Shutesbury and Wendell Residents Ready to Vote on WiredWest

Five months ago volunteers in Shutesbury gathered to inventory local poles to prepare for a possible fiber deployment. Now, more than 40 percent of local households have committed to high-speed Internet access through WiredWest, reports MassLive. Nearby Wendell is also celebrating the 40 percent milestone. According to the article, these are the first communities in the WiredWest region to reach the 40 percent milestone

The next step will be a required two-thirds vote at a town meeting to authorize borrowing to fund the deployment in each community. After that, a majority of voters must approve a debt exclusion in Shutesbury and Wendell to invest in the capital projects as required by state law.

Shutesbury's Broadband Committee Co-chair Gayle Huntress told MassLive that it was no surprise that the community reached the 40 percent threshold needed to move to the next step:

"We are internet-starved," she said. "You should see the people sitting in their cars outside the library and town hall to use the wireless signal."

A small portion of Shutesbury residents already have access to the internet via Verizon DSL, which is built upon deteriorating copper telephone wires, said Huntress. Others use satellite dishes.

Shutesbury is home to approximately 1,800 people on 27 square miles. Wendell is a bit larger at 32 square miles but only 848 people live there.They expect to borrow $1.66 million and $1.19 million respectively to apply to the cost of deployment in their communities. 

Massachusetts has offered to contribute up to 40 percent of the funds to connect rural towns to the state's MassBroadband 123 middle mile network, but local communities must contribute the remainder. In Shutesbury, the total cost of the deployment is estimated at $2.58 million.

Community Broadband Media Roundup - April 17

This week, Christopher traveled to Austin, Texas for the Broadband Communities Conference. It was great to connect with so many people doing great work and build on the energy we are seeing across the country. Onward!

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler Pokes Finger in Eye of Telecom Incumbents at Broadband Communities in Austin by Drew Clark, BroadbandBreakfast.com

Wheeler Talks Up Pre-emption Says There Are Serious Questions About ISP Competition by John Eggerton, MultiChannel

Just to reiterate: 

"The Commission respects the important role of state governments in our federal system," he said, "and we do not take the matter of preempting state laws lightly. But it is a well-established principle that state laws that inhibit the exercise of federal policy may be subject to preemption in appropriate circumstances. My position on this matter was shaped by a few irrefutable broadband truths:

  • You can't say you're for broadband - but endorse limits on who can offer it,
  • You can't follow Congress' explicit instruction to 'remove barriers' to infrastructure investment - but endorse barriers to infrastructure investment,
  • And you can't say you're for competition - but deny local elected officials the right to offer competitive choices."

National broadband summit aims to 'Gigafy America' WRAL TechWire

Municipal Broadband: Signs of Desperation? by Bernie Arnason, Telecompetitor

One response to this question regarding the need for municipals to enter the broadband business grabbed my attention – desperation. It was voiced by Deborah Acosta, the chief innovation officer for the city of San Leandro, California during the panel discussion “Using Broadband to Drive Economic Development: Successful Local Approaches.”

 

Community Broadband Networks News: State-by-State

California

Digital Divide: 100,000 lack Internet access in SF, report says by Joshua Sabatini, San Francisco Examiner

100,000 San Franciscans Don't Have Internet? by Jay Barmann, SFist

Massachusetts

Letter: Key moment for broadband by Steve Nelson, Berkshire Eagle

The regional fiber network is our best tool for economic development. For keeping young people here after they graduate from our fine colleges and universities. For attracting families with young children, who will get a better education because increasingly kids will have to do more homework online.

...

The choice we face in our moment of truth this spring is simple. Each of us must decide for ourselves, our families and our towns: to move ahead or fall behind.

Washington

Group fighting for Seattle broadband to become a public utility by Kipp Robertson, MyNorthwest.com 

Citizens took to social media when Comcast service went down for more than 30,000 customers. Follow the hashtag: #ComcastOutage for the stream.

"If Internet were a public utility in Seattle, everyone would have access," Roach said. "There's just no limit to the things that could shift in our city if we had that access."

Making Internet a public utility could allow for better reliability, Roach said. The impact of construction crews accidentally cutting a fiber-optic line in South Lake Union, for example, might have less impact if there are more safeguards.

Restless crowd wants Tacoma to keep control of Click network by Kate Martin, News Tribune

People are passionate about connectivity, and believe that there are may benefits beyond the bottom line. It's important that elected officials realize this before they make long-term deals that will impact their constituents. 

