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Community Broadband Media Roundup - December 23

December 23, 2019


Two more grants awarded through Alabama broadband accessibility fund by Sean Ross, Energy Institute of Alabama



Roughly 25 percent of Fresno County, Calif., lacks Internet by Tim Sheehan, Fresno Bee



Support Choptank's broadband initiative, Star Democrat



Koochiching County establishes benchmark with Intelligent Community Report, International Falls Journal



Kansas City, Missouri, Iowers emphasis on ‘smart city’ projects by Ryan Johnston, Statescoop



How Pittsburgh built equity, National League of Cities


Rhode Island

Town to enter talks with broadband vendor by Lars Trodson, Block Island Times


South Dakota

Connecting South Dakota’s rural communities to opportunities in business, education, health care and beyond by Julie Gross, USDA 



Fed-up with slow and spotty Internet, a small Texas town decided to build its own high-speed network by Melissa Repko, The Dallas Morning News



Roanoke County looking for feedback on broadband service, WDBJ

Agreement aims to install miles of fiber optic cable in Orange County, CBS 19



Anacortes fiber installation timeline still uncertain by Jacqueline Allison, GoAnacortes 


West Virginia

USDA invests $5.6 million in broadband for rural West Virginia communities, USDA

Counties get $5.6 million to fund broadband by Evan Bevins, Marietta Times 



What we learned about the digital divide in 2019, Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

“The Wall Street Journal profiled such communities in southeastern Ohio where library parking lots are still occupied after hours as people make use of free Wi-Fi, their only option for Internet connectivity. "This isn’t just about not being able to play the latest videogames online or stream movies on a phone. For people without broadband connections, it’s much harder to do things like conduct research for schoolwork, grow their own businesses or even find work online. On the path to a better life, it’s at least a detour, if not a roadblock," the article reads.”

Cooperatives provide 72.7% of fiber broadband in rural areas by Joan Engebretson, Telecompetitor 

How state policy shapes broadband deployment, Pew Research 

Report finds 20.5 million U.S. fiber broadband homes, nearly 40% of U.S. homes passed by Joan Engebretson, Telecompetitor 

Thoughts on rural broadband subsidies for the new decade by Christopher Ali, Benton Institute for Broadband & Society 

CAF II Auction support for 2,121 winning bids ready to be authorized, Federal Communications Commission 

Broadband DATA act unanimously passes senate, US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation 




Tags: media roundup

RiverStreet Networks and Piedmont Electric Membership Corporation Begin Pilot Planning for Rural Connectivity

December 23, 2019

People living in the service areas of Piedmont Electric Membership Corporation now have the opportunity to express their interest in broadband Internet access from RiverStreet Networks. In one of a series of pilot projects that we covered earlier this year, the two entities are getting started with planning on how to bring better connections to rural folks. People in the community — both members of Piedmont Electric and non-members — are encouraged to go to and show their interest.

When enough people in specific areas have expressed their interest in receiving service from RiverStreet, the subsidiary of Wilkes Communications Co-op, will examine deployment.

The first phase, according to Piedmont Electric, will be a wireless solution for rural premises with Piedmont’s infrastructure as a backbone. Fixed wireless will deliver 25 Megabits per scond (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload and Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) could follow for some areas, depending on various factors:

By registering your address at the website, you are expressing your interest in having RiverStreet services. It’s really that simple! Once enough interest has been expressed in a specific area, RiverStreet will consider expanding their service network there. Bringing fiber optic service to a neighborhood is expensive and requires a large amount of resources and labor. The more supporters in your zone, the more likely RiverStreet is to bring high-speed internet service to your door.

Check out this short promotional video on the partnership to encourage people to express their interest:

“We are excited to work with RiverStreet in order to provide this critical need,” [Piedmont President and CEO Steve] Hamlin said. “While we know it will take years to mature and RiverStreet may not be able to serve everyone with wireless technology, we are happy to announce this first step in helping bridge the digital divide.”

According to the Mebane Enterprise, Piedmont Electric serves approximately 32,000 members in rural Alamance, Caswell, Durham, Granville, Orange and Person counties.

“Many homes, farms and businesses in our communities do not have adequate access to broadband service,” said Hamlin. “Every week we hear stories from our members about how students can’t complete their homework, families can’t connect to relatives, seniors can’t access telemedicine and businesses can’t connect to the services they need to grow and thrive.” 

Learn more about RiverStreet by listening to Christopher’s conversation with Greg Coltrain, Vice President of Business Development at the cooperative:

Image credit rharrison [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Tags: wilkes communicationsriver street networksnorth carolinaruralcollaborationfixed wirelessrural electric coop

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits NC Bonus Episode 3

December 22, 2019

This is the transcript for the third episode of our special Community Broadband Bits series, Why NC Broadband Matters. In this episdoe, Christopher speaks with his interviewees about how inaccurate mapping affects broadband funding and planning in North Carolina and how we can fix it. Listen to the episode, or read the transcript below.



Brian Rathbone: And so I think we've made progress, we'll continue to make progress, but right now the fact that there's federal dollars are being spent without sufficient understanding of the true on-the-ground service, I think is indicator enough that we need to continue to concentrate on this.

Lisa Gonzalez: Welcome to a special episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast and our new podcast series, Why NC Broadband Matters. I'm Lisa Gonzalez with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NC Broadband Matters is a North Carolina nonprofit. Their mission is to attract support and champion the universal availability of affordable, reliable, high capacity Internet access, which is necessary for thriving local communities, local businesses, and a local workforce to enable them to compete in the global economy. The group has created the North Carolina chapter of CLIC, the Coalition for Local Internet Choice. We are collaborating with NC Broadband Matters to present this series that touches on issues that while certainly affect folks in North Carolina also impact people in other states. Our third episode is titled Broadband Mapping Means Money: Understanding how Data Drives Decisions. You've heard from us and from other organizations about the problem with mapping data. Most grants and loans established to connect unserved and underserved communities are based on FCC data that overstates coverage. Today's guests are working to change that. First, Christopher speaks with Brian Rathbone, cofounder of Broadband Catalysts. They get deeper into the problem as it relates to topology and federal mapping. Then Christopher talks with Jeff Sural from the North Carolina Department of Information Technology where the state is working to improve the data they use to determine where folks need better Internet access. Now here's Christopher with Brian and Jeff to talk about mapping.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and this is episode three in the bonus edition of Why North Carolina Broadband Matters series. We're exploring better broadband Internet access throughout North Carolina, and today we're talking about mapping. Our first guest is Brian Rathbone, the cofounder of Broadband Catalysts. Welcome to the show Brian.

Brian Rathbone: Well, hello Chris. It's a pleasure to be here and hello to everybody out there listening


Christopher Mitchell: Broadband Catalysts — it sounds like something I'm in favor of. What do you do?

Brian Rathbone: We're a broadband planning consultancy. In general, we work with towns and cities and boroughs. A lot of times we do it at the behest of federal agencies like the EPA, USDA, and the Appalachian Regional Commission. And we help communities plan for their broadband future, and in many cases, what we do is go into rural communities where availability is low and help those communities understand how to use their existing assets to lower the cost of deploying broadband in their communities. And from doing that, they can attract providers who normally wouldn't be able to make a business case if they had to build all their own towers and do all those sorts of things. The folks that work with Broadband Catalysts all at one point worked with nonprofits or with the Department of Commerce in North Carolina to do broadband planning, and after we all returned to the private sector, Broadband Catalysts has been a good home for our continued efforts in broadband planning.

Christopher Mitchell: So we're going to be talking about mapping efforts around broadband in this episode. We're going to talk with you a lot about federal mapping, but I'm curious about the work that you do and the way you just described it before we start that other stuff. Do communities in rural areas or any of the communities that you work with, do they often have a sense of what relevant assets they have and what they are?

Brian Rathbone: Some do and some don't. It really ranges widely, and the understanding of what those assets can be used for also ranges widely. And a lot of times the ownership of those assets is sprinkled about throughout the community, and it's not viewed as a whole. To give you an example, the community that I live in, in Rutherford County, North Carolina, the water towers are owned by the Broad River Water Authority, and they partnered with a nonprofit who applied for an Appalachian Regional Commission grant to put a fixed wireless on those water towers. Now there's also county assets and city assets that are used in that that really lowered the cost by using existing buildings that already had fiber in them and using that to provide the access up to the water tower, and you know, all those structures were already there. That was a significant savings to our community, but it really took some assistance in helping folks understand which pieces of infrastructure were actually relevant to broadband and what that value was and how they could use it to partner with potential providers who may not know they could get access.


Christopher Mitchell: That's interesting. I just, I'm always interested in creative approaches to solving these problems. So I'm guessing that's Monday through Friday for you.

Brian Rathbone: Indeed.

Christopher Mitchell: So let's talk about federal mapping. And when you're describing your critique of federal mapping, I think that listeners are really gonna enjoy the rigor with which you are going to present it in terms of looking at different types of technology and how the mapping, you know, uniquely may result in better or worse results based on each technology, but let's just start with a general picture of what's wrong with the federal broadband mapping.

Brian Rathbone: Well, let me tell you a little bit about where I started with broadband mapping and how that related to the federal map. Originally I was hired by the EMC Authority which was the North Carolina Broadband Initiative back in 2010, and I had 31 counties in Western North Carolina that I was helping to do broadband planning. And part of that effort was to work with at the time the NTIA to produce some of the first broadband maps at that level of granularity to get them at least to the census block. And so as I was going up and working with these communities. I was looking at these maps and trying to understand the landscape I was going into. And initially, in a couple of the counties, we didn't have any of the data. They hadn't reported anything yet, and so I was like walking into a black hole. I didn't know anything, and it made it very difficult for me to be useful. And the more data I got, the more I found certain pockets and certain things that I could analyze from that data that was really useful. The problem I saw was even back when we were doing data collection for NTIA, most of the data was collected at the census block level. We did collect some data at the address level, but it was problematic in and of itself, and a lot of it we ended up rolling up to the census block level to have a homogenous dataset to look at — you know, lowest common denominator sort of thing. And so when the FCC took over that responsibility from NTIA in 2014, I believe it was, there was a different dataset employed, and now we're using the FCC form 477 data that is submitted to the FCC by providers that follows a certain number of rules that basically the providers are supposed to indicate census blocks where their technologies are available that they could deploy within a reasonable amount of time. I think it's 10 to 12 days or so. And so that's fine as long as everybody in that census block has service, but that's almost never the case. When you look at the FCC information in general, if a single household has been indicated to have access to a technology from a provider then the entire census block is lit as served, and that dramatically overstates the coverage. Everybody else in that census block may be unserved, but because there's that one, by our mapping standpoint that says it's served. And the reason that's so critical to all of our communities out there is those maps are used to determine eligibility for federal and other funding. And so if you're looking at a census block and you're saying up that census block already has DSL and cable, we can't provide federal funding to overbuild those networks, therefore that census block is not eligible for funding. That is really a difficult situation if only a small percentage of that census block really has service. Or if you're just one of the households out there that, "Hey, you know, what about me? You know, my neighbors have service and I don't," that's where the whole situation becomes very difficult. And since it's allocating billions of dollars, it really is critical for us to find as many ways to evaluate this as possible so that we can deal with the weaknesses in whatever datasets we're using.


Christopher Mitchell: Now, one of the things that people sometimes say as a criticism is that this data is all self-reported. And I think that sounds good, but I just wanted to do a quick check in with you on this because it strikes me that's the only kind of data that we're going to get because no one else knows where the service is available. And so I think ultimately our problem is not that it's self reported in the critique of some folks, but rather that it is done at this level that is not useful but then also that is not rigorously checked. Right?

Brian Rathbone: Right. Cause even if we switched to — let's just say tomorrow the FCC says you have to give us address level data, and we have to determine whether it's subscriber level data, demand level data, or availability level data because subscriber level data is the people who pay for it have it now, demand data is people who want it and don't have it, and then there's the other bucket of folks who basically, you know, don't have access to it but you know, you are able to serve. So, it gets really difficult to figure out exactly where folks fit in that from a provider standpoint, and you're right that it's difficult to then go and ground truth that data. Only some of this infrastructure can be validated by sending someone in and looking at the infrastructure. You can generally see the cable for example, but sometimes that's buried as well. You can usually see markers indicating it, but it's very difficult to actually crack open the case and look to see well how many DSL ports are available for this neighborhood? Or that fiber that goes by my house, is there anywhere near here that you can get access to it? Cause they generally just don't cut into fiber. So those types of things get really difficult, and that's where it comes down to technology by technology that are challenged in mapping.

Christopher Mitchell: Let's dive right in. Which technology would you like to start with?

Brian Rathbone: I would like to start with DSL because it's the one that most people are most familiar with.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. Also the most frustrated with.

Brian Rathbone: Yes, yes. And it uses our existing copper technology. That copper has been in the ground in many instances for 40-50 years, and the quality of it as questionable. It's an older technology that many of us, you know, lament, although I have a DSL circuit at my house and I use it all the time. So you know, it's a critical part of our infrastructure, but its limitations are many and they're fairly well known, but they're a little hard to articulate. The quality of DSL is usually determined by how much copper is between you and the node. So if you live in a fairly new development, and the telephone company has a big box by the entrance to your development, the amount of copper going between that box and your house is fairly short. And because of that, you can get really good DSL service because it's distance sensitive

Christopher Mitchell: And by really good, I suspect you're thinking about like 45-50 megabits down, 10-20 up, sort of in that neighborhood, right?


Brian Rathbone: Yeah. And that technology would qualify as what we call VDSL or very high speed DSL. Anything above 10 down, 1 up, you're getting into that VDSL, and the range on that as much shorter. You can't have much copper in that. So if you look at something like AT&T's Uverse product that is fiber to your neighborhood and then copper from the node to your house. But if you live more than a thousand feet or so from that node, it's very unlikely that Uverse will be available to you without some other infrastructure being put into place to get over that distance limitation.

Christopher Mitchell: Right.

Brian Rathbone: When you get over 3000 feet, then 6 megabit DSL becomes a problem. So the farther you go, the worse.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, and I'm going to stop interrupting you all the time — he said, probably not meaning it. I wanted to note one other thing, which was that you don't always know how far you are because the copper doesn't run in a direct line from you to the box. And so, I just wanted to clarify that also for people who might be mentally drawing the line. The line actually — I mean it could go all the way around the neighborhood and back to you. And so you might be just 500 feet away from the box but have 1500 feet of copper between you and it. So this is one of the challenges.

Brian Rathbone: Indeed. And if you need to know how far away you are, you can call your phone company and ask them the distance of your local loop. They should be able to tell you that. But it is is extremely frustrating for folks who had existing copper that came from three miles away and they have a development behind them who have a node that they're very short. So it can be just — you can see the people who have broadband, but you can't have it.

Christopher Mitchell: Right.

Brian Rathbone: It's a lot to do with historical — how did they build it back in the days that that community was constructed? The older the community, the more the problems.

Christopher Mitchell: So let's go back to where we were before I asked you what you meant by the higher speed DSL.

Brian Rathbone: Oh, no problem. The other thing about DSL is the fact that DSL deployments generally have capacity issues, in that most of them use what are called DSLAMs or DSL access modules. And they'll have 24 ports on them in general. It might cost $50,000 or so to put a new one of those in and the service to feed it. So if you've got 26 homes in the neighborhood and they all want DSL, only 24 of them are going to get it and there's going to be two of them on a waiting list. And the reason is, those two subscribers aren't going to make up the amount of money it takes to put that second DSLAM in. You know, when I first bought my house, DSL wasn't available to me because the DSLAM was full, but eventually one of my neighbors moved and turned off their service, and I jumped on. And now, whoever bought that house, that poor fellow can't get service. And you can't see that in the map, and that's one of the problems I have with, I don't know how to map DSL well because you can't really see that. And the distance of your local loops and all those things contribute. DSL has its list of mapping issues.


Christopher Mitchell: I'll just throw in that when the FCC was taking comments about how to do mapping better with this new proposal, which will full deal with some of the critique that you're offering, some of us did include include that we needed to have that data on whether or not a technology could provide service to 100 percent of the homes if 100 percent were interested, we're interested, and I think that may get at that. So it may not show up on the map, but this is something that the FCC should be tracking.

Brian Rathbone: Validation of that will be extremely difficult. That's one of the problems that we've had is that there will be some questions with regards to the accuracy of that data without having some ability to go and verify it, spot check it, do those sorts of things. But I agree with the point that you're making, and it would be an improvement to have that data even if there are some questions as to its full accuracy.

Christopher Mitchell: So let's talk about cable. What's happening with cable?

