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Community Broadband Media Roundup - May 25

muninetworks.org - May 25, 2020


Little-known Internet network plans Western Colorado expansion to link students, nonprofits to supercomputers by Tamara Chuang, Colorado Sun   Louisiana Louisiana co-op broadband bill faces hurdles in legislature by Mark Ballard, Government Technology Legislation in the Louisiana state house that would urge electric cooperatives to help bring high-speed Internet to rural areas cleared its third legislative hurdle Monday.But the rural co-ops opposed the bill arguing that recently amended wording in the measure would preclude the cooperatives from competing for the broadband Internet business. Maryland Harford seeks Internet provider to extend broadband to northern part of county by James Whitlow, The Baltimore Sun    Massachusetts  Municipal broadband investment needed now for ‘new normal’ by Joel D. McAuliffe, MassLive    New Hampshire Jaffrey considers public-private broadband bond options by Ashley Saari, Ledger-Transcript   General Poor Americans face hurdles in getting promised Internet by David McCabe, New York Times   ILSR: Cooperative fiber deployments exceed 360, 62% of subs can get fiber from their telco cooperative by Joan Engebretson, telecompetitor  Telecom and electric cooperative fiber deployments now exceed 360, according to a new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR). Among those are 210 deployments supporting gigabit broadband service. Can municipal broadband bridge the digital divide? by Glenn Daigon, WhoWhatWhy    Enough is enough by Doug Dawson, POTs and PANs    New study tries, fails, to claim community broadband is an inevitable boondoggle by Karl Bode, Techdirt    1 big thing: The next battles between cities and states by Kim Hart, Axios Cities Newsletter Tags: media roundup

Anti-Competition Bill Awaiting Final Vote in Louisiana House Would Limit Expansion of Electric Co-op Broadband

muninetworks.org - May 22, 2020

A bill close to being passed by the Louisiana State Legislature would allow electric cooperatives to expand Internet access but only in parts of the state without broadband currently. This limitation in the bill, SB 406, will keep Internet choice out of reach for many rural Lousianans and could even hamstring co-ops’ efforts to expand broadband to unserved areas. “The language would restrict us from competing with others in the broadband market but would not stop them from cherry picking (customers) from cooperatives who choose to get in the broadband market,” Jeff Arnold, CEO of the Association of Louisiana Electric Cooperatives, explained to the Advocate. As introduced, SB 406 explicitly authorized the state’s electric cooperatives to deploy broadband networks to connect their members using their existing electrical systems and easements. But, Senate amendments added to the bill later narrowed electric co-ops’ authority only to unserved areas, which include less than 13 percent of the state’s residents, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The Louisiana Senate voted unanimously in favor of the bill last week, and it’s currently in the House of Representatives awaiting a final reading and vote. Louisiana Lawmakers Restrict Co-op Connectivity While Louisiana state law does not prohibit electric cooperatives from offering Internet access, it is not expressly authorized, and one co-op that attempted to enter the business was held up by the state’s Public Service Commission, reported the Advocate. To fix that, SB 406 would specifically allow electric co-ops and their partners to provide broadband access and would permit them to use existing electrical easements and infrastructure to expand service. However, new language added to the bill would stifle competition and challenge co-ops’ ability to expand broadband access. In particular, an amendment from the Senate Commerce Committee limits the authority only to areas without any broadband access, as defined by the FCC. The map below shows which parts of their service territories electric co-ops would be prohibited from providing broadband access in under SB 406. Not only will this prevent broadband competition in rural Louisiana, but it could also undercut the feasibility of rural electric co-op projects in unserved areas. To make broadband networks financially possible, co-ops often need to balance low density areas with more populated communities. Otherwise, cooperatives might not be able to connect the most rural and unserved parts of their service territory — especially since co-ops can’t (and don’t want to) subsidize broadband projects with funds from their electric operations. Furthermore, as Arnold pointed out, SB 406’s new provisions put electric cooperatives at the whim of broadband providers that might choose to expand in only the most profitable parts of the state, making the most difficult to connect communities even harder to serve. An additional amendment to SB 406 requires electric co-ops that start offering Internet access to also make poles and easements accessible to other broadband providers. Legislators Push and Co-ops Push Back As a result of the new bill amendments, Louisiana electric cooperatives no longer back SB 406. “Arnold said the co-op boards had supported the legislation until amendments pushed by the telecommunications industry were added by the Senate on Friday,” the Advocate reported earlier this week. Yet, bill author Senator Beth Mizell appeared to paint the co-ops — not the large telecom monopolies — as the greedy profiteers during the Senate’s vote on SB 406. “We have voices whispering in our ears here all day long,” said Mizell, the Center Square reported. “But our people are back in our district, and they don’t have a lobbyist. They’re not paying anybody to speak for them [except] all of us.” If SB 406 is signed into law, one small solace for the state’s electric cooperatives is that the legislation pegs the classification of “unserved” to the FCC’s definition of broadband, which it could raise in the coming years, opening more areas up to the electric co-ops. In addition, the FCC’s plan to collect more granular broadband data could make further areas eligible for co-op broadband service. Read the text of SB 406 [pdf] or download below. Louisiana SB 406 bill textTags: louisianastate lawsrural electric coopcooperativemap

From Coast to Coast, States Partner With Community Networks to Deploy Emergency Hotspots

muninetworks.org - May 21, 2020

As the novel coronavirus has spread across the United States, so too have efforts to bring Internet access to digitally disconnected households during a time of nationwide social distancing. Washington and Massachusetts are on different coasts, but both states are working with publicly owned broadband networks to deploy emergency Wi-Fi hotspots in underserved communities in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In Washington, a state-led initiative is deploying hundreds of new Wi-Fi access points with the help of community networks, including Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet), a statewide middle-mile network, and several Public Utility Districts (PUDs). And on the other side of the country, Massachusetts has enlisted the help of municipal network Whip City Fiber to establish Wi-Fi hotspots in communities with poor connectivity. The drive-up public hotspots will allow residents of both states to complete online school assignments, apply for unemployment insurance, and connect with healthcare providers, among other essential tasks. “We’ve all been in a position where we understand to connect to the world during this really challenging time, Wi-Fi is essential,” said Dr. Lisa Brown, Director of the Washington Department of Commerce, during a livestreamed launch of the state Wi-Fi initiative. Washington Partners with PUDs for Wi-Fi The initiative in Washington is being led by the Washington State Broadband Office and the Department of Commerce in partnership with NoaNet, regional PUDs, the Washington Independent Telecommunications Association, Washington Technology Solutions, Washington State University, and others. In addition to the existing Wi-Fi hotspots that schools and libraries have made accessible from their parking lots, the partners plan to set up more than 300 new access points in underserved areas, using state funding and philanthropic donations. A map of all public Wi-Fi locations is available online. To deploy these new hotspots, the state is working with NoaNet, PUDs, and other Internet access providers. Many PUDs in the state have already invested in fiber optic broadband networks, building off NoaNet’s network to connect their local residents and businesses. During this public health crisis, the state broadband office is urging them to use their networks to expand public Wi-Fi access. Participating districts include Chelan PUD, Franklin PUD, Grays Harbor PUD, Jefferson County PUD, Lewis County PUD, Mason PUD 3, and Okanogan PUD. Since state law prevents PUDs from offering services directly to residents, most districts are working with local companies to provide the Internet access. Washington is targeting hotspot deployment in both urban and rural communities that have low access to broadband. Some sites have limited indoor usage available and all have social distancing protocols in place. Massachusetts Taps Westfield for Hotspot Deployment To connect unserved residents during the pandemic, the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) and KCST are working with local providers to establish new Wi-Fi access points. They are also setting up hotspots at all other community institutions served by the state-owned middle mile network, MassBroadband 123, which KCST operates. Westfield Gas and Electric, which operates the Whip City Fiber municipal broadband network, is one of the participating providers. In partnership with the state agency, it has deployed Wi-Fi hotpots in 13 communities. See the full list of hotspot deployments. The city started offering fiber Internet access to its residents in 2015. Since then, Westfield has been working to improve connectivity in Western Massachusetts by helping other communities establish their own fiber networks. A number of the towns that Westfield G&E set up Wi-Fi hotspots in are also working with the utility to offer Internet access to their residents and businesses, including in Blandford, New Salem, and Windsor. MBI and town representatives are asking people who use the new hotspots to abide by the social distancing guidelines issued by the state. Temporary Solutions to a Permanent Need Officials in both Washington and Massachusetts acknowledge that the new Wi-Fi hotspots are emergency efforts to provide connectivity during the pandemic and that more needs to be done to close the digital divide. Commerce Director Brown explained during the Washington launch event: This is one step in a major process of making sure that we have digital equity in Washington State, so that all of our seniors can order prescriptions and do their telehealth online and all of our students can have that educational access. In Massachusetts, MBI has been distributing funding to increase broadband access in unserved towns through its last mile programs, and municipal broadband networks have been growing steadily. The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of these state efforts to connect all of their residents to reliable, affordable, high-speed Internet access. While the Wi-Fi hotspots are only a temporary bandaid, they’re a step in the right direction. Tags: statesquarantineWi-Fihot spotsnoanetgrays harbor pudmason pud 3pudokanogan public utility districtpublic utility districtwashingtonmassachusettsmassachusetts broadband institutewestfield ma

