We Remember Scott DeGarmo

We were saddened to learn of Scott DeGarmo's passing this past week and, like many others who knew him and his work, want to pay tribute to his many contributions.

Scott was the CEO of Broadband Communities, a valuable resource that policy makers, industry chiefs, and community leaders depend on for the most recent developments in the world of advanced communications networks. Scott molded the magazine into a leading publication for readers and began the practice of bringing them together at an annual conference. He took it to a higher level by raising awareness, building coalitions, and creating possibilities.

Scott will be missed by many who care about connecting the world. You can share memories from others who knew Scott at the Broadband Communities Tribute Page. Thank you, Scott. Below is a tribute that Jim Baller has shared via the Coalition for Local Internet Choice.

Scott DeGarmo, CEO of Broadband Communities, passed away this weekend.  He was an ardent and invaluable supporter of CLIC and a champion of local choice.  He published and promoted CLIC’s articles on the Broadband Communities website and made sure that CLIC had a prominent role in Broadband Communities events, including the upcoming conference in Lexington.  We will send out more information on the Lexington conference later in the day, but first, we wanted to share a tribute to Scott from CLIC’s president, Jim Baller. 


On Saturday, August 15, 2015, Scott DeGarmo died of pancreatic cancer at his home in Riverdale, NY, after exchanging goodbyes with his wife and daughters.  Scott was a giant in our field and a dear friend for many years. 

When Scott acquired Broadband Properties a little more than a decade ago, its activities consisted primarily of publishing a trade magazine for owners and managers of multi-tenant properties and holding an annual conference for them.  Over the years, under Scott’s visionary leadership, Broadband Properties expanded its services in the multi-tenant market and it increasingly focused its attention on the needs of cities, towns, and other localities across America for advanced communications capabilities and services.  Broadband Properties ultimately became Broadband Communities, and its magazine, primers, and other publications became must-reading for community leaders, industry executives, policy makers, and others stakeholders in America’s broadband Internet future.  Broadband Communities also hosted increasingly well-attended national and regional conferences featuring the latest and most important developments in fiber-based communications, presented by key federal, state, and local officials and a broad range of experienced practitioners.  Scott repeatedly insisted that speakers talk in plain language and provide as many real-world examples as possible, so that each attendee could take home valuable information that he or she could use immediately. 

If these had been Scott’s only accomplishments, they alone would have entitled Scott to our deep gratitude and praise.  But Scott’s contributions ran so much deeper.  In particular, in establishing the policies and high standards for Broadband Communities publications and events, Scott also played a major role in shaping and accelerating America’s deployment, adoption, and use of fiber-based broadband access to the Internet.  That is, Scott did not just disseminate information about important developments; he also had much to do with stimulating and influencing many of these developments. 

More specifically, Scott and his excellent team at Broadband Communities typically targeted the most important issues of the day and brought together the best minds to address them, with Broadband Communities readers and event attendees sharing the experience.  Among the many critical issues that Broadband Communities explored this way were how to develop a national broadband strategy, how to use advanced communications capabilities to drive and support economic development, how to stimulate broadband deployment and use in rural and other high cost areas, how to make federal stimulus-funded projects economically sustainable, how to preserve and protect local Internet choice, and how to foster public-private collaboration and partnerships.  In his quiet, understated way, Scott left an important mark on all of these issues and many more.   As Harry Truman observed, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”

But what about the man himself?  As word of Scott’s passing has gotten around, tributes have poured into Broadband Communities from all directions, from individuals and entities of all kinds.  Again and again, Scott’s many colleagues and friends have stressed his intelligence and creativity, his unbounded positive energy, his kindness and grace, his generosity, his unassuming modesty, and his deep commitment to making fiber-based access to the Internet the platform and driver of simultaneous progress in just about everything that matters to America’s communities. 

In sum, in his professional life, Scott had an extraordinary significant impact in making our corner of the world a better place.  On a personal level, he left us a wealth of warm and wonderful memories.  In fact, looking back over the last decade, it’s hard to think of many individuals who contributed more. 

