Debate on Municipal Networks by Federalist Society Now Available

Our own Christopher Mitchell recently participated in a debate hosted by the Federalist Society. You can now listen to the debate at the Federalist Society website. We think it offers an intelligent airing of different points of view.

Chris, who is also Policy Director at Next Century Cities, disscussed the role of municipal networks in improving competition, reveiwed reguatory issues, and debated the anticipated legal outcome of February's FCC decision on local authority in Tennessee and North Carolina. He squared off against Charles M. Davidson, Director of the Advanced Communications Law and Policy Institute at New York Law School, and Randolph J. May, President of the Free State Foundation. Both organizations have spoken out against community broadband networks.

Rachel M. Bender, Senior Policy Director of Mobile Future, moderated.

Parker Lecture Scheduled for October 20th; Honoring Everett Parker

The United Church of Christ Office of Communications, Inc. (UCC OC), will hold its annual Parker Lecture on October 20th at 8 a.m. in Washington, D.C., at the First Congregational Church. This year's lecture will be especially meaningful because on September 17th, Rev. Dr. Everett C. Parker, known for his groundbreaking work with public rights in broadcasting, passed away at the age of 102.

This year's honorees are:

  • danah boyd, founder, Data & Society Research Institute and “activist scholar” on the social and cultural implications of technology, will give the 2015 Parker Lecture on Ethics and Telecommunications.
  • Joseph Torres, senior external affairs director of Free Press and co-author of News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media, will receive the Parker Award which recognizes an individual whose work embodies the principles and values of the public interest in telecommunications.
  • Wally Bowen, co-founder and executive director of the Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN), will receive the Donald H. McGannon Award in recognition of his dedication to bringing modern telecommunications to low-income people in rural areas.

Parker is most widely known for his work in the 1960s, when he fought to establish the right for citizen groups to be heard before regulatory agencies such as the FCC. In 1962, WLBT from Jackson, Mississippi, refused to broadcast Thurgood Marshall who led the Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ at the time. Parker was already known for his work on human rights and freedom of speech and, having worked as a reporter, broadcasting executive, and advertising agency leader, black leaders asked him to take up the issue. The outcome revolutionized broadcasting as stations immediately began serving their entire diverse audiences. Read more about Parker's many contributions to the public interest on his online obituary at UCC OC.

You can register online to attend the October 20th lecture.

To honor Parker's life and his work, UCC OC will also host a tribute to Everett Parker at the Church In the Highlands UCC in White Plains, New York on Saturday, October 3rd, at 11:00 a.m. Learn more about this event at the UCC OC Tribute page.

DC-Net Delivers Public Savings

Washington, DC, continues to operate an incredibly successful municipal network. Created in 2007, the municipal government’s 57-mile fiber optic network, DC-Net, provides connectivity to government buildings and community anchor institutions that are health or education based. DC-Net started providing public Wi-Fi hotspots in 2010. We covered some of the savings of DC-Net itself in our 2010 report, and we recently found a report from 2012 that details an example of public savings from the network.

In 2008, the Office of Personnel Management in D.C. needed to replace its aging phone system with state-of-the-art Voice over IP and a video conference system. These two telecommunication systems require a high capacity network. After a market analysis found that prospective vendors would cost more than the budget could handle, they had to find an alternative solution. That’s when they connected with DC-Net. The network kept costs down - the initial cost-savings from the project were about $500,000. 

DC-Net also provided more than Office of Personnel Management had originally anticipated: redundancy, more connectivity, and better coverage. With the added redundancy, the phone and Internet have had less outages. DC-Net then provided gigabit ethernet to the headquarters and Wi-Fi coverage. 

The total cost savings for the Office of Personnel Management over the first 6 year period (from 2008 to 2014) are estimated at $9.25 million. They came in at budget with more connectivity than they had anticipated by using a municipal network that was committed to meeting their needs. Sounds like a good deal to us.

Spanish Fork Building Gig Fiber over Cable Network - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 170

The Spanish Fork Community Network has long been among the most successful community broadband projects. And now that the community has finished paying off the debt of the network, they are using the net income to upgrade to a fiber network that will be capable of delivering a symmetrical gigabit to anyone in town.

John Bowcut, Director of Information Systems and SFCN Director, speaks with us again this week to explain how the project is doing and how they plan to upgrade to fiber. They are pursuing a unique upgrade to our knowledge -- they are building fiber over the coax and will operate both. Telephone and Internet access will run over the fiber and television over the cable.

The network has paid back its debt and continues to generate impressive community savings. With a take rate of 80 percent of the community, the network saves a cumulative $3 million each year. That is a lot of money circulating in the city of 35,000 people.

