Digital New England Community Broadband Summit Webcast Live

If you are not able to attend the Digital New England Community Broadband Summit in Portland, Maine, you are in luck. The conference is being webcast live from NTIA's Digital New England Community Broadband Summit website.

The conference will run until 4 p.m. Eastern today and is a collaboration between NTIA and Next Century Cities. NTIA describes the gathering:

The summit will present best practices and lessons learned from broadband network infrastructure buildouts and digital inclusion programs from Maine and surrounding states, including projects funded by NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) and State Broadband Initiative (SBI) grant programs funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The summit will also explore effective business and partnership models.

You can view the full agenda online [PDF], complete with a list of guest speakers and moderators.

Paul Bunyan Communications Wins Award for GigaZone

Sometimes we just want to celebrate a small victory for local communities. Back in June, Paul Bunyan Communications won the 2015 Leading Lights National Award for Most Innovative Gigabit Broadband Service.

This small cooperative from rural northern Minnesota beat both innovative local firms like C Spire and national companies like Google. Whereas Comcast is rolling out Gigabit Pro in Silicon Valley, Paul Bunyan Communications is serving sparsely populated, often-ignored, rural areas. Gary Johnson, the Paul Bunyan Communications CEO/General Manager was honored to accept the award and explained their approach to gigabit access:

“It is one of the first gigabit network initiatives that will encompassas a large rural area and I think that is significant. Many of the gigabit network projects taking place are in small portions of densely populated metropolitan areas. Too often, the more challenging rural America gets overlooked.”

Paul Bunyan Communications has created a GigaZone passing 7,800 locations, and will soon include 20,000 locations by the end of this year. Those in the GigaZone will have the opportunity to buy a Gigabit connection for only $100 a month. The goal for the small telecom cooperative is to expand the GigaZone to encompass the entire 5,000 square mile service area. Now, that deserves an award.

Avoid Partisan Fights with a Personal Face on Economic Development

The following commentary comes from Mike Smeltzer, one of the key people responsible for the UC2B network in the Illinois twin cities of Urbana and Champaign. Mike had this comment after a question about how we can elevate local bipartisan conversations from the local level to the state and federal level without getting lost in political bickering. He wrote this and gave us permission to republish it.

The Urbana City Council could be confused for Madison's, while Champaign's Council is far more conservative. I spoke to both of them on a regular basis in the early days of UC2B seeking their support. I learned early on that I could not tell Urbana's Council what they wanted to hear on Monday night, and then change the message to better please Champaign's Council on the next night. Those dedicated public servants watch each other's meetings on the PEG channels.

The only message that rang true with both councils was economic development. That should not come as any surprise, but as we look to elevate the discussion, I believe that we need to personalize that message. Joey Durel does it more eloquently than anyone, but I have heard the same theme from other mayors and elected officials from across the country.

The first time I heard Joey was on a NATOA field trip to Lafayette 4 or 5 years ago. After he served us his home-made gumbo, he told us the bottom line on how a conservative businessman became a leading advocate for Lafayette's fiber broadband system.

Joey saw fiber broadband as his community's best opportunity to create a local business environment that would allow his adult children (and their children) to work and live in Lafayette. There is no greater gift to parents than to be able to participate in the lives of their adult children and grandchildren. Without fiber in Lafayette, Joey was concerned that his kids would have to move away to find jobs after college or high school in order to find rewarding work.

Any parent from any political perspective understands that. I am lucky that both of my daughters live in Champaign. I get to see them and my grandchildren often. Wouldn't it be great if my luck was more generally shared?

On a state level, many states lose population every year. At the current pace, some time later this century, the last person living in Iowa will turn off the lights and leave the cows and corn behind. Creating local opportunities for our kids is a personal issue, a local issue and a state issue for many states.

We can gain support by putting this personal face on economic development.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Orono and Old Town Receive Funding for Fiber in Maine

The Old Town-Orono Fiber Corporation (OTO Fiber), the entity created by the cities of Old Town and Orono in Maine to design, install, maintain and manage a planned fiber network, recently received a grant for $250,000.

The funds, awarded by the Northern Border Regional Commission (NBRC), will help the communities commence their open access network project. According to a statement released by Maine Senators Angus King and Susan Collins, this was one of six awards to Maine communities. The other grants included road, sewer, and other municipally-owned facilities needed to maintain or grow jobs in the northern counties of Maine.

Congress created NBRC in 2008 as a state-federal partnership to encourage job growth in several northern counties of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York that experience economic distress. 

In 2014, Old Town and Orono, working with the University of Maine, had been awarded ConnectME funds for the project but the funding was blocked by Time Warner Cable. Those funds were meant to string approximately 4 miles of cable intended for integration into a much larger network to eventually connect to the state's Three Ring Binder network. The ConnectME Authority chose to withhold the funds, based on TWC's argument that this open access network would overbuild potentially 320 subscribers but OTO Fiber vowed to continue and seek funds elsewhere. The funding blocked by TWC amounted to $125,000.

