss regulatory and legislative barriers, and actions that local and federal government can adopt to help communities that consider municipal networks an option.

After the screening, a panel discussion will include:

  • Christopher Mitchell from ILSR
  • Terry Huval: Former Director, Lafayette Utilities System, Lafayette, LA
  • Joanne Hovis: Co-Founder and CEO, Coalition for Local Internet Choice; President, CTC Technology & Energy
  • Dr. Christopher Ali: Assistant Professor, Department of Media Studies, University of Virginia; Faculty Fellow, Benton Foundation; Fellow, World Economic Forum
  • Suzanne Coker Craig:Managing Director, CuriosiTees of Pinetops LLC; former Commissioner, Pinetops, NC

Following the panel discussion, the Networking Reception will allow participants to continue the conversation and share their individual experiences.

Register online for the free D.C. screening.

Pinetops, Wilson, and Greenlight

Greenlight, Wilson’s municipal Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network has created benefits for folks in Wilson since 2008. Pinetops and other neighbors have asked Wilson to expand in order to take advantage of the fast, affordable, reliable Internet access but state law prevented Wilson from serving beyond county borders.

In 2015, Chattanooga and Wilson decided to challenge their states’ laws that had similar effects. The FCC struck down both laws and Wilson took the opportunity to expand service to Pinetops, a small mountain town of about 1,400 people. Pinetops businesses and residents immediately noticed an improvement with FTTH. The town enjoyed economic development opportunities, better Internet access for residents, and municipal facilities functioned more efficiently.

In the summer of 2016, however, an appellate court reversed the FCC decision and Pinetops was scheduled to be cut off from the FTTH service. Wilson provided free connectivity for a time to avoid breaking the law, but eventually, the state legislature passed a bill that will allow Greenlight to serve the tiny town temporarily. The law included a provision that Greenlight must exit from Pinetops if a private sector provider entered the town with similar service. In 2018, Suddenlink blustered into town, which meant that Wilson had to disconnect Pinetops. Residents of the small town are unsure what the future holds and wondering if the cable provider will actually bring FTTH to the entire community or only focus on low-hanging fruit in order to get Greenlight out of town.

 

Watch the trailer:

Tags: pinetopswilsonnorth carolinanational league of citiescoalition for local internet choicenext century citiesinstitute for local self-reliancechristopher mitchellFTTHstate lawsevent

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 342

February 5, 2019

This is the transcript for episode 342 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. In this episode, Christopher chats with Greg Coltrain, Vice President of Business Development at RiverStreet networks, about how the cooperative is bringing high quality Internet access to rural communities in North Carolina and Virginia. Listen to the full episode here.

 

 

 

Greg Coltrain: We're co-ops at the core. RiverStreet Networks is doing business as a name — it's a brand — but our culture has been the co-op world.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 342 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Last week, Christopher and our research associate Katie Kienbaum were in North Carolina on a speaking tour to meet with people in the communities of Albemarle, Fuquay-Varina, and Jacksonville. You can read about the community meetings and even watch video from the Jacksonville event at muninetworks.org. While they were there, Christopher had the chance to sit down and talk with Greg Coltrain from RiverStreet Networks. RiverStreet Networks began as an extension of Wilkes Communications. Over the past few years, the cooperative began acquiring smaller companies all over the state as they began to implement their vision of bringing high quality Internet access to rural communities across North Carolina. This past fall, the cooperative merged with TriCounty Telephone Membership, another cooperative, greatly expanding the reach of RiverStreet. Greg and Christopher talk about RiverStreet's plans to bring Fiber-to-the-Home connectivity to as much of rural North Carolina as possible. They also get into some of the practicalities, such as working with local electric cooperatives and with local governments to help expedite progress and lower costs. Learn more about the cooperative at myriverstreet.net. Now, here's Christopher with Greg Coltrain from RiverStreet Networks.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, doing another live interview in North Carolina today from Jacksonville, North Carolina, on the coast by the Marine base with Greg Coltrain from RiverStreet Networks. I'm just slowly parsing through that to remind myself — you are the VP of business development?