Scott has now left us physically, but his legacy will live on.  In recent weeks, recognizing that his time was short, Scott repeatedly asked those of us in his leadership circle to do everything possible to ensure that Broadband Communities will continue to grow and thrive.  In particular, Scott wanted us to have a great conference in Lexington, Kentucky, from September 15-18, 2015, in part to demonstrate that Broadband Communities can remain successful without him at the helm.  Please join us there if you can.   In particular, I urge CLIC members to check out our outstanding program on the morning ofSeptember 18. 

Photo of Scott courtesy of Broadband Communities.

Nebraska Farmer Wants Fiber, Won't Be Ripped Off By Windstream

Windstream has the distinction of being one of the worst providers we have ever covered from consumers' perspective, but in rural areas many people have little or no choice. The latest Windstream debacle involves a Nebraska farmer, an outrageous price quote, and a local company that is taking on the project for about one-ninth of Windstream's estimate.

Ars Technica recently introduced us to Nelson Schneider, CTO of the Norman R. Schneider Family Trust Farm in Ceresco, Nebraska. Like many other farms today, the Schneider business needs fast, reliable connections for a variety of reasons including checking ever changing grain prices. Schneider had Windstream's DSL for $80 per month, but his promised speeds of 1.5 Mbps were clocked at 512 Kbps download and 256 Kbps upload, making business online impossible.

When he attempted to take advantage of the business class speeds Windstream advertised online, the company dismissed him. Schneider had to file a complaint for false advertising with the FCC just to get Windstream to negotiate. He wanted fiber, was willing to pay for construction costs, and considered it an investment in the vitality of the farm. 

Windstream told him it would cost Schneider $383,500 (gulp) to install 4.5 miles of fiber from his property to its facilities in town. Even though Windstream's fiber network map shows they run fiber about one-half mile away, they insisted he would need to connect to the facility farther away. When he asked about connecting to this closer line, Windstream refused to connect him. The company would not provide a reason when Ars asked for a reason.

Even though Schneider was prepared to pay thousands of dollars to bring fiber to his farm, such a preposterous quote and Windstream's refusal to commit to anything higher than 10 Mbps symmetrical were too much. He contacted Northeast Nebraska Telephone Company when he learned that they had been connecting local farms with fiber. Soon an NNTC executive visited the farm and the two talked about the possibilities. The final estimate was $42,000 or about one-ninth what Windstream demanded and now NNTC is working with Schneider to make the project easier:

Northeast agreed to let Schneider pay for the construction in three annual payments of about $14,000 each, and it will provide 50Mbps download speeds and 15Mbps uploads for $100 a month, he said. Northeast also agreed to a $6,000 credit for any other customer “that signs up using the line I'm paying to install.” The necessary paperwork is being finished up this month.

“They said they'd have to order the fiber cables, but should be able to get me set up by the end of September of this year,” he said.

It is true that $42,000 is a sizable sum, but Schneider considers it well-spent and we are pleased to see a local business was able to work with a provider that, unlike Windstream, clearly is has some desire to serve rural businesses.

What does Norman Schneider say about ditching Windstream for this investment?

“I look at it like buying a nice new car, only instead of taking me places on the paved highway, it will finally allow me to drive the Information Superhighway at the speed limit,” he said. “Right now I feel like an Amish horse-drawn carriage when doing anything online."

Bald Head Island Reopens RFP to Find The Right Partner

After searching for a suitable partner, the Village of Bald Head Island in North Carolina has reopened its RFP for a gigabit fiber network. Apparently, the community received four responses but no proposal provided the level of detail they require. 

In order to give respondents another opportunity and to offer new candidates a chance, Bald Head Island leaders chose to release the RFP a second time with additional questions and a responsibility matrix. No response will be considered without answers to these new appendices. All three documents are available on the Village website.

The Village of Bald Head Island is home to approximately 160 year-round residents, but numbers swell to 7,000 during the busy tourist season. Vacation homes and part-time residents bring the potential fiber service area up to 2,500 but incumbents AT&T and Tele-Media don't see the value of bringing fiber to such an environment. The StarNews Online described community leadership's frustration and decision to move forward:

"Broadband is not available on Bald Head Island," said Calvin Peck, the village's manager. "It just isn't, and none of the current providers have plans to invest the money to make it available, so the village council feels it's an important enough issue to spend village resources to make it happen."