Approximately 7,800 people live in Old Town; Orono is home to a little over 10,000 people and the Unversity of Maine where over 11,000 students attend classes.

Join MAG-Net Campaign on Prison Phone Rates and Lifeline Program Funding

The Media Action Grassroots Network recently launched a fall campaign, Fight for Our #RightToConnect, an appeal to the FCC to expand the Lifeline program to include coverage for broadband and to place a cap on prison phone rates. From MAG-Net:

Right now the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is working on two issues that could dramatically help close the gap on some of these disparities.  First, the FCC is considering reforms to the prison telephone industry that would establish an affordable flat rate for all phone calls out of jails, prisons and detention facilities, ending a practice of price gouging.  Second, the FCC is planning on modernizing a low-income program known as Lifeline, which would help low-income families afford an Internet connection at home.

We want to urge the FCC to move forward on both of these issues, which is why members of the Media Action Grassroots Network are kicking off a “Right to Connect” initiative.  During the next few weeks, we’ll be educating our communities on Lifeline and Prison Phones and encouraging people to take action on both of these issues.  Our activities will culminate with a 15-person delegation that will travel to Washington D.C. to meet with members of Congress and the FCC to demand they support our communities. Want to join us? 

Take a few moments to sign MAG-Net's petition, which will be delivered to the FCC on October 6th-7th.

MAG-Net has produced a #RightToConnect Outreach Kit with sample blasts, social media suggestions, and images that can help raise awareness.

Share the campaign on Facebook and Twitter to get the word out. For more information on what you can do, contact Steven Renderos at

Albany, NY Proposes Feasibility Study for Municipal Broadband Service

In July, the city of Albany, NY released a Request for Proposals (RFP) seeking qualified consulting firms to conduct a feasibility study for a municipal broadband service. As the RFP states, the study will look to develop strategies, find gaps in service and adoption, and develop a business plan to explore partnerships between the city and private ISPs.

According to Broadband Communities magazine, a working group comprised of several important community organizations and business groups in Albany will help to steer plans for the possible municipal broadband initiative. Jeff Mirel, a technology professional in Albany and a member of the working group, explains the group’s goals for the feasibility study:

“The first step is asking the right questions, which is what we want this study to do. What are the real broadband needs and issues that both businesses and residents experience here? Is it infrastructure, technology, education, affordability? How do we address the gaps to not only keep and attract companies, but bring these employers and a connected local workforce together? By taking a deep, comprehensive look at broadband access and usability, along with best practices, we can move towards meaningful, actionable strategies.”

This news out of Albany, a city of about 100,000 people, comes as major gaps persist in high speed broadband access in many parts of the state. FreeNet, Albany’s free wireless network, received a $625K state grant in 2009 earmarked to expand its service. But neither FreeNet nor Time Warner Cable and Verizon, the two biggest providers of broadband service in Albany, provides the fast, affordable, reliable connectivity a municipal fiber-based network could provide

At recent hearings in front of the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) in the New York cities of Poughkeepsie, Buffalo, and Bethlehem, political leaders and consumers expressed particular frustration with Verizon’s unwillingness to build its FIOS fiber service out to underserved parts of New York. In some cases they are asking the state’s Public Service Commission to strengthen regulations and require private companies to bring better Internet service statewide.

We warned in 2012 that Verizon would never bring FIOS to Albany and many other cities in the state. Then, as now, it’s clear that Albany’s feasibility study offers a way forward towards the only certain strategy for bringing the fast fiber-based broadband to Albany: taking matters into their own hands.

Explaining Right-of-Way Basics - Community Broadband Bits Episode 169

For this week's Community Broadband Bits, we are delving into an area of law and practice that is quite important for Internet network deployment but tends to be dry and confusing. Not for us today though, we have Sean Stokes, a Principal at Baller Herbst Stokes & Lide, joining us to explain Right-of-Way basics.

We talk about what the public Right-of-Way (ROW) is, who is responsible for maintaining it, how entities can get access to it and how poles are distinct from the ROW. We discuss how much power local governments and pole owners have to deny access to these assets and some of the costs associated with make-ready. If you don't know what make-ready is, you'll know in less than thirty minutes.

We finish our discussion by exploring the "Municipal Gain" policy in Connecticut, where munis are entitled to some space on the poles for any purpose they choose to use it. Historically, this was used only for public safety, but it was recently broadened. Sean also explores how he believes we should simplify access for fiber-optics rather than basing access on the particular end service being offered.

Read the transcript from this episode here.

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

This show is 30 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Thanks to bkfm-b-side for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Raise Your Hands."