 

Oh, ALEC...

Phone Company Refuses to Stop Denouncing ALEC’s Telecom Policy Credo Mobile said it will not comply with the conservative group's cease-and-desist demands by Dustin Volz, National Journal

Anti-municipal broadband group tries to silence a critic ALEC sent cease-and-desist to wireless carrier, which refuses to comply by Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica

ALEC Threatens To Sue Critics That Point Out It Helps Keep Broadband Uncompetitive from the sloppy-denial dept by Karl Bode, TechDirt

Mesh Networks: They Are Out There

There are probably more mesh Wi-Fi networks operating in the U.S. than most of us realize. They require only one hard-wired connection to the Internet and there are many industrious, tech minded people out there who have the skills to set up this self-healing technology, though they are still working out the kinks.

A mesh network allows devices to engage each other without going through a central point. If I want to use my cell phone to call the cell phone of someone standing 10 feet away from me, the signal may travel thousands of times farther than it would have to because a cell phone company wants to track minutes, collect data, and more. In a mesh network, the two devices would just talk to each other without intermediation. 

A recent Technical.ly article, explores a dozen communities that are using the technology to serve local residents.

The article provides some basic info on these local mesh networks:

We have reported on mesh networks in Poulsbo, Washington, and Ponca City, Oklahoma. An attractive feature for those communities was the ability to expand the network as needed with modest investment. As Technical.ly reports:

Mesh networks help people stay connected while avoiding traditional internet providers. Motivation around the country for creating community mesh networks ranges from a desire for social justice, improved information access during natural disasters or just the need to experiment.

Leverett Starts to Light Up in Massachusetts

The celebrated municipal network in Leverett, Massachusetts, is starting to serve select areas of the community. Customers' properties on the north side of town are now receiving 1 gigabit Internet service from the town's partner Crocker Communications. These early subscribers are considered "beta sites." Telephone service will become available when the network has been fully tested.

According to the press release:

The Town's initial plan was to turn on all subscriber locations at the same time; but interest from pre-subscribers was so strong that the Town's Broadband Committee arranged to offer sequential connections as individual homes are spliced into the network distribution cable. 

We learned about Leverett in 2012 as they explored the possibility of a municipal network. Lack of Internet access and problems with traditional phone service drove the community to take the initiative. Since then, they have been heralded as a model for self-reliance by the press, featured in case studies, and included in a white paper from the National Economic Council and Council of Economic Advisors.

LeverettNet subscribers pay a monthly $49.95 fee to the local Municipal Light Plant (MLP), the agency that maintains and operates the infrastructure. As more subscribers sign-up, that fee will decrease.

For stand-alone gigabit Internet access, subscribers pay an additional $24.95 per month. Stand-alone telephone service will be $29.95 per month. Those services will be $44.95 per month when bundled together.

A subscriber with bundled services of 1 gigabit symmetrical Internet access and telephone service pays a total of $94.90 per month, which includes the MLP fee. 

According to the press release, LeverettNet currently has 600 pre-subscribers, a take rate of 70%. Community leaders expect the network to be completed by August.

For more on Leverett, listen to the Community Broadband Bits podcast episode #113, in which Chris interviewed Peter d'Errico from Leverett's Select Board and the Broadband Committee.

Our Totally Not Ironic Letter of Support for the Comcast/TWC Merger

Last week, the New York Times reported that the “outpouring of thoughtful and positive comments” Comcast has received for their Time Warner Cable proposed merger is much more than it’s cracked up to be. We are shocked, shocked, to learn that organizations receiving a lot of Comcast charity are endorsing its merger plans.

After a hasty staff meeting, we decided that for a mere $250,000 we too, could see the benefits of this monopolistic mega-merger. We know they ghostwrite many of their most favorable letters, but we want to save them the trouble, by providing our own glowing endorsement. 

Dear Chairman Wheeler,

After careful consideration,  we wish to share our strong support for the Comcast/Time Warner Cable merger. Firstly, we want to make absolutely clear that our endorsement of this union has absolutely nothing to do with $250,000 generously donated to our organization, no strings attached, by Comcast. After years critiquing  their slack customer service, their perennially rising prices, and their lobbying to prevent real competition, we now think a merger between the two most hated companies in America is a way awesome idea!

We support the company’s efforts to announce gigabit speeds while charging high enough prices to ensure no one calls their bluff. We hope that the merger doesn’t distract Comcast from its efforts in Philadelphia to never pay municipal property taxes or to ensure low wage workers have no sick days in the City of Brotherly Love. 