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 410

muninetworks.org - May 21, 2020

This is the transcript for episode 410 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. This episode features Heather "Mo" Williams, Manager of Solutions Engineering at Ruckus Networks, Wi-Fi engineer for Black Hat conferences, and co-host on the podcast This Week in Enterprise Tech.  Listen to the episode to learn all things Wi-Fi, or read the transcript below.   Heather "Mo" Williams: I like to describe Wi-Fi, the protocol for it is 802.11. It is the most Southern of protocols because it's polite. Jess Del Fiacco: Welcome to episode 410 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. This is Jess Del Fiacco, Communications Manager here at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. In today's episode, Christopher talks with Heather Williams, also known as Mo of Ruckus Networks and the show This Week in Tech at the TWiET Network. Heather starts off by talking a little bit about her work and the history of Ruckus Networks. Then she and Christopher discuss all things Wi-Fi, its unique characteristics, how it's evolved over time, and how the recent FCC decision to open up more spectrum is affecting the ability to provide Wi-Fi. Here's Christopher talking with Heather Williams of Ruckus Networks. Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. I'm Christopher Mitchell at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in my St. Paul office in my home. I'm here talking to Heather Williams, who's more commonly known by Mo, who is a manager of a solutions engineering group at Ruckus Networks, which is now a CommScope company. Welcome to the show, Heather. Heather "Mo" Williams: Hey, thanks for having me. Christopher Mitchell: I already forgot. I should've called you Mo. Heather "Mo" Williams: It's all right. I have four kids, I answered to anything. Christopher Mitchell: I'm sure they respect you enough that it's not anything. Heather "Mo" Williams: I don't know about that either. I was a pretty snarky mom. I'm going to have to take what I dished out. Christopher Mitchell: Some of the people that are listening, I think their ears are already perked up to hear Ruckus Networks. Can you just give us a little bit about the history of Ruckus? I know it's now in CommScope, but it had its own story tradition. Heather "Mo" Williams: Yeah, it did. I started my career at Nortel, and so I got in on the ground floor of Wi-Fi, funnily enough, before we had the alphabet soup. Then I joined Ruckus, I like to say I was employee 101. I'm not sure exactly what, and we weren't even counting back then. So we were a small, scrappy startup company when I joined them in 2010. Nothing worked, about working for Nortel, a big behemoth of a titanic, prepares you for going to work for a scrappy, snarky startup. Ruckus really, the name, the logo, it all started as ... We had a couple of brilliant engineers, a mathematician, and one of the guys who helped invent Multi-user MIMO. We're at the core of it, and then you had a bunch of just really hardworking, get or done scrappers, and we were out there to make a ruckus and shake things up. 2:45 Heather "Mo" Williams: We had some really distinctive technologies and we had a pretty distinctive attitude to go with it. It's been a fun ride. Christopher Mitchell: That's Ruckus. What do you do? Heather "Mo" Williams: Well, when I started with Ruckus, I actually was the training department. I didn't start out to be the training department. I had people who hired me. Over within a couple of months, they sort of got off the startup rollercoaster ride, and I ended up being the entire training department for like the next three years. When I started, they said I was going to travel 10% to 25% of the time, and it ended up, the last year that I was in the training department, I set records for wheels down to wheels up measured in hours. I would be gone across Europe, Asia, and Africa for four to six weeks at a time. That in and of itself was a great experience, but it also exemplifies just the attitude that we had at Ruckus. Whatever it took to get things done. Heather "Mo" Williams: I moved from the training department. I got hired in by just the world's best boss. She was the first female SE at Aruba, and then she was the first female SE at Ruckus, and she hired the second female or SE. I took care of the national accounts across North America. I had the distributors and CDW, any partner or bar that had a nationwide footprint. I'd like to say I quit traveling as much. It's just that I stayed in, just three time zones, instead of all of the time zones for a couple of years. Ruckus has had quite an acquisition story. We've gone through Brocade Erase, and now CommScope. Somewhere in there we broke off and started the solutions engineering team. We basically span the divide between the engineering PLM and the field sales guys and SE. We sort of bring all of those pieces together. We do a lot of white papers and things like that. We're the nerds. 4:53 Christopher Mitchell: I think you could have just stuck with, we're the nerds. I like that. I want to mention, we're going to talk about Wi-Fi a lot, about really exciting developments, but I think it's also worth noting. You have great sound. You're a cohost on Enterprise Tech on the This Week in Tech, the TWiET Network, one of the frankly, in my mind, the birth of podcasting in terms of making it popular, exciting and cool, but also, you're coming from an Oasis of decent connectivity in a part of Texas that doesn't have very much of it. I just wanted to know if you want to give a shout out to the WISP you're working with. Heather "Mo" Williams: Yeah, I absolutely do. Working with TWiET guys, I feel like most of my life, especially my professional career has been just one sheer dumb luck coincidence after another. I was the Wi-Fi engineer for Interop, and that's how I met Padre and Brian. G. That's how I ended up later on becoming involved with TWiET, but we have moved from ... I raised four kids in suburbs of Dallas. The last of them went off to college and we moved out here to, what we thought was going to be our retirement home. We now live in a 900 square foot log cabin on the Lake. My husband's a network engineer. He teaches for Global Knowledge and he's not on the road as none of us are now. 6:19 Heather "Mo" Williams: He's teaching using a web based platform. I had to jury rig the ever loving heck out of what the possibilities were for out here. I stitched together, we had a cell booster to get decent signal into this cabin. I had a satellite back haul that I used very parsimoniously for emails and things like that. Then I also have just an outrageously expensive data plan on the one cell provider that I could get decent signal for out here. We lived like that for about two years. I was always on the lookout for other options especially during the spring, rainy season when the satellite was just out for days at a time. It's because of that I got to understand a lot more about WISPs. Heather "Mo" Williams: It's funny, until I moved out here, I really just did not understand the plight of rural America. It's 96% of the landmass of the US and the challenges out here are incredible. WISPs are truly the superheroes of, especially for broadband equity and rural connectivity. The WISP that I'm working with is very thin margins, mom and pop place called Next Wave. It took about a year to ... we had to do site surveys and then they ended up putting in a tower. But now I'm in a neighborhood of probably about 200 households that live out here full-time. We're basically a fishing village that's outside of town, maybe a third of the owners out here actually live out here full-time. Now we have as good or better connectivity as anybody in the entire county. 8:10 Christopher Mitchell: Excellent. Let's turn to Wi-Fi. I actually gave a broadband basics webinar today. I was saying I think, I chafe a little bit whenever I hear people, often elected officials confusing broadband with Wi-Fi as other interchangeable words. I was thinking about this interview and talking about where Wi-Fi is going. I was recollecting on just how amazing it is. You have this technology that was given this junk band of spectrum that microwaves and others, there's all kinds of interference potentials, all kinds of reason to think that it wasn't very valuable and created just all of this value of the ability to connect devices. I think Wi-Fi is one of the biggest success stories of computers and inter-networking. But I'm curious, just broadly, what do you think of when you think about Wi-Fi? Heather "Mo" Williams: You've summed that up quite nicely. I think that it was sort of ... the FCC went out on a limb back in like '97 when they did this, and they just gave this all this spectrum, and with really wide channels compared to where the licensed spectrum is, the way it's allocated. I'd like to think that they were being prescient, and they knew what they were doing, but I think, like my career, it was just a sheer dumb luck. It accidentally worked out, and has been a huge ... it's really driven a lot of economies. It's allowed so many things to occur. I don't know that anybody could have predicted it. Until this most recent decision, I'd say that that decision in '97 was the single best thing that the FCC has done. Heather "Mo" Williams: I can't overstate, and yes, you're right. When people say Wi-Fi, oh, the Wi-Fi here is bad. Well, did you get an IP address? No. It's not the Wi-Fi. Yeah, I have these conversations all the time and I have what is the quintessential cliche of a mother when it comes to technology. She can't tell that when she's using data cellular versus on the Wi-Fi. Yeah, I frequently cringe, although I think I've become inured to it when people say things, 10:29 Christopher Mitchell: I think most of us have, just sort of one of those things you're like, am I going to fight this battle now? No, not right now. You mentioned the prescient decision in 97, I think it's worth just discussing the fact that this is Lasix exempt spectrum that basically anyone can use it. Could just explain that to someone who might not be very familiar with it. Heather "Mo" Williams: For those of you who don't know me, you probably can figure it out from my accent. I was not born here, but got here before I could talk. I live in the South and I like to describe Wi-Fi, the protocol for it is 80211. It is the most Southern of protocols because it's polite. It's an unlicensed spectrum, so everybody gets to use it, and the goal and built into the protocol, you have to basically create that four way stop sort of rules. Who gets to go? How do we make a decision? Who gets to transmit? Who gets to receive? How do you nicely share the spectrum with everybody else because it's there for everybody. It's not licensed. Your neighbor turns on an access point. They're allowed to do that. You're not allowed to tell them that they can't. You have to build into the technology itself, a way to enforce and ascribe this Southern politeness. Basically, we all have to get along. Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that you mentioned is that you have all these different devices that are then talking and figuring out when to listen, but they're not made by different manufacturers. I didn't realize how special it is that Wi-Fi operates in that way, and certainly Bluetooth does. There's other protocols that do. But when I learned about the GPON, the gigabit passive optical network standard, and the fact that you can't just rip and replace gear from different vendors because it's a standard. I thought I knew what that word means, but it doesn't really act that way in a lot of ways, it seems like, so a Wi-Fi does. 12:36 Heather "Mo" Williams: Yeah, it does. It's because, at its heart, it was the way it was rolled out and developed. When we first started with Wi-Fi, we didn't actually have any letters after it, so it was 80211. We had absolutely no speed, but it didn't matter because you weren't using it for anything. Gasp, there wasn't YouTube, there weren't all these things that ... When I tell my kids that I'm older than Google, they don't actually know what to think about that. The use case was you wanted to get from your desktop to be able to email without having to stick a cable in or be able to walk down the hall to a conference room and just be able to email. Heather "Mo" Williams: It just really wasn't that big a deal. We also didn't worry about roaming because you weren't walking down the hallway to that conference center and trying to stay connected. We then pretty quickly started getting the amendments or changes. We had the b and then a, they actually came out in that order. That gave us two different frequencies. We have now, today, most enterprise access points will operate on two different radios. The laws of physics says they're completely separate from each other, and you can use one radio or the other. We went from a to b, then g, then n. n was really the game changer, 80211n because it introduced Multi-user MIMO. It made big changes in how we had to deploy insight surveys and everything. Heather "Mo" Williams: But more importantly, it helped drive the use of that second radio, the five gigahertz radio and AC did even more to push the adoption of that radio that gave us so many extra channels. The important thing that I'm getting to with that one is that we had to share parts of the five gigahertz range. They're broken up into U-NII-1, 2 and 3, so this is the unlicensed spectrum that the FCC defined. 14:38 Christopher Mitchell: When you say U-NII, that word comes up a lot. What is U-NII? Heather "Mo" Williams: I actually made sure that I had that pulled up because ... We use these acronyms so often that even we forget and don't necessarily always remember. That's actually Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure. That's in the five gigahertz range. We have channels at the lower end are in U-NII-1, and then U-NII-2 and U-NII-3. We get to use U-NII-2 a and C. It's just part of that spectrum, but it has incumbents. We have people that have access to that space and that were already there, and they're pretty important because it's the Doppler radar, some of the military radars and everything. Built into the protocol, we had to figure out a way to share that space and to give precedence. Heather "Mo" Williams: We have to listen on those channels. If we're trying to use those channels and we hear somebody who takes precedence or an incumbent user, we have to vacate it. We have to have, and by we, I'm the access point at this point, and I have to be able to tell my clients that are on the same channel, "Hey, y'all, we're leaving this channel. Meet me over here on this channel." Boom. That's it. That's important because the same kind of methodology and also some methodologies that have been proven to work with CBRS is going to be used in the new frequency that's been opened up. Christopher Mitchell: You also said MIMO a couple of times, and I'm sure that's one of those acronyms that people have heard frequently. What is MIMO? 16:20 Heather "Mo" Williams: MIMO is multiple user multiple access, so you can go in and out. Here's the thing. Think of Wi-Fi as though it's sound because the radios are listening to each other. Now think of it like if you're in a military unit and you need to talk to each other across these radios. There's protocols for talking to each other that way. You have to say clear channel. You have to end the conversation with roger or out. I obviously have no military background. Christopher Mitchell: We've all seen movies though. Heather "Mo" Williams: But you have to be able to announce. Yeah, I've read a few books. You have to be able to say how we're going to talk. Before 11n, one of the worst things in Wi-Fi was something called multipath. If you go back to your eighth grade science classes that everybody remembers the terminology of, right? We have this sound that's going out, and now we're going to think of it like light going through a prism. As the sound goes out, it's going to bounce off of highly reflective surfaces like glass and metal. It might be scattered through other surfaces like say a wire fence. But all of that is going to affect these ripples of sound. Now I'm going to use ripples in a pond analogy. I tend to throw them all in there. Heather "Mo" Williams: If you're in a building or you're in a room and you're broadcasting to an access point and the signals bounce off, you get basically echoes. It can actually degrade the quality of the sound, as you can imagine. The entire point of doing a network design or trying to figure out how to deploy Wi-Fi pre Multi-user MIMO is basically stuck the access point in the middle of the room and hope for the best because it broadcast out in this 360 degree range and you just hope to minimize the MIMO. What happened with 11n is that these scientists, these engineers sat down and looked at antennas and said, "Look, there's no way to mitigate this. Let's figure out a way to make it work for us." 18:32 Heather "Mo" Williams: Now, instead of it degrading the sound, what they've figured out to do is to be able to listen and make it an additive effect. They can pick the signal that's the strongest of the clearest. There was some ideas a long time ago about beam forming to see if we can make an additive effect and time it so that the sound gets there at just the right offset so you can add it. That doesn't work out so well, it turns out, but it's okay, we try. Christopher Mitchell: They can't all be winners. Heather "Mo" Williams: No. This is the other nice thing about Wi-Fi, and you were talking about the interoperability and how you have all of these client devices, just talking about Android phones. Holy cow, how many different Android Wi-Fi drivers are there because they're all different. Then you have Apple devices, then you have all the laptops in different operating systems, and they all have different drivers. Yeah, they all use the protocol and they all work, but they all work a little bit differently. As a Wi-Fi vendor and as the Wi-Fi Alliance has worked with making amendments, tweaking, continuing to innovate, a good part of our time and energy is figuring out how to mitigate bad client behavior. Heather "Mo" Williams: We're doing it without knowing exactly how those clients work. We can see the effect, but we don't get a look under the hood because there's no way that these vendors are going to open up the curtain and let us look behind as Wi-Fi vendor. We just have to guess. You saw things early on where like Apple clients, we would call them sticky. You would walk into a room, say a big conference room, and your device would associate to the access point, but then you didn't stay there. You walk to the other side, way over to the other side of the room because that's where the bar was. But your phone stays connected to that first access point, and so you get further and further away, you get weaker and weaker signal, but the apples were just the most overly committed girlfriend you've ever seen. They're like, no, I can make this relationship work. I'm going to stick it out. 20:43 Christopher Mitchell: I see a much better signal over here, but I'm not going to go to it. Heather "Mo" Williams: No, no, because I am faithful. There was a Wi-Fi amendment that was designed to help mitigate that, where we could say, well, the APs are going to share information about their neighbors. As I see you moving away and getting a weaker and weaker signal, I know that that other AP is offering a better signal. I'm going to introduce you. The access point is always the man in this analogy, because the client is the one that makes the decision. Women are in charge of the relationship. They make the decisions. The men just try to help us make better decisions. Right? You walk over to the bar, the access point 1 says, you know, I just don't think this is working out between us, but I have this cousin over here, I'd like to introduce you. On paper, that sounds like a great idea. In reality, a lot of the Apple devices reacted the exact way you would think a woman would react. Oh, wait a second. Christopher Mitchell: I was going to say, it seems very reality. Yeah. Heather "Mo" Williams: Wait a second. You're breaking up with me and you're trying to pawn me off on your cousin, so the hell with both of you. I'm blacklisting both of you for 15 minutes. That was a very rude awakening for Wi-Fi vendors to figure out how to ... Okay, we were trying to be nice. It was just sort of like every time we come up with a new way to innovate or try to improve a user experience, especially as use cases evolve of the various client devices and driver behaviors, or they just say, hold my beer, I found another way to challenge your life. Christopher Mitchell: You mentioned channels a couple of time also. I think it's worth noting in this again, prelude into the discussion about recent developments, but what is the channel, and why does it matter whether it's big or smaller, how many there are? 22:38 Heather "Mo" Williams: Yeah. Basically, a channel is, think of it as a lane on a highway. In the 2.4 gig radio channel space, we actually have, depending on what country you live in, 11 to 13 channels. But the way the channels overlap, we basically have three distinct non-overlapping lanes so that you don't have to worry about somebody swerving into your lane. It's a three lane highway. Everybody can go there. The problem is that there are a lot of clients that are 2.4 and all of the legacy clients are 2.4 only. The influx of all of these new IOT devices are mostly 2.4, and so there's a lot of congestion. Christopher Mitchell: Particularly in an apartment building. People that are in big suburban homes might not see this as much, but if you're in an apartment building, you have hundreds of radios that are all trying to use those three channels or three effective channels. Heather "Mo" Williams: MDU, multiple dwelling units, and density environments like say Black Hat, which I'm the Wi-Fi engineer for that. You will see on the expo floor, for example, at any given time in 2.4, I've seen 1200 radios. If you've got 1200 radios all trying to talk across only three channels, and invariably, you've got that one jackass printer that's trying to sit across two of those channels. It never fails. I've never been at a conference where I didn't see something like that. So yeah, it's very congested. You talked earlier about interference. There's other devices, non Wi-Fi devices. In addition to all of the legacy and IOT devices trying to cram onto that spectrum, you also have all of the things that interfere with it. 24:34 Heather "Mo" Williams: At one point, we had handsets. I now live in an area that has no landlines, so I don't have to worry about that. But wireless telephones, the baby monitors microwave, things like that can cause some real problems with 2.4. Christopher Mitchell: Fortunately, a lot of the baby monitors are moving into an IP space where they can be viewed from Ukraine or Russia or China. Heather "Mo" Williams: Yeah. By the way, that did actually play a big role in my very careful search for a WISP. I talked with several of them, WISPs, I've called them superheroes, and I stand by that statement. God love them. I don't like to get on a step ladder anymore. I'm not climbing up to a water tower or a green tower to try to fix it, a radio that's got the heck knocked out of it by a wind storm, as happens out here. But they also operate on very, very thin margins. A lot of their decisions on what technology to deploy, it has to be an economic one. There are some technologies out there that are from iffy or vendors that I've had to talk pretty carefully about with them. I won't name some of the vendors, but there's a supply chain problem with some of those. I'm not saying that the NSA hasn't shoved something into Cisco routers because we all know they have. But yeah, I don't feel the need to port my data all the way back to China, the Ukraine, Russia. Christopher Mitchell: I interrupted you on the channels, but in general, we're moving toward bigger channels, I think, right? Heather "Mo" Williams: I know that a lot of people are very excited about wider channels. As somebody who primarily- 26:25 Christopher Mitchell: It's a very nice gentle correction. Heather "Mo" Williams: I have a slightly skewed viewpoint because I live in two very weird worlds. I live out here in the middle of nowhere where I can ... I'll take 160 megahertz wide channel, which is the entire spectrum on the five gig right now. I don't, but I could, because there's nobody else out here. My neighbors are so far and so few of them actually have Wi-Fi. This is as close to a Greenfield deployment as you're going to see, short of going to Mars. Actually I think Mars may have more Wi-Fi at this point. I'm the Wi-Fi engineer for Black Hat. When we're in Vegas, I'm fighting, not only all of the stuff that the vendors are bringing and trying to run, the house infrastructure is sitting on all of that spectrum. Heather "Mo" Williams: I'm trying really hard to be a good neighbor and use Wi-Fi. In those density environments, we still like to use some 20 megahertz channels, even at the five gig because for me it's about channel reuse. Again, if you remember that a channel is like a lane on the highway. If we're all on channel 36, which is the first channel in the five gigahertz, if I'm the only one there, I get a hundred percent of the airtime. If there's another client out there, we split it, we get 50%. For every person you add, you're cutting, you divide that channel use fairly equally. There are some mitigations in there. For me, it's about channel reuse for the most part in high density environments, and especially like in an MDU environment like where you were talking about. I'm old enough and I've been in Wi-Fi long enough that I can remember, and it was just a Herculean effort to get client devices that were five gig. 28:19 Heather "Mo" Williams: To get them off of the 2.4, and use this nice new shiny spectrum that we had that nobody was using very well. The encouragement was to get everybody onto five gigs so that the legacy clients, the devices that could not use it, we were clearing up those 2.4 gigahertz radio channels for the three of them. Then what happened after 11ac came out. Now we have to learn all new names for these. I know that a lot of people like this, but the new naming convention. Christopher Mitchell: I was going to say the Wi-Fi 6 seems like it's when the nerds lost and we just went to a... Heather "Mo" Williams: I know. Christopher Mitchell: There's so much excitement. You mentioned before, you just mentioned with the channel size is one of the enthusiastic responses about Wi-Fi 6, I think, is that the radios can create, I want to say smaller channels, but I feel like you're going to say narrower or something, which is a proper term. But for devices that don't need a lot of transferring, internet of things, devices and things like that, that's one of the goals I thought of Wi-Fi 6. Heather "Mo" Williams: Yeah. So Wi-Fi 6 is 11ax, the previous amendment was 11ac, and that's what we are now calling Wi-Fi 5. You're right. I've lost that battle. I feel like ... Christopher Mitchell: Don't worry, we'll get there soon enough. Heather "Mo" Williams: I feel as sorry for myself as I would feel for my doctor who has to dumb 12 years of learning down to explain to me what my test results are. Okay, fine. We're going to call it Wi-Fi 6, 5. The nice thing about Wi-Fi 5, which was 11ac, that was five gig only. It did not apply to the 2.4 gig channels. They stayed at 11n. The other nice thing about Wi-Fi that we haven't mentioned is that it has been manically attached to backwards compatibility, but we've even taken some performance hits at one point to make sure that we were bringing everybody along and playing nicely with the older devices. 30:30 Heather "Mo" Williams: Just because we innovate on the access point side or on the technology side, we're not going to leave no client behind sort of attitude. With 11ac being five geek only, was finally we got the new client devices had to come along and be dual band. That's when you really saw five gig channel space start getting all cluttered up the same way the 2.4. We've finally started reusing that. I know that my first couple of years at Black Hat, remember, I told you, in five gig, we have U-NII-1, U-NII-2 a and c and then U-NII-3. Well, the U-NII-2 is the band that we had the incumbents and you had to play nicely. It's called DFS. It's dynamic frequency selection. Heather "Mo" Williams: We had to be able to announce a channel change. Long time vendors, either didn't support that channel. I know the Mandalay Bay in particular did not use U-NII-2 channels. That meant they had left this entire set of ... All of these channels that were there for me and me only, and they were awesome. Then I think it was two years ago, they did a forklift upgrade and they're sitting on all of the channels. But it was nice while it lasted. It was really nice. Yeah, with five gig, we got, how many? 25 channels. We got the ability to channel bond, which is where you were going with being able to make these wider channels. Instead of 20 megahertz wide channels, we get 40 megahertz wide channels. There's a really nice way of understanding what the benefit with that is. 32:13 Heather "Mo" Williams: Aside from being able to be more efficient because you have less, clear to send less acknowledgments, or fewer, because you're able to send more, bigger chunks of data. Again, go back to the highway lane analogy. Now instead of having this one lane that has a set car width wide, is now twice that width, which means I can now more safely go faster because I don't need to worry about whether I'm bouncing along in just in that one narrow lane. That's the best analogy I've been able to come up with why we're able to do that. It also explains why on a three lane highway, like 2.4 gig radio is, you don't want the printer sitting into those lanes, that's just not Southern. Christopher Mitchell: Let's fast forward that Wi-Fi 6, a lot of exciting changes. I feel like has now been overshadowed by what might be one of the best FCC decisions ever. Tell us about what the federal communications commission recently decided. Heather "Mo" Williams: Yeah. I'm just going to take the gloves off. You could've then knocked me over with a feather because the number of good decisions coming out of this FCC in the last three or four years have been none, as far as I'm concerned. I'm not saying that this is an acceptable ... a mere culpa that makes the things like the loss of net neutrality go away, but I will say this is pretty exciting. We have a Wi-Fi 6, the 11ax protocol. What the FCC has done just recently, like two weeks ago now? It feels. Time has dilated. Christopher Mitchell: It could be three weeks by the time this show airs. Heather "Mo" Williams: Okay. Well, it doesn't matter because January was five years ago now. The time dilation effect has been astounding. Yeah, just a couple of weeks ago, what they've done is they have opened up a huge amount of spectrum. I mean, huge. We went from 2.4 to five gig and were able to start using that, we went from three non-overlapping channels to 25, and we were all just giddy as school kids about what we were going to be able to do with this. I don't think any of us at the time were even catching on to what IoT was going to do to our lives, let alone Wi-Fi calling, and things like that. 34:41 Christopher Mitchell: Just briefly, IoT being Internet of Things, just a proliferation of devices, and in particular perhaps cheaply made devices that don't have very good security practices and all kinds of other problems, but nonetheless are innumerable now. Heather "Mo" Williams: We could do a whole nother show on IoT security because, thanks to all of the time I've spent with my Black Hat friends, I am now paranoid. This new spectrum that they have, just a massive chunk. It's 1200 megahertz of space that they're giving us. It's going to give us, not 25 new channels, but 59 new channels, and it's going to use the same 11ax. The Wi-Fi Alliance in their wisdom has decided arbitrarily to call this Wi-Fi 6E. The E stands for nothing, but that's okay because Wi-Fi doesn't actually stand for anything either. It's just a made up marketing term. This Wi-Fi 6E is basically taking 11ax, that's already operating in 2.4 and five gig, and now it's adding a third band at the six gigahertz level. I told you, I don't think that I'm overstating it when I say this is a game changer, and I think it's even a game changer for the group of people that I have an affinity for the rural and the underserved areas, that got downright ugly with a few people occasionally. Heather "Mo" Williams: I think I did it even on TWiET once, when we were talking about the 5G revolution, and if I hear one more person tell me about how 5G is going to just replace Wi-Fi, I may actually get violent. 36:25 Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, I was at an event, and I think it was T-Mobile people who were there and they were making this case to MDU and owners of apartment buildings and things like that saying basically, "Oh, you got all these Wi-Fi problems, let us come in and manage it with 5G. It's going to be so much better. In my head, I was just thinking, why in the heck would anyone want to do that? If you have a sense of what it might cost you to go to a solution like that, I would assume T-Mobile will be charging so much money, whereas Wi-Fi is effectively free to use. Heather "Mo" Williams: There's that. Obviously some sales and marketing people just lost their minds over that and thought they had struck oil in the candy shop or whatever you want to call it. Because first of all, in order to use 5G, which is a cellular technology, you need to have a SIM card. How many things that you own have a SIM card? Christopher Mitchell: Too many, and it's just one. Heather "Mo" Williams: Now, are you going to drop that SIM card and the attributed data plan associated with that into all of your devices that are right now basically Wi-Fi, or are you just going to make everybody go get a SIM-based access point, for example, and use the five G for the back haul and then you still have Wi-Fi as the last foot, the last several feet? Bottom line is it's going to be a wireless technology that is the onboarding, the on ramp onto these highways, no matter whether it's cheap on or CBRS or Wi-Fi, or whatever your WISPs is using to get it out there. It's either going to be Wi-Fi or Zigbee or BLE. You've got to be able to get it onto the network, onto the back haul. You're not going to put a SIM card in absolutely everything. That's first. Heather "Mo" Williams: We haven't even gotten to the part where the whole bait and switch because out here, and I've explained to you a couple of times, I do not have dead spots of cellular coverage out here. 38:34 Christopher Mitchell: You don't have live spots. Heather "Mo" Williams: I have, ACs of coverage. For instance, I was actually surprised that I could get a text message in here because inside this building a hundred yards from my house, I have actually no cell coverage usually. We must be bouncing off on the ISP correctly today for some reason. By the time I get to my yard, the back part of my house, I've got cell coverage, and then there's a cell tower somewhere across the lake. That's the one that my cell booster, that antenna is pointing at. But as soon as I walk out, it's half a mile to my mailbox and then it's another two miles to a water tower, and that water tower is where I can start playing Harry Potter again, if I'm riding in the road because I have no cell coverage. Heather "Mo" Williams: Don't tell me that 5G is going to solve all my problems. I'm still waiting for 4G, and a lot of rural America is. It's simply not going to be the game changer. However, Wi-Fi 6E is going to provide the performance that 6G has promised, but will be years before it delivers out into a rural area. But you're going to get the faster throughputs, and more importantly, you're going to get the low latency. For rural America, that means that you you're going to be able to do things like telework and hold conference calls and things like that, that I am one of the few people out here. I have the technology and the knowhow and also the wherewithal to afford a couple of different options for so that I can patch work my connectivity together. In urban areas, this low latency is going to be a huge game changer in terms of things like the self-driving cars and things like that. 5G and Wi-Fi 6E are going to be huge. 40:30 Christopher Mitchell: Something that sometimes gets lost on people, is they forget that one of the great things about Wi-Fi is it's on our side of the D mark between us and the ISP. Even if you like your ISP, I like having a D mark in which my network is my network and the ISP really can't see into it. It strikes me there's a vision of having 5G devices more and more. Well, it's just giving someone I don't trust vision into my network, into my things. Heather "Mo" Williams: That's a really good point because the interesting thing is that Wi-Fi has suffered very early and has still not really shaken the perception that it's an inherently insecure technology. Part of the problem is that the first encryption algorithm web was wired equivalency protection privacy. Christopher Mitchell: And there's no wired ... Heather "Mo" Williams: Yeah. Oh my God. Who the heck named it that? It's wired equipment. Well, the truth in advertising because you had the same privacy on the wires you did with web because that obviously was cracked, literally from almost the get go. Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. Well, someone who didn't understand the ethernet standard, that's for sure. The goal behind ethernet being everyone's shouts what they're trying to say to everyone else on the network, basically. Heather "Mo" Williams: Well, like you said, they're not all winners. But because of that, and that really was a black eye that we had to live with until we got WPA, and then WPA-2 was the replacement. That black eye followed Wi-Fi for a while, especially in the enterprise where the IT departments knee jerk reaction was, no, we're not going to have Wi-Fi in the building because it's insecure. They spent their time hunting down rogue access points that people were bringing in and sticking under their desks, and of course, I don't advocate doing that. You still have people who ... In fact, I sat in a Wireshark training class in 2016, and the instructor said, "Yeah, don't use Wi-Fi. It's just not secure." In 2016. I don't know how many people here have an RJ45 connector on their laptop at this point. Since I use a Mac, I haven't had one in years. 42:52 Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, but you can buy one for $75. Heather "Mo" Williams: I know. I have been assimilated. I have all of the dongles. There's an appearance that Wi-Fi has a security problem. We've obviously gotten much better at it. With Wi-Fi 6, we also, simultaneously got WPA-3, which has brought in basically military grade encryption. There are some things that are wrong with WPA-3. If anybody wants to look at, there's a great white paper that was written, I believe he called it dragon blood WPA three is based on a protocol called dragon fly. There are some things that are wrong with it, and the Wi-Fi Alliance is going to be addressing those. I'm expecting something later this year. I guess they're a little busy with some other things right now, but later this year they're going to reconcile some things we are seeing greatly improved security on Wi-Fi. Heather "Mo" Williams: The same cannot be said in ... I know that cellular, there's this myth or this idea that cellular technologies are much more secure. As somebody who's been stung by a scorpion at Black Hat and I've been deauthed off of my phone, I can assure you that cellular technology is not as inherently secure as people like to think that it is. Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. I was thinking that along the lines. It strikes me that I've always been stunned when I hear some of the security updates. I listen to actually Security Now. That and TWiET, I started listening to 14 years ago. Steve Gibson comes across every now and then and does remind people that the 4G LTE has just shocking vulnerabilities in it. I guess, we all get used to those. 44:47 Heather "Mo" Williams: Yeah. There's the adage that a hacker is going to hack. I never say that anything is 100% secure. I think that every vendor out there that has claimed this is not hackable has lived to regret uttering those words. There will always be a way to find a way around it. The whole goal is to make yourself secure enough that, what's the saying? You don't have to be the fastest one trying to outrun the bear, you just have to be faster than the slowest one. Christopher Mitchell: That's right. Heather "Mo" Williams: You just have to make yourself unattractive enough to the hacker that somebody else's is a better target. Christopher Mitchell: Right. The other thing is understanding your attack surface. You can't be perfect in all directions. You need to have a sense of what you're trying to secure yourself against. I think you and I should talk about that more in a different show. Heather "Mo" Williams: Yes. Because then I'll go on my WIDS and WIPS rant. I would be glad to have that conversation. Christopher Mitchell: As we rack up really quickly, what's the timing? When is a normal person going to see this, and is their interface with it just going to be faster experience? Heather "Mo" Williams: It's always true that the consumer grade access points and products, so you'll see something in Best Buy, places like that, before you'll see them at the enterprise grade like a Ruckus AP. It's possible that you'll see them by the end of the year. Since the world is still trying to get restarted, I don't know if that's going to have much of an effect. The better question is when are we going to see client devices to be able to take advantage of that. That is again, I think that in the economy that we have now, that's sort of a crap shoot. I don't know. I do know that the adoption rate has been faster and faster. When we rolled out 11g, 11n, 11ac, we saw client devices out there faster at each iteration. 46:51 Heather "Mo" Williams: It seems to be logarithmic. There's a point where it's just not going to be able to keep getting faster. I'd say that by next year you're going to see client devices. This one is so groundbreaking in terms of the capabilities that I think that we're going to see it even faster than 11ac and 11ax, I really do. The other thing that you're going to see, and I know that at the consumer level and some enterprise grade vendors, you've seen maybe tri-band access points. Basically, what that is, is for the most part, that's a 2.4 gig radio and then 2.5 gig radio's, not a fan. There's a reason why they're called the laws of physics. There are some things that you can and can't do. Christopher Mitchell: Not the suggestions of physics. Heather "Mo" Williams: Yeah. Again, it's eighth grade science, or what should have been eighth grade science. I think that going forward what you're going to see is actual real tri-band, and even better. You'll have access points that have 2.4, access points to have five gig, now the six gig. Also CBRS has come out. CBRS is also, I think going to be a big game changer for the rural community. I'm really looking forward to that. I think this is going to be a big game changer, and for anybody who's in the middle of, or approaching a refresh, I would caution that you need to take a good hard look at your access switches and switch ports because up until now, you could make a pretty good case for one gig, 30 watt of power over ethernet capabilities. 48:38 Heather "Mo" Williams: With great power, comes great responsibility. With these tribe and bigger access points, they're going to need the power. The switches that are coming out now, the multi gig switch ports, you're actually going to see legitimate use because you can, just the six gig radio alone, will be able to tap out a one gig connection. We are now to the point where the wired side is going to have to work hard to be able to keep up with the wireless capabilities. Christopher Mitchell: Well, I really hope we see the SoHo 10 gig port connections come down then. Heather "Mo" Williams: Yeah. I've been looking around just for my own home upgrades as I'm trying to figure out how to wire things and whatnot. But that's a conversation we can add on to in the future. Mo, thank you so much for taking time today to share with us the background and the exciting future. Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, my pleasure. Thank you for having me. Jess Del Fiacco: That was Christopher talking with Heather Williams of Ruckus Networks. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at muninetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email us at podcast@muninetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @communitynets. Follow muninetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @muninetworks. Subscribe to this and the other podcast from ILSR, Building Local Power, Local Energy Rules, and The Composting for Community 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 ilsr.org. While you're there, please take a moment to donate. Your support in any amount keeps us going. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song, Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Comments. This was episode 410 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Thanks for listening. Tags: transcript