Brian Rathbone: So cable is an interesting industry where they tend to be limited by the number of homes per linear road mile, where their infrastructure is either on the telephone pole or in the ground. So if you live in an area where there's fewer than 15 homes, if you drive a mile on the road and you pass fewer than 15 homes, chances are you're not in the cable industry's business model. So most of it's going to fall within that more populated area where you drive past a hundred homes per mile. That's where the cable industry is going to flourish. But there are some things about the cable infrastructure that are difficult to map as well, such as which side of the road is the infrastructure on. And this is something I saw working with the EPA and USDA and Appalachian Regional Commission's Cool and Connected program where we went to 18 different cities, towns, and boroughs. Many of them I would go at least on one or two streets, and I would see one side of the street with cable infrastructure and all the houses on the other side of the street had satellite dishes. Chances are all the ones on the right had really bad DSL, and all the ones on the left with the cable infrastructure had 100 megabit or better Internet. And interestingly enough, there was also a financial divide. You could see the difference between the affluence of the neighborhood that had the service and that that didn't. Those who don't have as much money don't tend to get it. And to cross the street, if one person on the other side of the street said, "Hey, I want cable and I'm willing to pay for it," it can cost them upwards of $10,000 to get that infrastructure across the street and connected to them. So a lot of times, once it happens, when the cable company comes in and they're deploying, if they deploy on one side of the street, the odds of them deploying on the other side of the street are very low, unless almost everybody on that side of the street decides they're going to subscribe. It's cheaper to do it upfront, so if you get missed when they deploy it, it's harder to get them to come back and do it later, it's expensive, and I saw that a great deal. And the other thing that I saw is in rural areas, if let's say you pass 15 homes per mile but most of those homes are a thousand feet from the road — rural areas, farming areas, places out in the mountains where folks are specifically going there to not be right on the road, there's a really high cost. I think 250 feet is the usual cutoff that most providers have quoted to me. To say, if you're more than 250 feet from the road, I have to charge you at least $50 a foot to connect to you. For me, I'm 700 feet off the road. There's fiber at the end of my driveway. I'm looking at a $3,000 bill to trench and get it up here. And that cost is prohibitive and prevents a lot of people from getting served. So that really kind of covers some of the difficulties in the cable area. Some of the other things apply as far as the granularity of census block, but I really think the side of the road and how far you live off the road, those are indicators that I don't know how you account for those things in the mapping at the census block level, at the very least.


Christopher Mitchell: Let's talk about fixed wireless. What's what's happening there?

Brian Rathbone: Oh, you can hear the can of worms opening. Fixed wireless is one of the most difficult things to map.

Christopher Mitchell: Well let me tell you, in Kansas they did actually require people to put in the polygons showing where they could have service. And it was remarkable, but the fixed wireless shows up in a perfect sphere around antenna sites.

Brian Rathbone: Isn't that amazing?

Christopher Mitchell: And so actually, I think the mapping worked quite well.

Brian Rathbone: And to be honest with you, I work with a lot of fixed wireless providers on their mapping, usually for things like grant applications. They say, "If I put a tower here, who am I going to serve?" That is such a difficult question to answer with any level of accuracy, and it depends on what technology you're going to use. So I'm going to list off four different fixed wireless technologies just so we kind of know what we're looking at in the spectrum of things. One is high frequency, unlicensed fixed wireless, like 5.8 gigahertz — a service that does not go through trees very well at all. The second is lower frequency but white licensed — free but first come first serve type of frequencies, like the 3.65 CBRS service. And then you start getting into things like licensed wireless such as what AT&T and other big providers have paid billions of dollars for access to their frequencies, their type of wireless. I guess I only looked at three there. I kind of lumped a couple together. But essentially those are the types of service. And with fixed wireless, that is line of sight only, trees between the home and the transmitter will block service. That's the situation I was in when I bought my house. There's 5.8 gigahertz service available five miles from me, but the trees on my neighbor's property blocked it. And then when my neighbor clear cut his property, I got 20 megabit service. So hooray for the fact that he cut down those trees, I guess. I got Internet out of it. That was a good sign.

Christopher Mitchell: You got a few years of Internet until they grow back.


Brian Rathbone: Exactly. But it's a really good indicator that, yeah, you can go a long distance. I know, you know, folks who are 20-25 miles from that transmission site that get service off of it. But if there's a sheet of paper in the way, you've got a problem. In areas where there's a lot of foliage, mapping line of sight based service is questionable at best. So then you look at, well what about near line of sight service? What about the stuff that's meant to go through trees? And that's usually when you're talking about a two and a half to five mile buffer ring around the tower, that there's a decent chance you're going to have enough signal punch through the trees that you can still provide service that's going to be, you know, 25 down, 3 up, at least aiming for 25 down, 3 up.If there's a mountain in the way, if there's building in the way, there's lots of things that can block this signal that can cause it to not serve everybody in the community. That's the number one thing about fixed wireless for me is there's going to be people who can't get it for whatever reason. Even with AT&T's fixed wireless, I was very disappointed in them recently because I get AT&T LTE service here over — I believe it's somewhere in the 750 megahertz range, and that works through trees over 15 miles. But then they started serving my area with their fixed wireless service. And when they came out to install it, the installer said, well I'll get up on your roof and see if I can see any towers. At which point I just had to laugh and cry at the same time cause I knew he couldn't. If you can't go through trees, I'm not getting it, unless you happen to be on that one mountain top five miles away and they're not. So even the folks that are playing in the licensed realm, a lot of times they're using these higher frequencies to do the fixed wireless, and they still can't go through trees. So when you have to take foliage into consideration, which you pretty much have to, in my opinion, no matter what, and topography — you know, if you're in the flatlands it's easier. But if you're in the mountains, sometimes that's an advantage for having peaks, and sometimes it's a huge disadvantage because communities in valleys are very hard to serve.

Christopher Mitchell: So let's move to Fiber-to-the-Home. What's the mapping analysis here?

Brian Rathbone: I think with Fiber-to-the-Home, it's better, although that 250 foot off the road limitation holds. You know, to pull fiber, there's a cost per foot, and the same with the cable industry, they kind of build usually 250 feet into their cost model. So that's just their normal expense, but when you're beyond that, it's usually $50 or more a foot depending on what they have to dig through to get to you. It can go up from there. But that's probably the biggest challenge on mapping Fiber-to-the-Premise. You know, if you're doing it at a granularity that's the census block, you're still gonna have that issue that there's going to be homes that don't make the business case that are going to get left out in your mapping because they're sitting too far from the fiber or for whatever reason it costs too much to get to them. In some cases, it's things like they're on the wrong side of the Blue Ridge Parkway. They're on the wrong side of that wildlife reserve. Those are types of things that I've seen throw a monkey wrench into fiber deployment.


Christopher Mitchell: Well, and I'm guessing that even if you have a maximally defensible fiber company that is saying, "You know what? We have an unlimited checkbook. We will build fiber to everyone," they probably don't even know if the house is within 250 feet of the road or not, right? I mean, this is an unknown as opposed to just something that's inconvenient.

Brian Rathbone: It's true. But I can say we can look back a little bit at what was done back in 2010 with the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. We used — several counties in North Carolina got roughly $20 million to provide countywide service, and their goal was 97 percent because the last 3 percent doubled the cost of the network. And that's really difficult math to get past. So you're always going to end up with some subsection of the community underserved, and my feeling on it is one of the best remedies to this or at least supplementary datasets that can give us a better view of this is citizen sourced data. And that comes in two flavors right now that I'm using. One is speed test data generally gathered by third parties. I'm not hosting my own speed test at this point, but M lab has taken their data, they gathered and made it available on the Google cloud. It's just two or three years out of date is its number one flaw. Citizen sourced data is the data that I am collecting directly myself and that others collect directly themselves through surveys, essentially allowing the citizens to have a voice. There's been folks who said, "Hey, you're going to have accuracy issues asking people about their Internet," and they are correct, but nonetheless it is better than having no data. So, we do our best to kind of bridge the divide of, I have to ask somebody if they have Internet over the Internet. That part's difficult. We have to work with that. And how do I ask somebody who might not understand what their Internet is or what they have to respond with the information I need to accurately determine the level of service they either do or don't have. We have found that in general when you combine the FCC flawed data set with our flawed data set and any other available and probably also somewhat flawed data set, put them together, we end up with a much better view and we can use those things to offset them. We can find weakness in the existing infrastructure. And for me, if you can have folks report their location and we know what census block they're in and we know how many homes were in the census block as of the last census, then we can say yes, this census block is shown to have DSL, cable, fixed wireless, and fiber. However, 20 percent of households in this census block have reported themselves as underserved. At the very least, we can consider that census block underserved and contested, and it's worth looking at does that census block warrant investment even if it's limited in scope, maybe limited an area to an unserved area. That's where I think citizen sourced data really has a big value point. The other place that has a big value point is when you're applying for grants, and I'm going to take USDA's ReConnect program as an example. The more information you have about the number of farms, the number of students, the number of businesses that your infrastructure would serve, the stronger your grant application is, and a lot of this type of information can be gathered through a properly developed survey instrument that asks the right questions: What is your budget? Are you a farm that makes more than a thousand dollars a year? By collecting that data and mapping it, we can produce a data set that helps us get a more thorough understanding even though none of our datasets are perfect.


Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that I wrestled with as you're describing it — I mean, what you're doing is, is really good and powerful. Do you think if we just had access to — you know, if for instance, CenturyLink and AT&T had to make available where their fiber runs are, where are their copper runs are in some kind of meaningful way that was useful that you could specify, that we could dispense with a lot of this? Or do you think there's just no way around the fact that this is messy and we need to be creative?

Brian Rathbone: I don't think there's any way around the fact that it's messy. I think we're going to have to be creative. We're going to have to think about each technology a little bit differently. Fixed wireless being a great example of where we just need to rethink how we're doing that. You know, let's take for example, you said what if the, the incumbent providers told us where all their infrastructure was. This is something I've seen reproduced at the third party level where consultants will go into a county and do an infrastructure survey where they drive and they look where all the fiber is. You can tell what it is on the pole. You can tell who owns what's in the ground. You can drive the infrastructure and you can get an idea. And I always struggled with the fact of, okay, you told me that AT&T has fiber here — how many of those strands are in use? And so if we were to ask about infrastructure, I also have to ask about which of that infrastructure is lit, which is dark, which is maybe available for lease. And to be honest with you, those questions generally are viewed as intellectual property and trade secrets. And so it's almost like if you can't get all of the stuff, it's not as useful because I can find — I know there's fiber there, but I couldn't tell you necessarily that you could do anything with it.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. And I think they have a history of being overly broad in claiming that things are intellectual property, but I think I agree with what you're saying in that we could agree that at a certain level of detail there is a true competitive desire to keep things secret. I think I draw the line differently, but I think that there is a line, and what you're saying resonates with me that ultimately to have good maps, we can't just pretend that simply, you know, getting all the information that in a perfect world would be public, that would not be enough in and of itself.


Brian Rathbone: I agree with that, and you know, the truth of the matter is, you know we would all love to see this problem solved. I think the providers would like to see this problem solved and do it in a way that they can remain competitive and they can do the things that they do. Cause that's one of the things that I've learned through my time is that demonizing the providers does nothing for anyone. They have a very difficult job and they have difficult margins to make and just the burden of asking them to provide some of this information digs into their bottom line. So I do feel for them and I understand that it's difficult and I want to find a way to work with them and help them as well. So you're asking this question of how do we do something we don't really know how to do well, that the responsibility largely falls on the private sector who's self reporting or the community. And with the community, you know, with the maps I could show you of the data I've collected, it's really clear that the problem is awareness. We go to communities and we work there and that's where we end up with data. Everywhere else we have nothing because I don't have an effective way to communicate. Even when I go into a community, the first thing I say is can we survey through the schools? Can we survey through the hospital? Can we survey through the power company? Because I don't have a way to get to the citizens to allow them the opportunity to know they can make their voice heard. As soon as you give them the opportunity, they will come out in droves. And you know, sometimes you even just have to go out and find them in these remote communities, but it's really going to be a challenge. I think you're going to have to come at it from provider sourced data, citizen sourced data, speed test data, all the different ones, and then map them together to start to show trends, areas of weakness, areas where investment might be getting diverted away that shouldn't be that we can then go back to the FCC and these other agencies and say, "Okay, based on our current methodology, here's some areas that we think need to be reconsidered as to whether or not they're truly eligible." And can we carve out parts of census blocks that are contested and make them eligible in places where we wouldn't be overbuilding somebody else's infrastructure with federal dollars, but we would be entering a census block that is partially served. And most of the time when you have a partially served census block, it will remain partially served unless somebody else does something to change the environment.

Christopher Mitchell: Well this has been quite in depth and I really appreciate all your time with it.

Brian Rathbone: Oh, it's my pleasure, and I've enjoyed talking with you and others about this problem over the years. I do think that there's been a lot of good work done on the private sector side, on the nonprofit side, on the university side, working with Dr. Rick Bunch at UNCG on the radio wave propagation analysis and understanding how to deal with trees and things like that. So many different folks have put their mental energy to this that we've come a long way. If we look back to where we were when we started all of this the costs involved have come way down. The ability of folks to get to this data and use it themselves has gone up. And so I think we've made progress, we'll continue to make progress, but right now the fact that there's federal dollars are being spent without sufficient understanding of the true on-the-ground service I think is indicator enough that we need to continue to concentrate on this.


Christopher Mitchell: Well, thank you Brian Rathbone, cofounder of Broadband Catalysts. For the listeners, you're about to hear my voice talking to somebody else. Back in a second.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome back to this episode three of Why North Carolina Broadband Matters series, where we're exploring better broadband Internet access in North Carolina, how to get there. Now we're going to be speaking with Jeff Sural, the director of Broadband Infrastructure Office — um, the director of the Broadband Infrastructure Office in North Carolina's Department of Information Technology. Welcome to the show, Jeff.

Jeff Sural: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Christopher Mitchell: I feel like whenever anyone has a longish title, you always have to make some kind of a joke about how it fits on the business card.

Jeff Sural: Yeah, we're a government agency, so we use a lot of acronyms, you know.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. Well, and what does your office actually do? I mean, I think, you know, we have a sense of what information technology generally does, but within that agency, what does the broadband infrastructure office focus on?


Jeff Sural: Well, we focus on enhancing broadband deployment and adoption across the state so mostly on policies and planning, and also we operate or run certain programs. For example, a few years ago we published Connecting North Carolina, which is the state broadband plan. It lays out over 80 recommendations for the state government, local governments, and nonprofits, government agencies on how they can improve broadband, both availability and adoption. And then we also do some grant administration. We have a $15 million broadband grant program, and those funds go to Internet service providers that will deploy in in rural areas across the state. So we just had our first round. It was a $10 million pilot program, if you want to call it that. And our general assembly just reauthorized that program at $15 million a year for 10 years. So that's a big part of what we do. And then we have a technical assistance team that works with counties and local governments on planning. We have a community broadband playbook that that we host on our website. And then these individuals work with each of those local governments on a number of different different things like, you know siting vertical assets in the community. We have a survey, so they'll conduct demand aggregation campaigns. And so that's that's another big part of what the office does. We do have a public safety element. We administered the First Net program, that federal program and grant. Because we're a government agency, of course we have a vision statement, and that's that all North Carolinians should have access to affordable broadband services. And we believe this because we have seen broadband enhance a community's viability and livelihood by creating income opportunities, facilitating greater civic and cultural participation , educational opportunities, access to healthcare providers and other essential services. We've seen communities revitalized and changed when they have reliable, affordable, high speed Internet access.

Christopher Mitchell: So as you're listing all the things that the broadband infrastructure office does, I'm realizing it's probably quite larger than I imagine. How many people are there working for it?

Jeff Sural: Well, we have 10 folks. One is a as a part time temp solutions person, and then we have two individuals that work almost exclusively on the public safety side of our office. They were the folks that were funded through the federal grant to set up and educate policy makers and the governor during the First Net procurement. And if you're familiar with that process, each governor of each state had to either opt in or opt out of that program, which is, you know, the nationwide wireless broadband public safety network. And so they did a lot of work and data collection and so forth. They're continuing some of that work, and then we're trying to evolve that office into a public safety communications, technical assistance team, and looking at future technologies to help our our state agencies.


Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. We have mostly ignored FirstNet because it seems like it's overwhelmin, and I don't want to put you on the spot in talking any further about that. I want to focus on . . .

Jeff Sural: Yeah, yeah, yeah. We have four members of our technical assistance team. These are individuals that have decades of experience working for industry providers, broadband providers. And then we have some folks that work on data and research.

Christopher Mitchell: And so I'm curious, for all these different folks, how does mapping really play into how they do their jobs? And you know, how does your office ⁠— like, why do you care so much about mapping when you're trying to make sure people get the benefits of these high quality broadband networks?

Jeff Sural: The primary concern is money and funding. Both our broadband grant program that I just mentioned and several of the federal programs that fund broadband deployment, including some of the programs that are out of the USDA and out of the FCC, will rely on or, you know, define unserved areas based on their maps and based on data that they receive or that those entities received. Now, as you probably know, most of these programs and most of the nation looks to the FCC maps as sort of the standard map for, you know, broadband coverage both for wireline and wireless. The predecessor to this office had received grant funding through the US Department of Commerce, you know, National Telecommunications and Information Administration, to map the state's broadband coverage, and we did that back in 2014. But since that time, there haven't been any updates to that map and the data collection at the state level stopped. And that data collection was from the Internet service providers themselves. So since that time we've simply relied on the FCC maps, and for all the reasons that were previously discussed, those maps are inaccurate, you know, at best. If we're willing to focus money in areas that need better broadband, then we should have pretty accurate data. And we feel pretty strongly about this, especially at the state level because these dollars are taxpayer dollars and we want to make sure that they're used to their greatest benefit. The other important reason that we need accurate data and maps is for our technical assistance team, which does a lot of planning with communities. So we need to know where their infrastructure is when looking at helping those communities.


Christopher Mitchell: What tools do you have as a state? To some extent, there's a question of, well, if the Federal Cmmunications Commission is unable to produce accurate maps, what can the state of North Carolina do?