While Bald Head Island looks for a partner it also plans to ask voters if they agree to pursue better broadband. Voters will decide on November 3rd if they support a $10 million bond issue. Community leaders will focus on revenue bonds, one of the most common ways to finance municipal network deployment. This mechanism shifts repayment to those who use the network, reducing financial risk to the community at large.

Clearly community leaders understand that the time to act is now:

"We are losing people who would build, buy or rent property on the island because they do not have Internet service," said Gene Douglas, the village's mayor pro tempore. "Many executives of major companies' office is wherever they are as long as they have access to the Internet, and we simply don't have that."

As we have noted in the past, good partners are difficult to find; municipalities must always move forward with caution. We applaud Bald Head Island for being thorough and insisting on the details before choosing a partner. Kudos to them also for taking a bifurcated approach and asking voters for funding approval now so all pieces are in place when they find the right partner.

Murfreesboro Wants to Use Existing Fiber for Better Connectivity

In the center of Tennessee sits Murfreesboro, the fastest growing city in the state with 108,000 people and one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S. (Just 10 years ago there were only 68,000 residents.) Murfreesboro is also one of the next communities to show an interest in a publicly owned fiber network to improve connectivity.

In an August press release [PDF], Murfreesboro Electric Department (MED) described their existing 19-mile fiber infrastructure, used for communication and control purposes for the electricity distribution system. The fiber was deployed in 2008, says MED General Manager Steve Sax, and the utility is now making plans to use spare fibers for Internet connectivity. MED is in the process of expanding its network by an additional 20 miles.

Sax also stated that MED is working with Middle Tennessee State University to develop a fiber optics pilot project but did not offer details other than it is "very similar to what Google is doing in Nashville."

MED and the Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Cooperative (MTEMC) recently entered into negotiations for MTEMC to acquire the MED. The city of Murfreesboro is in the center of the MTEMC service area and the two have been duplicating efforts in some areas. The city and cooperative signed a memo of understanding in June and the process is moving forward slowly. MTEMC serves over 200,000 cooperative members in a four county service territory; the MED provides electricity to approximately 56,000 customers.

MTEMC does not offer telecommunications services at this time but according to a Daily News Journal article, the cooperative is investing in fiber:

"We have been working with an enterprise ... on a fiber network," said [Brad Gibson, MTEMC chief business officer] about the utility that covers Rutherford, Wilson, Williamson and Cannon counties.

MTEMC has contracted with a private company to install and manage its fiber network but the utility is also researching the possibility of developing its own network, he said.

"We are dedicated to fiber," Gibson said.

The ownership of the public electric utility notwithstanding, leadership at the utility understand the impact today's investment will have on Murfreesboro's future. From the press release:

"Back when MED was founded, electricity was the crucial piece of infrastructure that our grandparents and great-grandparents worked to extend throughout the city," [Sax] says. "Now it's our turn. Broadband Internet is every bit as essential to keeping Murfreesboro competitive now as electricity was then. We welcome the opportunity to work with the city to continue enhancing the quality of life for our citizens."

Baltimore for Broadband Op-Ed Demands Local Authority

On July 27 an important op-ed appeared in the Baltimore Sun to argue for the creation of a Baltimore Broadband Authority (BBA). Written by a cohort of three philanthropic organization presidents, two consultants, one broadband coalition leader, and one state senator, the op-ed echoed the calls of Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and community groups, such as the Baltimore Broadband CrowdFiber initiative, who believe that in order for Baltimore to continue its development into a haven for young people, minimize pernicious digital inequalities, and ensure economic growth, the City must take charge of its fiber assets. As the authors wrote:

We urge the city of Baltimore to move quickly, but carefully, to create the much-needed Broadband Authority and act with all deliberate speed to devise a comprehensive, workable plan to move us forward.