OzarksGo and Other Electric Co-ops Adapt to the Realities of Covid-19 With Wi-Fi Hotspots

muninetworks.org - May 20, 2020

Across the country, more people than ever are working and learning from home, making a quality Internet connection vital for everyone in every locality during the Covid-19 pandemic. For Americans in inadequately connected areas — rural and urban — adapting to a more isolated and remote learning and working lifestyle proves extremely difficult when lacking a reliable Internet connection.

Many electric cooperatives and other broadband providers have quickly rolled out solutions to ensure that their subscribers are connected and well-equipped to adapt. Many of them are also working with community institutions to ensure all residents have some level of connectivity, especially children for remote learning purposes.

OzarksGo Brings Broadband to Busses

Ozarks Electric Cooperative has been working diligently with its fiber division, OzarksGo, to find solutions to improve connectivity for the communities it serves. In a phone interview, Steven Bandy, the general manager of Ozarks Electric, explained that as stay at home orders were issued, more and more homes within their service area were requesting new fiber hook ups. At the same time, families outside of their territory were scrambling for Internet connectivity.

OzarksGo serves nine counties in Arkansas and western Oklahoma, and they have thus far built out 75 percent of their network. They began deploying the network in 2016 and set a goal of having all of the fiber lit within six years. Bandy is still confident they can stick to this timeline, but he explained that the COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted their supply chain and temporarily slowed their ability to make new connections to homes.

That said, they are still finding innovative ways to increase connectivity for residents in their area. When employees of Ozarks Electric saw that the school districts in the counties they serve were planning to set up Wi-Fi hotspots in decommissioned school busses, Bandy and his team at OzarksGo reached out to see how they could help.

They currently have at least six mobile hotspots, three of which are busses connected to fiber, that are providing increased Wi-Fi connectivity throughout the region. Three of the Wi-Fi hotspots are specifically placed around the Huntsville and Elkins school districts to aid students. Some of the Wi-Fi hotspots are supported by the school’s current network. For others, OzarksGo wired fiber to parked school busses and is managing those hotspots. Additionally, OzarksGo has extended their suspension of disconnects and late fees through June 30th, in compliance with the “Keep Americans Connected Pledge," which they have signed onto. They will also continue to boost the speed of their basic Internet plan from 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) to 200 Mbps. Co-ops Across the Country Pitch In The quick innovation of co-ops like OzarksGo is crucial for families in this trying time. Other co-ops are also adapting to ensure the best possible connectivity for their surrounding residents. For example, Prince George Electric Cooperative (PGEC) in central Virginia also began deploying free mobile hotspots for students' remote learning purposes. Similarly, Paulding Putnam Electric Cooperative in Ohio quickly set up a free public Wi-Fi hotspot accessible from their parking lot to ensure students and residents have access. Roanoke Electric Cooperative in North Carolina installed free Wi-Fi hotspots in school parking lots in Halifax County School District after the superintendent expressed concern. He explained that most of the students are in the free lunch program, which means many don’t have access to an Internet connection at home. Kit Carson Electric Cooperative has set up 21 free Wi-Fi hotspots around the communities it serves in New Mexico. Luis A. Reyes Jr., CEO of Kit Carson Electric Cooperative, explained in a press release [pdf], “Providing essential services to our students, elderly and low-income families is our main priority.” Check out The Journal’s national list of telecommunications companies and cooperatives that are providing free Wi-Fi access for online learning during COVID-19 pandemic. Tune into the Community Broadband Bits podcast episode 411 to hear more from Ozarks Electric’s General Manager Steven Bandy about their ongoing work.   Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay Tags: ozarks electric cooperativerural electric coopcooperativequarantineWi-Fihot spotskit carson electric coop

Fiber-to-the-Schoolbus: Ozarks Electric Connects Students During the Pandemic - Community Broadband Bits Episode 411

muninetworks.org - May 19, 2020

Ever since the Covid-19 pandemic pushed schools online, rural cooperatives and other local broadband providers have been coming up with innovative ways to connect students during this difficult time. Ozarks Electric Cooperative, with its broadband subsidiary OzarksGo, is one of the co-ops that caught our eye over the past few weeks with its creative solution. This week, Christopher speaks with Steven Bandy, General Manager of OzarksGo, about the history of the co-op's fiber network and its new efforts to expand broadband access during the pandemic. They discuss the beginnings of Ozarks Electric's Fiber-to-the-Home network and the co-op's plan to connect all of its members in growing Arkansas and Oklahoma communities. OzarksGo has even expanded into a nearby city where it doesn't offer electric service after seeing that the community needed better quality connectivity. Co-op members are extremely enthusasitc about the co-op's fiber network, and Steven explains how people moving to the area target the Ozarks Electric service territory in their home search. Christopher and Steven also talk about the effects of the pandemic on the co-op's fiber network, which has seen an increase in interest. Steven shares how the cooperative is partnering with a local school district to connect Wi-Fi hotspots on busses and in community buildings with fiber optic backhaul. In addition to bringing broadband access to students in response to Covid-19, OzarksGo has also increased speeds at no cost to subscribers. This show is 19 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. Transcript coming soon. 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 bitsquarantinerural electric coopcooperativefiberFTTHruraleducationdigital divideArkansasozarks electric cooperativegigabit

Cooperatives Continue to Grow Rural Fiber Networks in Updated Report, Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America

muninetworks.org - May 19, 2020

The fourth edition of our report, Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model for the Internet Age, reveals the steady growth of cooperative fiber since we originally released the report in 2017. In the report, we present rural telephone and electric cooperatives as a proven model to connect rural communities across the country with high-quality Internet access. This version updates the maps and analysis in the report with the most recent federal data. Download the May 2020 update of Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model for the Internet Age [pdf]. We first published this report in 2017 and have updated it in the years since. For all versions, including the most current, visit the Reports Archive. Highlights from the fourth edition of Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America include:

  • More than 109 rural electric cooperatives have invested in fiber optics to provide broadband access or have fiber projects underway.
  • Cooperative fiber networks cover nearly 82 percent of North Dakota by area, more than 53 percent of South Dakota, and about a quarter of Iowa, Minnesota, and Montana.
  • Updated maps display the extent of rural cooperative networks, the change in network coverage between June 2018 and June 2019, and the predicted future growth of cooperative networks.
Read the updated version of Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model for the Internet Age [pdf]. Tags: reportruralrural electric coopcooperativefiberFTTHmap

