Connecting Georgia's Munis - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 156

For years, we have urged municipal networks to cooperate in various ways to lower costs. For instance, by building a shared middle mile network to aggregate their bandwidth and get a better deal due to the higher volume. So it came as a bit of a shock that Georgia Public Web has been helping many municipal networks in these ways for well over a decade.

David Muschamp, President and CEO of Georgia Public Web (GPW), joins us for episode 156 of Community Broadband Bits to discuss what the member-owned nonprofit organization does to improve Internet access across the state.

GPW operates over 3000 miles of fiber connecting businesses and even entire communities. They operate a 365-24-7 network operations center and provide consulting, focusing particularly on the needs of the nearly 30 local governments that own the company.

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 18 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."

Community Broadband Media Roundup - June 19

35 Mayors and Elected Officials Call for Accessible Broadband Performance Information Following GAO Investigation, Next Century Cities

To help our communities access these critical opportunities, we have joined the city-to-city collaborative Next Century Cities, which supports local efforts to provide these networks. We are working to provide the high-quality Internet that is essential to thriving communities and remain deeply appreciative of the Commission’s ongoing efforts to safeguard the principle of local choice and empower more communities to achieve high-speed broadband Internet.

Community Broadband Media Roundup- By State

Colorado

Firestone commissions municipal Internet study by Karen Antonacci, Times-Call Region News

Homeowners near Palmer Divide stuck with slow Internet or no Internet at all by Eric Ross, KOAA

Davis says no company he's talked with is willing to expand service in the area. He tells News5 each time a provider comes back with an offer and he agrees, the offer price keeps increasing.

Two of the largest providers in Colorado have contracts with El Paso County, so we wanted to know whether these providers were in violation by providing access to some homeowners, but not others.

 

Florida/Georgia

Allied Fiber Completes Southeast Route, the First Open-Access Colocation and Dark Fiber System to Enable Network-Neutral Interconnections from Miami to Atlanta and All Points Between, Allied Fiber

 

Massachusetts

Remote Mass. towns welcome broadband’s arrival by Jack Newsham, Boston Globe

 

New York

How's your broadband, Syracuse? City runs survey to evaluate municipal option by Tim Knauss, Syracuse.com

 

Washington

How can Seattle get affordable Internet? by Ross Reynolds, "The Record", KUOW

Guest Editorial: Municipal Broadband Is Far from Dead In Seattle by Devin Glaser, The Stranger

After reading the report, it’s not clear what Mattmiller wished to see. We at Upgrade Seattle read the same document and came away feeling all the more assured that Seattle is ready to invest in its future and build a publicly-owned network that makes other cities jealous.

Anyone interested in learning more can visit UpgradeSeattle.com, and we’re kicking off our campaign with a launch event at 7 p.m. this evening at Town Hall Seattle. It will feature a conversation between community broadband advocate Christopher Mitchell and Seattle’s Hollis Wong-Wear, followed by a district based strategy session.

Broadband for all: 8 next steps for Seattle by Bill Schrier, CrossCut

Gigabit Internet access for $45 a month: How Seattle could make it happen by Todd Bishop & Taylor Soper, GeekWire

Muni Broadband Goes Mainstream by Colin Wood, GovTech

The first step a community should take, Mitchell said, is to identify what problem is being solved by taking on broadband.

“You don’t just want better Internet access,” Mitchell said. “You want to know for whom and at what cost. Is your problem connecting low-income populations? That requires different thinking than if you’re just trying to attract some high-tech businesses to your town.”

 

Other News

FCC says AT&T misled customers, issues biggest fine in its history by Graham Starr, CSMonitor

FCC comes after AT&T with a $100 million fine for misleading customers about its 'unlimited' data plan.

F.C.C. to Fine AT&T for Slowing Data Speeds of Some Customers by Rebecca R. Ruiz, New York Times 

“Unlimited means unlimited,” Travis LeBlanc, the F.C.C.’s chief of the enforcement bureau, said in a statement on Wednesday. “The commission is committed to holding accountable those broadband providers who fail to be fully transparent about data limits.”

Slow Internet Speed? Throttling Issues? Now You Can Complain To The FCC by Jeff Stone, Internation Business Times

Time Warner Cable will be the first to get hit with a net neutrality complaint by Brian Fung, Washington Post

Alabama Republican Speaks Out in Favor of Local Authority

As we have learned, communities with municipal networks have tended to be politically conservative. Nevertheless, conservative state level politicians have often supported measures to revoke local authority to encourage local Internet choice. Recently, Alabama State Senator Tom Whatley, a Republican from Auburn, expressed his support for local authority in AL.com.