We previously spoke with John in episode 60. You can read all of our coverage of Spanish Fork here.

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 25 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."

Carrier Neutral Facilities Creates Big Savings in Steamboat Springs

On July 6th and 7th, much of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, lost phone and Internet when a fiber line was cut, creating a public safety hazard. In order to aviod future massive outages and improve connectivity, Steamboat Springs has decided to develop a Carrier Neutral Location or CNL, much like a similar initiative in nearby Cortez.

In July a CenturyLink fiber optic line was accidentally cut by construction crews, disrupting the 911 emergency system for about 3 hours. No calls were missed, but it is a terrifying reminder of how small towns are dependent on incumbent providers like CenturyLink for basic services.

The community, located in the northwest corner of the state and home to about 12,000 people, is known as a popular ski destination in the winter months. Locations like Steamboat Springs have a natural beauty in the rugged terrain, but incumbent providers tend to see a poor return-on-investment rather than beauty.

The July incident was not the first. In October 2011, an 8-hour outage caused a potential $1 million loss to the economy. If the outage had taken place during peak tourist season, the estimated cost would have been $1 million per hour. In order to ensure their public safety and ability to attract economic development, leaders in Steamboat Springs have decided to end the possibility of massive outage caused by a single cut by investing in a place where multiple carriers can connect.

A CNL is a space owned and maintained by a neutral party where broadband providers can connect to each other to provide redundancy. Sometimes referred to as "meet-me rooms," CNLs are especially useful for middle- and last-mile providers to connect. The facility drives down the cost of bandwidth for community anchor institutions and service providers because they do not require a separate facility for connections and fees are typically reasonable. The CNL in Steamboat Springs went online on June 1st, 2014.

In the first year, the CNL allowed the school district, the city, and the county to buy from middle-mile providers Mammoth Networks and EagleNet. Formerly, the school district paid CenturyLink $23 per Mbps per month for 300 Mbps but now purchases 700 Mbps per month for $6.80 per Mbps from ISP Mammoth.

Funding for the CNL was provided by a private donation of $125,000 and $5,000 each from the city, the county, the chamber, the school district, and the medical center for a total of $150,000. The CNL’s operating costs are about $10,500. 

Northwest Colorado Broadband (NCB), a cooperative formed in 2012 includes local government, educational, utilty, and business entities from the region. The cooperative allows the project to function without running afoul of SB 152, the Colorado law passed that prevents local government from providing telecommunications services. NCB will manage the fiber connections and the CNL. By joining forces, the partners anticipate significant savings, better reliability, and access to more capcaity.

Tom Kern, CEO of the Steamboat Chamber and NCB President stated in a press release [PDF]:

This is a creative way to achieve expanded service for a significantly lower cost to critical community institutions...By consolidating demand, members will be able to obtain enormous broadband capacity at about a tenth of the cost they currently pay.

In addition to the CNL, Routt county has found a consultant to study broadband deficiencies throughout the county. The cost was partially covered by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. NCB, Steamboat Springs School District, the city of Steamboat Springs, Yampa Valley Medical Center and Yampa Valley Electric Association provided the remaining funding for the study.

For more information on Steamboat Springs and the CNL, check out Community Broadband Bits Episode 163, in which Chris interviews Tim Miles, the Technology Director at Steamboat Springs and South Routt School Districts.

Video on OpenCape: How Cape Cod Created a Fiber Network

Almost ten years ago, Dan Gallagher, a technology director at Cape Cod Community College, could not get the bandwidth the college needed from incumbent service providers. After communicating with others in the areas, it soon became clear that a number of others shared the same experience.

“We asked anyone who thinks this is a problem for their business or entity here on the cape to come to cape cod community college to talk about it and a hundred people showed up.” - Dan Gallagher in eSTEAMers

The community formed non-profit OpenCape, and created a 350 mile fiber optic network and a colocation data center with $40 million in combined BTOP grants, state grants, and private funding. Completed in late 2012, the project proved to be well-worth the wait. Three large entities almost immediately became customers on the network: the Joint Base, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, and Hydroid, Inc, a private company.

Now the senior consultant for OpenCape, Dan Gallagher describes the project in depth in this episode of eSTEAMers by Cape Cod Community Media Center.