BroadbandNow Report on Muni Broadband Well Intentioned, But Off

muninetworks.org - May 18, 2020

BroadbandNow.com ⁠— a company that mostly focuses on crunching different data sets to provide information on where broadband is available ⁠— has released its second report on municipal broadband barriers. Their first one had some basic factual failings, and we were concerned that it would mislead people. The new report has corrected some of those errors, but it makes new ones that again lead us to caution against making decisions based on claims within it. To be clear, we believe ⁠— after careful consultation with others that have long worked in this space ⁠— that the proper number of states to be considered preempting municipal broadband is 19. Errors and Mischaracterizations Again, we want to reiterate that we value BroadbandNow's contribution to information about where broadband is available based on crunching different databases. That is something they seem to have done better than most that have tried. However, their efforts to analyze the law and reality around barriers to municipal networks have too many simple errors that we find frustrating. The single most egregious error is removing Arkansas from the list of states with barriers. Arkansas has taken limited steps to lessen preemption, but it continues to have more restrictions on municipal broadband than many of the states listed as more significant in the report. Arkansas has long prohibited local governments that do not operate municipal electricity systems from building their own networks. Cities with public power have more freedom to do so. Arkansas is now allowing cities without electric departments to apply for broadband grants (the goal was to bring more federal dollars to Arkansas), but these cities can only build a municipal network if they receive a grant. BroadbandNow has misinterpreted that to mean there are no barriers. It is not easy to get a federal grant and the vast majority of municipal broadband networks have been built without grants. BroadbandNow has correctly removed Connecticut from the list of states with barriers, but for the wrong reason. Connecticut had a law that allowed cities to attach to utility poles at no charge, an approach that is unheard of anywhere else where cities have to pay the same amounts as others. After the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority blatantly ignored the law in siding with legacy providers, the state Office of the Consumer Council sued to ensure the law was followed and ultimately prevailed. During that time, cities were able to attach to poles on the same terms they can in any other state. Claiming this as a barrier to municipal broadband is misguided. However, we are excited to see how Connecticut's experiment moves forward in allowing cities this opportunity. Confusion Reigns Consider the following passage from BroadbandNow's analysis of Missouri to further understand the confusion that they themselves have about state preemption: Missouri state law outright bars municipalities from selling or leasing broadband services to residents. It also bars municipal governments from leasing broadband infrastructure to other communications providers. Municipalities may offer broadband service for use in internal government services, educational and emergency and healthcare scenarios, but are only able to offer “Internet-type services” to residents. Their analysis is that Missouri municipalities can only offer "Internet-type sevices" to residents BUT that the law "outright bars" municipalities from selling or leasing broadsband services to residents. Mystifying. The challenge comes from understanding what "telecommunications" is defined as in any given state, which is why we consult with lawyers who specialize in this before we make broad claims. To be clear, the Missouri law is a barrier but cities that want to build a network that only offers broadband Internet access can and have done so. BroadbandNow has also included a map of which states have the most barriers based on their own classification system of the barriers, but it offers no insight into which states are the worst for building municipal networks in. Their map suggests (perhaps unintentionally) that Wisconsin, Alabama, and Virginia are the worst. But North Carolina, Nebraska, South Carolina, Louisiana, and even arguably Minnesota are also among the worst. Which states are the most hostile to municipal broadband does shift slightly over time as business models and technology shift around the fixed statute language. We appreciate that BroadbandNow is trying to capture some things that do not include classical municipal broadband prevention — like its inclusion of Connecticut's pole attachment oddity, though we believe they got the facts wrong in that case. But it still misses other state actions, like in Mississippi last year, that discourage municipal networks. The result of this report may be helpful in encouraging the press to cover this issue more, and we are not in a position to question the results of their study that suggests states with barriers to municipal broadband tend to pay more for broadband. But the lack of rigor in the analysis on state broadband barriers makes us less confident in citing that work. Tags: broadbandnowpreemptionstateslawsreport

Community Broadband Media Roundup - May 18

muninetworks.org - May 18, 2020


Partnerships can close the digital divide by Apoorva Pasricha & Kevin Frazier, GovTech   Colorado In the City: Connexion provides WiFi to students without Internet by Colman Keane, Coloradoan   Kansas USDA invests $71 million in high-speed broadband for rural Kansas and Oklahoma, USDA   Kentucky Internet service providers should give free service in rural Kentucky to shrink digital divide by Peter Hille, Lexington Herald Leader    New Hampshire USDA invests $2 Million in high-speed broadband in rural New Hampshire, USDA   South Carolina Partnership helps bring broadband to rural Georgetown County, South Strand News   Utah 'People used to think it was a luxury': Internet use is surging and so is UTOPIA Fiber by Ryan Miller, KSL.com   Washington State, partners setting up drive-up Wi-Fi hotspots to expand broadband to rural areas by Amy Edelen, The Daily Chronicle   The public-private partnership formed to install the hotspots is in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which highlighted the importance of Internet access for distance learning, remote work, telemedicine and essential services, according to the department. PUD launches survey on broadband access, The Daily Chronicle    Wisconsin  The broadband gap leaves rural Wisconsin behind in the COVID-19 crisis by Peter Cameron, WisContext   General For tribal lands ravaged by COVID-19, broadband access is a matter of life and death by Darrah Blackwater, AzCentral No Internet access means no access to the economic opportunities the Internet holds. In 2018 alone, the Internet sector accounted for $2.1 trillion of the U.S. economy. But during this pandemic, many residents of rural Indian Country don’t have the luxury of dreaming up online business plans. Tribes have many government programs available for supporting broadband amid the coronavirus, say officials by Elijah Labby, Broadband Breakfast   The Pentagon's fight to kill Ligado's 5G network by Marguerite Reardon, CNET   FCC ignoring consumer broadband complaints, POTs and PANs  It’s conceivable that the FCC no longer has the power to resolve complaints and just doesn’t want to publicly say so. When the agency voided their ability to regulate broadband, it’s likely they also voided their ability to intervene on any topic related to broadband – the agency effectively gelded themselves. Did the FCC get the right answers on broadband deployment?, Benton Institute for Broadband & Society  Tags: media roundup

Two New Communications Districts Join Vermont’s Growing Community Broadband Effort

muninetworks.org - May 15, 2020

In March, we reported on the formation of Deerfield Valley Communications Union District in Vermont. That same month, communities in different parts of the state also formed two other communications union districts (CUDs) to improve their local connectivity. Voters in dozens of towns approved the formation of Northeast Kingdom CUD and Southern Vermont CUD during Vermont’s Town Meeting Day on March 3. The two new CUDs are currently undertaking feasibility studies and hope to take advantage of federal and state funding — including through Vermont’s new — to deploy Fiber-to-the-Home networks to all region residents and businesses. Developing Districts Northeast Kingdom CUD is currently made up of 27 towns in the counties of Caledonia, Essex, and Orleans. The group’s FAQ explains that the district’s goal is to “bring a reliable and affordable, high-speed Internet option (at least 100 mbps symmetrical) to every residential and business e911 address in the Northeast Kingdom. According to VTDigger, the participating communities are in some of the most underserved counties in Vermont. On the other end of the state, the Southern Vermont CUD is comprised of 12 member towns, all in Bennington County. The fact that all of the towns voted to join the CUD doesn’t surprise local officials, who are familiar with residents’ desire for better connectivity. “I had heard next to no negative comments about the CUD, and mostly people who are really anxious to see their internet situation improve," Tim Scoggins, Southern Vermont CUD Governing Board Chair and Shaftsbury Selectboard Chair, told the Bennington Banner. Both of the new CUDs plan to conduct feasibility studies and create business plans using funding from the state’s Broadband Innovation Grant Program. When it comes to deploying their networks, the two entities hope to tap into federal and state funds to finance construction. “The funding is going to remain the biggest challenge for the CUDs moving forward,” said Clay Purvis, Director of Telecommunications at the Vermont Department of Public Service. Northeast Kingdom CUD and Southern Vermont CUD join three other districts in the state: Central Vermont Fiber, ECFiber, and Deerfield Valley CUD. The CUD structure allows communities to unite their efforts and better attract funding. Purvis explained to VTDigger: It makes these kind of rag-tag groups of towns into something that is more sophisticated . . . So when the time comes to seek funding, whether it’s in the private market or from the state of Vermont or the federal government, they look much more sophisticated. Old Problems, New Urgency The importance of finding local solutions to poor, unreliable, and expensive connectivity is even more apparent as Vermont communities struggle to overcome the spread of the novel coronavirus. “More than ever we need to figure out a solution for a pandemic or any other scenario that may come up where we have to rely on Internet to keep our businesses and our lives moving forward," Evan Carlson, Board Chair of Northeast Kingdom CUD, told a local news station. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the lack of universal Internet access throughout the state, Vermont has drafted an Emergency Broadband Action Plan [pdf] that lays out how the state could connect unserved residents during and after the crisis. The proposal includes immediate steps to extend Internet access during the pandemic as well as a plan to bring broadband access to all Vermonters. Achieving universal access in the state would involve funding new broadband deployment as well as supporting CUDs in their efforts to tap into federal grant programs. Download the Emergency Broadband Action Plan below, and check back for future MuniNetworks.org coverage of the state’s plan under the “Vermont” tag. Vermont Emergency Broadband Action Plan - draft for public commentsTags: Vermontcommunications union districtnortheast kingdom cudsouthern vermont cudcentral vermont internetdeerfield valley cudecfiber

Fact Checking Yet Another Misleading, Mistake-Riddled Report From the Taxpayers Protection Alliance

muninetworks.org - May 14, 2020

In their recent, biased report bashing community broadband, the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) alleges that municipal broadband networks are “GON With the Wind,” but it’s really the report’s authors who have run off with reality. Though the report implies that the random subset of 30 municipal networks it features are all government “boondoggles,” TPA only alleges network failure or failure to pay debt in nine cases. After correcting for TPA’s errors, just eight of those 30 networks could be argued as failures.

To counter TPA’s erroneous and misleading claims, the Community Broadband Networks initiative has prepared a response to the report in which we summarize the many shortcomings of the report’s arbitrary approach, correct the authors’ numerous mistakes and omissions, and provide a city-by-city rebuttal of the report’s allegations.

View our response, “Fact Checking the New Taxpayers Protection Alliance Report, GON With the Wind” [pdf], now or download the file below. “Puzzling” Report Discredits TPA “The Taxpayer Protection Alliance has returned with another puzzling attempt to discredit municipal broadband networks,” we write in our response to the new report. “They have published a report, GON With the Wind, that mostly affirms that the community networks it picked to study are successful.” In addition to not even alleging network failure in most cases, TPA’s report struggles with a basic understanding of the telecommunications business, fails to correctly cite and use facts, and relies heavily on a discredited study. In particular, we note the many sloppy errors that the report’s authors make in the section on Chattanooga, Tennessee: We examined their sourcing for claims made in the Chattanooga case study and found numerous problems. The most obvious is related to the claim on page 15 that Chairman Ajit Pai reversed former Chairman Wheeler’s effort to limit state preemption policies. The 6th Circuit reversed the FCC Order while Chairman Wheeler was still in office, long before Republicans won the 2016 election. Oddly enough, TPA correctly characterized this on page 16. Furthermore, the report excludes relevant information, including the fact that local governments invest in broadband networks to benefit the community not turn a profit. We explain: Most community networks are focused on economic development and creating price competition where the community is currently at the mercy of a monopoly. These issues are largely absent from the TPA analysis but are crucial to a proper evaluation of municipal networks. While the report fails to make a strong case against municipal networks, it does include many facts that show the successes of publicly owned broadband, including take rates that exceed 70 percent and municipal ownership going back decades. “Ironically, while TPA is attempting to discredit municipal networks, its own words consistently affirm that local leaders have made wise decisions with few exceptions,” we say. For more, download “Fact Checking the New Taxpayers Protection Alliance Report, GON With the Wind” [pdf] below. "Head in Hands" by Alex Proimos licensed under Creative Commons license Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0). Modifications made by MuniNetworks.org. Fact Checking the New Taxpayers Protection Alliance Report, GON With the WindTags: institute for local self-reliancecorrecting community fiber fallaciesmisinformationlies

New Book “The Future Is Public” Features Chapter on Municipal Broadband

muninetworks.org - May 13, 2020

Yesterday, the Transnational Institute (TNI) released The Future Is Public, a book that explores international municipalization efforts and the benefits of public ownership. In addition to tracking the successful transition of water, waste, energy, and other essential services to public ownership in hundreds of communities, the book describes how local governments in the United States have increasingly invested in municipal broadband networks. Chapter 9, “United States: Communities providing affordable, fast broadband Internet” [pdf], analyzes the significant growth of publicly owned broadband networks across the country. The co-authors Thomas M. Hanna, Research Director at the Democracy Collective, and Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Community Broadband Network initiative, explain in the chapter: In the United States, one of the fastest growing areas of municipalisation and local public ownership is high-speed broadband Internet networks. This is due, in part, to the failure of the highly concentrated, corporate-dominated telecommunications sector to provide fast and affordable service in many parts of the country – especially rural areas, smaller towns and cities, and communities with low levels of income and economic development. Download The Future is Public and the chapter on municipal broadband on TNI’s website. Municipal Broadband’s “Proven Track Record” Tens of millions of Americans still don’t have access to broadband, and Hanna and Mitchell point to telecom monopolies as the reason for the disparity. “A corporate oligopoly in the telecommunications sector is a major reason why wide swathes of the country (both geographically and socioeconomically) are left with inferior or unaffordable service,” they argue. As case studies, the chapter features several local governments that have responded to inadequate connectivity by building their own fiber optic networks to connect residents and businesses, including Wilson, North Carolina; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and Mount Washington, Massachusetts. The authors also discuss public-private broadband partnerships, which cities like Westminster, Maryland, have pursued to great benefit. “This allows municipalities, especially those that are smaller in size or density, to overcome certain hurdles related to scale and the cost of providing service,” they explain. Lastly, the chapter touches on challenges that the further municipalization of broadband services faces, notably from restrictive state laws that interfere with local decision making and were instituted at the behest of corporate telecom lobbyists. Regardless, the authors believe communities will continue to invest in their own connectivity: While corporate lobbying and state-level preemption laws are undoubtedly an ongoing challenge, broadband municipalisations in the United States are likely to continue in the coming years . . . It has a proven track record of success and is generally popular at the local level. Watch a short video on the book below, and download The Future is Public and Chapter 9, “United States: Communities providing affordable, fast broadband Internet,” on TNI’s website. Tags: institute for local self-reliancechristopher mitchellbookcommunity broadbandmuni

ILSR Challenges Frontier's Attempt to Block Rural Broadband Upgrades

muninetworks.org - May 12, 2020

Late last month, we reported on Frontier Communications’ claim that it now offers broadband in 17,000 rural census blocks in an effort to remove those areas from the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) upcoming rural broadband funding program. At the time, we expressed concerns that the provider may be exaggerating Internet speeds, and after publishing that article, we heard from Frontier subscribers, local officials, and private companies who shared their own doubts over the accuracy of the company’s reporting. Earlier today, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance filed comments with the FCC to draw attention to Frontier’s questionable claims. “We are concerned that Frontier may have overstated its capacity to actually deliver the claimed services in many areas,” the comments read. We call on the FCC to either investigate or to simply refuse Frontier’s disputable claims to ensure unserved rural areas aren’t prevented from receiving subsidies to expand broadband access. The comments argue: Allowing Frontier to so remove hundreds of thousands of Americans from one of the most significant rural broadband programs in history would send a strong message that there is no claim too far that the Commission will be skeptical of . . . Frontier is all but inviting the Commission to make an example of it and serve notice that the Commission intends to ensure Americans in rural regions have real opportunities to connect rather than continuing to play games with bankrupt firms. Download ILSR’s comments to the FCC at the agency's website or below. Inconsistent Reports Raise a Red Flag We have seen inconsistencies in Frontier’s past reports to the FCC on its broadband offerings, which the company is required to file twice a year. A few years ago, Frontier reduced reported speeds in a number of census blocks from 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload — the FCC’s minimum definition of broadband — to just below broadband speeds. Our analysis of federal data shows that the 17,000 census blocks that the company recently reported as having access to broadband have seen similar inconsistencies. In December 2018, Frontier claimed that more than 3,000 of those blocks suddenly had broadband available but then 6 months later said that none of those blocks had access to broadband speeds. View the graph below to see how Frontier’s reporting of its advertised speeds in those census blocks has changed over time. We explain the implications of Frontier's new claim to offer broadband service in the light of the company's past reporting in our comments to the FCC: Frontier’s filings of broadband service within the 16,987 blocks is not consistent. In Form 477 filings from Dec 2014 - June 2019, only 3590 or 21% of these blocks were filed at least once as having broadband coverage from Frontier. 13,397 or 79% of census blocks filed on April 10, 2020 would have had to have broadband installed since June 2019. Frontier’s erratic reports to the FCC are, we believe, further evidence of the company’s incompetency and of the unlikeliness that it has expanded broadband to thousands of new census blocks within the last year. We are not the only ones raising alarms over Frontier’s sudden claim, which follows years of failing to invest in its rural networks, investigations in several states (most recently in Minnesota, West Virginia, and Connecticut), and a still-fresh bankruptcy announcement. A comment to the FCC [pdf] submitted by the Buckeye Hills Regional Council in Ohio argues that Frontier is making “unfounded upward revisions of advertised speeds,” pointing out that other filings to the agency show that the company is only deploying networks capable of 10/1 Mbps. “In the pending challenge, Frontier asks the FCC to double down on the damage to rural America,” the Council writes. Other comments from local and state agencies also expressed concern that other companies were misreporting broadband speeds and availability to keep the FCC from subsidizing broadband expansion in those areas. View PDFs of the comments from the Arkansas Attorney General, Moffat County in Colorado, and the Bootheel Regional Planning and Economic Development Commission in Missouri below. FCC’s Unfounded Fear of Broadband Competition Even if Frontier’s recent filing is accurate — meaning that at least one household in each of those 17,000-odd census blocks can now access 25/3 Mbps Internet speeds from the company — it’s clear that these rural communities are still woefully underserved. Instead of focusing on expanding reliable, affordable, high-speed Internet access in as many rural areas as possible, the FCC is preoccupied with its fear of accidentally subsidizing broadband competition in a census block where perhaps only one resident has access to baseline connectivity. The complicated he-said-she-said discourse that dogs eligibility for rural broadband subsidies is a clear result of the agency’s reluctance to support true broadband competition and its protracted reliance on inaccurate data. Planned changes to the FCC’s data collection process should help solve one of those problems, but fixing the other may require more foundational shifts in the agency’s policies. Read ILSR’s comments to the FCC and the other entities’ filings by downloading the PDFs below. ILSR comments to the FCC on Frontier's broadband claims BHRC comments to the FCC on Frontier challenge Arkansas Attorney General letter to the FCC Moffat County, Colorado, response to the FCC Bootheel RPC comments to the FCCTags: institute for local self-reliancefrontierfccmapping