Whatley introduced SB 438, which would remove service area restrictions on municipal providers and remove the currently restriction preventing other municipalities from providing voice, video, or Internet access services. As he notes in his opinion piece, the bill did not move beyond the Transportation and Energy Committee, but he also asserts that he will be back next year to press for the measure. 

Auburn is near Opelika where the community has deployed a FTTH network to serve residents and spur economic development. If the restrictions are eliminated, Opelika could expand to Auburn and even other rural areas nearby.

Whatley makes comparisons to the strides America made with the national interstate system. He also acknowledges the way Chattanooga's network has transformed what was once described as the "dirtiest city in America." Whatley takes the same approach we encounter from many communities where, after failed attempts to entice private providers to serve their citizenry, eventually decided to take on the task themselves.

He writes:

As a Republican, I believe the private sector is usually the best and most efficient method for providing a service. But when private companies, for whatever reason, make a decision not to serve an area, we should not handcuff the people of that region if they decide to use a public entity to receive that service (in this case, broadband Internet) in order to compete today for the jobs of tomorrow.

Boston Globe Profiles Lafayette; OpenCape Inspired

In a recent Boston Globe Opinion, Dante Ramos notes that Boston has a reputation as a technology hub. When seeking options and affordability, however, Ramos recounts the successful approach of Lafayette, Louisiana:

Today, the top broadband speeds advertised to residential customers in Boston are about one-ninth of what’s available in Lafayette. A municipal network in Boston isn’t inconceivable; the fiber-optic network now connecting scores of government facilities could theoretically become the spine of a citywide system.

Ramos acknowledges the challenges Boston would face if it were to take up such a project, but he also notes that it was no small feat for Lafayette. The economic development gains have more than justified the investment:

Half a decade later, though, the benefits have come into view. A company serving an active Louisiana film industry can use the Lafayette network to transmit massive quantities of digital footage. Employees of a major jewelry manufacturer in town can get medical advice remotely without having to go in and out of a highly secure plant. And the presence of the network is shaping investment decisions in subtle ways.

Ramos shares the story of his encounter with the owner of a local Internet consulting firm who chose the company data center location because it was within the LUS Fiber service area. He also valued the network's speed, reliability, and quality customer service.

Lafayette's network has also continually drawn in new employers, including three high tech companies in the fall of 2014. Along with those approximately 1,300 well paying positions come the multiplier effect on the local economy.

Ramos' piece inspired a letter to the Globe from Art Gaylord and Dan Gallagher, Chairman of the Board of Directors and Senior Consultant respectively, from OpenCape. The two find inspiration in the story of Lafayette but lament what they see as a lack of enthusiasm in the Cape Cod region.

The 350-mile OpenCape network was developed throughout the Cape Cod region to serve community anchor institutions, municipal facilities, libraries, schools and private businesses. The project was developed by a nonprofit organization and funded with a combination of ARRA stimulus funds, state investment, and private investment.

OpenCape logo

When we last reported on OpenCape, their goal of attracting a high number of high tech jobs had not yet been realized. Gaylord and Gallagher point out the most difficult hurdle facing OpenCape and other stimulus projects: encouraging last-mile private investment:

The challenge is attracting investment to build out the so-called last-mile connections, which would enable other large data users, businesses, and ultimately residents to bring this critical resource to their doorstep.

According to a recent post on OpenCape's news blog, the organization announced that it will move more aggressively to pursue private and public capital investment to build out the network. In early May, Gaylord spoke about the next phase at the SmarterCape Summit:

“OpenCape has been and continues to be focused on fulfilling our vision of enhancing economic development and quality of life of the Cape and southeastern Massachusetts. However, it has become clear that OpenCape needs to do more to facilitate the public and private investment needed to complete the network’s vital ‘last mile’ connections.”

In their letter, Gaylord and Gallagher sum up what Lafayette has that they hope to acheive with OpenCape:

Ramos’s column captures the excitement and boundless economic opportunities brought to a small Louisiana community by a municipal-owned fiber-optic broadband network. We should be able to do better here.

Fortunately, communities in the OpenCape region already have a fiber backbone in place that many other communities lack. Last-mile connectivity is one step closer. Whether it is Lafayette, Cape Cod, or Boston, Ramos' question still applies:

When communities aren’t being served — or, as in Lafayette’s case, they want better service than they’re getting — why should they wait for Comcast Corp., Cox Communications, or other broadband giants to come to their rescue?

They shouldn't and they aren't. Ramos concludes:

If Google and other deep-pocketed companies ever build commercial fiber networks to compete with cable companies from coast to coast, they’ll spare market-oriented Internet junkies a lot of philosophical dissonance. Until that day comes, competition from local government is better than no competition at all.

WiredScore Rates Commercial Real Estate Connectivity in NYC

As a major metropolitan community, New York City has found a way to establish a link between connectivity and real estate for potential commercial tenants. 