The most recent op-ed comes in the wake of a series of moves by the City of Baltimore to study existing broadband infrastructure and adapt plans to expand access across the region. In June, the City released two studies to address increasing demand for broadband in areas that incumbent providers Comcast and Verizon have neglected (that being the vast majority of the city). One report, by the Smarter City Task Force, highlights the severity of the digital divide in the City of Baltimore:

There are no precise estimates of how many people in Baltimore lack access to broadband Internet. While national surveys suggest that about 20 percent of Americans do not have broadband at home or a smartphone, it’s reasonable to conclude that the percentage of Baltimoreans who lack broadband is higher. Baltimore has a large population of African Americans and people who have low incomes or low educational attainment – three demographic and socio-economic groups that nationally are significantly more likely to lack home broadband access.

The second report is more extensive than the first, including GIS maps of publicly-owned broadband assets ranging from dark fiber to wireless towers. Its policy suggestions include the creation of an open access network along the pre-existing Inter-County Broadband Network (ICBN); leasing dark fiber assets to private entities; taking advantage of the Department of Transportation’s underground conduit lines; and installing more “vertical assets,” such as wireless towers and rooftops, to increase Wi-Fi availability.

In Baltimore, more and more individuals are becoming aware of the negative impacts of Verizon and Comcast’s practices regarding broadband deployment, and recognizing the importance of broadband to local economic development. Other Washington D.C. area communities - such as Alexandria and Arlington, Virginia - are currently in the process of launching their own community broadband projects. Same goes for Harford County, Maryland. Some forward-thinking Maryland communities, such as Howard County, MD have been working to increase fiber availability for years, as CIO Chris Merdon explained in a January Broadband Bits Podcast.

Residents like D. Watkins, who in 2014 published an op-ed in Vice’s Motherboard, “Life on the Other Side of the Digital Divide,” have also lambasted the City of Baltimore for its insufficient broadband infrastructure. “Public libraries are an option for free internet access,” he wrote, “but unlike liquor stores and churches, you can’t find one on every corner.”

The continued push for a Baltimore Broadband Authority by non-profit, philanthropic, and government leaders should help to create a space for further discussion of Baltimore’s digital inequalities, but it will also be crucial for these entities to work directly with local community leaders. Even as the City’s high-level fiber assets are leveraged, ground-level work with communities and incremental deployment strategies will be key to ensuring an equitable rollout of broadband technologies.

New Reference From U-W Extension A Library Must-Have

The University of Wisconsin-Extension recently released Broadband Policies and Regulations for Wisconsin Stakeholders, a good addition to your digital library, especially if you have in interest in Wisconsin and midwestern broadband issues.

The document provides case studies and an in-depth list of references addressing:

  • Public-private partnerships
  • Local ordinances
  • Technology councils
  • Community engagement
  • Local government telecommunications services
  • Unique efforts to increase adoption

While many examples hail from Wisconsin communities, the authors also provide information from other states and offers links to information such as local government broadband resolutions, tower agreements between municipalities and private internet service providers, successful applications for state and federal grant funds. 

The Broadband Policies and Regulations for Wisconsin Stakeholders is well organized and indexed. You can download the PDF, or access the online flip book for quick reference.

Traffic Project Gets Fiber in the Ground in Winston-Salem, NC

Winston-Salem struck up a smart deal with the North Carolina Department of Transportation in 2011. Four years later, that agreement allows the city to move forward with its vision for an I-Net.

The Winston-Salem Journal reports that the City Council recently approved $826,522 for networking equipment to light up city owned fiber installed by the NCDOT. The agency has been upgrading area traffic control systems, a project estimated at around $20 million. Winston-Salem took advantage of the opportunity and paid the agency $1.5 million to simultaneously install its own fiber in the state conduit.

“The city was able to have the network built at only the cost of the fiber,” [city information systems department Chief Officer Dennis] Newman said. “They (state traffic contractors) are running fiber optic cable all around the city to where all the traffic lights are at. This will enable us to connect to all facilities all over the city – fire stations, public safety centers, satellite police stations – right now there are about 40 locations that we have targeted to connect to.”

As is typically the case, Winston-Salem currently pays private providers for connections at each facility but when the new I-Net is up and running, they will be able to eliminate that expense. The new voice and high-speed network will outperform current connections, described in the article as "out-of-date." City officials also told the Journal that some municipal offices have no Internet access at all but will be connected to the new I-Net.