We're Hiring! Internet Policy Research Associate / Writer / Journalist

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance is seeking a Research Associate for our Community Broadband Networks Initiative. This is a full-time position based in our Minneapolis office.

Our goal is for every community to have universal, fast, affordable, and reliable Internet access as part of our work to build strong economies and a high quality of life for everyone.

The Research Associate will carry out investigations, research, and writing assignments ranging from op-eds to short articles to longer reports.

Salary Range: $30,000-45,000 (depending on qualifications) + competitive health benefits package.

Primary Responsibilities:

  • Write compelling articles, fact sheets, reports, and policy briefs.
  • Conduct research and produce qualitative and quantitative analysis on a range of issues related to the Initiative's goal.
  • Editing and providing feedback for colleagues.

Key Qualifications & Skills:

  • Excellent written communications skills, including the ability to convey complex ideas in a clear and compelling way.
  • Exceptional research skills: ability to identify the pivotal questions, sharp analysis of the issues.
  • Knowledge of the political and legislative process.
  • Strong organizational and time management skills with the ability to manage multiple tasks and projects at the same time
  • Computer and web savvy.
  • 2+ years of experience in social change, policy, or journalism fields OR 1+ years of experience combined with a relevant advanced degree.
  • Enthusiasm for creating a more just world.

Please send a cover letter, résumé, and two writing samples reflecting your original work to The subject line should read "Research Associate Application." No phone calls, please.

Dark Fiber Network Saving Money, Generating Revenue in Burbank

ONE Burbank, the dark fiber network that has provided connectivity for studios since 1997, is bringing a number of benefits to Burbank schools and taxpayers, reports the Burbank Leader. The network is saving public dollars, generating revenue, and providing better connectivity to schools and public facilities.

Five years ago, we reported on Burbank's asset and its primary customers - Hollywood studios. That trend has continued but now the network generates even more revenue. As a result, all electric customers served by Burbank Water and Power save with lower utility bills:

Last year, ONE Burbank generated $3.4 million in revenues for the utility, [General Manager Ron] Davis said in May. That’s compared to roughly $205,000 in 1997 and about $1.5 million five years ago, according to data Davis presented to the City Council.

“The bulk of that [$3.4 million] is all margin and helps keep electric rates down,” Davis said. “[We do] basically zero marketing and collect that margin.”

By connecting city facilities rather than leasing from a private provider, Burbank has all but eliminated past telecommunications expenses, lowering costs by 95% and saving, $480,000 in total thusfar. The school district has saved $330,000 since connecting to ONE Burbank.

ONE Burbank is also providing four times as much bandwidth to the school at a much lower rate that it once paid to the private sector, cutting its costs from $18,000 per year to $9,000 per year.

In August, Burbank Water and Power began using the dark fiber network as backhaul for free Wi-Fi service available throughout the city. There is no service level guarantee but it is open to any device:

“It’s just out there if you can get it,” Ron Davis, the utility’s general manager, told the City Council last week.

The dark fiber has helped retain and attract business, reports city leaders, and they want to continue the current trajectory to bring in high-tech companies and turn Burbank into a "Silicon Beach."

Louis Talamantes, president of Buddy’s All Stars, said his business has been using the service for about 18 months. While it’s more expensive than the prior service provider, he said, it makes up for it in reliability. The Internet would go down three or four times a month, sometimes for half a day, with his previous provider.

Though he was skeptical at first, Talamantes said the service “delivered” and he’s had no downtime with ONE Burbank, allowing him to keep his 24 employees productive, and it’s helped keep up morale.

Westminster Homes Now Receiving Gig Internet Access From Ting

After several years of planning, deployment, and the formation of a partnership with Ting, Westminster's fiber network is now serving its citizens. In August, local CPA Tim Redmond and his wife Allison were the first to get gigabit Internet access, according to a Ting press release.

Apparently, Redmond has been waiting for some time to be able to access such speeds online:

Redmond has followed along with Westminster’s efforts to get the gig for city residents. He first learned of gigabit fiber Internet coming to town in a pretty low-tech way. “We got our water bill and there was an enclosure. It described that fiber optic Internet was coming to Westminster” and introduced Ting Internet as the service provider for Westminster.

It was welcome news; Redmond has been following fiber since his college days when Verizon started to push FiOS in Baltimore. When it became clear that big providers aren’t willing to go anywhere but a major metro, he became despondent. OK, despondent might be a slight overstatement. “I was bummed,” is what he actually said.

Redmond first used his new gig Internet access to fire up his computer and telecommute to his office. Like many residents in Westminster, he will use the network to do more of the same - something he could only wish for prior to the city's initiative to bring publicly owned infrastructure to town.

Listen to Chris interview Dr. Robert Wack, the man who spearheaded the initiative, in episode #100, and Tucows CEO Elliot Noss, parent company of Ting, in episode #134 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.