Greg Coltrain: Yes, that's correct.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes, because you have a couple of different titles, or you have, and I know that you were very involved with a cooperative that has since joined RiverStreet networks. But let's start there with the past and talk a little bit about TriCounty Broadband.

Greg Coltrain: Yes, that's correct. Yeah, TriCounty Broadband was formed 67 years ago. We were formed out of Tideland EMC, which was actually called Woodstock Electric at the time. They used USDA funds to build a telephone company in an area that the incumbents didn't serve.

Christopher Mitchell: And just to jump in for a quick sec, EMC is . . . ?

Greg Coltrain: Electric membership cooperative.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. That's what they're called in the Carolinas, from what I can tell.

Greg Coltrain: That's right. Yeah. So that's kinda where we got started. From the beginning, we put in phone service. Over several years, we invested in some TV and video product to serve rural parts of Beaufort, Hyde, and Washington counties in eastern North Carolina. And then, you know, over the last few years, we've morphed into really a broadband company. So a few years ago, I was having some conversations with a friend in the industry who was running a phone company and a broadband company in the western part of North Carolina called Wilkes Communications, and that was Eric Cramer.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. A former guest of our show, and we'll link to that in the show page so people could go back if they haven't heard that. But it's an exciting interview. I really enjoyed talking with him about that.

Greg Coltrain: He's really good at telling stories

Christopher Mitchell: He is, and we look forward to having him on again too.

Greg Coltrain: For sure. But we just started having some candid conversations about the industry, where things were going. We always navigated to each other when we would go to meetings. e tended to have some of the same visions, and that just naturally took us to discussing partnerships, which later turned into a full blown merger. So in August of this past year, we merged TriCounty Broadband into Wilkes Communications.

Christopher Mitchell: And before the merger, TriCounty Broadband, about how many — you know, what was your service territory like in terms of square miles, number of customers, that sort of thing?

Greg Coltrain: Well, I mean, to give you some perspective, when we started over building the entire network with fiber, that was about 355 miles of fiber that we laid in the ground. We served roughly 2,900 to close to 3,000 customers at the time, and we've passed all of these customers now, so they all have Fiber-to-the-Home.

Christopher Mitchell: And how were you able to do that? I mean, how did the financing work?

Greg Coltrain: Well, we've traditionally always borrowed money through the United States Department of Agriculture. They have a group called the Rural Utility Service division of the Agriculture Department. And most of the TMCs across the country when they looked at getting started in the beginning, borrowed and the interest rates were great, so we just continued to do so. But when the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was coming around, there was monies placed in there for broadband infrastructure growth across the country. And we decided to bid in that grant loan process and we were awarded a 75/25 grant loan combination. So we had to pay back 25 percent of it, but it was really helpful for our membership and for our community. Something of this nature wouldn't have ever happened without that.

Christopher Mitchell: And so, when you were getting the straight loans before the stimulus dollars were around, were you having to go into the more dense areas then? Is that how you had to structure it?

Greg Coltrain: Prior to the broadband line, you know, we were trying to get closer to customers with electronics because we were working on old copper networks, and the only way that you could get faster broadband to them was to get closer to them. And so we would build a five year plan, do a five year proforma, and we would forecast that into really an engineering model. And we would sit down and decide what we were going to do for the next five years, and in turn we would borrow the money from RUS and we would draw down funds as needed to pay for the project. And then of course, we paid that back at a low interest rate over many years.

Christopher Mitchell: Now, are your operating costs much lower in areas where you're operating on the fiber now as opposed to when you were operating on the copper?

Greg Coltrain: Yes, actually they are. Some statistics show that fiber uses 60 percent less electricity to manage the customers. We also have a whole lot less repeat trouble calls for Fiber-to-the-Home customers. It's really just a resilient service. It's remarkable; it's almost a magical how it works.

Christopher Mitchell: Well that's one of the things I feel like people don't always appreciate when they're talking about how fiber costs so much, we can't get it to all the rural areas, is that by not using fiber, we may be fooling ourselves because the higher operating costs that may be involved even as we're delivering an inferior product.