Jeff Sural: Yeah, and that's a great question. And sometimes, you know, we feel like we're the lightweights trying to take on the heavyweights. I think, you know, with the FCC data collection and their methodology, we think that could be pretty simply solved by simply having, you know, the Internet service providers provide more accurate data or specific data I should say about where they have coverage and where they have infrastructure. I think it's simply, you know, a policy decision that's been made to limit the amount of information that is collected. So what we're doing at the state level is we've kind of taken it upon ourselves and encouraged citizens to kind of take over and tell us where they don't have coverage or where they're lacking service. So we've been working with the counties, mostly at the county level, we've done demand aggregation surveys and some speed testing. We have a hundred counties in the state, and we've done this type of initiative with 40 so far over the last four years. We also have on our website a speed reporting tool, which we're going to upgrade here in the next few weeks. So it's not currently available, but we're going to pair that speed testing tool with a survey so we can gather more specific information from folks that that don't have a service. We use a couple of commercial mapping services. Those services allow us to locate, for example, where fiber runs are, lit buildings, central offices, cell towers, and so forth. So those are all key pieces of infrastructure that we like to know about. Finally, one thing that we found incredibly useful is our grant program. So when Internet service providers, big and small, apply, we ask them to be as specific as possible about which locations they want to serve in their proposed project areas. The legislation that authorized this grant fund allows us to declare portions of census blocks unserved. Well, our legislation allows us to go into that census block and do a deeper dive. In other words, so the grant program has a mechanism called a protest and if an Internet service provider believes that an applicant is going to serve an area that that's already should be considered served or designated served where they're providing service, then they can submit information to us. Now we make them and require them to provide detailed information. In the last round or our first round of our state program, we received approximately 15 protests, and in each of these protests we were able to use some pretty detailed data to drill down into these areas and actually look at almost every location within a particular area. That was helpful because now that gives us something to build upon.


Christopher Mitchell: You know, you've already described some of the challenges that you face, but are there other challenges you've faced along the way in terms of how you're trying to collect this data and make it useful for folks?

Jeff Sural: Yes, definitely, and part of it is on the collection side. It would really be helpful if we could simply receive information, preferably location specific information from the Internet service providers that are operating in the state. There's been some pushback on that. Some of that is push back based on the administrative burdens that would cause some of these companies. Some of it is based on the resources that we have here at the state level. It might not be available to collect that data. Georgia recently went through an exercise where they were able to get some very specific data from Internet service providers. Part of the reason why they were able to receive that was because the state law protected that information from their public records act. So, that would be another challenge. You know, we need to make sure that the information is protected. I mean, we appreciate and want to respect the confidentiality of these providers, but we also feel like there's, you know, a balance there or could be a balance there. The other challenge that we faced would be on the data itself. You know, it's not just as simple as looking at a Google map. We've all had this experience of typing in a location in our phone or in our Google maps and get into pretty accurate directions to where we want to go. But a lot of our GIS folks that are working on these issues really rely on very detailed information and data. And so for example, when we receive maybe an address location from someone and we go to plot it and they try to geo located on the map, sometimes those don't translate very well. So there are some technical challenges that we are facing.

Christopher Mitchell: Do you feel like this is something that in five years you're still going to be wrestling with or are we working this out?

Jeff Sural: Gosh, I hope not. It has been something we've been wrestling with. Well I've been here five years and I know that, you know, even before I got here folks were wrestling with this issue. It seems like a fairly straight forward fix, and we just can't seem to get there. What I would like to get to is a place where at least we have sufficient data and information to inform these funding decisions, you know, to basically to direct us to where the money should go. And I think if we do that then we'll be in a good place, and I think we can get there within the next five years.


Christopher Mitchell: Good, because I'm also tired of talking about mapping. Who isn't?

Jeff Sural: Yeah. As CAF II has sort of progressed and is now winding down, I think people and specifically lawmakers and policy makers are starting to figure out, wow, this didn't turn out, you know, as successful as we thought. And part of that has to do with the data itself and what we're collecting. So now that Congress is starting to get involved and raise awareness of the issue and is looking at, you know, passing legislation and they've been holding hearings ⁠— I think that's really really moving the needle. So I think with that sort of attention that we'll get things moving pretty quickly here.

Christopher Mitchell: I'm glad to hear that. You know, I think so too. I think the FCC's new proposals are better. I think some of the state experiments ⁠— Kansas and Georgia both have been thinking outside the box a bit in ways that I hope we'll all learn from. But, I want to end this by with where you begin it in some ways, which was to remind us that, you know, you're working on this issue, not just so people can have broadband Internet access for the sake of having broadband Internet access, but so that the communities are stronger, we have better educational opportunities, economic opportunities, and things like that. So you know, I think it's a reminder that winning the mapping discussion is sort of the first phase of a multi-phase approach to solving this problem.

Jeff Sural: It really is. And you know, as we're looking at, you know, the rural-urban divide that continues to grow and we're looking at, you know, the low income and high income divide you know, income disparities continue to grow, there are some equalizers out there and we feel like access to broadband is one of those. It's pretty remarkable to see the transformation of a company out in rural North Carolina, specifically a small manufacturing company in Madison County, which is far west in our state and a very mountainous county. But they were able to finally connect their facility to fiber and, and because of that, they were able to hire a couple more salespeople to work the phones and also to start communicating with their customers overseas and to troubleshoot any of the problems that the tools may have been having. They've transformed their business and become a global player, you know, and I think that says something about the power, you know, of high-speed Internet access. So yes, we've seen it transform small businesses and really allow for opportunities in a lot of our rural areas.


Christopher Mitchell: That's great. And, you know, that's what we're hoping for is that we can see economic opportunity spread much greater into the rural parts of our state because people can choose to live in cities. They should choose to live in rural areas, but fundamentally it should be, they should be able to thrive wherever they want to live.

Jeff Sural: That's right. Exactly.

Christopher Mitchell: Well thank you Jeff for coming on and spending this time with us to get us a better sense of both why this is important for the state but also what you're doing to deal with it and what in five years you will be able to stop doing.

Jeff Sural: Yeah, exactly. Well thanks for having me and thanks for raising the level of awareness around the mapping issue. And I'll be happy to stop talking about it in less than five years.

Lisa Gonzalez: Thanks for tuning in to the special Why NC Broadband Matters podcast series and for listening to the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Remember to follow Christopher on Twitter. His handle is @communitynets. And if you follow @NCheartsGB on Twitter, you'll tap into all the NC Broadband Matters material. We want to thank Shane Silverman of for the series music, What's the Angle, licensed through Creative Commons. And we want to thank you for listening. Until next time.

Tags: transcript

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 387

December 21, 2019

This is the transcript for episdoe 387 of the Community Broadband Bit's podcast. In this episode, Christopher interviews Doug Dawson of CCG Consulting, who shares his advice for communities interested in improving local connectivity. Listen to the episode, or read the transcript below.



Doug Dawson: It's no longer should we do it, it's how do we do it and that's a giant change.

Lisa Gonzalez: Welcome to episode 387 of the community broadband bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Many listeners already know Doug Dawson from CCG Consulting. He's been on the podcast before often meeting up with Christopher at events to sit down and discuss current happenings. Both are attending the broadband communities economic development event in Alexandria, Virginia when Christopher decided he wanted to hear some advice for communities from the man who has worked with so many of them over the years. Doug explains how many of his clients are no longer asking if they can improve broadband, but turned to him for advice on how to do it — they know it's critical. He talks about the feasibility study process and how a high level of communities that hire him for studies are falling through and moving forward with his recommendations. Doug gets into some of the reasons why local communities are making broadband investments and explains why it isn't always a good choice for every community. Be sure to check out Doug's blog, POTs and PANs by Now, here's Christopher talking with Doug Dawson from CCG Consulting with advice for communities.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the community broadband bits podcast, early morning live edition. I couldn't quite hit that intro the way I like to, but this is Chris Mitchell coming to you from Alexandria, Virginia, where we're at the broadband communities event. It's been a wonderful event, I'm talking about economic development and local governments for the most part. I'm here with Doug Dawson, a repeat guests, founder and owner of CCG Consulting. Welcome back!

Doug Dawson: Hi Chris!

Christopher Mitchell: It's been a fun event. We had a chance to talk a little bit yesterday and one of the things I wanted to talk to you about was what we're seeing in the landscape for cities that are trying to figure out what they can do in this space and whether we're seeing more of them and whether they're being more successful now. So what do you, what are you seeing?


Doug Dawson: Well, first of all, I want to modify your question because what I'm actually seeing most of the day are counties now because counties replaces where they don't have the broadband. There was County seat that has broadband and then 80% or 90% of their service area doesn't have broadband. And so I'm working with a ton of County governments, and in some cities and what I have seen, and this is a big change when they come to me now looking for broadband solutions, they're not asking is broadband feasible anymore.That's not the question that they're asking. Even though they do feasibility studies, they go, "How can we make it work?" They already know they want it and so it's three years ago, they were truly asking the question, "Could we make it work here? No one ask that question anymore. And they go, "How do we pay for it?" It really is the question. So now they know that they can't afford them so they're going and they're coming in and they're going, you know, help us find a partner, help us figure out how to do it ourselves but they know they want this. It's no longer, should we do it, it's how do we do it and that that's a giant change because communities were just deciding. Ten years ago, I said, "If you all don't do it and no one else is going to do it", and they finally all realize that. I mean they can see the map now and they go, "Geez, no one's bringing it in here, are they?"

Christopher Mitchell: Well, that's wonderful to hear because I've been critical of certain consultants in the field that many are critical of nobody to dig too deep into that. In part because I've long felt that the feasibility study should not be a yes or no, but a how.

Doug Dawson: Right and that's what I do now. In fact, I tell them up front, a feasibility study has two separate purposes. You do an engineering analysis and you do the financial models for the partners unless they want to do it themselves and then you're doing it for them. You do the written report for the community that explains how and why and cause there's lots of folks who need to be educated on it and it gets that conversation started. So it's really a two product piece of work and so, and what we do is we take, usually now a week after we're finished the study, we get all the local ISPs on the phone and we go, "Let's tell you about what we found here, maybe, you guys can make this thing work." And we show them the numbers because every ISP is interested in partnering with anybody, theoretically. If you're a county and you call every ISP within a hundred miles, they go, "Sure, we're interested." They're not really, they're only actually interested when they see the numbers and then two thirds of them will go, "I don't have any equity, I can't borrow that kind of money" or whatever. They walk away but then one or two of them may go, "Let's find a way to make that work." Now they know what they're talking about before that they're just talking in theory. Yeah, you've got 4,000 unserved houses, how much is it going to cost? Right cause it's never the same number of county by county, by county, so, that report generates that result where you can have an honest conversation with ISP and all of a sudden you can find a real solution.


Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that I heard from someone that wasn't looking to be attributed was that there are many small ISPs that have been quietly partnering some of them for years with local governments, but they just aren't talking about it and they're not even talking to their other ISPs about it. And I don't know if there's like some shame involved or if they're just afraid others will figure out the opportunity or what but it seems like there's many more willing partners in than there were a few years ago,

Doug Dawson: There was a time where small Telecos did not want to tell other Telecos they were doing that because the cities were the enemies. Because there were a few cities who had become ISPs and they were scared to death and every little Telecos is scared to death that their local government is going to do the same thing. And so it was sort of shame. I mean, to be honest, they all did it. A lot of them did these little partnerships, but they certainly did not talk about it very loud. Nowadays they're openly forming partnerships because what does a partnership mean? — it means the community gives them some money. No one's ashamed of that. And that's what it really means. You know, they make them, you know, they help them become, a customer on their network and they give them all the city's business and they usually are nowadays giving them grants or loans. And so that's, you know, everyone knows that works now and so it's a whole different world.

Christopher Mitchell: So people are coming to you and they're saying, "How can we make this work?" Are you finding ways in which you can make it work now?

Doug Dawson: I responded to an RFP not long ago where they asked me a question in the RFP and they said, "Tell us your success rate." And I go, I don't know. That's not something, you don't have a chalkboard where you come up and you start marking these down. So I went back a year, I go, you know, any, any study I finished in the last year or you can't, who knows because it's still brand new, right? So I went back from two to four years back, every single study that we worked on, the cities or counties found the solution already. It blew me away. I didn't even know we did that and I think other consoles are finding the same thing. The point is these folks are ready to make something happen. They get the study in hand and they go off and run with it. So then they do that exact step I said earlier, they take that study, they take the numbers, they talk to their neighboring ISPs in there, and they're starting to find solutions. And they may not find the ultimate solution, you know, it may be a county who find someone who does 20% of the rural area, but that's a start. Like, well, not 20% off the board, let's go work on the other age. They've all found at least some solution. A few counties have found 100% solution, which is amazing for a rural county to get a partner who builds the whole darn thing and then a few of them have done that.


Christopher Mitchell: Actually, I was just realizing I didn't properly introduce you assuming that people would be familiar with you, but you write the POTs and PANs by CCG site.

Doug Dawson: Yes, I'm guilty. Yes.

Christopher Mitchell: But then also last night, you announced you have your thousandth customer ISP that you are working with.

Doug Dawson: Yeah, my wife told me that, cause we, you know, going around, I guess this is our 24th year and she goes, "You know, you've had a thousand clients now, that's amazing."

Christopher Mitchell: Yes, it is amazing.

Doug Dawson: You know, that's a lot of clients and they're all in the Telecom world, about 350 maybe now closer to 400 are municipalities, the rest are commercial companies. That's a whole lot of companies.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. So the other thing I wanted to talk to you about, and we're not gonna name any names, but at a recent panel, I was talking about how I feel like people misunderstand my intent, my strategy, and they send them to think that I'm looking for every city to get into this game in terms of building networks or operating networks or something like that. And I've not thought that was realistic, I don't think that's even a goal. But I mentioned that I don't think some cities should do it. And someone came up and said, "I'd really like to hear you do a show on why cities shouldn't do it." So let's start by just talking about some of the clients you've worked with in which you came back to them and said, "You know what, I don't think this is a good fit for you."

Doug Dawson: Well first of all, 80% to 90% come to the end and don't want to be the ISP. So most governments, they don't want to be an ISP cause they already realize without any, without even getting external advice, they go, "We're not ready to do this." County governments, particularly, county governments do not have utilities , they don't have any real technical folks. I mean they might have one or two IT guys, but I mean they're not ready to tackle a technical business so they don't want to be ISPs but cities, a lot of them still do.

Christopher Mitchell: So let's dig into this in terms of that like when they say we're not ready to do it, I suspect, and of course they don't have someone they can promote to it and you wouldn't, if you wanted to do this, you wouldn't necessarily find someone who's working in the permitting office and have them run an app. You'd hire someone but even that, I think cities will recognize that for some cities they may not be confident they can attract the talent that they would need to run something like that. I'm suspecting that's one of the hangups.

Doug Dawson: The number one factor that makes cities competent they can do that are still cities who were on electric utilities. Those guys almost always feel competent they can do it because they're already running a tick some more business and they know there's a lot of crossover. They don't hire a whole new staff. They add five people onto their electric company staff. And that makes all the difference financially as well. It's an economy of scale business and so, I mean I advise people not to do it cause sometimes I've worked for cities who don't have electric utility and it's like if you have to hire 11 people, that alone breaks the business plan. There's not enough customers here to support 11 employees. However, if you are electric guy in your heart and six new employees, that works great.


Christopher Mitchell: Right. Cause you can have a slice of the CSRs time that the customer service representative.

Doug Dawson: Right. And their supervisors and the accountant and all those folks that you have who you don't think about but those all contribute to that business.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. And they'd be clear, there are laws in many States against cross subsidization. In general, we don't think it's a good business practice even if you are allowed to cross subsidize to do it. And so you would be paying for slices of these people's time. The point is you don't have to figure out 40 hours worth of work for them.

Doug Dawson: And that's not cross subsidization, that's simply taking advantage of economy of scale. And so there's nothing wrong with it properly accounting for it and that's the hidden bonus of a city getting into it is — gee, we just transferred half a million dollars of cost to this new utility. Look at that electric water finally is making a profit.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, exactly. Yeah, I mean this is one of the things that we try to report on is that the electric rates in cities that have citywide broadband or lower. I think they increase slower because it's rare that you would actually decrease the rate.

Doug Dawson: But they do a long term studies and so yeah, they don't usually decrease. Right but they've taken a huge cost burden off of their electric utility. Absolutely. So I've, you know, I'm a one of those honest consultants and I go, "You shouldn't do this so, you know, normally, it's either labor is a big thing or they just, you can just tell they're not because the biggest other thing that a city or anyone needs to do this is they have to be able to sell. And when you start talking to them and they look like deer in the headlights, it's like you're not going to learn to sell, are you? And they go, "No." It's like, "Well then you can't succeed at this." If you go and look at, you know, some of the municipals who have failed sales was, they don't talk about that much but sales is generally the fault.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, right. And even if the problem is not sales, having better sales would have resolved the problem they have.


Doug Dawson: Right, because I mean, it takes revenues to pay for it. And if you're not very good at that, just because you're an electric company doesn't mean you're any good at sales either. So to me, having an affordable labor force to run this thing and having the ability to sell are the number one or two factors. And sometimes it's just a cost issue. I mean, I've told cities no, because the numbers are terrible. If you're in a rocky city and the poles are in terrible shape and the network's going to cost twice as much as anybody else. You have no business building a fiber network. So city like that has to get realistic and go, "Well, what can we do?"And so there's always something. So I recently worked for a city who, what I said, have all these successes. One of the successes was they're not going to build fiber everywhere. It just is never going to work in that city but they already built a fiber ring. They've already partnered with several ISPs to use it. They hooked up all the city buildings and they're going to keep on expanding that little bit by little bit. And that city, unless something drastically changes, they're not going to get to the residential neighborhoods because the math is just atrocious because of the cost of building in that particular city. But they still have a pretty large success and they're actually pleased what within a year they got all those things. I mean, they took that study and ran with it like crazy so, you know, success is not always, I'm going to get fiber to everybody. The other success that people are having, you know, we have to remember now that pretty much everybody who can afford broadband has at least of a place where you just physically don't have it. So a lot of the cities are coming to me and the digital divide and the homework gap are actually their number one thing on the list of why they're hiring me. So they don't necessarily need a full city fiber solution. They need to find a way to get affordable broadband. So the parts of the city that can't afford it, and if that's all they're looking for, that's a totally different solution.