Why Wi-Fi is Polite and Where It's Going Next - Community Broadband Bits Episode 410

muninetworks.org - May 12, 2020

In this episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, we get an introduction to what this week's guest calls "the most Southern of protocols" — Wi-Fi. Here to guide us is Heather "Mo" Williams, Manager of Solutions Engineering at Ruckus Networks, Wi-Fi engineer for Black Hat conferences, and co-host on the podcast This Week in Enterprise Tech. During her conversation with Christopher, Mo shares her background with Ruckus Networks and her family's personal experience with poor connectivity in rural Texas. Then, Mo and Christopher discuss the history of Wi-Fi, the basics of how it functions, and what it means to operate over unlicensed spectrum. Mo explains how network congestion and the proliferation of Wi-Fi-enabled devices challenge engineers. Christopher and Mo talk about the overblown hype around 5G technologies. They also dig into the Federal Communications Commission's wireless policies, and Mo commends the agency for it's recent decision to open up more spectrum for Wi-Fi, calling it a "game changer." This show is 51 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. Transcript coming soon. 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 bitspodcastaudioWirelessfixed wirelessWi-Fispectrumfcc

Explore the Basics of Broadband with Merit and ILSR’s Christopher Mitchell

muninetworks.org - May 11, 2020

Merit Network is hosting a weekly Michigan Moonshot Educational Series in the lead-up to their Broadband Summit this fall, and as part of the programming, Director of Community Broadband Networks initiative Christopher Mitchell recently hosted a webinar called “Exploring the Basics of Broadband.” Aimed at community leaders and the interested public, it explores the different solutions — and their relative advantages and disadvantages — in an accessible way. Access the webinar on Merit's website, or watch the video below. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Christopher offers a frank discussion and an overview of the present deployments and future prospects of cable, digital subscriber line (DSL), mobile and fixed wireless, satellite, and fiber optic network technologies for both high-density urban areas and sparsely populated rural ones. In particular the webinar succeeds at cutting through industry speak and assessing the practical impacts, as well as the breadth and depth of choices, that local communities should consider in their efforts to connect all their citizens with a modern, reliable network. The webinar also includes discussion of economies of scale, financial feasibility, legal limitations, and the current 5G hype, and is intended to equip attendees with the information they need to contribute to local efforts at increasing Internet access. As an added bonus for listeners, Christopher provides commentary on Smokey and the Bandit, Burt Reynolds, and Austin Powers. Additional Information Merit will be also hosting another webinar later this month titled “Local Community Broadband: A Good Answer to Internet Connectivity”, on Thursday, May 28, at 12 p.m. ET. For more, visit our Key Points page, see our coverage of other communities that have explored building municipal networks, or browse the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Tags: webinarchristopher mitchellMeritmichiganinstitute for local self-reliancevideo

Community Broadband Media Roundup - May 11

muninetworks.org - May 11, 2020


CPUC moves to help close digital divide for students by Bruce Mirken, Post News Group   High school district grapples to bridge digital divide by Kate Bradshaw, Mountain View Voice   Missouri Community partnership uses school buses to provide free Internet access in Perry County, Mo. by Amber Ruch, KFVS12   Best case scenario: Early broadband build-out leaves some rural areas prepared for online work and school by Anna Brugmann, Columbia Daily Tribune   Minnesota Rural America lags on fast Internet. Now small co-ops are building it by Richard Mertens, The Christian Science Monitor  “Co-ops in my mind are the unsung heroes of broadband rural deployment,” says Christopher Ali, a professor of media studies at the University of Virginia who is writing a book on the subject. “Co-ops are much more responsive to needs of their local communities.” New Mexico USDA to spend $23M to expand broadband in NM by Scott Turner, Albuquerque Journal   North Carolina Wilson community broadband proves valuable during coronavirus outbreak by Mandy Mitchell, WRAL   North Dakota Why North Dakota has the best Internet in the United States by Karl Bode, Vice Past ISLR studies have shown that mindlessly throwing subsidies at the nation’s biggest telecom monopolies isn’t an effective way to fix the problem. In part because US broadband mapping is a notoriously terrible, but also because feckless oversight routinely means such funds often never reach the smaller, rural communities they were intended for.  South Carolina South Carolina electric co-op to invest $50m in broadband by Gene Zaleski, Government Technology    Tennessee  Gig on the mountain: Power co-op takes over high-speed telecom service at Jasper Highlands by Dave Flessner   Vermont Northeast Kingdom one step closer to having high speed broadband, WCAX3    Virginia Electric cooperatives make it step up during pandemic, Jackson Newspapers   General Conexon launches RDOF Mapping Platform for FCC auction success, BBC Wires    Nation needs better broadband, Augusta Chronicle Editorial “We are the country that created the Internet. We think of ourselves as the most affluent nation on Earth,” Christopher Mitchell told CNN. Mitchell is director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “We should be embarrassed that millions of people have to drive to a closed library or a fast-food restaurant in order to do their jobs or do their homework.” Fiber optics generally a better option than wireless, even in rural areas, says municipal broadband advocate by Emily McPhie, Broadband Breakfast   While more Americans rely on parking lot Wi-Fi, many public libraries do not have adequate broadband, Benton Institute for Broadband & Society    Commerce: $1.5 Billion in CARES Act funding includes broadband by John Eggerton, Multichannel  Tags: media roundup