Greg Coltrain: That's true. The problem is, is that you've got this capital outlay that you put out here in this network, and even though it makes sense to take it and trade it in for something new, the cost associated with putting that fiber in is still real cost. And so, you upgrade customers to a superior network that's by far superior to what they've had which is really kind of laying the ground floor for years to come, but you're not increasing any revenue stream. And so, it's a bit of a juggernaut, if you will, because you go and you spend anywhere from $30,000 to $50,000 a mile — depending on the municipalities that you're having to work around or whether you're going through rough terrain like mountains or rock, stuff like that — to serve only a few customers, six or seven customers per mile. So it makes it really complicated, and then you're not making any additional revenue when you switch them over to this product.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. When you're working in areas where the electric membership corporation, where they have the electricity, are you going on the poles? Are you burying? Is there a combination?

Greg Coltrain: Well, in certain parts of our network where the earth is just not very penetrable, we will utilize poles and hang on the poles. For the most part, we like to put it in the ground because it's a little safer there. We just have to worry about backhoes and stuff like that.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, this is an area of the country where hurricanes, when they hit, they hit you pretty much head on. They don't slow down a whole lot.

Greg Coltrain: Correct. On the eastern part of the state, we've taken a beating over the years with that. But we've had a lot of collaboration with EMCs. For many years, if they were going out to do locates or stuff like that before we had the state 811 locating program, we would really help each other by locating things to prevent from hitting each other's stuff. And sometimes when they would open a trench, they would let us lay in there with them. We've just always had a real amicable relationship with them.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I'm glad to hear that. The reason I was asking that is — and we're going to pivot to RiverStreet networks in a second, which is very exciting, the latest news, but one of the things we sometimes hear from electric cooperatives around the nation is, well, we'd like to do broadband, but our poles just can't support it. They're worried about ice load and things like that. Is that something that you've run into? Is that why you prefer to be underground? Or is that — I have to tell you sometimes I think it's just an excuse because they really don't want to go into it and they're looking for a reason not to.

Greg Coltrain: Well, I mean obviously if you have ice on lines, that's going to tear them down and it's going to be a lot more trouble if somebody else's facilities are in your way, and you know, that could be kind of thrown the other way towards us. We could be trying to repair stuff and they could be in our way, but we've not really noticed that. Most of the co-ops that we've had to deal with where we've had pole attachments have been fairly easy to work with, and so I can't say that we've had any huge complaints there.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay. That's good to hear because every region has its own peculiarities.

Greg Coltrain: It is. And if you go out there and get on the Internet and start reading, you'll notice that not all co-ops play well together. They've got different politics going on. But we've been really blessed; we've been thankful to have the relationships in North Carolina and they seem to be getting even better.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, in Virginia too, which leads us to our next announcement, which is that you combining in August was part of a much larger kind of unveiling in connection with the Connect America Fund auction — which again, I would say if people are interested in that, I did a podcast on that back in September with Jon Chambers. it's just a very exciting auction. You were a tremendous winner of it. If you want to outline the plan of what's going on with RiverStreet networks first and then we'll dig into some of the specifics.

Greg Coltrain: Sure. You know, the merger between Wilkes Communications and TriCounty was kind of a strategic plan that fell hand in hand with some of the other acquisitions that we've made across the state. And so we were able to combine the two co-ops, but we also purchased Ellerbe Telephone Company in Ellerbe, North Carolina. We purchased three TDS properties in 2014: Barnardsville Telephone, Saluda Mountain Telephone, and Fair Bluff — or Service Telephone in the Fair Bluff area.

Christopher Mitchell: And these are telephone companies that did not have fiber?

Greg Coltrain: These are telephone companies that were really kind of left out there to not have any opportunity for fiber. We acquired them with the hope and the desire to receive some grant funds or utilize CAF funding and a lot of our own capital to go in there and rebuild those networks. And so, some of those things have already started, are underway. We've ran into some hiccups in a few areas. You know, it can be a slow go, and we find that the more that we can get local groups to have some skin in the game, if we can have partners that come to the table that actually help facilitate the process — even if it's something as simple as working with DOT to make sure that we don't have a lot of hurdles to jump through and cost —

Christopher Mitchell: Right. Department of Transportation.