Christopher Mitchell: Right and I like to say sometimes that in some of those cases, building a whole new network may actually be a way to get at that. Right, but that you don't make the same investment necessarily if you're looking for economic development as if you're trying to deal with the digital divide.

Doug Dawson: Right. Every client is different, I work for a city who hired me because they thought that their businesses needed better broadband, so we interviewed all the businesses and they had no interest in better broadband because they already had good broadband. The city didn't think they did, but they were all on fiber. Most of them made their corporate buying decisions from elsewhere. They had a lot of large factories so that you know, that's interesting all by itself. Right, and they were like, well, we wouldn't, it wouldn't hurt us to save some money, but we're probably not going to be able to make that buying decision locally anyway. It turns out the city ran in a different direction once they got this study. It turns out that what they thought was a problem wasn't a problem, which is not unusual because that's why you study it, let's go find out. But their initial reason to come to us was a bad reason. If they were known that they might not have even done the feasibility study. So, you know, I mean every city is unique. It's always a puzzle to put it all together and find out what the heck is really going on there.


Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, we did, I just did an op-ed that hasn't yet been published as we're recording this about Fort Dodge where, in Iowa where, the Tax Payer Protection Alliance, which is a ridiculous group as you know has been saying that if they vote yes to create a telecom utility, they will basically be having the city or certainly bond for a citywide municipal fiber network. And I didn't think that was accurate so I looked back at the numbers where in Iowa in 2004, we had this massive referendum. They did, you know, I was in, I wasn't even in grad school yet. I was just thinking about it and in that roughly 30 some cities had a referendum on whether they should establish a telecom utility and roughly half of them said yes. Of those, half of them, media commerce Century Link responded to the threat with more investments. And so those cities backed off. Since then a few of them have moved forward but we see the same thing in Colorado with more than a hundred cities having opted out. Many of them have not taken substantial new action or put it, you know, and I'll say this, I don't want to buy any narratives, but they haven't put any taxpayer dollars at risk. I think I'm generally trying to be honest in that like any investment is some form of risk. I think it's less risk than the opponents tend to say but the simple fact is that studying an issue, in the past has generally not resulted in a significant investment from a city, I think.

Doug Dawson: Right. But it opens up their ability to have an honest conversation with ISPs. And so I worked with a number of cities in Colorado who are not going to build fiber networks, but now they know, they've learned how to talk to smaller ISPs. And a lot of them are going to come and do things in their town and to them that's the success they were looking for because they're getting some competition. They're going to get some lower prices. They may eventually get someone to overbuild their town with fiber. But you know that you have to start somewhere and so, I don't think there's going to be that many cities that actually pay the overbuild themselves. It's becoming a pretty rare thing because the partnerships are such a smarter idea. You bring in someone who already knows what they're doing. You have that whole economy. A guy who comes in who already got 40,000 customers, can serve your customers a lot more cheaply than you can. It's the math is so straightforward and simple. The other issue, you got to remember to go back to why cities shouldn't do it, there's a surprising number of cities that actually had them go, "Yes, we're going to do this" And then they go talk to their bond guy and he goes, "You can't borrow that much money, not in a million years. You're just not that solid." It doesn't even matter that you, the cities just can't write a check the right bonds, they have a credit limit just like everybody in the world. It's like, well I can't go buy a $400,000 car because they would just laugh at me at the bank and the cities are in the same position.


Christopher Mitchell: I'm surprised to hear that because the Taxpayer Protection Alignment tells me that you are a very high price consultant and that you guys are basically driving Lamborghinis to these town meetings.

Doug Dawson: Well, I can drive a Ford truck forever, but you know, so it comes down to why you shouldn't do it is labor costs, the price of the network, whether you can sell or not, and can you even borrow that much money in the first place. And so, you know, one of those four reasons why I tell people no, that's probably 80% or 90% of the reasons why I would tell them no.

Christopher Mitchell: So from my perspective, I have some concerns about different partnership arrangements because I think there are cities for whom they could do this and there may be a partnership opportunity and they want to do that because it's easier. It's a path in which they have less risk for their personal political careers and that sort of thing. I'm worried that in a number of those cases down the road, that partner basically becomes the next monopolist because the history of telecom is one of consolidation. And so, I mean, even if you look at Urbana-Champaign in which they really did a good job finding a local partner that they trusted and before that partner could build hardly anything they'd sold to a national company that had no roots in Illinois whatsoever. And so, you know, I don't want to sit here and say that I don't want people to take away the wrong blanket statement that if they can find a partnership, they shouldn't consider other options. At the same time, let me tell you, I live in St. Paul, Minnesota where our local government has lost my trust through a series of poorly implemented plans. And when I think about that, I mean St. Paul is not poorly governed by ordinary standards, but in Minnesota we have pretty functional local governments and so I get nervous about even thinking about that because I'm like, you guys don't have a good track record.

Doug Dawson: You hit a really fundamental question there. Cities either have to go, I want better broadband or I want competition — it's kind of hard to do both. That's a very hard thing to pull off. You know, there's a few folks who have pulled off open access. Most of the time that's not going to work. Even the math is bad or there's not enough ISPs around you in the first place to get on the network and partner or those ISPs are so tiny that they're going to fail. The number one reason Provo failed is they started out with like 11 ISPs, they were down to four. Those four were talking about consolidating and they're going like, this is an open access, right? And math was terrible. Building fiber, whether the city does it or they get one partner, the chances are you are getting a new monopoly, the cable company's not going to go away. So now you do at least have a true duopoly competition but, you know, you can't build something as expensive and risky as a fiber network and going, and also we want every choice in the world because we're not Europe. You don't open a network and have 75 ISPs show up and get on it — that's never going to happen here.


Christopher Mitchell: Well, never, I think, and I don't, I don't think you mean never never. I think you mean that it's a bet. It's like it's a bet that I don't think you'd take is what I'm hearing from you.

Doug Dawson: Until the big companies decide they're going to operate on other people's networks, which they have never yet done.

Christopher Mitchell: Well Century Link is doing this thing that, and you're going to say that it's not the same thing.

Doug Dawson: They're still the only provider there.

Christopher Mitchell: In Springfield?

Doug Dawson: Right. That's not the same thing as open access.


Christopher Mitchell: I agree with you that it is not the same like it's one of those things where it's like it lowers the barrier to entry but not significantly enough to do what open advocates have been looking for, which is this more robust competition. Well let me, I mean, I want to be honest about this. I am very bullish about open access in the sense that I want the, I want to run this experiment because I think there's still things we can learn and I do believe that there could be a business case that would create new ISPs that would want to operate in this model. I mean iFIBER from Washington is one that wants to be really ambitious about this. And there's several others that are coming out on what's the GigabitNow as well. And so, you know, Ting maybe want to go into this area and so I feel like I agree with you in that. I don't think people should assume that this is a solid model that can absolutely will pan out in the way we expect but I think I'm a little bit more hopeful than you are in this.

Doug Dawson: Well, you know, I've worked with most of the open access networks and there's only one or two that it can even be called remotely success so far.

Christopher Mitchell: By financial standpoint, having paid for themselves.

Doug Dawson: And the reason most of them are still operating, they love what's going on. The community loves the network and they love the competition and they love the prices. But the networks were being subsidized and there's nothing wrong with the city choosing to subsidize and network, but you should be doing that openly. I'm prying and go, we're going to subsidize it forever. And that's a valid community choice, but most communities are not ready to make that choice.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes, I agree with you. I think there's still some new chapters that are being written and even in the next few months perhaps, and I'm in some of these places that are, you know, looking at the admin model and that sort of thing where it's a whole different financial arrangement in which you just sort of de-risked it in interesting ways, but it remains to be seen what the long-term economics of that are. And part of the issue of open access has been that it's people often engaging in price competition, selling vanilla ice cream and I believe that there's a world in which there are different kinds of services at different companies specialize in. And I don't know if we're going to get to that world, but I'm trying very hard to help us see if we could.

Doug Dawson: Well, this is the difference between you being in graduate school and I'm at Howard, you're doing this for three years. I'm a little more cynic also. I'm a numbers guy. So, you know, if the numbers don't look promising to me, then again I go, "Look, the numbers aren't good, but you can still do it but here's what the consequences of going ahead and going at are." I've yet to see an open access model that guarantees you're going to be successful so that you're taking a really large financial risk. You could be successful, but it's a much smaller chance than with an overbuild model, so with the one ISP model.

Christopher Mitchell: You use the Jon Sallet's forbidden word — the overbuilt, sorry.

Doug Dawson: Hey, every new network is overbuilt.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, right. No, and I just, I think, you know, it's a good conversation. You're not gonna certainly guarantee success in any situation, but I think it's worth understanding, and this is why many cities have come to you and said, we want to do open access and they've ended up not doing open access.

Doug Dawson: Yeah. I show them the numbers and then they make their choice and some of them are doing open access. I mean, again, I have a lot of clients who do open access, but they're making the choice to do that even with the numbers. And most of them have electric company and they're going like that's okay, we can absorb it. It's like okay.

Christopher Mitchell: Well yeah and the public utility.

Doug Dawson: Now I'm going to have 13 people going who are they cause we need to go investigate across subsidize issues. But most of them are on a county for an honest.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, right. In particular like I mean Chelan and Grant have written off significant parts of their debt that they made and that's not money that local electric rates have not been impacted by that. They've done wholesale, power sales often to California that have paid for that. So you know, and they cross subsidize their sewers often with that money too.


Doug Dawson: Grant County is now building the rest of the network, which is the rural expensive parts. And because they said we're going to finish this network, it's amazing.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. Grant County is like Delaware if you took a lot of people out of it.

Doug Dawson: It's huge. You can drive for two and a half hours across the county — that's a really big county.

Christopher Mitchell: So last question is, so let me say, I come to you and I'm like, look Doug, we're having a beer.

Doug Dawson: I'd say it's eight o'clock in the morning. We're not having a beer.

Christopher Mitchell: You know St. Paul has this history, but I know that we're going to have a Comcast monopoly. If they don't do something, what do I do to try to like get us on the right path?

Doug Dawson: Now I'm going to be hopeful for you because in the city, right next door to you, there's a fiber river in Minneapolis and eventually they're going to get there. They're doing a great job in Minneapolis and they're building fiber one street at a time, but they've done a lot. They're eventually going to go, "Well, Minneapolis is done. Let's go to St.Paul" So be patient.

Christopher Mitchell: I live close enough to the river that I have hope.

Doug Dawson: Yeah, so I think they will eventually get there because when they're finished, that's their only real chance.

Christopher Mitchell: Let's say Minneapolis, U.S. Internet is not in Minneapolis. What do I do?

Doug Dawson: There's only like three cities that have a U.S. Internet equivalent, right? So what I see the larger cities doing in the NFL cities and bigger cities is they're now looking to tackle the digital divide. They're going like, we still have 15% of our population who doesn't have any Internet at all. So you know, you look at Buffalo and Buffalo is starting a trial this year to bring Internet to 5,500 school kids to their homes. They intend to give to every one of them so to them, that's the solution the city really needs because everyone else has broadband. So they're going like, you know, we don't want to be an ISP, but by gosh, you know, we have a cable company here, we have a telephone company here and we still have 25,000 students who don't have broadband to do their homework. So they're going to solve that problem. And so I think a city has to be realistic. If you look at all the NFL cities who have done feasibility studies, the cost of the network and San Francisco and Seattle and all the cities was north of a billion dollars. That's a massive undertaking and that's, and in most cases they have to do a referendum. They're never going to get that approved, but they have to get realistic with it.

Christopher Mitchell: And in most cases, people have told them ahead of time, don't even look at the numbers for doing a citywide all at once build, especially, if you're planning to connect to every home. It's not rational to do that, but they go ahead and do it in part because I think they're looking to shut people like me up by saying it's too expensive. Shut up, Chris.


Doug Dawson: Well, no, I think they really wanted a solution. I think the cities were honestly hoping to get better broadband.

Christopher Mitchell: San Francisco certainly was.

Doug Dawson: Seattle has had that on there. I mean they had two mayors who ran on that as an issue. I believe they legitimately meant it, but there was never going to happen. But you know, in doing that, they've really kept broadband at the fore-front of the conversation in the cities and broadband has gotten better on both of those cities, not as good as they want. And I still think both of those cities should be turning around and looking at what Buffalo is doing. The fact is there's other ways to fix these problems.

Christopher Mitchell: Sure. Well, we got to go and learn about electric, rural electric utilities, electric co-operative specifically, so thank you, Doug.

Doug Dawson: All right, thank you!

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with Doug Dawson from CCG Consulting, offering some general advice for communities interested in improving local connectivity. Check out Doug's blog at for some awesome articles that really get into the nitty gritty on broadband. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts Email us at with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @communitynets. You can also follow 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. Access them any way you get your podcasts, catch all the important research from our initiatives. When you subscribe to our monthly newsletter at While you're there, please take a moment to donate. Your support in any amount will help keep us going. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle licensed through creative commons, and thank you for listening to episode 387 of the community broadband bits podcast.

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Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 386

December 21, 2019

This is the transcript for episode 386 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. In this episode, Christopher talks with folks from Medina County Fiber Network and Lit Communities about their partnership that's helping connect Ohio bussinesses and soon residents over an open access network. Listen to the episode, or read the transcript below.



Brian Snider: This is something that I think will continue to happen across the country with municipal broadband and private capital getting injected in.

Lisa Gonzalez: Welcome to episode 386 of the community broadband bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. We've interviewed guests on the podcast before that discuss different types of collaboration. This week we have three people who are here to talk about the new partnership in Ohio that centers around the Medina County Fiber Network. We've had one of them on the show before, David Corrado, CEO of the network and this time he's joined by Brian Snider and Ben Lewis-Ramirez from Lit Communities. In this conversation, we learn more about Lit Communities. David also provides a refresher on the Medina County Network's progress and why they decided it was time to bring services to residents. Christopher, David, Brian and Ben also talk about the partnership between the network and Lit communities and their new entity, Medina Fiber, and the plans they have to serve residents. We get to learn about how private capital is playing a part in this community-based project, more about the model and some of the innovative services that Medina Fiber will offer the local community. Now here's Christopher talking with David Corrado from the Medina County Fiber Network and with Brian Snider and Ben Lewis-Ramirez from Lit communities.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the community broadband bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in sunny, if chilly, Minneapolis. Today I'm speaking with a trio of folks that are doing a pretty exciting project together. I'm going to start by introducing Brian Snider, the CEO of Lit communities. Welcome to the show!

Brian Snider: Thanks, Chris. Good to be here.

Christopher Mitchell: We also have Ben Lewis-Ramirez who is the chief marketing officer for Lit communities. Welcome to the show!

Ben Lewis-Ramirez: Pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me.

Christopher Mitchell: And we also have a returning champion who actually is a returning champion from an episode three years ago, David Corrado, the CEO of Medina County Fiber Network in Ohio. Welcome back, Dave.

David Corrado: Good afternoon, Chris. It's always nice speaking with you.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, and I've appreciated your support over the years. I know you've followed our work and supported it and done a lot of great things that we can report on. So let me start though by going back to Lit communities and asking Brian first, what is Lit communities and please, no references to marijuana. This is a family show!

Brian Snider: Yeah, you know, it was hard actually getting that domain name. It took us awhile to find the right one and it was very strategic thinking when it came to that. So now the core of Lit communities and the name is, we ultimately want to light fiber access networks and a more open access capacity. The idea of Lit communities with actually created four or five years ago when we started focusing more on municipal broadband and really trying to bring them into the 21st century for how this needs to get executed all the way from engineering to an operational standpoint. Lit communities is the group that can come in and work with municipalities to get fiber connectivity to their residents in a efficient way. And working with Dave for the past couple of years, they've been our really first project and has been really the emphasis of why Lit communities got created to show that the open access community broadband network can still come to the table through a private capital standpoint as well, which I think makes this project extremely unique.


Christopher Mitchell: Ben, let me ask you, specifically, if you want to tell us a little bit about the history of the key players in Lit communities, what projects they've worked on with this being kind of a high profile project of y'all working together for the first time.

Ben Lewis-Ramirez: Mo-t of us come from a background working in the outside plant engineering industry. We've all spent time working for some of the big, Tier 1 providers in that space like At&t, Google Fiber, Verizon, etc. And it became apparent to us, after doing that sort of work for a few years, that the smaller municipalities and more rural communities were being left behind as those big companies were making their investment into, you know, the lower hanging fruit of the denser, more urban market. And so, at the time we began a consulting practice with a previous employer where we did essentially outreach to municipalities and tried to help them navigate the process of defining their own network infrastructure, which is, as you know, is extremely complicated. Many moving parts, there's a lot to balance and we felt at the time and still feel to this day that, in some ways the consulting community has let down the municipalities in this country if I sort of perpetuating these feasibility study after feasibility study. And so, you know, our interest then as now is how do we go from knowing that demand exists in a given place and you know, we can say that with certainty about most every small community in this country — how do we go about making a network actually happen there? And how do we have to get creative about finding the financing to do it? And that really is what drew us to the open access, open application business model that we still proudly espouse. That way of looking at the network as separating it from the services that are provided on it, really allows for some creative funding sources that are not available to a network builder in a traditional operating model. So using software to find networking, we can separate layers of the network for residential service, business service. We can offer Telehealth, we can offer a backhaul for cellular providers and the wireless carriers. We can offer capacity to the community itself for smart city applications that are bandwidth heavy and we can do all of that with the same network infrastructure and we can do it in a way that's extremely consumer friendly. And so it's sort of this triple win and kind of coming from that background, doing all of that work together in the past, we knew that this would work — Our motto is it's always feasible. And we are extremely fortunate to develop a relationship with Dave Corrado and the Medina County Fiber Network, which, you know, provides that crucial middle mile component for us that makes it much easier to make a build happen in these smaller places.