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 409

muninetworks.org - May 11, 2020

This is the transcript for episode 409 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. In this episode Christopher speaks with Ernesto Falcon, Senior Legislative Counsel at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) about EFF's history, it's involvement in repealing California's municipal broadband preemption, and California advanced services fund program. Listen to the episode, or read the transcript below.   Ernesto Falcon: My hope is we can get SB 1130 done this year on an expedited basis, free up the agency to really remedy these harms, and as well as free up the capacity of local governments that are kind of in a war room footing right now to explore their options to build out their own networks. Jess Del Fiacco: Welcome to episode 409 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. This is Jess Del Fiacco, Communications Manager here at the Institute for Local Self Reliance. In today's episode, Christopher talks with Ernesto Falcon, Senior Legislative Counsel at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Ernesto gives Christopher a brief history of the organization and the two discussed the Electronic Frontier Foundation's involvement in repealing California's municipal broadband preemption. Ernesto also talks about the California advanced services fund program, why so many people have been left without internet access during the pandemic, and what the future of connectivity looks like. Here's Christopher talking with Ernesto Falcon, of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. This is Christopher Mitchell from the Institute for Local Self Reliance in Saint Paul, Minnesota, talking with someone who's a bit warmer, a bit sunnier, Ernesto Falcon, welcome to the show. Ernesto Falcon: Hey, thanks for having me. Christopher Mitchell: So Ernesto, you're not only in the California area, you just have a very bright disposition, I've noticed over the years. You are the senior legislative counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which most people know is EFF. Just a little bit of background. What's EFF? Ernesto Falcon: Yeah, so the Electronic Frontier Foundation, we're a nonprofit public interest law firm, meaning we do representation for free on issues impacting first amendment, fourth amendment rights as well as a hand full of technology policy issues and impact speech and privacy. We are basically three different teams; lawyers, engineers and activists. And we've been around for 30 years, we were about to hit our 30th year anniversary. Ernesto Falcon: And the origin of EFF when we started was, the internet was coming, technology was coming, and how do we protect what we have now in terms of our rights and our ability to communicate and share with one another as becomes more digital. And those fights have kind of spiraled in many different directions. And my special area of focus with EFF is broadband access and kind of what's the future of access to make sure everyone has the same high speed access that they deserve. 2:23 Christopher Mitchell: How did you come to that? Ernesto Falcon: So I have always tinkered with technology growing up. So I was born in 1981, so there's a time when, as a kid you're playing with video games and computers and your adults will tell you that's not a thing you could do for a living. So because it just wasn't a field and people didn't think that was possible. The internet didn't really exist and then it became dial up and I just kept up with the hobbies and eventually the hobbies turned into a career. Ernesto Falcon: I went to the political space right after college, did some campaign work and realized that's not exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to really focus on the technology policy, which was still kind of in its infancy, and went to Washington D.C. and worked in Congress. Did that for six years. And during that time you had the big final net neutrality. That was in 2005 which really convinced me this was the direction I wanted to go. I eventually joined a nonprofit consumer group called Public Knowledge and made my wat to law school out in California- Christopher Mitchell: Never heard of them. Ernesto Falcon: Yeah. Made my way to law school after that, because I was surrounded by a lot of lawyers that I thought were doing brilliant work and I wanted to be one too. And from that point, I met Corynne McSherry who's the legal director of EFF. Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. She's been on the show maybe three years ago or so. Ernesto Falcon: Oh yeah. Excellent. Excellent. Yeah. And I worked with her in D.C. and I talked to her to get advice about what to do. I wanted to stay in the policy work, didn't want to litigate as a lawyer, but I still wanted to stay in California. And it was just fortuitous that EFF was also trying to bulk up its policy and legislative work. Prior to that, it was mostly focused on litigation and kind of making progress on that front. But there are limits to that, and some of these fights have to be fought in the halls of Congress as well as in state legislatures. And so that was my primary reason to be hired at EFF in 2015 now. Christopher Mitchell: And that's where you and I started crossing paths on a more regular basis was around AB 1999, which was almost two years ago now I guess. Ernesto Falcon: That's right. Christopher Mitchell: When California became one of the few states to repeal preemption. It was a pretty minor issue, but I'm really excited you led the fight to make sure that they got rid of it. You want to just tell us what that was about? 4:25 Ernesto Falcon: Yeah, absolutely. And it's always been great to work with you and all the great work your organization does, because I think it is proven what industry has tried to convince lawmakers is not possible, which is we don't have to depend on them, we can just build it ourselves. Ernesto Falcon: So, for background for folks, so AB 1999 was a law that that happened at the exact same time, or I guess shortly after the FCC repeal net neutrality in 2017. So 2017 that happens towards the end of the year or towards the middle of the year and the states start responding on what to do about broadband access at home. We had a big fight on California on net neutrality as a law called SB 822. And at the same time we had this parallel fight on municipalities and local government building its own open networks that were net neutral as well, and that's AB 1999. Ernesto Falcon: And the trick that the industry pulled off in California, because it's never a frontal assault on the idea that no one else should build something but us, it's always these kind of silly side arguments. And the argument there was, you should allow private industry to buy public assets if they build a broadband network as a means to ensure that private investment is robust and not driven out by the public sector. Ernesto Falcon: And in effect, what it actually did was made the public sector take the risk of how to provide service and difficult to serve markets, and if they able to pull it off, which thanks to the work of your organization kind of showing this has happened everywhere, once they've proven it's out, it's doable, it's actually financially feasible, and then low behold the private company will buy it out to absorb the profits that would have gone back to the taxpayer. Christopher Mitchell: It's just hard to imagine why anyone would have thought that was a good idea, even at the time. Ernesto Falcon: Yeah. Christopher Mitchell: It's pretty nuts to think that you would basically force a community to sell something that they had built. I mean just there's a lot of shenanigans that these companies pull, but a lot of times it's more complicated than just saying, "Nope, it doesn't matter how popular it is, there's no recourse. The public just has to get rid of it." 6:25 Ernesto Falcon: That's exactly right. And there's just a lack of understanding and that's starting to disappear little by little, I think more so this year than ever before, but a lack of understanding the role of the public sector and broadband access. You go back five years, six years ago, and most people thought, you really just had to rely on figuring out how to get the private companies to build everywhere. And it's become obvious to a great number of people, but that's not happening. And the number of people who are deniers of that reality are dwindling. Christopher Mitchell: Well, the thing that I find really interesting, and I don't know how much of this you saw, but I'm sure you've heard stories, even if you didn't see it yourself. It used to be that it seemed like AT&T owned the legislature. You know what I mean? People often associate AT&T more with ruling Republican led legislatures. You think about Marsha Blackburn who is surgically grafted onto AT&T. But in California for a long time, AT&T was very popular with the Democrats. They basically got what they wanted, and lately it seems like that's changed quite a bit. Ernesto Falcon: It's changing but it's taking an extraordinary amount of grassroots work to make that happen. I think the industry really led by AT&T in Sacramento do get a lot of what they want because the amount of money they give the California Democratic party is fairly prolific and the number of relationships that are built from that are pretty pervasive. Ernesto Falcon: And quite frankly, the ignorance of an handful of legislators, I would say a great number of them, of this industry is not really leading us to the bright future they keep promising. Kind of hand in hand, in terms of the legislative favors and regulatory favors is always this promise of, "You do this for us and we will deploy in your unserved or underserved market." And we're at 2020 now, I remember I had a conversation with a staffer just a week ago about this dynamic. And I said, "By this point I think we're Charlie and the football's been pulled enough times, right?" And the staffer couldn't help but laugh, because it's just undeniable. Christopher Mitchell: So I want to skip over a lot of the really good work you've done on net neutrality and some other tech issues and focus on some recent developments. The California Advanced Services Fund, I think it might help to just start with a little primmer on what exactly is CASF? 8:30 Ernesto Falcon: Certainly. So California is one of the few states that directly finances the infrastructure of broadband or at least high speed internet access. And I'll explain why I make a distinction there in a sec. But we created this program to kind of work in parallel with federal efforts to build out internet access to difficult to serve markets, usually rural, but at times urban and related markets. But the problem has been the program has set its targets so low that it's kind of hamstrung at the moment. And it's kind of particularly noticeable at a time when a vast number of Californians need high speed access, in particular in these rural markets, but we're all ordered to stay at home under COVID-19. Christopher Mitchell: So right now if I live in rural California and I'm pulling down eight megabits down and one megabit up, or even probably honestly a fraction of that, but it's advertised as being that, then I'm not eligible for the California Advanced Services Funds subsidies to get better networks, right? Ernesto Falcon: That's right. So the trick is when they originally created CASF, which is the acronym for California Advanced Services Fund, was meant to look at markets that were 6.5 megabits per second down, and I believe 1.5 up. It was actually doing fairly decent work. It was financing fiber in public housing. It was building out a middle mile, open-access fiber networks. It was doing such good work, but it was running out of money. And so the legislature, in order to pass a new financing of the program, it takes a two thirds vote; that's how it's structured there. Ernesto Falcon: The industry held enough influence to make it hard for a 50% plus one vote to get done. And so a lot of bargains and compromises were struck with particularly with Frontier and AT&T leading the discussions here. On the premise that okay, if you lower the threshold of what is served to six megabits download, one megabit upload, and this is 2017- Christopher Mitchell: Not ancient history; pretty recent. Ernesto Falcon: Yeah, this is three years ago when the federal government two years prior said 25-3 was the definition of broadband. Yet companies telling legislators in Sacramento, 6-1 seems good enough. We shouldn't be subsidizing or putting money into neighborhoods that have DSL, basically. 10:39 Ernesto Falcon: The trick behind that strategy was effectively to make it impossible for the state to build out high capacity networks. Because lo and behold, when the government did its a data analysis about what areas don't have 6-1, it is very difficult to find areas that are complete deserts of six megabits down, one megabit up. And the trick with CASF and the way they structured it was, if you had a small handful of households in an area with that connectivity, even like an anchor institution like a hospital or a school, then you can't really serve the area, because that area has internet access, therefore it's not worthy of state funding. Ernesto Falcon: And so the end product of that was in the last bid that put out $360 million of California money to build broadband, only about 30 million of it was applied for. Because there's just not a way to cohesively make a bid under the criteria that the ISP is established. Christopher Mitchell: Right. I think it may help to illustrate if I just make up some numbers, which I think people accuse me of doing too often. But let's just assume for a second there's 40 million people in California. There might be a million people that don't have that connectivity or 500,000 or whatever it is, but they don't all live next to each other, right? California is also a big place and so you have like 30 people here, 10 people there, and you can't put a business model together on the basis of that. Ernesto Falcon: That's exactly right, because net networks are meant to be holistic in terms of the deployment. You're casting a net to capture as many of the payers into that net to help finance the construction. But what the data showed is, as EFF looked at the maps of what is a 6-1 and non 6-1 area, it's effectively Swiss cheese. It's a whole bunch of tiny little pockets spread throughout the state and it misses the fact that you probably have areas that have 10-1 that are being excluded, and that's an inferior speed for any of the needs that people have today. And so it's just like a situation where, and not surprised that despite a bunch of money being available for bid, these are grants, so they're covering 50% of the cost. It's a very attractive offer, but no one could really figure out how to financially put together a cohesive package in a Swiss cheese matter. Networks don't operate that way. 12:46 Christopher Mitchell: Okay. So that's what has led to CASF actually having extra money right now, although the legislature could always put more money in there to supplement it. What is happening to improve the program in order to make sure that you're actually financing better networks rather than just watching money accrue a small amount of interest? Ernesto Falcon: Yeah, no. So something that EFF has studied thoroughly in the last handful of years is, what is the 21st century internet look like? What is a universal affordable high speed network that's good for not just now, but the next generation and generations after? And the conclusion is fiber. And fiber-to-the-home in as much and as far as you can go, which quite frankly, we could do a lot if the will and the focus was there. Ernesto Falcon: Now how do you write quote unquote fiber into a broadband finance program? You really look at projects that should be once built a useful for future upgrades on the cheap, in order to keep up with the increasing demands of internet access. Often a challenge in I think, in policy both federal and state has been, we try to build out what's good right now in terms of internet access and without any sort of recognition of the speed limit that comes with that choice. And that often plays into the hands of the old incumbents who quite frankly, can upgrade their old stuff incrementally on the cheap. And that's attractive but it's also a pretty clear dead end. Christopher Mitchell: As long as they're writing the laws. I mean, I was comparing, upgrades of DSL. It doesn't really help us get to a higher quality network, because it's a dead end as you just said. It would be like telling someone, "Well just keep upgrading your bike and sooner or later it will turn into a moving van." It doesn't work that way. 14:28 Ernesto Falcon: Yep. And especially when someone has already invented the moving van that's cheaper to run and it's getting better by the day. It's just one of those things where communities that don't have next generation high capacity networks being built are in real danger of joining the unserved communities. In the sense of eventually services and applications that we use, like I think COVID-19 story is like Zoom and other video conferencing exploding in usage. You can't do that if you don't have a decent upload and you can't do that if you don't have a decent download. And so suddenly your formerly known as broadband connection has become the dialogue. And none of us willfully use dial up as a means to connect to the internet right now. Ernesto Falcon: That's the worry EFF has about the lack of access kind of growing as a result of next generation application services that are really beneficial to people to use being out of reach. Because one, you don't have access, even at a minimum, a cable monopoly, what does that mean to society in terms of democratic participation, education and all the other very important values that the government should be prioritizing. Christopher Mitchell: So let's talk about a bill that you're kind of shepherding in some ways, a bill that a State Senator Gonzalez has put forth, State Bill 1130. What will that do to try to fix the problem you've just been describing? Ernesto Falcon: Yeah. So Senator Lena Gonzalez and EFF have been working together on the bill that she produced. And the idea behind it is, let's set a minimum standard of 25 megabits down, 25 megabits up, so symmetrical uploads and downloads because people are generating as much content going out now as they are in, with a requirement of low latency, because the capacity to make it near real time interactivity is really important right now. Ernesto Falcon: And set that as the standard of what is served and unserved. And what that should do is markets that have competition between fiber and cable, markets that would have fairly upgraded fiber coaxial hybrid cable systems, probably would fall above that number on average. And then the markets that are still either with nothing or completely reliant on DSL, would be eligible for an upgrade. 16:33 Ernesto Falcon: This would ideally allow a lot of the local governments that have been kind of clamoring at the bit to take a bond down and build out their own infrastructure as well as a handful of small private companies that are eager to kick spam, but they just don't have the vast reservoirs of capital themselves to build out on their own, to help solve this problem of not only the digital divide but, but also what EFF calls the speed chasm between legacy networks and networks backing fiber. Christopher Mitchell: You mentioned the issue around symmetry that people produce so much more than they used to. I think you said they produce as much as they consume. I can imagine that some people, particularly folks who really believe wisps are the next best step to solve this, which often can be symmetrical, but in rural areas are more often asymmetrical it seems, even though they're higher capacity. They may say, "No, people still download a whole lot more than the upload." And so why would 25 symmetrical be the standard? Ernesto Falcon: Yeah, the only reason people download more than they upload is because that's what they're being sold. Something I often run into when we talk to policy makers at the federal and state level, when they think about what the future broadband speeds should look like, and I see numbers like, what about 100 down and 20 up? And I paused and I say, "You have to understand the asymmetry has absolutely nothing to do with broadband as a technology and has everything to do with the fact that cable television distribution networks were converted into cable modems and cable networks and cable information networks." Christopher Mitchell: Now Ernesto, I actually prefer to upload to Dropbox using a much slower connection. I couldn't do it at 100 megabits, but I really like to upload to Dropbox at 20 megabits. 18:12 Ernesto Falcon: That's exactly right. And so it's just like it's part of the history of why there's been asymmetry and why the new networks that get built, particularly when they have fiber and plenty of special capacity available, are perfectly able to do symmetrical distribution of information. And that's a preferred route. I mean, at the end, if we want people to be able to start a business at home for example, you need them to be able to communicate with their customers and their followers, if they're like an artist of sorts, in a way that is robust. And there's no reason why the technology doesn't support that. It does, it's just policy sometimes looks too much at what the current industry is doing and without a recognition of what the technology is capable of. Christopher Mitchell: Well, I would add onto that by noting the cable companies increasingly are going to be able to do symmetrical with upgrades that will cost them money; they'll have to invest in it. But I mean, historically I think we've had asymmetry in policy just to accommodate DSL and to some extent cable. And I don't know how much longer we want to keep doing that. Ernesto Falcon: Yeah. I mean if policy is doing the right thing in terms of taking a big step back, the point of federal policy has been from the nineties is, is universality, competition, affordability. And if those things are happening, which, which are not in a great many places right now, which means we have to really rethink some of the larger policies here. If they were working, the cable companies would eventually become fiber companies. The wisp would finance eventually into full fledged fiber company as well. Basically everyone would eventually adopt the same type of high capacity networks and try and figure out how to go further and higher and beyond. Ernesto Falcon: But yeah, exactly right, we're tethered to the legacy, to the past. And the real tragedy in that is the European Union is not doing that, the Chinese are not doing that, the South Koreans, the Japanese are not doing that. All of the other countries that we compete with on a whole host of fronts, have long moved past this kind of dynamic. They're building universal fiber, I mean that's their goals. 20:09 Christopher Mitchell: Well, if there's one thing that I can tell you as I sit here in my home interviewing you in your home during business hours, is that we have very good information on what the future will be like. And we should assume there will be no shocks in which suddenly having aiming your two or three megabits will be a significant pull on the economy, because of people trying to work from home while their children are schooling from home, and all kinds of other challenges right now. Ernesto Falcon: Yep, that's exactly right. One thing I think sometimes media might miss is COVID-19 isn't ... What it's showing us, in terms of the internet access is what the near future looks like. It's not necessarily, this is only the one time blip and it won't be this bad in the future. No, this is what it was heading towards anyway, as we all started moving to remote computing and cloud computing and remote education and things like that. And they're going to be a greater number of have and have nots that have always been there, it's just now it's much more pronounced. Christopher Mitchell: So let me ask you one other question, which is something that opponents to the bill are definitely raising as well, but we have on the order of hundreds of millions of dollars, if you define the problem in California is being those who don't have 25 symmetrical, that's a multi-billion dollar problem to solve. What happens when the money runs out? Ernesto Falcon: So I think one, you're absolutely right, in terms of the larger scope of the challenge. Two, the investment is worth it because it'll pay itself off because everyone needs the access, and it's going to be good for well past my lifetime. To them, I say, "Okay, yeah." So you tell me it cost, "Oh, it's going to be two or three or $4 billion. I said, "That's fine. I mean, because at the end of the day, everyone needs this. It's essential to the future. It's essential to this economy and it'll be valued many times the investment within its usable lifetime. Ernesto Falcon: I think if we don't get more of in the initial dollar amount that's there or as that money starts running out, I suspect what will happen is legislators will see the great benefits that are occurring as a result of the initial investment and it actually won't run out of money. Additional funds will be re-added over time to keep it going until the job is done. 22:14 Ernesto Falcon: I think that's just the story of many of these efforts is, once you've launched an initiative of sorts and the government sees this is really doing a lot of good, it's very difficult politically to then say, "Well, okay, I guess we're done. Let's just fold up our chairs now." Everyone sees the value in this. Christopher Mitchell: Well, I think that's also a reminder of the importance of taking seriously how these programs are structured, making sure the rules are right. Because sometimes people make assumptions that because something is a really good intent, it'll be implemented well. And I think one of the reasons we're having a crisis in government is many of the government programs that have been slandered had been done so unnecessarily. But there have been a number of programs that have been designed not as well, and sometimes because the industry specifically gets in there to try to monkey wrench it. Christopher Mitchell: We saw this with the stimulus 10 years ago, where the big companies really fought hard to make sure that the money went almost entirely to middle mile. And then years later they said, "Look, we hardly connected any homes. This was a wasted program." And they're like, "Well, you didn't let us connect the homes. Of course we didn't connect many homes." Ernesto Falcon: Yep. Yep. I remember, I mean, as you know, I was a legislative staff. And I remember Verizon's big argument was, we really have to focus on the middle mile; middle mile is really important. And they're not wrong in that, but it's similar to, so long as you're not building something that disrupts what we want, which is, our monopoly markets where we exist has monopoly or creates what I would say expertise and knowledge from an alternative provider that can a bigger competitor over time. I mean that's kind of the looming threat that all of these companies fear. Christopher Mitchell: So let's end up with talking about what CASF is doing just to deal with the immediate onslaught right now of trying to make sure people have some sort of connections. I'm on the dockets, I get tons of emails. I haven't had any time to jump in. But what's the argument been about lately? 24:08 Ernesto Falcon: So Commissioner Guzman at the CPC, so we have five commissioners of the CPC and Guzman is really a leader on thinking about kind of future networks and what's a 21st century internet look like. And she led an effort to inquire what should CASF do in response to COVID-19. Should there be any changes to the program as a result of the challenges people have? And those challenges really are I think very tethered to remote education. That's probably one of the biggest driving things that are happening here in this state. Because our schools have been closed for almost two months. There's questions of whether we open in the summer to try and make up the time. There's questions of how do we open it all in the fall if this isn't resolved, and the need to ensure every kid can get access to their homework into their teachers is a driving force. Ernesto Falcon: You have schools trying to give out hotspots as a temporary bandaid, which is really frustrating in that the only reason they have the disc is because the infrastructure's not there. You have the school board association, related to all this, they are putting out a potential ballot measure at the November this year for $2 billion just on connectivity to try and make sure every student could get access to public education. Ernesto Falcon: The CPC is trying to figure out what to do with CASF as a means to address this. And so EFF commented on this proceeding, because there's on an emergency expedited basis of whatever you do, don't finance networks that are not up to the task of remote education and distance work in social distancing in general. Ernesto Falcon: There's this New York Times piece that came out and we're seeing more and more data show this, those legacy networks, the DSL networks and even some of the cable network networks are degrading from the increase usage, which is insane in the sense of, okay so everyone is using the internet, they're sold, and now the networks can't actually deliver said products that they're advertised at. Ernesto Falcon: Whereas on the other end, my understanding is every local government or private company that's doing fiber directly to people has had zero challenge meeting the increased needs. And so, again, part of EFFs effort with the law and the legislation, SB 1130 is to focus on high capacity, future-proof networks. It's just to prevent money to going to slightly upgrading networks that are still not up to the task, even with the state money because it's a waste. It's a monumental waste to to build up something that is not going to be ready and just because we're going to have to replace it anyway with what we should have done from the start. 26:36 Christopher Mitchell: And so where is that? Is ready to implement something or is there still ongoing rulemaking? What exactly is happening next, regarding their ability to respond to COVID-19? Ernesto Falcon: Well, yeah, the California Public Utility Commission, with governance and administrates CASF, they're in a tough spot because they can help on getting devices and access to the equipment, in terms of working with industry and working with the schools and trying to form partnerships. But in terms of direct financing and the infrastructure to solve the problem, they have the statutory limits that the 2017 law that AT&T and Frontier helped draft have placed on them. And so what's ironic and kind of a bitter in this is, you have big companies like Crown Castle for example. It's a multi-billion dollar fiber company saying, "You should be doing a minimum standard of 25-25 for eligible areas, in order to correctly ascertain which areas are insufficiently served for today's needs." Ernesto Falcon: And lo and behold, the cable companies and telephone companies, the big ones, that is the old ones who helped write that law, and say, absolutely not, you're legally not allowed to do that because that's what the law says. And oh yeah, because that's the law we helped write. Ernesto Falcon: My hope is we can get State Bill 1130 done this year on an expedited basis, free up the agency to really remedy these harms, and as well as free up the capacity of local governments that are kind of in a war room footing right now to explore their options to build out their own networks. As well as a lot of, I think very good intended small private companies that are trying their best to work with their local communities to figure this out too. Christopher Mitchell: Well, I hope we get there. Really appreciate the work you're doing. Thanks for taking time today to fill us in. Ernesto Falcon: Absolutely. Always happy to. I always love listening to the program. Jess Del Fiacco: That was Christopher talking with Ernesto Falcon, of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at muninetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email us at podcast@muninetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @communitynets. Follow muninetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @muninetworks. Subscribe to this and the other podcasts from ILSR, Building Local Power, Local Energy Rules, and the Composting for Community 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 ilsr.org. While you're there, please take a moment to donate. Your support in any amount keeps us going. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song, Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons. This was episode 409 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Thanks for listening. 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ILSR’s Christopher Mitchell Joins 1A to Discuss Pandemic, Rural Digital Divide

muninetworks.org - May 8, 2020

Earlier this week, Community Broadband Networks Director Christopher Mitchell joined the radio talk show 1A, distributed by NPR, to talk about poor connectivity in rural America and how the Covid-19 pandemic is exacerbating existing digital divides. U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger from Virginia and ranch owner Tiya Tonn from Kansas also called into the show. Listen to the show. Digging Into the Divide Christopher and 1A’s other guests explained how rural Americans across the country, from the mountains of Appalachia to the plains of Kansas, struggle with inadequate Internet access. Broadband quality varies greatly, so some households must rely on spotty cell phone hotspots or fast food Wi-Fi networks while neighbors several miles down the road may have access to fiber optic connectivity. The pandemic is heightening the impacts of the rural digital divide on students and workers who now aren’t able to access their usual connectivity stopgaps, such as public Wi-Fi at libraries and schools. Tiya explained how the shaky broadband connection at her family’s ranch forces her to drive into town for routine activities, and her son spoke to the difficulties he experiences trying to attend online classes now that college campuses are closed. But poor connectivity isn’t only a rural issue — people who lived near Houston and Columbus, Ohio, called into the show to share how they also can’t access high-speed broadband. Christopher added: Even just three miles outside Chapel Hill, there are stories in North Carolina about people that are stuck on a technology that hasn’t been upgraded since before the kids that are in high school were born. How to Expand Access The guests also touched on government efforts to close the digital divide, particularly as Covid-19 highlights the connectivity crisis in rural America. Last week, Democrats in the U.S. House unveiled an updated plan to invest more than $80 billion in rural broadband expansion. Representative Spanberger described the importance of funding modern telecommunications infrastructure at this moment in time: We are facing large economic challenges that we are going to have to invest in our country in order to overcome, and one of the major investments is in our broadband infrastructure. We are at a true pivot point like we were a century ago when rural communities were at risk of being left behind because electricity, while nice to have, wasn’t necessarily a requirement. While elected officials at the federal level have often struggled to solve the rural broadband problem, local leaders have worked across the aisle to bring connectivity to their communities. “This is not at all partisan at the local level,” Christopher said. “It’s only in the state capitols and in Washington, D.C., that it takes on more of a partisan bent.” The best chance for better connectivity in many rural communities is their local electric cooperative, Christopher argued. He explained: Rural is not a wasteland for Internet access. North Dakota has tremendous Internet access, and that’s because local providers — cooperatives and local companies — have done a really good job of investing there. In many places that have been left behind, it’s because of the big companies that haven’t seen a reason to invest there because they’re focused on the urban areas. In Tiya’s area for example, the local co-op has been steadily working to deploy fiber Internet access to rural households and businesses. Read our report, Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America, to learn what other co-ops are doing to connect their communities. Listen to the full 1A segment on their website.   Photo of rural road in Marshall County, Indiana, by Derek Jensen. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC 2.0 BY). Tags: audioradioinstitute for local self-reliancechristopher mitchellruraldigital dividequarantine