A number of other communities have taken advantage of partnerships with state and federal transportation agencies during traffic signal upgrades. Martin County, Florida; Aurora, Illinois; and Arlington, Virginia saved considerably by collaborating during similar projects.

More Details on the Northwest Open Access Network - Community Broadband Bits Episode 164

Just a few short weeks ago, we interviewed Dave Spencer, the Chief Operating Officer for the Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet) in Washington. We offered a good overview, but got some requests for more details so Dave returns this week for a more focused discussion in episode 164.

We discuss the specific services that are available and how the retail service providers access them as well as NoaNet's enlightening approach to peering so its service providers have the benefits of low cost, high quality Netflix videos, as an example.

We also discuss the legal status of NoaNet as a nonprofit municipal organization. Finally, we discuss the other services that NoaNet makes available and how some of the fees are structured.

Read the transcript for this episode here.

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

This show is 23 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."

Gig City Wilson Helps Local Companies Thrive

The story of how Wilson's municipal fiber network, Greenlight, won over one of its strongest critics illustrates how community networks support and benefit local businesses. Tina Mooring is the Manager of Computer Central in Wilson and was an opponent of the city building a fiber optic network to provide a choice beyond the incumbent cable and DSL companies, both of which were national carriers.

"We were fearful," says Mooring, when asked about her feelings when the City of Wilson first announced its plan to build out a community-wide fiber to the home network. Reselling DSL connections leased from the incumbent telephone company was Computer Central's bread and butter. "We repaired computers and we resold DSL...and we were supposed to take a ‘leap of faith' that the City did not want to put us out of business." Mooring was outspoken in her belief that Wilson was taking the wrong step.

But after a few years passed by, Mooring's feelings about the municipal broadband network changed. Because of Greenlight, Tina's company found new opportunities in offering new services with the greatly enhanced connectivity. In going to conferences and speaking with her clients, she was repeatedly asked if Computer Central could offer services she did not know existed: large data backup services, cloud services, and disaster recovery. Full document and file image backups meant accessing the kind of bandwidth, particularly upstream, that just was not available in the community from the slower cable and DSL connections. Greenlight gave her business plenty of new opportunities:

"I'd say our revenues have increased from 30 and 100 percent over last year's" because of Greenlight's next-generation connections. Computer Central's clients access the upstream and downstream gigabit symmetrical capacity that Greenlight offers throughout the community and her company supplies the value added services on top of that internet pipe: data backup services, various hosting and managed services, security and disaster recovery. Mooring has switched 23 customers in Wilson County to Greenlight because these private sector businesses wanted the hosting and data disaster recovery services they otherwise could not access.

Tina's voice grew serious when she explained one example of how meaningful these new services are to businesses in Wilson. "We had a big tornado go through...everyone was hit including the car dealership across the street from my office. Cars were upside down and thrown down the street. But because of Greenlight's fiber capacity, I was able to get the dealership" right back on its feet. Time is money, and Greenlight, she says, "is very fast."

Computer Central banner

Mooring noted how her business suffers from North Carolina's state law that limits Greenlight's service area to only Wilson County. (As of the writing of this article, the FCC voted to preempt that state law, but the state of North Carolina has sued the FCC in an effort to reverse the order and prevent North Carolina municipalities from providing gigabit broadband services.)

"It's the law itself that's bad for the private sector ... it is hurting the private sector," she explained. "All my clients" in the six counties surrounding Wilson would benefit if Greenlight could serve them." Mooring adds, "I have CPA clients who tell me about their clients asking them: ‘When can they get Greenlight,' when they hear what my CPA accomplishes with our services." CPAs, medical offices, supply houses with medical offices, clients who need metro-ethernet connections, small businesses and small municipalities all would benefit from gaining access to Greenlight" she emphasized. "Right now they are limited on the services that we can provide them due to bandwidth constraints of the current incumbent providers."

Finally, Tina emphasized that access to world class broadband speed is just part of the picture. According to Ms. Mooring, "It's also an issue about the efficiency, the responsiveness, and the customer service... you know who you are doing businesses with because your families have known each other for decades." She noted the difficulty she experiences just to get a call returned from the large local incumbents serving the community. "There is much more latency...and like I said, lost time is lost money," she added. "I want Greenlight to grow, so Computer Central can grow."