Christopher Mitchell: Let's jump over to Dave to remind us about, and I want to be clear about this because it could get a little confusing later on with another entity that has a similar name, but the Medina County Fiber Network, Dave, just a quick refresher on what's happening there.

David Corrado: Sure. I'll keep it fifty thousand mile view, if you will, cause I know that your listeners have listened to us previously about the networks.

Christopher Mitchell: Just to be clear, Dave, 50,000 mile view puts you pretty far into orbit.

David Corrado: Okay, let's go 50,000 ft. , shall we?

Christopher Mitchell: Okay, let's do that.

David Corrado: So Medina County Fiber Network is a 150 mile open access network, which means that, we have our network built throughout the county and our goal is to provide a better transport model for 13 carriers that are connected to our network selling lit services. So about 90% of our revenue is lit services and 10% are Dark Fiber IRUs. We adopted this model for two reasons: one, from an economic development perspective, having a choice of carriers and having the ability for carrier diversity was a much more attractive from what we heard from businesses that were here and from businesses that were looking to come here. The second thing is we were not in the area of competing with the existing carriers, we wanted to make their product better. So we offer this high, fast, very redundant, great diversity network that they can run their services ove but we realized four years ago that we needed to move into the residential market, which is why we're on this podcast today,

Christopher Mitchell: Right, because I suspect that even though you have really great partnerships with those carriers that are providing services, that they're looking to you or some other entity to pay for extending the fiber that you have so that they can use it some more.

David Corrado: That's exactly right, Chris. We are definitely in a situation now where there were two driving factors, one to start building the network in areas we weren't, with a partner, to handle some of that commercial piece. And number two is to get to the market where we weren't and people kept asking us, which was the residential household.

Christopher Mitchell: Now, I think the next step, although, I'm willing to be overruled but probably be come back to you, Brian. And I think to explain Medina Fiber, which is, as I said, it's distinct from the Medina County Fiber Network — what is Medina Fiber?


Brian Snider: It does get a little confusing there, but we want to keep the same motto that Dave and the Medina County Fiber Network has kept going in regards to an open access community based infrastructure. So through partnership of Lit communities, peak communications, there are smart communications systems company. We'll be putting together the financing and creating Medina Fiber LLC, which will build out infrastructure connected to the middle mile network of Dave's and go to the home offering Internet voice Telehealth and smart home applications. We'll be starting, actually, our kickoff event is on December 13th, they are locally our phase one build out is roughly to 6,100 homes, including the townships and villages of Seville, Westfield center and Guilford in Medina. So we're really excited to announce the creation of that and it couldn't have come together without partnerships like Dave and what they've done at Medina County Fiber Network. It gives us the ability to actually execute this with the correct business plan. And, Dave, we've been, I guess we started this process almost a year and a half ago and it's nice to obviously see this come to fruition, but it's taken that long to get everything planned and set up the right way where we can execute the right way the first time.

David Corrado: You're exactly right. And they say time flies when you're having fun. This has been a real roller coaster ride, but in a good way. They say that when you're starting a business, the highs are extra high and the lows are extra low. But we are very happy to be partnering with Lit communities because their strategic direction works so well with what we've had in place here now for the last seven years.

Christopher Mitchell: Who should speak on the private capital approach rather than, a more traditional, revenue bond or something like that because I think that the role of private capital in this is a, it's a pretty important piece.

David Corrado: I'm gonna let Brian speak to the private capital. I'll touch on the bond just so we can set the base for your listeners so Medina County bonded approximately $15 million in 2010 to build out the entire structure for the transport rather than building a section at a time and then going for additional bonding. It was sort of both feet, jumping into the pool at once and it was basically because, in order for us to obtain the connections with all the carriers we were targeting, we had to have multiple connection points, which means we had to have the network connected and built in redundant rings. But when you get to that point as any company, the governments are the same, you can only really bond so much money that your government can support until the entity starts running. So that's where then we had to look for a partner with the private equity and I'll let Brian speak to that.


Brian Snider: Yeah, and that's where, Chris, we see more from when we started this process. Again, it was more about four or five years ago, we knew that private capital had to get injected into this model for rural infrastructure to catch up with how fast technology is changing. If it didn't, we would continue to be left behind and there'd be a bigger and bigger digital divide. And so we started pitching our model to private investors and trying to find the right partner that understand the ebbs and flows of this telecom industry world and infrastructure that we live and breathe in and that's been on our side a little challenging because our model is different. We are not the service provider that's providing the end user, the service, but we are the company that's providing the infrastructure to get you connected or that bandwidth. And once the private side and private capital has seen this more of like a, you know, it's electric energy type investment for new utility, it's now sparked, I really seen it in the past two years, a private capital looking at this type of fiber infrastructure investment differently. I think it's going to continue to happen this way and luckily, we've been able to raise the financing needed for Medina and trying to build a financial structure that gives us the ability to scale. We've raised private capital for phase one, which is roughly about $8 million in what we're estimating through the rest of the county deployment. We plan on also working with local banks to try to offset some of this with debt as well, so it'll still be a mixture of how we expand across the county but governments move at glacier speeds when it comes to to get bonds and all of this situated and like Dave said, you get to a point where you can only do so much from that side and we've seen projects just drag on for years because of that. We would rather inject the private capital to get the project going, even though it's still a community based infrastructure, then we give the ability for the towns and even Medina County later on down the road if they want to purchase back the network — it's a lot easier to do that through revenue bonds and through bonds have a different mean at that stage, so this is something that I think will continue to happen across the country with municipal broadband and private capital getting injected in.

Christopher Mitchell: I want to come back to the municipal base, but I wanted to make sure that we also spend some time on the open access portion. And Ben as the chief marketing officer, I'm guessing that you're not only marketing to potential subscribers, but you're trying to find a good mix of ISP is to operate on the network. Can you tell us what's happening on that side of it?

Ben Lewis-Ramirez: Certainly I think, the ultimate goal of people who advocate for open access is to get the big incumbent carriers to start riding the networks but you know, we're under no illusion that's gonna happen anytime soon.


Christopher Mitchell: Let me just say that some of us are very enthusiastic about open access and would prefer not to have the incumbents for complicated reasons that might be a good future show but I just wanted to throw a little monkey wrench in there.

Ben Lewis-Ramirez: Sure, certainly, I guess I say that as a way of saying that, in my mind, open access is sort of the inevitable future. And, to me, when the incumbents start to embrace it, that's when we know we've really gotten there and we've sort of passed the point of no return but that you're right, that conversation for another day.

Christopher Mitchell: Well I think that's a good, I think your measure is a good one.

Ben Lewis-Ramirez: It is, fortunately, for us, while this is sort of one of the first kind of public private ventures into the open access world that's being funded with private capital, there are examples of healthy open access network environment elsewhere in the country. I love to point out Utopia Fiber is being a great example with that and then also, to give a shout out to NoaNet in Washington state. And so, we're really fortunate in the areas of service providers and that there are kind of these high quality ISP that have already proven their ability to successfully operate a business without owning the network infrastructure themselves. And so those are sort of our first goatees, we also look at, you know, obviously at this point, I think that the relationship between fiber based infrastructure and economic development is fairly well understood. And one thing that can be observed in other markets where open access networks are the norm is that you wind up with these smaller, more grassroots companies that are able to give a local option to people. Something like in my home state of Colorado, there's something along the lines of 200 Internet service providers, most of them are with very small footprint. But if those small hungry companies who deliver great customer service, you know, who value each and every customer, extremely dearly because, you know, they have a relatively small footprint — those are the companies that are really interested in this model because it really sort of democratizes the capital expenditure that's necessary to go in and again, you know, as the open access advocate, giving consumers the ability to choose between service providers and then an app store like environment where they can just tick all at cart between different companies based purely on price and the customer service experience that they've gotten for them. I think that that's a world that we can all agree would be a lot better than the paradigm that most of us live in now.


Christopher Mitchell: Well, one of the apps that it looks like you'll be launching with and this first phase is a Telehealth and I'm curious how that might work for people who have seen all kinds of different ways Telehealth can be implemented. What's the approach of the ISP that you're working with here?

Brian Snider: Yeah, so Docity is going to be our Telehealth provider, Chris. Locally, they've also worked with EPB and Chattanooga's network and it's going to bring each resident in Medina County the ability for home health care services where we have to have the proper fiber connectivity to where they're going to have the ability to sit in front of their computer and stream a doctor's visit online. And we will build in packages that'll be based on how many visits the consumer goes through the doctor basically at home. And we'll be working with dosage of this structure packages that'll be set up for them to choose from where they could pay for per doctor visit or potentially just unlimited doctor visits that'll get set up and we're really excited about that piece being on the network day one. That'll be educational for a lot of residents there and we're excited to be teaching them how to use that. And then eventually it will evolve to where it transitions and to being able to age in place and things like that, which is going to be huge for rural areas, but even in urban areas for that matter. That's why the open access component gives the ability to bring those different services day one to the residents.

Christopher Mitchell: And yeah, it's a good opportunity to note that I kind of made a weird cryptic comment. I am, as you all know, I'm a very strong supporter of open access, although I do worry about having communities having a single physical network and so in the ideal world that I've played with is one that is somewhat inefficient from a physical point of view in that I would see that a cable provider ideally sticking around in the community and offering services distinctly so that you had competition at the physical layer, perhaps between two or three networks, but then a lot of competition and innovation within the open access layer. So we don't have to go further down my theorizing or you don't have to tell me I'm wrong in front of all my listeners but I just wanted to throw that out there rather than remaining cryptic. I do want to ask you, and I wanted to give you a little bit of a warning, I want to ask what success would look like in two years like, if you have a sense of that, but first, while you're pondering that, Brian, I want to stick with you for a second to ask about the community based approach. So, Medina fiber is gonna own the assets, right? And I'm curious how that works and you know, my preference for public ownership and so I'm just, I'm curious if you can walk us through how that works.


Brian Snider: Medina Fiber will be privately owned, again, we branded the infrastructure as Medina Fiber that we'll own it all the way to the electronics. We want to set it up though at based off of feedback from the community too. So one of the first things that we'll do when we come into Medina is we'll actually set up a demonstration center where we're going to educate the community on exactly what different services that are going to be provided across it. So the fact that we're still privately invested in the actual last mile infrastructure or the infrastructure all the way to the home in this project, it's still all community based from that perspective that eventually we want to bring on services new onto the network based on feedback from the community. The reason why we're doing this as the cause of the community needed it. The demand has been unbelievably positive and the need for better connectivity amongst the entire county, need for choices, and that was one of the reasons why we actually expanded phase one, we originally were, we expanded about 2,500 and additional homes and raise additional financing for that because the demand has been so positive there in the County. So it's structured privately from financing standpoint, but we're, we're looking at it as it's still the community's network through and through. So you're going to see Medina fiber riding around town, connecting people's homes and working through that from start to finish, so there's a really gray line, Chris, I think between this almost looking like still a public owned infrastructure project.

Ben Lewis-Ramirez: You know, in our time, working predominantly as consultants, a mindset that we encountered very frequently was that the local government, you know, despite the fact that they might offer, um, you know, electric or, or water utilities to their residents, this mindset that the local government had no business competing against the private sector. If there was a private sector company already kind of working in that space and serving the community, we were honestly somewhat surprised to encounter that mindset as frequently as we did. Because very often as you're well aware, you know, these small rural communities are treated quite terribly by their incumbent service provider. And yet, you know, there is a philosophy that says, well, you know, you let the private sector do its thing and the government should stay out of it. So that's actually what initially attracted me to the open access concept in the first place. It was like, well, okay, we're not telling you to compete with the private sector. We're telling you to build neutral infrastructure that will enable a greater degree of private sector competition but even that argument seemed to fall flat time and time again. And to be perfectly blunt, you know, maybe, overly, you know, candid here, part of the reason that we started with communities in the first place was because, we were tired of encountering that scenario and we thought, you know, look there's a clear demand here. We have a paradigm which is substantially improved. Would it be best for this infrastructure to be treated as a utility and offered by the municipality? Yeah, I would agree with that and I think there's plenty of places around the country where that's happening and happening successfully, but for political or philosophical reasons or however you want to cut it or places that are always just going to be resistant to that, those are the places that are a good set for this infusion of private capital that we're seeing with the Medina fiber project.


Christopher Mitchell: And I think one of the things that, that we'd like to celebrate here is people that get stuff done and go out and do it. So, and that's the important part is that there was a comment earlier that I think you made Ben about the sort of endless cycle of feasibility studies and, and I think that's it's depressing. Among communities that get caught in that cycle. I wouldn't put that only at the feet of consultants. I think there's reasons that that happens, but I really like that you've developed an alternative model that can work for a lot of communities. Now I want to ask you, Dave, quickly before I get to this, this final, what does success look like? It does seem like the local mayors are really enthusiastic about this and I was just curious if you can reflect on that a little bit.

David Corrado: The political landscape from the commissioners to the mayors to, you know, township councils are very excited about this because it's a great example of how a public private partnership can work. I think we've seen either ends of the spectrum where either a government owns a municipal network or we have the private carrier whose strategic direction is to make money for their company rather than really looking into the needs of the community. So we are able to blend this by taking our backbone that connects the Lit community infrastructure and deliver, as Brian mentioned, what the community really needs and all of that. I have to keep going back to economic development. I have a ton of statistics, but just one that really brings us home is that of the $400 million plus of economic development in the past three years here in Medina County, 72% of that was done by people who are using Medina County fiber. And as I mentioned, there are a lot of those statistics about employment and new jobs etc. So we know it works and, and it's just a domino effect when the companies come in and the economy rises etc. So that's why the excitement among our political individuals here because they know that we have this partnership, even though it's a private organization, the strategy is still to build a community and I think people are going to be really refreshed to see that, um, private companies and public, municipal companies and networks can really work together to put something great together.


Christopher Mitchell: Let me ask you to quickly, Brian trace the money with me for a second. So there's peak communications sets up Medina Fiber with $8 million that's used to build physical stuff, right? And then people in their homes, they connect and they pay a service provider. Presumably, I'm getting a little bit out on the thinner branches now. Some of that money goes back to Medina Fiber then to pay back that cost, some of it goes to the service provider and then that's more or less the model, right?

Brian Snider: Yeah, you nailed it on the head. So basically it's wholesale fees that the providers would be paying to us based on the service that they're providing to the residential customer. So the residents and Medina County would pay one that would be then decimated across to the providers based on what our agreements are. That and it would be the same wholesale fee for telehealth and for smart home applications and things like that that we bring onto the network. So it's almost like we're charging a toll to provide the services across it.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay, so let me ask you, I'll ask you if you have any final points we want to make, but first, what does success look like? I mean, are there things that you have in your mind like goals for instance, two years from now that will prove that you're on the right track with this approach?

Brian Snider: We do and the first thing I want to say though is we feel like we've already gotten ourselves set up for success based on the partnerships and the public private partnerships, especially that we have been able to create what Dave has been able to do to support us and Medina County Fiber Networks can't be missed or misunderstood. And the local support from the mayors, the residents, the whole community has bent over backwards to make this happen. And seeing that is what, what we get up every day trying to accomplish. And that in itself has created the ability where we know we're going to be successful in this market. And I think that can't be stated enough that the partnerships through and through, and this is what's truly gonna make it happen. And we've been able to do a good job locally in Medina to rally all the right partners from the public private standpoint to get this done. So success to this point, we've, we've already met a lot of that for two years out, Chris. I really think we want to be constructed past the 6,100 homes that we have outlined in a phase one right now that we would have fiber in front of each homes. So they would have the ability to access that and then we would also rate success by that. We're moving into the other towns throughout the county. We'd really like to get into Brunswick, Montville, the city of Medina within the next two years as well. So success is going to be getting fiber in front of all these 6,100 homes in the next two years so they can have the connectivity and choices that we're going to be able to provide and then moving across the county to hopefully have a very quick rate.

Christopher Mitchell: Dave, do you have any additional thoughts?

David Corrado: I think Brian did an excellent job, you know, talking about how the community has rallied together and I'm always open to talk with any colleagues across the country trying to do this, always love and I get calls from other States and people that have interest in this area.


Christopher Mitchell: And I do appreciate your willingness to be connected to folks. I've taken advantage of that more than once. Ben, any additional thoughts?

Ben Lewis-Ramirez: Part of the reason that we started in the area of Medina County that we did is because, you know, it is part of the more sparsely populated part of the County. And so, you know, we really wanted to prove that this model works, our whole, it's always motto, you know, being applied to the real world. And so having said that, you know, we did that really confidently because of the just tremendous groundswell of support from the community itself. And so we really want to do right by the rest of the County and, and build out to everyone, you know, hopefully within two years we will have successfully done that and we'll be already expanding the network, possibly even outside the boundaries of the county.