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 408

muninetworks.org - May 8, 2020

This is the transcript for episode 408 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. This episode is a two part show where Christopher talks with community advocates Glen Akins and Colin Garfield as well as Colman Keane, Connexion's executive director, and Erin Shanley, Connexion marketing manager. They discuss about Fort Collins, Colorado's municipal broadband network — Connexion. Listen to the episode, or read the transcript below.   Glen Akins: When you get deep into one of these neighborhoods in Fort Collins and you pull a piece of conduit out, you're a hero. Jess Del Fiacco: Welcome to episode 408 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. This is Jess Del Fiacco, Communications Manager here at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. We have a two part show today focused on Fort Collins, Colorado's municipal broadband network, called Connexion. In the first half of this episode, Christopher talks with Colin Garfield and Glen Akins who helped organize a campaign that pushed for municipal broadband in Fort Collins. In the second half of the show, Christopher is joined by Erin Shanley and Colman Keane of Connexion. Colin and Glen tell Christopher about their efforts to build public support for municipal broadband in Fort Collins. While there were existing broadband providers in the city, residents believed in the value of competition and the need to invest in future proofing infrastructure. They voted to allow the city to build the network in 2017. Colin who is already receiving service from Connexion talk a little bit about the installation process and how the city is working to make that process as smooth as possible as they continue expanding the network. Colin and Glen also discuss how Comcast and CenturyLink are responding to the new competition and the community's enthusiasm for the network. Now, here's Christopher talking with Glen Akins and Colin Garfield from Fort Collins, Colorado. Stay tuned for his following conversation with Erin Shanley and Colman Keane. Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. This is Christopher Mitchell at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Saint Paul, Minnesota talking with two of my favorite people from Fort Collins. We've got Glen Akins who was on the technical side of a citizen led campaign to push for municipal broadband, he also has a deep background with cable networks. Welcome back to the show, Glen. Glen Akins: Hi, Chris. Thanks for letting me be here today. Christopher Mitchell: We also have Colin Garfield who was the lead of the citizen campaign, was the founder of Broadband and Beers, and now is sitting in front of a Southpark background as we're talking on a crystal clear fiber connection that I'm drooling over. Welcome back, Colin. Colin Garfield: Hey, Chris. It's a pleasure to be here.  2:14 Christopher Mitchell: Let me start with you, Colin. Just tell me the 30 second version of the citizen campaign. Then, Glen, tell me what he forgot. Colin Garfield: Rewinding, we initially started this back in 2016 on the citizen community for the city of Fort Collins. Eventually, Glen and I ended up forming a small group to take on the campaign itself for the November of 2017 election in Fort Collins. Thankfully, the voters passed that measure to allow the city of Fort Collins to actually get into the business providing broadband. Here we are two years later and I actually have the service now, so things are amazing. Christopher Mitchell: That was a slight dig at Glen for those of you who aren't aware and following us on the blogs. Glen is waiting for the service. Glen Akins: I keep seeing the equipment and the construction outside, but it's not here yet. Christopher Mitchell: Glen, what else should we know about that campaign? Glen Akins: I think the biggest thing is that we ended up winning the campaign 57 to 43. This was after we spent about 15 thousand dollars on our campaign and Comcast spent 901 thousand dollars against us. The biggest ballot issue in Fort Collins history even beating out some of the ballot issues on fracking and the oil and gas industry. Christopher Mitchell: Yes, and those were big ones. Those were record setters themselves, I'm sure. There's so many things to talk about. I want to note that Fort Collins is a city that we would not have considered as lacking in decent broadband. It is a large city well north of the Denver metro. A thriving city covered in Comcast, DOCSIS 3.1 I'm guessing, very high quality cable network. As good as it gets frankly. The CenturyLink is a competitor that has some fiber to the home, even did back in the time of this campaign. Let me ask you, Glen, to start just briefly. Why was it important that Fort Collins get a better connection?  4:11 Glen Akins: I think a lot of the need was for faster upstream speeds. Comcast is using a DOCSIS 3.1 plant, but it's only DOCSIS 3.1 in the downstream. In the upstream, they're still only using DOCSIS 3.0 and have pretty limited bandwidth on the upstream. Then, CenturyLink had fiber, but they had no interest in expanding their fiber footprint within the city. I think that as we've all become aware in the past month or two, having a fast upstream connection is highly desirable and needed for the work at home situation that's now so common. Christopher Mitchell: Yes, especially in a city like Fort Collins. I mean, it's not like some other city that's just covered in ... I was going to say beach bums, but ski bums, and outdoor enthusiasts. Fort Collins is a very ... has a workforce that I think is much more knowledge workers than many other places. This is particularly relevant. May even have some beach bums who got lost. I don't know. Glen Akins: It's a long ways home. Christopher Mitchell: Colin, as we're here now more than three years later, why do you think it's still relevant? For people who aren't aware, the city's been building out for a little while, less than a year. It's a large city, it's going to take some time. With the benefit of hindsight, why were you right all those years ago? Colin Garfield: We were so under the thumb of really one provider. CenturyLink exists, but they're not much of a player to be fair. Our future was tied to one company in terms of output, input, especially since we're a college city, we have a lot of tech industry here. Really, their future was really influencing our future, which to me just is bad business. It's not fair to residents, it's not fair to the city itself. Realize that in order to elevate and to progress our city into the next several decades, we're going to need to really outfit our entire infrastructure all over again. Thankfully, we had the right pieces in play, we own our electrical grid, we own all of our utilities, so we had the perfect storm already built prior to the election. I think in order to get Fort Collins to graduate to the next level, this is what it took. 6:27 Christopher Mitchell: Glen, do you have any additional reactions to again patting yourselves on the back, how you correctly foresaw that this was important and necessary? Glen Akins: Not really, but I'd worked from home for almost 20 years before I changed jobs last year. It was pretty apparent back then that there were some things that were lacking that Comcast could do better and that possibly Fort Collins could to better itself. Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that I didn't note is that you have multiple patents in cable networking, I guess. I'm going to ask you a question and I just want to make it clear that you're very qualified to answer this. Glen Akins: We'll see. Christopher Mitchell: Comcast is still installing coaxial cable into new developments in the area. Is that surprising to you? Glen Akins: It's very surprising to me. I would think that they would be deploying fiber and just running RF over glass. One of the big issues with deploying fiber for Comcast is it doesn't fit into their existing marketing strategies, it doesn't fit into their existing billing systems, so it's very difficult for them to do a G-PON network or an XG-PON network. One of the traditional telephone company industry standards, they want to do DOCSIS 3.1 and using RF over glass, they could do DOCSIS 3.1 on fiber. Then, migrate to G-PON at a later point in time. I'm still shocked they're putting coax in the ground versus fiber and running RF over glass. Christopher Mitchell: Colin, I'm curious. As someone who's using the fiber now, has transitioned away from Comcast I'm guessing, how is your life better? What am I going to look forward to in a few years when I finally get something similar? 8:08 Colin Garfield: Well, I'm streaming an absurd amount of things simultaneously, which is always exciting. No down times, no issues with customer service, the fact that I'm not paying money to Philadelphia's headquarters, it's saying in Fort Collins, which is a big deal to me as a local champion, and to be fair not everyone is really going to stress full gig speed no matter how hard they try, but the fact that I never have to worry about upload or download again is beautiful. It's just really exciting to know that Glen and I contributed so much to this multiple years ago. Now, we're actually able to reify that dream and see the results of it. Glen Akins: It's not just Fort Collins, it's Loveland too. We have two communities in the Northern Colorado area that we were able to help lead and help guide them towards this solution. It's pretty exciting to see construction going on both here where I live as well as in Loveland where I work. Christopher Mitchell: Do you bike over there to check it out now? Glen Akins: I actually rode my bike down to Loveland for the first time about two or three weeks ago. It was pretty cool seeing one of the neighborhoods where they're actually pulling conduit into the neighborhood now. Christopher Mitchell: That's great. One of the things that I've really appreciated and that we'll link to is, Glen, you have done a very detailed explanation of everything that goes into building one of these networks. We can't go through it all, you have a lot of pictures that are really helpful for people to get a sense of what's included. Was there anything there that surprised you or that you think is worth noting? Glen Akins: The most fascinating thing for me as an engineer was learning how the directional boring equipment worked because you see this giant machine that gets parked on your front lawn and they just start putting piece of pipe after piece of pipe down into this hole. Somewhere halfway around the block, this snake emerges from the ground. It's like it wasn't a straight shot and they must have hit some different soil trains that could stear the bit somehow, so how are they doing this? I really went to great lengths to try to explain the whole entire drilling process and the horizontal boring in great detail. I think that was the biggest surprise, learning how this giant ditch witch machine worked.  10:18 Christopher Mitchell: You got to witness some of the areas in which it didn't work out very well, where it hit something. That's not uncommon, I'm guessing, but it's a pain. Glen Akins: Yes. I think there have been two or three power outages. One, I personally experienced. Down at the end of my street, they hit a power line, knocked the power out in my neighborhood, and maybe a surrounding neighborhood or two. My poor little BeagleBone Black board that was running for five years lost its uptime record. Christopher Mitchell: Oh, wow. If that uptime record was important to you, maybe a longer UPS? Glen Akins: The thing is we have almost 99, 98 percent underground utilities in this community, so honestly the power hasn't gone off for over a decade, maybe 15 years, so I really didn't see the need for a UPS. Christopher Mitchell: That makes sense. In one of the podcasts we did about Fort Collins, I talk with Wade Troxell. Is he still the mayor? Glen Akins: He's still the mayor. Christopher Mitchell: It was amazing because I had said that I loved the decision that you had made in Fort Collins that I was there and it took me a little while to realize one of the reasons that everything was so beautiful is that there was no aerial lines between me and the mountains. I could just see it everywhere I went. To learn that his father was one of the people that made that decision 50 years ago is remarkable and shows history of good leadership there. Colin Garfield: Yes, that was a brilliant stroke that ended up paying dividends half a century later. It's incredible. Glen Akins: Yes, we've been through multiple forest fires and multiple floods without the power going off during any of them. Christopher Mitchell: I'm guessing that developed some faith that the city knows what it's doing when it comes to infrastructure then. Colin Garfield: Absolutely. Christopher Mitchell: Colin, I'm curious if there's anything about the install process that you found noteworthy, anything that may have taken you by surprise? 12:06 Colin Garfield: I don't know if there was anything that took me by surprise, but it was such a great educational opportunity to see the mechanical bits and the gooey bits of all of this. Similar to what Glen said, I don't have the in depth background that he does, so this was much more new to me than it was to him. Just to see the step one of flagging the yards for all utilities, up to the point of actually trenching, boring, and mounting the box onto the wall. The entire process to me was just such a great opportunity to learn, to see it, to be able to extend that knowledge to other residents as well is also really important to us. Christopher Mitchell: Do you run cat 5E or cat 6 cabling around you house to take advantage of it? Are you using some kind of advanced wifi? Colin Garfield: I did the unnecessary cat 7 just I could and it was the same price. Christopher Mitchell: I didn't even know there was cat 7. Colin Garfield: Yes. Christopher Mitchell: I guess I'm just going to admit to losing geek credibility. Colin Garfield: I just wired cat 7 through probably half the house including outside. Then, I'm doing a beacon point with wifi 6 currently. Christopher Mitchell: Did you crimp your own cables then? Colin Garfield: No. Purchased them pre crimped. I am not that capable. Christopher Mitchell: It's not a matter of being capable, it's a matter of being patient. Colin Garfield: I actually had Glen come over one of the days. One of our original options for getting the house rewired, he took a stab at it. He came over and tried to help me do different parts of it, that was an interesting fun activity for an hour or two until we realized it wasn't going to work out. Glen Akins: Colin's home was constructed with cat 5E between several of the rooms and the basement. We realized about halfway into the process the cat 5E ran from his front room where the ONT was, down to the basement, but there was not a piece of cat 5E for the basement upstairs where his office was located and Colin didn't want me drilling any holes I his walls. I was more than willing to.  14:04 Colin Garfield: Yes, well I'm just thinking about the number of holes that I've fixed up and closed back in with cat 5E and just thinking, "Cat 7 probably would have made sense." Glen Akins: Hey, it's cheap now. Christopher Mitchell: Colin, I want to ask you about any sort of challenges that you've seen, things that are going to be improved upon we hope. The other question that popped into my head was, I'm wondering, how much did you annoy the people who were installing your house? Colin Garfield: We'll start with the issues part. I didn't see too many issues to be fair. There was one particular instance where they had to pull a late permit in order to do the municipal boring underneath the right away. Unfortunately, that ended up delaying my install by two weeks, but we've since contacted them. They've remind that within their process to make sure that's addressed beforehand so it doesn't actually create a delay. Christopher Mitchell: It's worth nothing that's a reminder that there's this sense that the city gets favorable treatment when it's building something, but this is a different department. The permitting department doesn't give a free pass to others, it may in fact actually be more difficult to work with out of a sense of rivalry in some ways. That's an interesting story. Colin Garfield: I mean, to be fair a lot of it was really clean. One of the senior techs actually came out and had to correct something on my wall. It was initially mounted crooked and the gentleman came out about a week later to make sure it was fixed. He was just extremely pleasant to deal with. He had a ton of knowledge. Really, just excited to do the job. It was a really positive experience to not only work with the contractors, but also the full time employees too. Christopher Mitchell: Did they enjoy working with you as much as you did with them? Colin Garfield: I don't want to speak for them. I know that Glen and I are these extreme outliers in Fort Collins. It's not fair to ... I don't think anyone else is buying in the same boat as we are with this. They were accommodating, I'll put it that way. 16:03 Glen Akins: I think a lot of the drilling crews are pretty excited when they pull up to a neighborhood and people come running out of their houses saying, "Hi. Thanks for doing this, we can't wait until we can get service." I think the drilling crews are really excited. I mean, I don't know what their normal jobs are like or their normal contracts are like, but I imagine if you're putting in a piece of fiber along I25 or a piece of conduit along I25, you're not going to have people coming out and wanting to know about the process or saying thank you. You get deep into one of these neighborhoods in Fort Collins and you pull a piece of conduit out, you're a hero. Christopher Mitchell: That's great. I'm reminded of ... I was visiting utility in Tennessee. They were talking about their image in the community. They said that they're very popular. In some ways, I got the impression too popular because of the familiarity where someone would say it's great to see you, you're doing some work on the street on the electrical lines, do you want a beer? You don't want your crews to be getting that opportunity. I'm curious what you've seen from either Comcast or CenturyLink in terms of competitive response to the network. Glen Akins: I can tell you what I've seen. I'm a Comcast business class subscriber and have been for quite some time. I get a letter, not a flyer, but an actual envelope you have to open up and everything about once every two, three months now just saying, "Give us a call so we can reevaluate what your business needs are," which is funny since it's just working from home. On the CenturyLink's side of things, they really started ramping up their spam emails until I unsubscribed. "Give us a call and we'll come install last decade's DSL service at your house." Christopher Mitchell: Right, we guarantee you the same price, except maybe we'll raise it along the way. Glen Akins: And, your speeds may not go anywhere either. The other thing I've seen from CenturyLink though is they did go into neighborhoods that still have aerial connections and telephone poles. They installed some aerial fiber. One of the things that's remarkable about that is the technician's out on the pol, my buddy runs out, and says, when can I get service? The technician said two weeks. Sure enough two weeks later, service was available. That was pretty remarkable to see CenturyLink stepping up to that plate. 18:12 Christopher Mitchell: One of the things I've heard and I think we've talked about this before with Travis Carter here in Minneapolis, you can see how many customers they have on the fiber then by just driving down the allies and looking up in the air where that happens. Where they face competitive fiber, you don't often see a lot of people going with the CenturyLink option, it feels like. Glen Akins: I think that's really true, I think a lot of the folks in Fort Collins that are going with CenturyLink DSL, they're only doing it out of spite for Comcast or it's their only option to be fair. Christopher Mitchell: Colin, have you seen anything from Comcast or CenturyLink on your part? Are they trying to woo you back? Colin Garfield: Yes. They're blanketing the entire city. Really, they have the overhead to do so, so for me personally though I probably received seven, eight flyers within two months. At one point, it was like 300 megabits per second. Now, it's like 400. Now, we're going to offer you 500, an iPhone 250 dollar credit, and all sorts of bells and whistles. It certainly was coincidence given that my install date was in February and they were blanketing my particular residence in the same month. I don't think they actually knew, but they're stepping up their game. To be fair, I think this is the first time I've seen them try before. Really, kudos to them for attempting to retain that market share. We've seen lots of blanketing all over. Actually, there was a point last summer, our biggest festival in Fort Collins, they actually purchased exclusive rights to be the only ISV to provide support for that particular festival and actually lost connection out of it by throwing a ton of cash at it. That's just another instance as to what they're doing. It's not just the small game going in and individual houses, but they're actually performing larger city wide efforts as well. Glen Akins: They bought up all the bus stop benches and put the best gigabit in the state or something to that effect on them, which is hilarious. 20:02 Christopher Mitchell: As technical people, you have to enjoy it. Glen Akins: Yes, it's like, okay. You maybe have a 35 megabit per second up streaming, you're limited to one terabyte of data, which is like two hours, 11 minutes or something downloads before you're out of data for the month. Christopher Mitchell: Something that I find entertaining, I'm a Comcast customer and my bill increased when my promotion ended. I called them and they actually gave me what I would consider to be a good deal. I'm paying 90 dollars a month, getting a gigabit down, and 35 megabits up, which is better than my previous 300 down and 10 up. The funny thing is my speed test on my down stream have actually gone down since them. I'm down on like 200 megabits per second, but my upstream is like 40 and I'll take that deal any day. I'm quite happy with that. Glen Akins: If you lived in Fort Collins, that bill would only be 70 dollars a month. Christopher Mitchell: Just rub it in, Glen. See how we edit this. Glen Akins: That's the Comcast rate. If you got service from the city, it'd only be 60 bucks a month. Christopher Mitchell: Even better, yes. Colin Garfield: I went as far as actually renting a Comcast router for one month just so I could turn it back into them and film it, which is completely necessary. Glen Akins: Colin made his first TikTok video. Colin Garfield: I made my first TikTok video doing it, which I feel really old now. It was exciting to turn in their 13 dollar a month router combo just so I can get it on film. Christopher Mitchell: Glen, I want to ask you about StarLink. Totally unrelated, but just because you're an engineer who's followed this sort of thing. I was down on low Earth orbit satellites and I made a claim that I thought that the ... I think the one that you started replying to me on was the likely expensive and difficult tracking that you would need on the ground in order to be able to receive StarLink signals. You basically said, "Chris, you don't know what you're talking about." Now, you're my expert on StarLink. Glen Akins: Oh, boy.  22:00 Christopher Mitchell: I'm curious. Is this something? As an independent engineer when you hear the hype about it, what's your reaction? What are you expecting when it goes live? Glen Akins: I don't want to butcher this quote because I think this is the best quote that I've heard about service. "StarLink is for people who wish they could hate Comcast." If you already have Comcast, it's probably not going to be competitive and it's probably not going to be what you're looking for. They have a limited amount of bandwidth per city just because of the architecture. It would be very easy for a single node in Comcast world to completely overwhelm the entire bandwidth for an entire city that's available in SpotLink. Where I think you're going to see SpotLink heaviest use and their best market is going to be areas that otherwise can't get cable or fiber. If you're stuck on DSL, if you're in a rural area where you're only able to get Viasat, or if you have a boat or a mobile home that's moving around, I think those are going to be the target markets. Rural areas, areas where you only get DSL, and mobile applications. By mobile, I'm not talking mobile phone, I'm talking someplace where you can install something about the size of a pizza box that has a clear view of the sky. Christopher Mitchell: Probably, a good chunk of power. Glen Akins: A good chunk of power. It's very heavy on the DSP. That phase where antenna's got a lot of signal processing to do to stear the beam towards the satellite on both the receive and transmit sides. Christopher Mitchell: One of the things I said recently to a reporter is I would expect someone who's a big stock trader in Northern Wisconsin, it's going to be great for them. If he has 100 neighbors in the county that all want it too, may not work for all of them. What will the numbers start to look like when you'll overwhelm that local availability, do you think? Glen Akins: I'm not sure. They have five gigabits per second per spot beam. They have four spot beams per satellite, so they have 20 gigabits per second available per satellite. In contrast, a signal G-PON node has two and a half gigabits per second available on the downstream and a Comcast node has about two gigabits per second. That G-PON is served between 32 houses, that Comcast node is probably shared between 100 to 500 houses, and now you have this 20 gigabits on this satellite that's maybe shared over a city the size of Fort Collins that has 166 thousand residents and 66 thousand households. I just don't think the StarLink model works. However, if you are a stock trader and you really absolutely need the 50 percent lower latency of the speed of light in air versus the speed of light in a glass fiber, StarLink might be worth paying a premium for versus the fiber connection. I'm sure that Elon Musk has realized that there is a premium market there for people who really need ultra low latency, particularly the financial traders. 