Greg Coltrain: Yes. Those things are helpful. And so, we acquired these companies. We also reached out to a telephone company in Virginia in Pittsylvania County, Peoples Mutual Telephone Company, and we were able to acquire that through Consolidated, which was the owning company for that. And so we've added that to the family of RiverStreet Networks. There's a company in Danville, in Pittsylvania County as well.

Christopher Mitchell: We've actually talked with Jason Gray many times over the years [and] followed Danville, an early open access pioneer, and Gamewood, the company that had operated on their network really doing tremendous service for local businesses. They're now RiverStreet networks, right?

Greg Coltrain: Yeah. That open access network in Danville is really a cool thing, and our, our property Gamewood Technologies has been selling broadband service on that to customers for quite a while now. We also have the means to do security and home surveillance. We do hosted voice telephone systems, and that's basically phone systems that work over the Internet. And it's a lot easier than the old school way of doing hosted phone systems in business offices.

Christopher Mitchell: Sure. Many more features.

Greg Coltrain: Many more features and flexibility. But, we've been doing that for some time and we also have a relationship with King and Queen County, which is in kind of the northern part of Virginia as you're heading towards DC. Very unique model there. So they basically have an open wireless network there that they're selling, that the county is selling. We're managing it for them. We helped them construct and build the towers and facilitate the APs, the access points, on the towers, and we do the maintenance and manage and bill for that. And it's just a great partnership. It works well with them. But all of these were strategic acquisitions to give us expertise and experience and a lot of different things, so that we can basically funnel that back through our machine and our processes and come up with a good conceptual idea of how we can reach these rural areas that nobody else wants to go to. And so if you've got all these ideas and you've got all these people that are doing these things, it makes it a lot easier to bring everybody to the table and say, hey look. We've got a real complicated area. It's very rural. We've got the following vertical assets. We've got the following fiber assets. Now let's figure out how we can get connected to them and then we can serve those areas. Which takes us to our next step of our exciting process, which is a partnership with the North Carolina Electric Membership Cooperatives.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, and so there's about 26 of them and they cover the majority of territory of North Carolina. So, there's a lot of reach there.

Greg Coltrain: They do and they're rural and they also are co-ops. And we're co-ops at the core. RiverStreet Networks is doing business as a name, as a brand, but our culture has been the co-op world. And if I could explain that to your listeners a little bit better. If you're a co-op, you're owned by your membership. So if you make money at the end of the year, you pay it back in dividends to your members or you spend it in capital expenditures to grow the network even more.

Christopher Mitchell: Sure.

Greg Coltrain: And so, you know, one of the things that we've tried to do is to take the efforts that we've had and spread them out and share that in a way to reach more people that are underserved. And it's worked well for us. That's the same thing that the EMCs done from a power standpoint, and so we had kind of a symbiotic relationship with them. So as we started talking further with them, it made too much sense for us not to talk further about how we could share assets, share resources, share knowledge. We have a lot of experience. We have about 140 employees, and so we can bring resources to the table to have a network operations center, to have technical support, to have full blown engineering. We have a production studio; we have the ability to tell the story.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. In fact, you brought your production studio to us in a limited extent in Albemarle two nights ago, as we're recording this.

Greg Coltrain: Absolutely.

Christopher Mitchell: That video is going to be up thanks to you.

Greg Coltrain: And Adam.

Christopher Mitchell: Adam, right. And Adam says that he travels all over the place, you know, doing productions like that.

Greg Coltrain: Yeah, they're excellent. The team at at Wilkes and RiverStreet is by far the best. I've never had such enjoyment as getting to know these people and seeing the passion that runs throughout the company. It's great.

Christopher Mitchell: So let's talk a little bit about North Carolina then. So one of the things that I know that you've talked about is that the cities and counties are a bit limited in how they can work with you. And so, you know, I wonder if you can tell me a little bit about what you'd like to see in terms of the cities and counties having authority to partner.