Community Broadband Media Roundup - September 25


Peachtree City approves fiber optic plan


Fairlawn steps closer to creating municipal broadband utility by Sean Patrick,

Lakewood council approves new fiber optics service provider for city buildings by Beth Mlady,


Maine PUC Considers Rule Changes to Increase High-Speed Broadband Statewide by Darren Fishell, GovTech


Committee updates city council (Austin) on broadband Internet by Jeron Rennie, KIMT

New York

Lawmakers urge PSC to speed up broadband review, State of Politics

As this study advances, we urge the Commission to take actions which expand competition in the  broadband marketplace. One such option, municipal broadband, should receive consideration and study. The City of Albany, for example, is beginning to explore the building of a municipal  broadband network and recently issued an RFP for a study to assess its current broadband options and the fasibility of building a municipal broadband network.  

Will Faster Broadband Speeds Entice Residents to the Countryside? by Denise Raymo, GovTech

Users would create a cooperative and be the system owners, paying a flat rate for Internet service and another fee dedicated to equipment purchase, upkeep and staffing.


Attorneys in Tennessee filed an appeal last week against the FCC, saying that the order that allows EPB to expand its fiber infrastructure infringes on state sovereignty. 

Tennessee explains why it should be able to limit city-run ISP by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

The case could have far-reaching impacts. The FCC is testing the limits of its powers from Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which requires the FCC to encourage deployment of broadband to all Americans by using "measures that promote competition in the local telecommunications market, or other regulating methods that remove barriers to infrastructure investment."

If courts uphold the FCC's argument that it can use this authority to preempt state restrictions on municipal broadband, cities and towns in many more states could petition the FCC to remove state laws. Expansion of municipal broadband networks would in turn create more competition in markets dominated by private cable companies and telcos, potentially boosting speeds and lowering prices.

Gigabites: Big ROI for EPB's Gigabit by Mari Silbey, Light Reading

According to an independent study commissioned by EPB, the company's fiber network has created between $865.3 million and $1.3 billion in city benefits. That's compared to the $220 million EPB spent to deploy the network in the first place. The study also suggests the new infrastructure has generated at least 2,800 jobs by attracting news businesses to the area.

Tennessee defends its community broadband ban in court by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

As we've covered ad nauseum over the years, Tennessee is one of more than twenty states to pass laws hindering or outright prohibiting communities from building their own broadband networks (or even striking public/private partnerships). The laws are almost always written by incumbent ISPs like AT&T, Comcast and Time Warner Cable looking to protect turf.

Tennessee arguing “states’ rights” to block cheap internet by Paul E King, Pocketables

The argument against small towns probably comes down to who can funnel millions of dollars into a campaign chest, but it was put into law as a protection for private ISPs against the big bullying municipalities and their reasonably priced internet. In Tennessee, those small struggling underdogs that need protection from the big bad municipalities are generally Charter and Comcast.


City Broadband Plans: One Vision, Four Markets, Four Issues by Blair Levin, Benton Foundation

North Carolina, Tennessee Battle FCC Over Muni-Broadband Networks by Wendy Davis, Media Post

Community-Based Telecom Providers Recognized for Delivering Gigabit Broadband by The Rural Broadband Association, FierceTelecom

Broadband Opportunity Council

Last March, President Obama announced a comprehensive plan to bring high speed Internet to more Americans. This week, The Broadband Opportunity Council released a report showing the path to reach its goal of bringin faster Internet to the 75 million that are without a high speed connection in their homes.

Dig once: The no-brainer Internet policy the White House just endorsed by Brian Fung, The Washington Post

Broadband Inches toward utility status by Colin Wood, Government Technology 

White House: Municipal Broadband will Expand Internet Service and Increase Competition by Carson Bolter, IVN

US Report Calls Broadband a 'Utility,' Calls for Policy Overhaul by Karl Bode

While broadband may have shifted from "optional amenity" to a necessity, the report notes that "not all federal programs fully reflect" this shift. The government has paid fifteen years of lip service to these issues, best exemplified by our 2010 National Broadband Plan, a disjointed, politically-safe proposal that failed utterly to challenge the broadband duopoly status quo.

Unlike government broadband reports of the past fifteen years, however, this one at least acknowledges the elephant in the room (the lack of competition).

White House Declares Broadband Is A ‘Core Utility’ As Important As Water And Electricity by Nicole Arce, Tech Times

"Broadband has steadily shifted from an optional amenity to a core utility for households, businesses and community institutions,"says the report. "Today, broadband is taking its place alongside water, sewer and electricity as essential infrastructure for communities."

The council recommends that federal departments take certain steps to encourage broadband deployment and provide people who are not yet connected the ability to go online.

Specifically, the report is calling on the departments to expand support for broadband deployment programs by offering them access to federal loans and grants and streamline the permitting process to speed up deployment.

White House Lines Up Broadband Playbook by Mari Sibley, LightReading

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