Christopher Mitchell: Is there anything else that we should talk about before we say goodbye?

Brian Snider: The last thing, Chris, is your Minnesota gophers have made an incredible run this year. I've been excited watching them battle through the big 10.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, you know, you're from Alabama, aren't you?

Brian Snider: But I've actually, I've got more Michigan roots than Alabama roots.

Christopher Mitchell: I've seen that on Twitter and I've been meaning to make some sort of annoying comment about it. But it is kind of funny that we may end up really seeing how good this team is if we're going up against Alabama on a bull game, which is a strong possibility right now.


David Corrado: I think that's the proof of the pudding of this whole project. We've got Brian who was a Michigan fan and we have me who's Ohio state. If we can get together and make this project work, I think anybody can.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes, yes indeed. I did want to, I did want wanna know one other thing and that's, that lit communities is not, as far as I understand putting all its eggs in the Medina basket. But also you are evaluating other projects along similar models, right?

Brian Snider: Correct. We're working in a couple other communities across the nation where we go through a process of, of the same thing that we've done in Medina, where we evaluate how much the network's going to cost, what the demand is going to look like, and then try to build a business plan and a financial model around that. And we're looking at probably going to be announcing hopefully a couple more communities first quarter of next year. So be on the lookout for that too. It's exciting times for municipal broadband and we just want to keep the momentum going.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes. And I'm, I'm excited about more open access so I'm really glad you're, you're, you're proving out this new model.

Ben Lewis-Ramirez: If we're going to Southern Medina County to prove that this works, you know, a sparsely populated rural area, you know, part of the communities that are on the wrong side of the digital divide are in our big Metro cities and you know, the sort of, underserved urban communities. And so, we'll be looking to prove our model in a market like that before we start expanding into suburbia, so they prepared for some big announcements from Lit communities. It's going to be a really exciting 2020.

Christopher Mitchell: Excellent. Well, thank you all so much for coming on the show. Thank you Dave for returning and we'll look forward to seeing what happens next.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with David Corrado, the Medina County Fiber Network, along with Brian Snider and Ben Lewis-Ramirez from Lit communities. They were talking about the partnership between the network and the firm to bring residential service to the region via the fiber infrastructure. Learn more about the Medina County Fiber Network at at the Medina County Tech. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at Email us at with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @communitynets. Follow stories on Twitter. The handle is @muninetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other podcast from ILSR Building Local Power and The Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them anywhere you get your podcasts. You can catch the latest important research from all of our initiatives if you subscribe to our monthly newsletter at While you're there, please take a moment to donate your support in any amount helps keep us going. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle licensed through creative commons, and thank you for listening to episode 386 of the community broadband bits podcast.

Tags: transcript

Wilson to Host RIoT Innovator Program

December 20, 2019

One of the great things about innovation in the technology space is that entrepreneurs and their new ideas typically don’t require a large number of people to get a new venture off the ground. Small teams can make big impacts. What they DO require, however, often includes opportunity and support — enter RIoT. Now, the network of technologists, engineers, business leaders, academics, policy makers, and entrepreneurs, who have an interest in the Internet of Things industry will be coming to Wilson, North Carolina.

That's A RAP in Wilson

The Regional Internet of Things Accelerator Program (RAP) started working with North Carolina innovation startups in 2018. The first cohort of IoT companies included entities focused on a variety of innovations that integrate the IoT space. 

RIoT worked with startups in the Triangle region, but now they're bringing the RAP east to Wilson, where it will take up residence in the Gig East Exchange, Wilson's incubator and startup resource facility. The 2020 RAP program will be in Wilson through the spring.

According to RIoT Executive Director Ton Snyder, "Experience has shown that many smart entrepreneurs are not able to relocate to Raleigh or Charlotte, so RIoT is making an effort to get closer to them.”

In addition to Wilson's fiber optic network, Greenlight Community Broadband, the town's Gig East Exchange impressed the RIoT leadership. Snyder described the community's leaders as "visionary and forward acting" and clearly invested in economic development. RIoT has been working with North Carolina companies since 2014; their efforts have helped create more than 400 jobs in the state. 

They work with teams in person for a three-month program period and describe the program as "a mix of on-site workshop programming and mentorship [with] dedicated time to work on your company." You can learn more about the program here, including FAQs, that discuss what types of projects and teams are most suited to the program.

Check out this video on Wilson's Gig East Exchange:

Tags: wilsongreenlightinnovationgigstartupentrepreneurshipeconomic developmentnorth carolina

Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation Consider Community Network in Oregon

December 19, 2019

In October, the East Oregonian reported that the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) are planning to develop a broadband network.

From the East Oregonian:

Ryan DeGrofft, an economic planner for the CTUIR, said the tribes are planning the project in three phases.

The first would create a fiber loop between the CTUIR’s government facilities and tribal enterprises like Wildhorse Resort and Casino. The second phase would connect the reservation to Pendleton’s fiber infrastructure.

The final phase would see the tribes becoming its own Internet service provider for residential customers living on the reservation.

DeGrofft cautioned that the plan was still in its early stages, and even if all phases came to pass, there still might be some remote parts of the reservation that might not get the service.

At this point, DeGrofft said the CTUIR is conducting a survey to get a sense of where Internet speeds are across the reservation. Anecdotally, even some locations in Mission are experiencing slow and spotty internet service.

DeGrofft said the project is dependent on obtaining funding through grants and other sources, so there isn’t a definitive timeline for it yet.

CTUIR is asking community members to run a speed test and submit their results. They also want to know where there is no service and encourage people to contact Tribal Services.

The tribes live in the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Umatilla County in northeast Oregon. Three tribes - Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla - make up the CTUIR. There are about 2,900 people as registered members with approximately half living on or near the reservation, which is about 290 square miles. People from other tribes and non-Native Americans also live on reservation land.

Tags: oregontribal networktribal landsconsiderationsurvey

Kiosk Toolkit from Next Century Cities Helps Maximize the Power of U.S. Census

December 19, 2019

Every decade, the U.S. counts itself to learn more about the people who make up the fabric of America. The upcoming census of 2020 will be the first census conducted mostly online and, while the prospect is an exciting statement about our technology, there are new risks that accompany innovation. Not everyone has reliable Internet access, which can lead to undercounts. Next Century Cities recently released the 2020 Census Kiosk Toolkit, a resource to help local communities and their citizens ensure results are accurate by establishing a public kiosk program.

Why Does It Matter?

The United States Census Bureau seeks a count of all people living in the U.S. states and territories in order to establish how to distribute federal funding. Dollars for education, infrastructure, healthcare, and other programs are determined based on population and need. When local communities and states come in with counts that don't reflect reality, they don't receive a correct amount of funding. This is especially a problem when large percentages of the population aren't counted.

Census data also determines representation in government. The number of seats in the House of Representatives, and congressional and state legislative district borders are determined based on census results. Local community leadership uses census data to help shape policy, planning, and how to distribute resources.

As one can expect, counting every person in the United States is a monumental task that requires cooperation at every level. In the past, census takers travelled door-to-door and paper ballots were mailed to households. This year, however, much of the data will be collected online in an effort to cut costs and expedite the process.

A Community-Minded Approach for Better Data Collection

Next Century Cities' Kiosk Toolkit offers some great advice and resources to local governments who want to improve the chances that every person in their community is included in the census. The organization, developed to help local communities with broadband and related issues, points out that current local resources can contribute to data collection...:

Local governments are well positioned to work with stakeholders and implement programs to encourage online census responses. Local leaders should make a point of engaging with groups that are already doing work to address digital access and literacy, such as libraries. Organizations such as these often have resources in place to help, and are engaged with communities that would most benefit. 

Municipalities can consider working with Internet service providers to make public Internet access temporarily available to help individuals respond to the census online. Some nonprofits are already working to make hotspots available for this purpose.

...and that a new approach can help make the census available to everyone:

Local governments can also implement programs to make public devices, or “kiosks,” available for online census participation. Deploying Internet-connected kiosks in public places across the community can help remove barriers to participating in the census online, such as access to a device or a home Internet connection. Public kiosks also make it easy for people to complete the census in places that they already spend time, such as in line at the post office or in the library. 

The toolkit examines existing kiosk models in Los Angeles and Santa Clara Counties and looks at what features local administrators have implemented.

The city and county of Los Angeles are deploying Census Action Kiosks that residents can use to complete the census. The kiosks are existing Internet-connected computers or tablets that will be set to display the Census Bureau’s website, and are being deployed in city and county buildings and in partner locations across the region. The city itself is deploying about 200 kiosks, and is estimating that 900 will be deployed across the county in total. The kiosks are scheduled to become available in mid-March 2020. 

Santa Clara County is renting over 100 tablets with the specific purpose of deploying them as census participation kiosks. The tablets will be locked so that they can only access the Census Bureau’s page, and will be deployed at key community organizations’ locations throughout the county, such as at libraries and senior centers.

The toolkit considers important dates for program success, outreach strategies, what types of devices will be required, features of spaces where kiosks are located, staffing, documenting and mapping of the kiosk locations, security, and provides multiple resources for these and other elements.

Next Century Cities' Kiosk Toolkit provides templates for communications so local officials can spread the word about the kiosks. There are also suggestions for events, graphics to use, and links to other organizations' resources to help with the census in your community.

Bookmark the toolkit. Even if your community won't be using kiosks to help count every citizen, having many resources on census information in one place will help answer your questions.

For more on the census, watch this brief video:

Image of family taking part of the 1970 census from US Census Bureau [Public domain]

Tags: next century citiesresourcetoolkitvideo

American Telephone Membership Corp. to Expand Fiber in Rural North Carolina

December 18, 2019

The USDA's ReConnect Program to expand broadband in rural areas has been awarding funding for several weeks now; electric and telephone cooperatives have received significant awards. In North Carolina, Atlantic Telephone Membership Corporation (ATMC) recently learned that their application for ReConnect funds has been granted and the cooperative will receive $7.9 million toward expanding their Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service.

Celebrating in Columbus County

Cooperative CEO and General Manager Keith Holden, USDA State Director for North Carolina Robert Hosford, and Chief of the Waccamaw Siouan Tribe Michael Jacobs gathered at the Tribe Headquarters in Bolton to announce the award and discuss the project. ATMC will match the USDA grant with an additional $7.9 million, rather than take a loan from the ReConnect program. The total cost of the project is around $15.87 million and will deploy FTTH to more than 2,700 premises, including homes and more than 50 businesses. The infrastructure will also serve three critical community facilities, ten educational facilities, and 23 agricultural operations in northern Columbus County. 

At the event, Hosford noted that better connectivity will help agricultural establishments in the region, one of the main sectors of the local economy. 

“The health and vibrance of rural communities most usually is from farmers and forestry in this state,” Hosford said. “If those small communities are healthy, that means their farming communities are healthy, and this is just another tool in our toolbox to help these rural communities.” 

Hosford said the agriculture industry has struggled in recent months due to ongoing trade disputes, so any boost is a welcome one.

ATMC will use the funding to build out to Tabor City, Hallsboro, Lake Waccamaw, Bolton, and areas north of Whiteville.

Other Grant Sources 

The co-op is adding the ReConnect grant to other funding it received in 2019, including a $1 million award from the state. Funding came from the NC GREAT program and enabled deployment to approximately 800 homes in Beaverdam and Williams.

In 2010, ATMC won a $16 million grant to develop its FTTH network in rural Columbus County from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). At that time, the co-op connected approximately 4,000 premises. They've established their FOCUS Fiber service, which offers four symmetrical tiers: 

  • 50 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $49.95 per month
  • 250 Mbps for $66.95 per month
  • 500 Mbps for $74.95 per month
  • 1000 Mbps (1 Gigabit) for $85.95 per month

The co-op also offers bundled services that include voice and video. There are no bandwidth caps and subscribers pay no modem fees. The FTTH service isn't available in all areas where ATMC provides Internet access, but grants will help expand FOCUS Fiber availability.

Spreading the Word

ATMC has made several videos about fiber connectivity and hosts them on their website. In addition to explainer vids about the benefits of fiber, ATMC provides this video of what subscribers can expect when it's time for installation:

They've also posted video testimonials from subscribers about obtaining service from a local Internet Service Provider (ISP) and the ways the co-op has provided dedicated and simplified service.


Columbus County

About 56,000 people live in the county where ATMC will be building the new infrastructure. Columbus County is one of the most southern counties in the state and is 954 square miles. Within Columbus County is the unique Green Swamp area, a 16,000-acre area where several endangered species live, including the Venus flytrap. The Waccamaw Siouan Indian Tribe's homeland territory is on the edge of the Green Swamp.

The Tribe will be one of the smaller communities within the deployment areas who benefit the most from the new FTTH service. Brenda J. Moore, Housing Coordinator of the Waccamaw Siouan Indian Tribe said, "Finally our tribal students can look forward to no more boot-legging of Wi-Fi in order to do their homework."

As Chief Michael Jacob said at the event

“It’s really going to be a blessing to be able to utilize this, because it as of right now we are limited. Everything is just so slow: You have to wait on this and wait on that. You talk about a person’s well-being, and their education, it isn’t something we need to wait on. We need to put that in the forefront so this is really a blessing.”

ATMC is in the process of design now and intends to begin constructing the network in mid-2020.

Read more about the way rural cooperatives are deploying fiber in the latest version of our report Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model for the Internet Era.

Tags: cooperativenorth carolinatribal landsruralFTTHfederal funding

Advice for Communities from Industry Guru Doug Dawson - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 387

December 17, 2019

Doug Dawson from CCG Consulting and author of the POTs and PANs: Pretty Advanced New Stuff by CCG blog met up with Christopher back in October in Alexandria, Virginia, and the two recorded this week's podcast episode. They were attending most recent Broadband Communities event, a place where experts and community leaders gather to talk about latest developments and opportunities in broadband and economic development. Christopher, who's had Doug on the show several times in the past, asked him to provide some general advice to communities interested in improving broadband. Doug shared both advice and observations.

Doug notes that counties, rather than municipalities, are seeking out his expertise more frequently these days. He also goes on to point out that in the past, local communities asked him to determine if they could take steps to improve Internet access but now they simply ask how they can do it. The shift exemplifies the growing understanding that local leaders see how high-quality Internet access and fast, affordable, reliable connectivity drive economic development and help preserve their communities.

Doug and Christopher talk about the growing desire to address digital inclusion and how Doug is increasingly helping local communities find ways to shrink the digital divide. Christopher and Doug also look at reasons why local communities should think twice about investing in publicly owned networks. These types of projects aren't the best course of action for every community and Doug, as a straight talker, helps his clients determine when they should shelve plans to deploy publicly owned networks and look for other answers.

For more from Doug Dawson, check him out in podcast episode 353 and episode 306. Be sure to check out POTs and PANs by CCG for some insightful and thought provoking articles. We don't know how he does it all!

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

This show is 37 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.

Read the transcript for this episode.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Subscribe to the Building Local Power podcast, also from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, on iTunes or Stitcher to catch more great conversations about local communities, concentration of corporate power, and how everyday people are taking control.

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: broadband bitspodcastaudioconsultantccgfeasibilityeconomic developmentdigital divideconsiderationfunding

Third Edition of Policy Brief Reveals Increasing Gains in Co-op Fiber Deployment

December 17, 2019

Originally published in 2017, our report, Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model for the Internet Era, focuses on cooperatives as a proven model for deploying fiber optic Internet access across the country, especially in rural areas. An update in the spring of 2019 included additional information about the rate at which co-ops are expanding Internet service. Now we’ve updated the report with a new map and personal stories from areas where co-ops have drastically impacted local life.

Download the updated report [PDF] here.

All versions of the report can be accessed from the Reports Archive for this report.

Some highlights from the third edition of Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America include:

  • More than 110 rural electric co-ops have embarked on fiber optic projects to increase Internet access for their members, a number that is growing rapidly from just a handful in 2012.
  • The majority, or 72.7 percent, of the fiber service available in rural areas is provided by rural cooperatives.
  • Personal anecdotes from Michigan, Virginia, Minnesota, and Missouri residents attest to the far-reaching benefits of cooperatives’ expansion into Internet service.
  • A new map shows where rural cooperatives are planning to expand fiber Internet service.

Co-ops have proven that this is a model that works. With increased support from federal and state governments, they will continue to connect rural Americans to economic and educational opportunities otherwise denied to them. 

Read Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model For The Internet Era [PDF] here.

Tags: reportrural electric coopcooperativeruralFTTHmapmichiganvirginiaminnesotamissouri

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 385

December 17, 2019


This is the transcript for episode 385 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. In this episode, Christopher talkes to Brandon Makaawaawa and Matt Rantanen about connectivity in indigenous communities and deploying a community network in Pu‘uhonua o Waimānalo. Listen to the episode, or read the transcript below.



Brandon Makaawaawa: Internet is very vital to our community and not having that access is a weakness that is now going to be fulfilled with this summit.

Lisa Gonzalez: Welcome to episode 385 of the community broadband bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. While the community broadband networks team has been fighting the cold and snow in Minnesota, Christopher recently spent a week in Hawaii. He wasn't on vacation though, he was attending the Internet society's Indigenous Connectivity Summit 2019. While he was there, he interviewed Brandon Makaawaawa, a local broadband champion, and Matt Rantanen from the Southern California Tribal Chairmen's Association. Regular podcast listeners will recognize Matt who's been on the show in the past to talk about advances and tribal networks and how local tribal communities are making better connectivity happen for themselves. During this conversation, you'll get to hear the purpose of the summit and how the annual event has evolved. You'll also get to hear about how Brandon's indigenous community has found themselves in a situation where high speed connectivity from the big providers isn't headed their way. We learn a little about his people's history, which has contributed to their current situation and their decision to pursue self-determination. We get to hear about one of the purposes of the summit, a deployment of a community broadband network in Brandon's village. Even though the environment is far away from many of the rural communities that we usually report on, we learned that many of the roadblocks are the same. Now here's Christopher talking with Brandon Makaawaawa and Matt Rantanen at the 2019 Indigenous Connectivity Summit in Hawaii.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the community broadband bits podcast, Hawaiian edition. It's Chris Mitchell from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. And today I'm back with Matt Rantanen and a new guest, Brandon Makaawaawa who's from Waimānalo. Welcome to the show!