Greg Coltrain: Yeah. There's a bit of a scare tactic out there that munis and counties are wanting to get into the broadband business. And, you know, I guess that's rightfully so. Some have been more progressive than others. In our conversations with most of the municipalities and counties in North Carolina, we have found they just want to be a facilitator in trying to help make it happen. So there's room for some change in the law. There's room for us to reexamine what's available. And if there are assets that can be utilized for a company to come in and lease those assets so that they can reach further out into the community, it really kind of helps cut down on the substantial cost. I mean, it's a heavy lift to come into these communities and replow and reconstruct fiber throughout very small rural areas, and so if you can use the assets that are already in place to connect to, to get closer to those customers, it really cuts the cost down substantially.

Christopher Mitchell: So let's talk about that briefly. If you could, you know — I was just thinking of the ants with the fungus that takes over their brains. Like, if you could take over the county and the county had full authority to do whatever it wanted, would you prefer dark fiber leases or would you prefer just conduit where you can do whatever you wanted with it.

Greg Coltrain: Obviously if the fiber's there, a dark fiber lease would be better because you wouldn't have that additional cost to put the fiber in. You could set up an agreement where you lease per mile of fiber through that town or through that county. That would be the best, but I mean, if there's conduit there, that's also huge savings.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, the reason I ask is because sometimes I've heard that ISPs think, "Oh, I'd like to lease dark fiber, but if there's 10 strands available," or something. I mean, what kind of strands — do you need a lot of strands available for the way you build them, or do you just adapt to whatever you have available?

Greg Coltrain: I mean, we try to be very nimble and adapt to whatever's available. However, we can do pretty much what we need to do with two strands of fiber, especially if there's some kind of a ring architecture. That's not always a real world scheduled approach because there's not always rings out there so that you've got redundant protection in a ring. You know, we make the best with whatever's available.

Christopher Mitchell: Sure.

Greg Coltrain: It just takes a bunch of people to kind of look outside the box and say, hey, I like the way you think. We've got these assets here. We've got a quadrant of our community over here that's completely unreached and unserved and we've got these assets here. It seems wrong to say, from a political standpoint, no, they can't be allowed to use that when it would offer relief in a hurry.

Christopher Mitchell: So you've been — these companies that RiverStreet has bought, they're spread all over the state. I feel like you've had a sense of all the different areas in North Carolina. Are we going to be able to get fiber out to everyone eventually?

Greg Coltrain: I think with the smart folks in North Carolina, we can do that. I mean, but it takes our politicians making some changes. It takes people thinking outside the box. It takes everybody coming together in the room. One of the talking points I used in one of our sessions was creating broadband subcommittees within counties. You're getting that grassroots approach, having the county commissioners establish a lead person and saying, "Hey, go out in the community, find some anchor people, and let's get the conversation rolling, and y'all start having meetings and start making recommendations to the commissioners and we'll listen." That's a great first step, and we've had the opportunity to work with some counties where we come in and they have a broadband subcommittee. Warren County in North Carolina had a great broadband subcommittee. Really, really cool people, great people thinking outside of the box. We were able to engage with them as a provider and find out what the desire of the community was, and then put together a plan and bring it before the county commissioners. And so, that's what we're finding seems to be a very good avenue to work through the counties.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. I love that you've brought that up at each of our meetings because that's one of the things I wanted to happen and I didn't fit it into my remarks, but it felt like you were just cleaning up for me.

Greg Coltrain: No problem at all. No problem.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, thank you Greg for coming on the show. And I've been wanting to get you on here since I met you in Durham last year, and it's a pleasure to spend three nights with you.

Greg Coltrain: Absolutely.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher and Greg Coltrain from RiverStreet Networks talking at the recent Let's Connect meetings in North Carolina. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at muninetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email us at podcast@muninetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @communitynets. Follow muninetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @muninetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other podcasts from ILSR, Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them anywhere you get your podcasts. Don't miss out on our original research from all our initiatives. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org, and while you're there, please take a moment to donate. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and thank you for listening to episode 342 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

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