WiredNYC, a certification program launched in 2013, provides broadband ratings for office buildings in the city. WiredNYC has been renamed WiredScore and now operates across the United States, in partnership with local governments. The program provides a simple survey online at WiredScore.com that analyzes a variety of factors and provides a rating based on:

Building Connectivity: The number of internet service providers, the quality and speed of connections, and the access to provider cabling in the building...

Infrastructure: Factors specific to the building's physical internet infrastructure (i.e., number of entry points, designated utility spaces, and risers)...

Readiness: How ready a building is to improve its connectivity... 

The survey provides feedback based on the survey results and offers a preliminary rating of "Certified," "Silver," "Gold," or "Platinum." In order to complete the certification, the City will send an engineer to the building to verify the survey results. WiredNYC also provides advice for building owners and landlords who have taken the survey but whose structures do not meet the minimum standards for certification or who want to take steps to achieve a higher standard of certification.

Landlords can use Wired Certification to market their building to potential tenants. Their buildings appear on WiredScore.com website and they receive similar benefits.

A March report from the Vertical Systems Group concluded that fiber is now present in approximately 42.5 percent of U.S. commercial buildings. Ten years ago that figure was only 10.9 percent. Fast, affordable, reliable connectivity is quickly becoming an integral component of the real estate market. Programs like WiredNYC will allow entrepeneurs and established businesses find the types of connections that suit their needs.

Update: We have updated the story because WiredNYC expanded to be WiredScore and works with all manner of commercial buildings.

Maine Island Stranded Without Fiber - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 155

Many communities feel like they are an island without proper connectivity but Islesboro, Maine, is literally an island... without proper connectivity. This week, we talk with Page Clason, Manager of the Broadband Internet Working Group for the island that is moving toward a fiber solution to expand high quality Internet access.

We discuss the differences between a mainland community and island life, the dynamic between full time residents and people who live on the island part of the time, and what Islesboro is doing to ensure everyone has high quality Internet access.

We also touch on the discussions around how to pay for the fiber. We recently wrote about the vote to move forward with an engineering study and contractor search.

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 20 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."

Chattanooga's EPB, Local Cooperative, and Athens Utility Board Collaborate For Better Internet

Athens, Tennessee, has struck a deal with Chattanooga's EPB and the Volunteer Energy Cooperative (VEC) that could facilitate the city's interest in a municipal fiber network. According to the Times Free Press, the Athens Utility Board (AUB) hammered out the final agreement earlier this month.

AUB is leasing fiber from VEC that carries a gigabit signal from EBP to the AUB system.

According to the article, AUB has explored the prospect of developing their own fiber network as early as November 2013 and now offers Internet access to one business in a local business park. AUB General Manager Eric Newberry told the AUB Board that they plan to approach other local businesses to set up additional commercial accounts. They plan a slow buildout and urge local businesses, many of them clamoring for a reliable connection, to be patient as they take next steps.

Athens is part of the Chattanooga-Cleveland-Dalton area in the southeast corner of the state and home to around 13,500 people. In March, the City Council voted unanimously to pass Resolution 2015-11 supporting local authority for telecommunications. [See the PDF of the Minutes p.1]

Thusfar, the investment has cost $58,258.69 for labor, materials, and equipment. The Board had budgeted $100,000 for the project.

Community Broadband Media Roundup - June 15, 2015

This week's big news came out of Washington, specifically Seattle. The city just published a report examining the feasibility of a Chattanooga-type citywide municipal fiber network. The report and related materials are available here; read the news release here. In short, duplicating a Chattanooga-type approach appears too risky given the likely response from incumbents Comcast and CenturyLink.

Seattle

Public Internet is supposed to lower prices. In Seattle, it could work too well by Brian Fung Washington Post

Is Muni Broadband Feasible in Seattle? Not Likely, Report Finds by Colin Wood, GovTech

The numbers don't bode well for proponents of municipal broadband in Seattle, but the city has other plans.

“The broadband market has been changing incredibly fast just in the past six months, since the president mentioned the need for strong broadband access in his State of the Union address," he said. "And we’re starting to see some interesting joint ventures that allow cities to meet their policy objectives around equity and around economic development through broadband."

Seattle councilmember calls for ‘mass citywide movement’ against Comcast and CenturyLink in support of municipal broadband by Taylor Soper, Geekwire

GeekWire Radio: Amazon meeting hijacked; Twitter shakeup; and the future of municipal broadband by Todd Bishop, GeekWire

Cost of municipal broadband for Seattle less than estimated by Daniel Beekman, Seattle Times

Building a municipal broadband network in Seattle wouldn’t cost as much as the city once thought, but the city would still need additional funds. 