24:53 Christopher Mitchell: Yes. I think he may have been better off if he had launched it six months earlier because there's a lot of people who would like to be trading their stocks far away from a big city right now. Glen Akins: It is much faster to go in the air between New York and Chicago than it is over a piece of fiber. That's for certain. Christopher Mitchell: Yes, the book the Flash Boys by Michael Lewis covers that and discusses how they built a chain of microwave towers. That was worked it because it shaved a few milliseconds off. People always say that there's nothing faster than the speed of light. While that's true, speed of light does better in a vacuum than it does in air. In air, it does better than in glass. These things add up over distances. Glen Akins: Oddly enough, the speed of light in copper, I guess how fast the electrons are capable of propagating signal in copper and the speed of light in a piece of glass fiber are about the same, two thirds the speed of light. You really don't get a huge latency advantage in terms of the time on the wire between fiber and copper, but you do get some latency advantages on the processing electronics. Christopher Mitchell: Yes, especially if you're going halfway around the Earth or even a quarter. Glen Akins: Exactly. You don't need all these amps and demodulate and remodulate every so often with fiber and coax Christopher Mitchell: I'm just going to pretend that I know how all that works. Colin, I'm just curious. What's happening with Broadband and Beers? He said knowing that you and I have failed accordingly in promoting it. 26:22 Colin Garfield: I'm currently trying to get my trademark passed for it with the patent office. There's been a couple hangups that I'm trying to clear up, but I'm on the road to doing so. I have been talking to a few smaller communities the last three or four months just to introduce myself. They have recently passed an opt out of SB152, which is a bill in Colorado, which forbids municipalities from engaging in the telecom business unless you opt out at the voter level. A few smaller cities across the front range have recently opted out, so we're having some conversations. It's getting the ropes about how to get started, the discussions you need to have with local employees, politicians, and the community as well. While the name Broadband and Beers is still trying to get through the trademark part and the whole ramp up part, we still are offering discussion points with members across different communities. Christopher Mitchell: Good deal. Well, it's been great talking with you two. I think we'll be checking in again soon. This has been a focus on just the big changes, but I know that both of you have been chronicling this. Both of you take a serious ownership in this. We're going to talk again about some of the things that have been challenges and how you're working through them with the city and with utility. I look forward to catching up again soon. Colin Garfield: Absolutely. Thank you, Chris. Glen Akins: Thank you, Chris. Jess Del Fiacco: That was Christopher talking with Colin Garfield and Glen Akins. Now, we're turning to a conversation with Colman Keane, broadband executive director for Connexion, and Erin Shanley who is Connexion's broadband marketing manager. Erin and Colman talk about some of the things that make Connexion different from other municipal networks including that they face market competition from Comcast and CenturyLink, and that the network will be built entirely underground. Erin and Colman tell Christopher about the strong local support for the network and how they work to stay engaged with the community while being sensitive to the fact that some neighborhoods won't be connected right away. As the network expands, they hope to see new businesses and new residents moving into the city. Here's Christopher talking with Erin Shanley and Colman Keane of Connexion. 28:27 Christopher Mitchell: Now, I'm joined by two folks from Connexion, the Fort Collins municipal broadband network. One of them I've had on the show a few times before, Colman Keane, broadband executive director. Welcome back. Colman Keane: Thank you. Christopher Mitchell: It's good to have you back, Colman. You have given us the lowdown on Chattanooga several times over the years, I think. We also have Erin Shanley, the broadband marketing manager for Connexion. Welcome to the show. Erin Shanley: Thank you. Christopher Mitchell: It's great to have both of you here. I guess, I would love to start off with just a little bit of the history that Colman and I have. You spent a lot of years with Chattanooga because you're one of the first people I met in Chattanooga. Tell me, what is different now that you are doing this yourself? Colman Keane: One is that there are a lot of differences between Fort Collin's Connexion and EPV in Chattanooga. One of the primaries is that EPV has an independent board of directors from the city. Fort Collins Connexion is much more closely aligned with city government than the EVP deployment was. That brings opportunities and challenges with it. I know that we have talked about this before with EPV that one of the key factors for success in the deployment is having your culture right as you start out. One of the challenges that you always run into is that you've got a startup organization with your broadband deployment basically launching inside of a big potential bureaucratic utility and/or city government. Those are some interesting things to work through. 30:12 Christopher Mitchell: I'm sure they are. Erin, I'm curious about your background. What were you doing before you got hooked up with this crew? Erin Shanley: Well, prior to coming on board with Connexion, I was working for a small wireless Internet provider out of Inglewood, Colorado. They were providing wireless broadband to really rural areas, so areas where you could not get wired service in. Prior to that, I was working out in California for Cox Communications. I was working for one of the big behemoths. I like to say that I've worked for the little guy and I've worked for the big guy. It gave me a really good perspective coming into this new role. Christopher Mitchell: You found Goldilocks, I hope. Erin Shanley: Yes, absolutely. Christopher Mitchell: I think one of the fascinating things about Connexion is that you are one of the biggest municipal fiber networks moving forward into one of the more mature markets. I'm curious. Colman, if you want to start, what is different for Connexion than it was for other municipal builds historically and certainly Chattanooga perhaps? Colman Keane: As you mentioned, this is a very competitive marketplace. We're competing against Comcast and CenturyLink, two large providers. Then, one of the key differences for Connexion compared to Chattanooga is this is 100 percent underground build. That brings its own challenges in trying to deploy a broadband system quickly. Having to basically put it all and delploy.That makes the city a beautiful place to be, but you have a higher standard on what the aesthetics look like as you roll out your network. We've gone actually a little bit further with some of the things that we're trying to do compared to what some of the competition and even some of our other utilities have done, we're trying to make everything flush to grade. We have no above ground, stools or any of those types of things. Everything that we have is in a vault below grade in our environment. Our network is going to look really nice from an aesthetic point of view once it's finally complete. 32:26 Christopher Mitchell: Let me do a quick followup before I come back to ask you what's different, Erin. Colman, has that kicked the cost up a lot and put more pressure on you then? Are there other things going on in Fort Collins that allow you to keep the cost more reasonable. Colman Keane: It does add more cost. Your cost can swing widely depending on what you run into. Two months ago, we ran into a neighborhood that was solid rock. Boring though that is way different than basically trying to go through some nice loamy soil. There are challenges along those lines. You have to watch your cost closely. We are trying to make use of whatever available conduit we can find and trying to find the path of least resistance in getting our fiber into the ground. We are watching that diligently and trying to figure out the best way to get it in. We're looking at some alternate build methodology including using the sewer pipes, micro trenching, and those types of stuff in limited areas. We're basically trying to broaden our toolbox, keep an eye on where we're going, and what our costs are running. Christopher Mitchell: Erin, I'm curious. What's different in ... I was going to say 2020. You'd probably say we're in a pandemic. What else is different? Erin Shanley: It's interesting. Fort Collins has such a passionate community and really active residents and businesses. It's really making sure that a lot of communication is happening with the people who supported this initiate. You also have a very competitive marketplace. I'm sure as you're aware almost a million dollars were spent to fight this initiative initially. You're finding a balance, we're trying to make sure that we're really addressing and acknowledging customer questions, concerns, interests, there's so much excitement. People really want to know. The biggest question I get on a daily basis is, when's it coming to my neighborhood? When am I going to get it? Also, balancing that information with ensuring that we're not giving away too much information to the competitors. Comcast and CenturyLink definitely have a big foothold in this community. Whether or not they're actually providing adequate service is another question, but they are there and they want to maintain that. There's finding that balance between making sure you have a really informed community, but also being very fiscally responsible and ensuring that from a competitive standpoint, you're being very cautious and keeping things at least in the initial stages really close to the chest. As we get into more of the community, we are going to be able to share a lot more information with residents. 35:20 Christopher Mitchell: Can you just tell me a little bit more about that? I'm curious. For instance, you have several neighborhoods that are already online. Is it also a challenge in terms of when you take out marketing and ways that aren't just door hangers and things like that? In part, I'm guessing because people also will get annoyed if they're not going to get it for three years and they're seeing billboards everywhere about it. Erin Shanley: That's absolutely a really big problem from a marketing standpoint. One, I'm not allowed to do billboards. We don't love billboards in Fort Collins. Christopher Mitchell: Yes, of course. I should say in a previous discussion in a podcast with Mayor Troxell, I did comment that I didn't notice the lack of utility poles for a while. I didn't notice the lack of billboards obviously because I didn't mention that, but it is different. Fort Collins is just so much more beautiful than other beautiful places I've been. Erin Shanley: It's absolutely gorgeous. They work really hard to maintain that. There are very limited billboards. I think ideally they'd love to get rid of them entirely. We have very few. It's one of those things where from a marketing standpoint, you want to be able to really balance communicating out, creating that buzz, and that excitement for the community. At the same time, there is someone who's going to be last, which means two or three years until they get their service. We want to be really cognizant and sensitive about marketing out to areas before they're ready. It's a mix of really doing some fun community awareness, but at the same time holding back in certain areas where we know right now those neighborhoods aren't necessarily going to get service right away. 37:00 Christopher Mitchell: Colman, you're not new to dealing with Comcast. I'm curious if there's any different challenges that you're facing now with Comcast that you didn't deal with before. Colman Keane: They're using the same toolbox, but Comcast is very much more engaged and more on top of it here than they were in Chattanooga. They show up at every council meeting, all of those kind of things, talking to the mayor on a regular basis. They definitely have upped their game since EPV launched years ago. It's still the same thing, knocking on doors, giving gift cards, the same type of sales tactics, but overall they're just much more focused. Christopher Mitchell: I understand that iPhones are being distributed as well now. Colman Keane: They are leveraging their new wireless deployment also to help give them an edge in that. Yes, they're pulling everything out. Christopher Mitchell: Are there any other challenges you can flag for us, particularly those that other communities that are trying to figure out how they might do something like this should be aware of? Colman Keane: I will say that going back to what I had mentioned earlier, the cultural issues that you run into when you do a startup inside a larger organization. One thing that we had done is last year we actually brought on a position that we call our integrator. It's to help with those cultural differences between the two organizations. We actually have somebody that, that's their focused job right now, to help with that. Christopher Mitchell: I'm glad you've raised that twice. I want to just say that this is ... you may have heard it, Colman. I did 70 minutes talking with Harold De Priest about Chattanooga. We spent a lot of time talking about culture because I do think that's way under appreciated for how everything else fits together in the end. Colman Keane: Yes. One of the things you really run into is startups have to be nimble and make fast decisions. Sometimes, with limited information. Your municipals and utilities just are not used to working in that kind of a node. Basically, it brings some angst to them. It's not necessarily going to be warranted, but if you have to get something deployed and you're in a competitive marketplace, you have to be willing to take those risks and move forward faster. 39:10 Christopher Mitchell: Erin, we've talked a bit about some of the challenges already. I don't want to spend more time on that. Let me ask you. What are you seeing in terms of this network and how people are responding to it? Are more people coming into the city limits?Are real estate decisions being changed? What's happening? Erin Shanley: We've definitely had realtors who have reached out to us, particularly they're very excited about the connection and how that will help with their property for sure. I think we've had a tremendous response. From a social media standpoint, again as I've mentioned people are super excited about this product. I think having additional choice is so important. It's already impacting the local pricing and quality of service that the incumbents are providing people. You look at it now, what's happening now, and what people are needing now. Then, what's going to be in three years, in five years, in 10 years? Our goal, absolutely we want to be attracting new businesses to Fort Collins. There's a lot of apartments and new homes that are being built. We're making sure that Connexion is getting in there early on in the construction phase so that it's ready and poised to go for the residents when they're available there. Erin Shanley: I see just so much tremendous opportunity. We really do talk about that we're future proofing Fort Collins so that we're setting up for success now, but 10 years from now, 15 years from now, all we're going to have to do is swap the latest technology, but the network will be there, and the network will be exactly the quality that people need. It's part of why we set up the network the way we did and it's capabilities. We're offering up to 10 gigabits now, but that's not even close to what our network can do. In the future, we're recalling poised to support those residents and businesses coming into Fort Collins. 41:07 Christopher Mitchell: Wonderful. I'm curious if there's any difference in the legal environment. You and I have talked before about some of the restrictions Tennessee law puts. Colorado law puts a front end restriction, but I think mostly then lets you act like other businesses would. What is it like in Colorado? Colman Keane: You pretty much nailed it right there. There is ... you have to get your SB 152 overturned in order for municipals to go into the broadband business. There are some difference between how Fort Collins operates and how EPV operates. It goes back to being that independent board. When you're an independent board, you have a lot more control over purchasing decisions, how you do things, your legal structure, that kind of stuff. Once you're inside the municipal, how you write your contracts, that type of stuff is a little different than if you were an independent board. It's not substantially different. There's no real you know there that you can't operate or move forward. It just makes it a little bit easier if you are operating as an independent board. Christopher Mitchell: I just have to ask you this. Isn't it better being in a place that gets a lot of snow? Colman Keane: You asked earlier on, what's the differences between EPV and Fort Collins Connexion? I will say being an underground system and having one of the worst winters that we've had I Fort Collins history, frozen ground was something I've never had to deal with before. Christopher Mitchell: Up here, we've had a couple of real late springs and early winters. Construction season I think used to be eight or nine months, it's been six or seven some of these times. It can be tough. Colman Keane: It primarily impacted our installs. I found out the magic of what a north facing house means. 43:00 Christopher Mitchell: Yes. I may just say Chattanooga is lovely. If they would ever get any winter, I would be spending a lot more time down there. Let me ask you as we finish up both you, Colman, first and then Erin. Is there anything else? I always like to get a sense in particular. What really makes you enthusiastic about getting up and staying home to go to work? Colman Keane: One thing I've learned about myself over the years is I am happier when I feel like I'm doing a public good. I absolutely feel that broadband deployments for communities like Fort Collins is doing a public good. Erin mentioned earlier, this is future proofing the city, it's providing ubiquitous coverage for everybody. There are no winners and losers, everybody has the same access. I just think that's vital for a community and vital for our country longterm. Christopher Mitchell: Erin. Erin Shanley: I definitely have to echo Colman's sentiment. Being a part of something where we are bringing fair and equitable Internet to everyone in the city regardless of where you live, regardless of how big your house is, or how much money you make, you will get the same gigabit speed Internet that everyone else does. No tricks, no games. That to me as a marketer and as someone who's worked in telecommunications, it's a dream because it's something that we're giving back to the community and I do really feel strongly and passionately about that. Christopher Mitchell: Great. Well, thank you both so much. Erin Shanley: Thank you. Colman Keane: Thank you, Chris. Jess Del Fiacco: That was Christopher talking with Erin Shanley and Colman Keane of Fort Collins Connexion preceded by a conversation with Glen Akins and Colin Garfield. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at muninetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email us at podcast@muninetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @communitynets. Follow muninetworks.org stories on Twitter, the handle is @muninetworks. Subscribe to this and the other podcasts from ILSR, Building Local Power, Local Energy Rules, and the Composting for Community 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, ILSR.org. While you're there, please take a moment to donate. Your support in any amount keeps us going. Thank you to Arne Husby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons. This was episode 408 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Thanks for listening. Tags: transcript

A New Frontier for Broadband Funding in California - Community Broadband Bits Episode 409

muninetworks.org - May 7, 2020

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has worked for many years to protect privacy and civil liberties online and to support technological innovation and widespread Internet access. Ernesto Falcon, Senior Legislative Counsel at EFF, speaks with Christopher for this episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. After explaining EFF's mission, Ernesto shares his background and how he got involved in the organization, before moving on to describe some of their policy efforts in California. The pair discuss EFF's involvement in repealing California's state law that had restricted municipal broadband networks. Christopher notes how AT&T has historically had a strong hold over Democrats in the state legislature, and Ernesto explains how EFF is working to counter that influence. Ernesto and Christopher also talk about the California Advanced Services Fund and how State Bill 1130 would improve the program to bring better quality Internet access to more Californians. In particular, Ernesto points to the importance of symmetrical speeds and of designing policies that look to the future of connectivity. This has been highlighted by the Covid-19 public health crisis, and the two explore how the California Public Utilities Commission could help enable distance learning and respond to other urgent connectivity needs. For more from EFF, listen to episode 145 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. This show is 30 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: audiopodcastbroadband bitscaliforniaelectronic frontier foundationcalifornia public utilities commissionstate lawslegislationfunding

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