Brandon Makaawaawa: Aloha! Thank you, man. I mean, Chris.

Christopher Mitchell: That's totally perfect for the intro. Matt, who are you?

Matt Rantanen: Matt Rantanen, director of technology for the Southern California Tribal Chairman's Association. I'm also partnering in business development for Arcadian Infracom who's building fiber across the Southwest of the United States through the Navajo nation. We are here for the Internet society and we're starting on the big Island for two days of background on all kinds of North American Indigenous Connectivity, what's happening there and that sort of a space. And I'm gonna give the mic back to Matt in a second to go a little bit deeper but we're going to be going over to Waimānalo to actually build a community network. And this is going to be, I mean, we're not just talking about how to build it — we're going to go learn how to build it and literally turn screws and attach wireless devices to things. And you're going to have connectivity when we're done and you're going to be in charge of me and keep going after that. So, Matt, why are we here? What is this Indigenous Connectivity Summit from the Internet society?

Matt Rantanen: So this is the third annual Indigenous Connectivity Summit and it's really an opportunity for indigenous folks to get together to support the concepts of building networks and bringing community networks together to share opportunity, for those who want to build new community networks, those who want to solve problems within their community networks and those who want to understand policy and funding and opportunity around this space. We feel that with the lack of provision by the existing incumbents to the Native American communities, it is our duty to provide for ourselves and dictate our future and become self-determined. So this is the third Indigenous Connectivity Summit — the first one was held in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and that kicked it off. We had tribes from Canada and the U.S. convene for the very first time and we were able to have conversations and realize the value of this group getting together. It spawned a lot of projects, a lot of networks were being built because of that actual meeting. And I can specifically address three of those projects having consulted as a free service to our own communities. The second one was held in Inuvik 200 miles North of the Arctic circle — a very extreme change in temperature, geographic location and a completely different place. Amazingly enough, the same exact problems, the same exact issues with connectivity and access to communications. And here we are in Hawaii and we see the same thing.


Brandon Makaawaawa: Yeah, the problem for our community at least is, you know, Hawaii is a pretty small place. Like we don't fit the usual description of what rural is because everything's within less than a hundred miles. We're less than a hundred miles to the city of Honolulu, we're less than actually 20 miles. So we're not really recognized technically as a rural area so sometimes we get left out of the picture as far as getting rural funds to us to have companies like the one we deal with, which is Hawaii Telcom to actually come out to us. So they gave us this whole spiel of — it's not economically feasible. And so when that happens, our community gets disenfranchised. It gets pushed back and it gets ostracized and it gets suppressed even more. And so we feel that this opportunity now with the Internet society and them coming out and helping to kind of spearhead this initiative to build our own network so that we, like how Matt said, we can self-determine our future. It falls right in line to what we do as the nation of Hawaii in Waimānalo. The nation of Hawaii is our organization that actually governs over our lands where this network will be put up. Now this is the first time that we have actually partnered with the state of Hawaii with Bert Lum with the DBEDT department. Burt Lum is actually the broadband expert, strategy expert on implementing broadband across Hawaii. So he went to one of the Internet society Indigenous Connectivity Summit last year and he got them to say that, "Hey, why don't you come out to Hawaii next year because we have communities out here that actually need help." And so when he came back, he tried to look for an indigenous community that could kind of fit the parameters that would be able to run their own network. But Hawaii is a very unique place. Native Hawaiians aren't federally recognized. And we come from a history of — in 1893 our people, we had a sovereign and independent nation and that nation was overthrown with the help of America and businessmen. And so for over 125 years, we've been stuck kind of like in this limbo of not really getting federal funding, not really getting any kind of assistance. We've just been kind of like stuck out here to kind of figure it out on our own. It wasn't until 1993 when president Clinton signed the apology law that the federal government and the state ever acknowledged the wrong-doings that had happened. And at that time, the leader of the nation of Hawaii, he organized a bunch of houses, Hawaiians, to actually occupy lands that the federal government had just apologized for stealing. And so we actually leverage that occupation, which was at a beach called Makapu'u into the first ever sovereign Hawaiian land base in existence. So for the last 25 years, we've been in a village called Pu`uhonua O Waimanalo, where we have our own autonomy, where we have our own set of rules. We don't ask the state of Hawaii what to do if we need houses, we build it, if we need roads, we build it. And so this is the first time that the state of Hawaii through somebody like Burt Lum had the vision to look at us and these guys might have the way for us to bring something like the Indigenous Connectivity Summit here without having to go through the usual red tape that the state has to go to and the federal governments have to go to. And, you know, we just met everybody in June and this is November and we're rolling already and it's happening. And so I think, just our involvement alone allowed the state to live up to what Burt wanted to do, which was bring the conference to us and in turn we have finally found like a mutual goal, which is to build our own community broadband network because this will be the first ever in the state of Hawaii.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, there are no community networks to my knowledge and not to yours either. So it's a good description of the collective situation. I want to just quickly get a better sense of you, personally, for people who aren't sitting in the room with us, which is everyone on the planet except for us — the two of you, I mean, Matt, you're like 6'2 and Brandon, you're like 6'3. Did you get into this cause as the tallest person, it would be easier for you to put radios up?

Brandon Makaawaawa: Well, you know, my uncle is not 6'3, but he is pretty intimidating. So if he wants to do something, he tells me to do it, I just do it.


Christopher Mitchell: And who's your uncle?

Brandon Makaawaawa: My uncle is a head of the state of the nation of Hawaii, his name is Dennis Bumpy Kanahele. You guys can Google him. He's a controversial figure in our Hawaiian community but he stood for what is right and, you know, he being like this independent force in Hawaii, he's always open to the opportunity for us to take advantage of situations such as this. And we felt that like it was no brainer. If we had people like the state of Hawaii, like Burt Lum involved, we had people like Internet society, which was so gracious in lending their expertise, bringing in other partnerships that actually helped us push through this initiative without us coming out of pocket. Because of our stance, we've been kind of ostracized here and so anytime we want to do something, we've got to come out of pocket for everything. And so this is like no brainer for us, if they're going to provide the service and they want to do it, you know, we know how important the Internet is. Without the Internet, we'd have to rely on regular media and regular media doesn't really paint us in the best picture. So Internet is very vital to our community and not having that access is, you know, is a weakness that we see that is now going to be fulfilled with this summit.

Matt Rantanen: I think one of the things that I've seen in the last 18 years of working in community wireless and working with 573 federally recognized tribes and now, you know, Native Hawaiians, I think that, Brandon to me, you are the champion of this. Your uncle is, obviously, the motivator and uncle Bumpy is wonderful, but you are the one that will probably take lead and manage the determination of the future of this network and how it evolves and work with your people to, you know, to grow this. And that's the required element in every situation in Indian country across the United States, across Canada, and across other continents in the world is you have to have somebody on the ground that embraces the technology, embraces the concept of the network and what it means to the community and is the champion of that. And so that's how I see you and since you're bigger than me, yeah, you're my champion.

Brandon Makaawaawa: Yeah, no, thank you Matt. And, we're growing into this, but we see the potential of how high speed Internet access lifts up communities and it's all about empowerment today. We can't be stuck in this victim-hood thing where, you know, we are just going to accept whatever is given to us. No, we have to find ways to create independence and to create situations where our people prosper and it's governed and controlled by our people. And so that creating this community network, it just fits — it fits what we do and it fits where we're going, which is for total independence for our people to have the best opportunities that everybody else has and so this is an empowering event.

Christopher Mitchell: And so to build on that a little bit, you're not seeing this just as the technology, it's not just about having better broadband Internet access and Waimānalo, right? So why is the community ownership important? And you mentioned how it fits into the greater independence struggle, but tell me a little bit more about why that community ownership has been important to you.

Brandon Makaawaawa: I think for us it's having practical means to create independence, so ownership is a big one, creating economy is another big one, creating political action, creating social movements — you need an economy to fund these things. We can't stand frontline and protests every single development that comes in because we won't ever survive like that. We need to have a voice, we need to have resources behind us so that when these colonizing or when these multinational corporations want to come in here with their big bucks in their money and whatever they want to do, they can't just force their way in here. Because somebody is going to be in the place and we've already taken up that position and so they got to work with us now. So that's why it's so important for us, you know, not just with the Internet but with everything we're trying to create independently is that we need to start solving our own solution, stop outsourcing to other companies and corporations because we're just trading one colonizer for another. And so the more that we eliminate the dependencies on whether it's the government that hasn't treated us right or these multinational corporations that talk a good game, but when they come in, they take over everything and then we're stuck. So this kind of helps.


Matt Rantanen: What we've seen as, you know, along those lines is that tribes are able to be proactive instead of reactive to issues that can be involved in the issue when it's just in conversation before it actually becomes a law or because written down as a rulemaking. You can be involved in the conversation if you have access to the Internet because you have the current flow of information, you're not getting secondhand or information delivered to you. You're actually part of the information flow.

Christopher Mitchell: So let's talk now about the prep work. So you don't have very good connectivity now — what have you had to do to prepare for the building of the community network?

Brandon Makaawaawa: We dug our own trenches, you know, working with Hawaiian Tel now in this new capacity where the state is involved. It kinda gave us an opportunity to push Hawaiian toe closer to working with us. And so in that sense, that was good but then also, when they come onto our land, like I was talking about, it's our land, we govern it, we do the work on it. And so it was only right that we're the ones that dug our own trenching and lead our own conduits. We dug about, you know, from the street level up to our building where we will have the main hub, we dug us 600 foot long trench. You know, luckily we have good operators in the village, we have good machines, we have good foremans that, you know, they have experienced laying all kinds of different plumbing pipeline for our houses, electrical, roadway, so something like this, you know, it might seem amazing to a lot of people, but for us it's just part of the gig. We're used to it — we're used to getting dirty, we're used to getting down because that's the only way things are going to get done. We can't wait for somebody else to come in and do it for us, so we've dug trenching, we've set up, with Hawaiian Tel, we pulled the fiber in. We set up Hubs to every, you know, all the new equipment that's gonna go in to build the mesh net around our village, it's ready to go. We sunk a light telephone pole down at the bottom of the village because we'll have two entry points. And so, yeah, no, we are just, we're game for everything and a lot of this prep work that we've done, it's just stuff that we've done in the past, but now it relates to Internet and broadband access.

Matt Rantanen: And call it trial by fire but it is a great experience builder where you're forced to have to dig your own trench, to lay your own conduit to have fiber brought in. You are much further along than most community networks before you even have the first connectivity LED. Most people have some sort of delivery of service that they start using before they actually start building infrastructure, really heavy duty infrastructure. And this is great to see, you get that experience and now you know what it takes, right?

Brandon Makaawaawa: Mahalo.

Christopher Mitchell: So what are we going to be doing the next two days in Waimānalo?

Brandon Makaawaawa: Well, we'll probably be eating some good Hawaiian food.

Christopher Mitchell: Some Lau Lau, I hear.

Brandon Makaawaawa: Some Lau Lau will probably be, you know, checking out the scenery. But we'll be in there and we'll be building the network and we'd like to thank Bysells for bringing in the equipment and helping to donate all of that. And we just kind of looking to see and experience what finishing this whole thing off — we did the first part, now we are brining in the technical side, we are bringing in some of the experts, you know, from around the world that'll come in. To me, I just want to see how this takes place because we have so much experts here. It's going to be like 150 guys changing one light bulb. Oh, I want `to see how this is organized, like who is the chief and who is the Indian and who is going to make it go but that's part of the excitement and we kinda like spread this story out amongst our network and amongst our community, so everybody's excited. So we're expecting like a couple hundred people to be there and just kind of watch and learn and we're just so excited to get this network going but hopefully, by Friday, we'll be totally lit up. I think that's the second day, so the first day, I guess, we'll be in a training with Bysells in the morning and then we'll be kind of watching the experts light up that first line and then the second day they'll shadow us and whatever we learned on the first day, we'll do for the second entry point. And, we'll see if we did a good job on that and we'll try and light it up, then.

Christopher Mitchell: So what are the connections going to in this initial round of the network?

Brandon Makaawaawa: Okay, the first connection is actually going to our front gate so that we can kind of get around this huge tree that is in the way of getting this connection down to the bottom part of our village.


Christopher Mitchell: Sorry, when you say a huge tree, I think you, I mean, as I said before, you're already, you're a big guy.

Brandon Makaawaawa: Yeah, I'm talking like 150 foot tall, you know, a hundred feet wide, you know, it's probably more than a hundred feet wide, 200 foot wide, Banyan tree. And this equipment doesn't go through that type of —

Christopher Mitchell: I don't think much of anything goes through a middle of a tree.

Brandon Makaawaawa: — and so, you know, we had to do two installations, so the first installation is going to go kind of at the bottom of our village, near our front gate and then the second installation is actually going to go to our community, which is actually kind of like set up on a hill that overlooks all the homes. And so I guess from there we're gonna like shoot the mesh network all the way and connect to all the homes from there. It's kind of a central hub and a place where everything can originate and be spread out.

Matt Rantanen: Yeah, that's almost exactly right and the design of the network is designed because of geography, which is typical to tribal installations. Most tribes are in very geographically diverse areas that have obstacles and you have to get creative to be able to deploy the network to all the people. And, and you have it right, I mean, we're, going to Spencer Sylvia and Mariel Triggs and myself and a few others are going to do some demonstration of product and probably show how the installation of the one or two pieces goes. And then, you know, we'd love to hand it over and have you do that because experience and hands on is the key because then we know that you've done it, you've experienced the process and their success after that because you can rely on yourself and your knowledge of what happened and if we shadow and just offer suggestions or support. It's a great way to start this and hands on is how most of tribal people learn — visual and hands on. We're all about seeing what happens and how it works.

Christopher Mitchell: So let me ask you and I want to follow up in like maybe a year or two to see how accurate this is — how do you think this is going to change things? Like what's the result going to be of this network?

Brandon Makaawaawa: Well, already, it's kind of brought in like this new excitement to our village and we're so independent and we still used to doing things on our own and just like scratching and crawling, you know, just to get like roads in there and just to get, you know, houses built that this'll kind of just take us to, bring us up to modern times because honestly, our network is non-existent. We have no Internet access in our village right now so most of our things are run off of cellular data, off of hotspots, which can be really expensive and that kind of cuts into the things that we could do otherwise. So first off, it is going to save us a lot of money by doing this. Secondly, it's gonna enhance our reach because we rely a lot on social media. We rely a lot on the Internet for research and development issues and to stay connected with the world because we believe that connectivity is actually the real sovereignty that, that is emerging around the world because we're not trapped behind these political barriers, these landlocked barriers. We're not going to be fighting over land anymore. We feel that with this Internet connection, it's the beginning of the rise of a digital nation and we want to be the people on the fore-front of that. So just this alone allows us to imagine and to hope and to bring excitement to our village. Because with the Internet, you know, stuff like Blockchain technology, stuff like Cryptocurrency, you know, e-commerce, just connecting with these people that they have these experiences and expertise and technology and innovation that the state governments and the federal governments are not bringing to us. So now we don't need that, now we can go around them, we can go through them, we can go to anywhere around the world and connect with people that want to help. And so it's a way for us to improve our political, economic and social standards and just read the standards of life inside our village and eventually to the rest of the Hawaiian population around the other audience

Christopher Mitchell: Great! Well, thank you so much, Brandon Makaawaawa from Waimānalo. Thank you so much for coming on the show.

Brandon Makaawaawa: Mahalo, Chris! Thank you for having me and thank you to Matt and thank you to ISOC and everybody that's here, we really appreciate what's going on. And, you know, this year, it's about us but when we're lit up, where we're ready to help everybody else. So it's about empowering and it's about empowering every single community after this. If we can be an example of hope, then let's be that example. Let's shine that light.


Christopher Mitchell: You know, next year is scheduled for Winnipeg, I think. I don't know how often you've experienced a winter that far North, but I think we should move it to a little later, maybe January or February in Winnipeg.

Brandon Makaawaawa: You guys had a boss of cold. We were just following you so if you lead us into a blizzard, you know, next time you come to Hawaii, we might take you to the North shore, you know, during December and teach you how to swim out there.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with Brandon Makaawaawa and Matt Rantanen at the 2019 Indigenous Connectivity Summit in Hawaii where they work to deploy a fixed wireless community broadband network for Brandon's village. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at Email us at with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter — his handle is @communitynets. Follow stories on Twitter, the handle is @muninetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other podcasts from ILSR, Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them anywhere you get your podcasts. You can catch the latest important research from all of our initiatives if you subscribe to our monthly newsletter at While you're there, please take a moment to donate. Your support in any amount helps keep us going. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and thank you for listening to episode 385 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcript

Community Broadband Media Roundup - December 16

December 16, 2019


Residents react to broadband roll out by Jessica Jenkins, TrailGazette 

Fort Collins has already won with Connexion broadband by Patrick Burns, Coloradoan  



Georgia authorizes electric cooperatives to deliver rural broadband, Benton Institute for Broadband and Society 

“FCC maps, which use data submitted by current service providers, have been grossly overstating the areas considered “served” by broadband providers. Why are the FCC maps important? Simply put, federal funds for rural broadband have been distributed using the FCC’s flawed maps. It’s no wonder that rural broadband access is such a mess. Thankfully, Georgia is leading the way nationally in defining the broadband problem with new, accurate maps.”