Bad News For Municipal-Run Broadband Internet by Ross Reynolds, KUOW

Report says municipal broadband too expensive for Seattle to build alone, Capitol Hill Seattle Blog

Media Roundup By State

Missouri

Gigabit-speed Internet comes to downtown St. Louis By David Nicklaus, St. Louis Today

New York

A New York State of Megabits by Susan Crawford, Backchannel

Will a half-billion dollar investment in internet infrastructure put NY in the national lead? Only if its leaders put muscle behind the dollars.

North Carolina

For Wilson's Greenlight Community Broadband, fiber waiting game in full swing by Lauren K. Ohnesorge, Triangle Business Journal

The interest is there, specifically from farmers, he says. One current Greenlight customer wants to expand his commercial farming operation into an adjacent county, and needs the high-speed service to run the business, Aycock says.

“It’s not just about the residential folks in the rural areas,” he says. “It’s also about agriculture."

Washington

High Tech, High Rec: Pend Oreille County works to connect work with play by Mike McLean Spokane Business Journal 

The Community Network System opens the option for people to live in Pend Oreille County and have access to a rural setting or larger tracts of land, he says.

Alex Stanton, a principal at Newport-based information technology company Exbabylon LLC, says, “Having fiber makes it possible for me to do my job.”

It’s also a big selling point when it comes to recruiting employees, Stanton says.

Without the fiber network, it was more difficult to convince qualified IT candidates to come to Newport.

“A lot of talented people are living in Spokane, Coeur d’Alene, Liberty Lake, and Seattle,” he says. “Most highly technical people want really good Internet service at home. It’s so accessible in metropolitan areas, it’s become a staple commodity.”

Sonic.net Lights Up In Brentwood CA

Last summer the community of Brentwood began working with Sonic.net in a plan to use publicly owned conduit for a privately owned fiber network. Earlier this month, the partners celebrated completion of part of that network and officially lit-up the first residential neighborhood served by Sonic.net's fiber gigabit service.

The Mercury News reports that residents are much happier with the new Internet service provider than they were with incumbents Comcast and AT&T:

"I had no lag, no buffering, no waiting -- it almost feels like the Internet's waiting on you, rather than you waiting for the Internet," said Brentwood resident Matt Gamblin, who was one of the first residents to sign up for the service. "The hardest part about the process was canceling my old Internet."

Brentwood began installing conduit as a regular practice in 1999; the community adopted the policy as a local ordinance, requiring new developers to install it in all new construction. The city has experienced significant growth and the conduit has grown to over 150 miles, reaching over 8,000 homes and a large segment of Brentwood's commercial property. As a result, they have incrementally developed an extensive network of fiber ready conduit. 

As part of their agreement with Sonic.net, Brentwood will save an estimated $15,000 per year in connectivity fees because the ISP will provide gigabit service at no charge for City Hall. Sonic.net will fill in gaps in the conduit where they interfere with network routes. In school jurisdictions where 30 percent or more of households subscribe, public schools will also get free Internet access. (We have grave concerns about the impact of only extending high quality Internet access to schools where households are better able to subscribe to Internet access at any price point.)

City officials hope to draw more of San Francisco's high tech workforce to town. Over the past two decades of population growth, the city has prospered but community leaders want to diversify:

Officials don't expect the population growth to stop anytime soon, but they also don't want to rely too heavily on property tax revenues and risk having budgetary shortfalls during a housing crisis, such as what happened to Antioch in recent years. They're hoping things like this new high-speed Internet will attract more tech workers to town, and city leaders will be working this year to see if Brentwood can truly become an epicenter for business.

"That's the basic question: Are we a bedroom community or are we something else?" City Manager Gus Vina said. "And that 'something else' needs to have that balanced economy -- diversification is the key."

Fort Collins Local Media Endorses Muni Option

Communities all over Colorado have voted to reclaim local authority during the past year. Even though elected officials in Fort Collins are exploring the municipal network option, the City Council has yet to present the question to voters. Editors at the local news outlet, the Coloradan, recently expressed their support for a municipal broadband network, urging community leaders to let voters decide.

The Editorial Board focuses on the benefits Fort collins can expect from increased economic development, telemedicine capabilities, and relieved congestion from telecommuting. They see Internet access as one of the essential services cities provide such as water and electricity. The Editorial Board notes that city leaders have already budgeted $300,000 to create a strategic plan that includes community broadband.

The Board acknowledges that there are many unanswered questions - funding, cost, motivation for a deployment. Yes, questions need to be answered along the way, but it is time to move forward:

One hurdle is a 2005 state law that bans municipalities from starting their own telecommunications service, however, either a local vote or a federal waiver could override the law.

The time is now to sidestep the ban and approve municipal broadband.