Community networks like Greenlight create entrepreneurial opportunities for local businesses like Computer Central to boost local economies. Firms like Computer Central can help other area businesses be more efficient and competitive – but they need to have an infrastructure provider in town that is providing high capacity, reliable connectivity and excellent customer service.

Sun Prairie Passes Resolution to Begin Initial Stage of Fiber Project

On July 21, the City Council of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin passed a resolution to fund construction on a segment of what could become a citywide, high-speed fiber optic project. Construction will take place in the city’s Smith’s Crossing subdivision, parts of Main Street, and the Tax Increment Finance (TIF) District 9/St. Mary’s development area. It is slated to begin in early September and last through December 1, weather permitting, and will cost an estimated $640,000.

The mayor of Sun Prairie, Paul Esser, believes that going through with this project is the correct move for the City. He was recently quoted in the Sun Prairie Star

Moving ahead with the pilot project in Smith’s Crossing is the right way to go. I believe that as an early adopter of this technology we will have an economic development advantage which will attract companies that require this broad bandwidth.

The fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) construction at Smith’s Crossing is seen as a testing ground for a larger FTTP network construction that would extend 200 miles of fiber and have the potential to connect all of the city’s homes and businesses. Currently Sun Prairie has about 30 miles of fiber. If Sun Prairie can successfully build out this citywide network - costing an estimated $26.7 million for the whole city - it could rival that of Reedsburg, Wisconsin, which began construction on its fiber-to-the-home network in 2003. Reedsburg has seen numerous economic development benefits and has created a considerable amount of community savings from lower prices.

The city of Sun Prairie initially invested in fiber optic technologies in 1999. In that year, the City built a fiber ring for the school system. Rick Wicklund, the manager of Sun Prairie Utilities, estimates the fiber ring will save the school $2 million by 2019. The fiber also runs to about 28 businesses and more than 130 Multiple Dwelling Units (MDUs), according to Wicklund. Now, Sun Prairie Utilities is looking towards residential markets. 

Officials are calling the Smith’s Crossing construction a “pilot program.” They chose the location on account of its pre-existing physical infrastructure and population density. According to the Sun Prairie Star:

Wicklund said Smith’s Crossing is a good location because the neighborhood has existing ducts through the subdivision and is a dense area with positive demographics for the service: those who have dropped phone land lines and cable.

An upgrade to fiber could be exactly what Sun Prairie residents need in order to stimulate economic development and attract businesses to the city, which sits just more than 10 miles from the college town of Madison. Sun Prairie residents are currently served by incumbents Charter and Frontier - ISPs that rely on outdated technologies unable to provide the gigabit speeds that fiber can supply. Sun Prairie Utilities initially wondered if these incumbents might be willing to build a fiber optic network themselves, but they were unwilling to offer fiber optic services. City alder John Freund, speaking in 2014, indicated the incumbent’s unwillingness to make the switch to fiber:

It was a good conversation and certainly as we looked at partners they would be the most likely partner in the community, but it was pretty clear that they weren't interested in taking this project on themselves and providing us this service at no cost to the city. 

Now, it appears these industry competitors are actively opposing the proposed municipal network. In early July, incumbent ISPs pitched city officials about the negatives and past failures of municipal projects. As the Star reported earlier this month:

Industry competitors spent more than 90 minutes telling city officials why it’s a bad idea, highlighting failures in other municipalities, questioning the utilities’ ability to handle operations, and even hinting, if it goes through, they’ll cut jobs in the Sun Prairie area. 

Incumbent pressure is nothing new for municipal networks, but it is more unsettling in the case of Sun Prairie, where City officials have gone out of their way to work with these companies - as we reported back in January of 2014. Incumbents often threaten to invest less if faced with a municipal network, but an increase in competition often spurs more investment, not less, as they suddenly fear losing customers that have a real choice in providers.

Wicklund believes that the pilot project would be cash positive within three years if it can achieve a 30 percent take rate. According to a feasibility study, a city-wide network would be cash flow positive by year four and net income positive by year six, assuming a 35 percent take rate across the 13,500 homes passed.