One of the poorest, most desperate regions in Appalachia is experiencing an economic miracle thanks to fiber run by a New Deal-era co-op by Mitch Wagner, Boingboing



MaineCF’s community broadband program awards $100,000 in grants,



Choptank electric looking to bring broadband service to rural communities by Cate Douglass, WBOC TV

Broadband in rural Maryland? How Eastern Shore could get new provider by Lucas Gonzalez, Delmarva Now 


North Dakota  

Rural broadband leads way to a ‘connected society’ in places like Inkster, ND by Sam Easter, The Dickinson Press

“Midway’s classrooms are an example of the benefits local communities reap from a high-speed Internet connection. But it’s far from the only way that the Internet – often considered as important as roads or electricity – have become to modern communities. There are implications for healthcare, which increasingly relies on telemedicine, and for business development concerns. There are smart farming applications and unmanned aircraft implications. The list goes on.”


North Carolina 

Expanding to Wilson, RIot aims to support tech startup growth east of the Triangle by Shannon Cuthrell, WRAL TechWire



County announces broadband campaign by Samantha Field, Observer Dispatch


South Carolina 

USDA invests $8.1 million in rural broadband for South Carolina families, USDA


South Dakota

USDA invests $9.5  million in rural broadband for South Dakota families, USDA



Forked Deer Electric Cooperatives brings fiber to unserved areas with AXOS, Broadband Communities Magazine  


West Virginia 

Rural broadband in West Virginia: Building on successes of 2019 by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, The Exponent Telegram



How the FCC lets your ISP paint a rosy picture of Internet speeds by Makena Kelly, The Verge

“According to the WSJ, companies like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast have worked to influence the reports and have used a variety of tactics over the years to boost their numbers. In doing so, the FCC’s reporting system could be showing connection speeds that are far faster than what customers actually get.”

Rural electric co-ops deliver broadband, Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Two years later, broadband providers are still taking advantage of an Internet without net neutrality protections by Lindsay Stern, Public Knowledge 

Smart cities require smart infrastructure by James Carlini, International Policy Digest



Tags: media roundup

First Breckenridge Residents Connect to Community's Fiber9600 Network

December 16, 2019

Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence and her husband who live in Breckenridge, Colorado, received a special holiday treat on December 9th — their house was connected to the new community network, Fiber9600. Crews braved the snow in the mountain community in order to complete the first home install.

Winter Waits for No Fiber

Two residential neighborhoods have been chosen for the first installs. ALLO Communications, the Internet access provider delivering service via the publicly owned fiber optic infrastructure, has stopped scheduling new installation appointments due to the inhospitable winter construction season.

According to ALLO senior operations manager Junius Businelle, however, crews will continue to complete scheduled installations in the first two designated neighborhoods with expected completion by February 1. Installation is free and takes about 90 minutes to two hours, unless a subscriber asks for TV installation, which requires up to an hour.

Lawrence and her spouse, Ryan Scholl, wanted to switch to ALLO because their previous Internet access was too expensive and unreliable. “We’re really looking forward to it because we have really inconsistent internet,” she told Summit Daily

From Open to ALLO

The city’s early plans were to develop an open access network in order to spur competition. The community, which welcomes large numbers of tourists every year, has experienced poor Internet access and high rates. City leaders, however, considered the challenges for ISPs operating on open access networks, such as getting a foothold in the community, and decided instead to work solely with ALLO for the first ten years.

With the option to renew the arrangement with ALLO for two more 10-year terms, Breckenridge will give the company a chance to establish themselves as a new entrant. The community will preserve an option to find another ISP in the future, if they’re not satisfied with ALLO after a reasonable period. 

As Commissioner Lawrence noted, subscribers will be able to sign up for better service than has been available in the past. As the city’s Fiber9600 page:

Those who have lived in Town for any length of time are well aware of the Internet and connectivity issues experienced in Breckenridge. During the peak season, businesses struggle to complete transactions, students have a difficult time submitting their homework, cell service is reduced, and simply streaming a movie can become difficult. You may think you're receiving a certain speed, but residents find that they're rarely reaching their promised Internet speeds. With only a few options, residents struggle with customer service issues, long term contracts, and pricing options. 

ALLO Again

ALLO Communications has become most famously known in municipal networks conversations as the ISP working with the city of Lincoln, Nebraska, to deliver Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connectivity to residents and businesses. The city began with a large, publicly owned conduit network. Eventually, Lincoln worked with ALLO to deliver fiber through the conduit across the city. Now, the community has taken advantage of mobile and fixed wireless opportunities. ALLO has been recognized as one of PCMag's fastest ISPs and is also working with Fort Morgan, Colorado.

ALLO is offering three tiers in Breckenridge, all symmetrical:

20 Megabits per second (Mbps) = $45 per month

300 Mbps = $60 per month

1 Gigiabit per second (Gbps) = $89 per month

Tags: breckenridgecoloradoallopartnershipcompetitionFTTH

Applications Open for Blandin Broadband Communities Program, Deadline January 24th

December 13, 2019

The Blandin Broadband Communities (BBC) program from the Blandin Foundation has been helping local cities, counties, tribes, and other self-identified communities of interest or place take steps to meet technology goals since 2013. The foundation is once again seeking participant communities and is accepting applications to be part of the 2020-2021 program cohort.

Download the BBC Application Instructions here for more information on how to apply to the program. The application deadline is January 24th.

Helping Communities Meet Their Goals

Bernadine Joselyn, Director of Public Policy and Engagement at the Blandin Foundation alerted us to the search for participating communities. In an email, Bernadine stated:

This program emphasizes broadband adoption and use in rural communities through the provision of leadership and project development facilitation services as well as project funding of up to $75,000. Project examples include public Wi-Fi access, business technology assessment and training, workforce training, online community and business marketing, online government services and other community generated projects. Communities are required to create a steering team to oversee the effort over the 18-24 month program period 

For communities that have quality broadband services in place, this program can showcase the value of broadband network deployment. For communities working to improve their broadband networks, Blandin Broadband Communities can provide a platform for building community consensus that enhanced broadband networks are critical to a community’s future.

Working for Other Communities Across Minnesota

The last cohort focused on Iron Range communities in northern Minnesota; the Blandin Foundation was able to make use of funding from the Minnesota Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation (IRRR) and St. Louis County. Past entities working with the Blandin Foundation include the Cannon Falls School District, Bois Fort Reservation, Renville and Sibley Counties, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services.

Applicants and interested parties can see a wealth of information on the program and on past projects at the Blandin Broadband Communities Program website.

Download the detailed Application Instructions here to find out how your community can apply to become a Blandin Broadband Community. Get your applications submitted by January 24th to qualify!

2020 Blandin Broadband Communities ApplicationTags: blandin foundationminnesotagrantrurallocal

Greenlight Community Broadband Leads Fiber Training in Wilson, North Carolina

December 12, 2019

With an incredible resource such as the Greenlight Community Broadband Network in town, leaders in Willson, North Carolina, have the ability to pursue any number of innovations. This past November, Greenlight, Wilson Community College, and the Gig East Exchange held their first Fiber Boot Camp, a training program to certify people interested in working as fiber optic technicians.

Accessibility for Students

The boot camp was borne from a prior course that lasted 10 weeks. The longer course filled up quickly and, recognizing the need for the training, Manager of Outside Plant Gene Scott and his team realized that a more intensive, but shorter course could benefit people from other communities.

“The class filled to capacity right quick. People came from as far away as Salisbury to attend, a two-hour drive each way once a week, for 10 weeks.”

He added, “Affordability was a big factor in our approach. Most fiber certification classes run a few thousand dollars. We want this untapped workforce to have a chance at this training. Our 10-week course was $140.”

The course received an outpouring of positive feedback.

When they realized the high demand for the training and that people all over the state were interested in the course, they knew that making the course a fit for people from other areas of the state would pay off.

“What if we had a fiber boot camp. Something where folks did not have to drive back and forth, but could stay here and get 10 weeks of training in five days?”


“To our amazement,” Scott said, “we had representatives from as far away as Asheville sign up.”

Scott discussed the longer course and the plans for the boot camp in our conversation with him for episode two of our special NC Broadband Matters Series. Check it out:

Scott tells WRAL TechWire that his next training program will be a two-year plan:

Next on his list, Scott sees a two-year program feeding through the Wilson Academy of Applied Technology’s high school like the early college program in which Wilson Community College is currently engaged. Students would graduate with both their high school degree and a two-year associate’s degree in fiber optics.


“The possibilities mirror the infinite capacity of fiber optics,” Scott quipped. “Wilson is a leader in fiber-optic expertise and our goal is to pass that forward, for our community, for our state and, honestly, well beyond. This is an advanced-skill workforce training program in a core technology on which the entire Internet depends.”

Tags: greenlightwilsonnorth carolinamuni

Help Craig Settles Save Lives with Telehealth

December 12, 2019

In 2014, industry analyst and consultant Craig Settles experienced a stroke which lead him down a period of recovery which he discussed last year when we interviewed him about telehealth for our podcast. The experience inspired Craig to consider how broadband could help others avoid the same situation with preventative telehealth applications. Now, Craig is attacking hypertension in several of Cleveland, Ohio's local barbershops and hair salons.

You can also help save lives with broadband when you contribute to the GoFundMe campaign to finance the pilot program

Hypertension is A Silent Killer

As the American Heart Association reports, more than 40 percent of African Americans have high blood pressure. Often it develops earlier in life for this group, increasing the chance of heart disease and stroke. Urban Kutz, whose clientele includes many African Americans, has provided periodic blood pressure screening for some time, but Craig and owner Waverly Willis want to take it to the next level.

"I find at least 90% of my customers have high blood pressure, and many don’t know about the dangers of hypertension," says Willis.

These are the new community anchor institutions to drive both telehealth and broadband adoption. Willis explains, "Barbers and hairdressers are part-time marriage counselors, psychiatrists, spiritual advisers, and expert listeners. So many customers listen to our medical advice.”

Craig plans on launching pilot programs in barbershops and hair salons in five communities. He'll work with participants on:

[H]ow to use telehealth and community owned broadband in a pilot project to attack hypertension (high blood pressure), the leading cause of strokes. These shops will connect USB-blood pressure monitors to telehealth platforms via community networks to screen, educate, and motivate their customers. 

The pilot program will last six weeks and will include:

  • Recruiting and training initial five barber shops and salons
  • Providing free telehealth software for customers and doctors
  • PR assistance to locally publicize the pilots
  • Summary report on the pilots' results
  • Conducting a PR campaign to launch national recruiting drive
  • Writing and producing a How-To guide to support national effort

After the pilot concludes, Craig envisions the barbershops and salons as examples that will stimulate broadband expansion in the neighborhoods to allow locals the opportunity to take telehealth even farther.

You can contribute to the campaign to help prevent more heart attacks and stroke in Cleveland and launch this community based proactive telehealth initiative when you contribute to Craig's GoFundMe campaign, "Help Me Hunt For the Silent Killer - Hypertension!"

Read more about the campaign and donate to the project here.

Learn more about Craig's telehealth work at his website and listen to our conversation with him about telehealth in December 2018, for episode 336 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Tags: craig settlestele healthfundingohiopilot

Paul Bunyan Communications Grows GigaZone to Big Falls, Minnesota

December 11, 2019

Paul Bunyan Communication’s fiber network, GigaZone, continues to expand in Minnesota and is now offering gigabit connectivity in the Big Falls area. The cooperative is one of an increasing number of co-ops, both telephone and electric, that are picking up the slack in rural areas where large, corporate Internet access companies don't find the case for investing in communities that are not densely populated.

The cooperative has a history of expansion thanks in part due to their own contributions and grants like the Minnesota Border-to-Border grant. They also have offered to upgrade every school within its service area to gigabit Internet speeds with no extra charge and the presence of high-quality Internet access from Paul Bunyan Communications has contributed to economic development in the region. 

Members who are already subscribers but not yet signed up for gigabit service can choose to upgrade and can add more options:

GigaZone service options include unprecedented Broadband Internet speeds of up to 1000 Mbps – a Gigabit. Members who subscribe to GigaZone Broadband can also add PBTV Fusion and/or low cost unlimited long distance service. All current service options also remain available to cooperative members within the GigaZone.

Current routers may not be able to support the capacity increase and to help, the cooperative is offering their own Wi-Fi router to subscribers. The router is free to all new GigaZeone customers for the first six months, with a minimal charge thereafter.

Check out the GigaZone availability map to see where the service is available and where the co-op plans to deploy in the future.

Tags: paul bunyan telephone cooperativeminnesotaruralcooperativeFTTHgigabitupgrade

Video: Residents and Businesses Declare FairlawnGig a Hit

December 11, 2019

The city of Fairlawn, Ohio, has less than 8,000 residents, but daytime population swells to around 40,000 because the Akron suburb is a hotspot for commerce. When city leaders decided to develop the FairlawnGig broadband utility in 2015, they knew that it was necessary to retain businesses and they were right - the fiber optic infrastructure is spurring economic benefits. People who live in and around Fairlawn, however, are also reaping the rewards. In a video released by Corning about the city's investment, we learn more about both business and residential subscribers who make the most of the city's broadband utility.

Success in the Numbers

In addition to increased home resale values of 8.7 percent the first year and 8.2 percent in year two, 257 new jobs have come to the community within the FairlawnGig footprint. There are 15 new businesses in the community, in part because commercial subscribers can sign up for 10 gigabit per second connectivity. For Enterprise subscribers, 100 gigabit service is available. There are factors that contribute to the boon, of course, but before the municipal network utility, potential businesses cited Fairlawn's poor Internet access as a reason for locating elsewhere.

Subscribers in the community pay around 7.5 cents per Megabit per second (Mbps); in the past they paid around $4.23 per Mbps from the incumbent. Residential subscribers can sign up for service that they describe as "half the cost and twice the speed" and can get Internet access of up to a gig.


In this video, you'll see resident and City Council person Barb Potts describe how her children and grandchildren have tested the limits of the gigabit service, which comes through with flying colors. 

Several residents that also run businesses in Fairlawn, praise the city's foresight in making the investment. They appreciate local leadership's efforts to improve economic opportunities and develop a utility that provides an affordable and reliable critical service such as Internet access. By implementing a project that brings a much-needed improvement to the region, city leaders have boosted their credibility along with local connectivity.

The owner of the Akron/Fairlawn Hilton describes how FairlawnGig transformed Internet access for hotel customers and the immediate improvement in their reputation. The Hilton was one of the first locations connected to the network back in 2016, in time for the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

Gregg Zolton, from Crystal Clinic Orthopedic Center discusses how the increased capacity has improved the clinic's service and reduced their connectivity costs. According to a recent Broadband Communities article, Crystal Clinic plans to build a flagship facility in Fairlawn "like no other in Northeast Ohio." The innovative technology that the facility will use requires the type of connectivity only FairlawnGig can provide.

[Deputy Service Director Ernie] Staten points out that the hospital was offered free land to build the facility in Akron but chose instead to spend $4 million on land in Fairlawn so it could have access to the fiber network. He adds, “The headquarters and back office facility will have a direct fiber connection to the new hospital – this is important because of HIPAA issues.”

Beyond the City

Since deploying FairlawnGig in the city limits, the community has expanded the network footprint. In addition to building their own infrastructure outside of the city to accommodate more business and residential development, the service is working with partners. We described their collaboration with the Medina County Fiber Network (MCFN) in the summer of 2018. Next, FairlawnGig will also be working with nearby Tallmadge, Ohio, to operate the latter's fiber optic network and provide Internet access in a public-public partnership.

Read more coverage on Fairlawn's project here.

Check out the Corning video to learn more about how FairlawnGig is impacting residents and businesses in the community:

Tags: fairlawn ohohioFTTHvideoeconomic developmentjobsreal estategigabit

Medina County Fiber Network and Lit Communities Reach for Ohio Residents - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 386

December 10, 2019

The Medina County Fiber Network (MCFN) has already made important strides in north central Ohio. The network, which offers dark fiber and lit services, provides important connectivity for carriers, institutions, and businesses. In this interview, we hear from CEO David Corrado, who explains how it's time to move to residential services; he introduces us to MCFN's partner, Lit Communities. CEO Brian Snider and Chief Marketing Officer Ben Lewis-Ramirez join in the conversation.

Our three guests explain the new entity that they're creating through this venture, Medina Fiber, and talk about how the partnership came about. We learn more about Lit Communities and their commitment to the community based model that combines private capital with open access infrastructure to serve the needs of a local community. Ben and Brian discuss their hopes and ideas for the model and why they feel it's especially suitable for a place like Medina County.

We learn more about some of the benefits that are growing out of the MCFN and how Medina Fiber will use the infrastructure to deliver special services for residents. Brian, Ben, and David discuss their ideas of success for the project.

You can hear more about the MCFN from our last conversation with David during episode 220 from 2016.

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

This show is 37 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.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Subscribe to the Building Local Power podcast, also from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, on iTunes or Stitcher to catch more great conversations about local communities, concentration of corporate power, and how everyday people are taking control.

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 bitsmedina countypartnershipfundingexpansionFTTHopen accessohiodark fiber