We feel certain that this merger won't upset our swell market for cable services and that consumers will have the same level of nonresponsive customer service they’ve enjoyed in the past. In short, we think this is a “marvelous proposal,” now that we’ve got all these Benjamins! It may be bad for hundreds of millions of Americans, but we have hundreds of thousands of reasons to support it!

And let’s face it, once Comcast and Time Warner Cable morph into one monstrous godzilla, fit to swallow 2 out of 3 Americans, customers will most certainly have even MORE to gripe about, making them more receptive to our ideas for locally owned networks. Here it MuniNetworks.org, we value self-reliance, local control, and job security. Albert Einstein said that if you can’t solve a problem make it bigger. Now, you might say “that wasn’t what he meant,” but relatively speaking, Comcast is writing checks to us, not his estate [editor's note: verify Comcast hasn’t paid off Einstein’s estate].

There are at least 250,000 reasons that we now recognize how much Comcast Cares. It really is a “tremendous community partner.” We think of Comcast as being the 1% of corporations because, like Standard Oil, it gives some of its vast monopoly-generated wealth back to us in the form of pay-to-play philanthropy. You really have to look no further than their Internet Essentials program for evidence of their eagerness to do as little as possible while appearing to give a damn.  

We would go on, but now we can afford to take the whole office out to lunch. Do you know how many tikka masala lunches we can get with $250,000?! It doesn’t get much better than this at a small nonprofit working on a shoestring budget!

So, Chairman Wheeler, to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, now that we’ve established what this is, we’re ready to haggle over a price.

Comcast, we’ll take the check in one lump sum rather than monthly installments. Thank you!

(In)Sincerely,

~Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance

 

Improving Mid-Atlantic Internet Access - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 146

When we last wrote about the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative, it was a coop focused on open access middle mile connections. Now it has become the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation and is starting to work on some plans to expand open access last mile access.

This week, we speak with MBC President and CEO Tad Deriso to learn more about their history and current approach. We discuss how they got started financially and lessons for other middle mile open access efforts.

We also discuss their plan to expand the model to last mile businesses and homes in Martinsville in southern Virginia. And along the way, we learn how incumbent providers react differently to open access in the middle mile than in the last mile.

Read the transcript from our discussion here.

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

This show is 22 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 previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Thanks to Persson for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Blues walk."

Gigabit Cities Live in Atlanta on May 13th and 14th

On May 13th and 14th get y'allselves to Altanta to attend Gigabit Cities Live 2015. The event will bring together members from the public, private, and non-profit sectors to explore how gigabit networks are changing local communities. 

From the event summary:

Gigabit Cities Live 2015 will deliver a highly ‘immersive’ experience for attendees, exploring everything from the infrastructure required to deploy ultra-high-speed networks to the applications these networks are enabling to how gigabit networks will transform communities.

... Meet decision-makers from all aspects of the Gigabit Cities ecosystem – from service providers to urban leaders to technology vendors to applications developers and more – to learn about different approaches and business models for gigabit network success.

Hear thought leaders, see new products and services and learn from peers and solutions providers, all under one roof.

Chris will participate in a panel discussion, Open Access and the Future, on the morning of Thursday the 14th, time to be determined.

This panel session focuses on Open Access broadband networks, the provision of infrastructure to competing carriers that serve end users. Open Access is one of the most talked-about concepts in the broadband and gigabit city community today. Panelists will provide insight into open access models and the treatment of passive broadband infrastructure as a mechanism to encourage competition on the local level, and spur economic investment and development.  This includes successful public-private partnership structures, various models of open access including structural separation and the results of early Open Access network developments in North America. Does Open Access ultimately deliver a vibrant, competitive marketplace for broadband access?

The full agenda, still being refined, is available online. You can also register online; the event will be held at the Westin Peachtree. Use the discount code "ILSR" and you will not have to pay the conference registration fee if you are attending as a normal attendee. Vendors will get a discount from the registration.

Light Reading, which is running the event, has secured a special rate for rooms at the Westin. Hurry though! Those rooms are nearly filled and the discount will expire very soon. 

Community Broadband Media Roundup - April 12

Community Broadband News Around the Nation:

Colorado

Community and candidates react to Grand Junction election results by Lindsey Pallares, KJCT-TV

“It’s an indication that people really want to see us have better fiber in this city so we'll step back as a city council and see what are next steps to go forward,” says Mayor Phyllis Norris.

Connecticut

Connectict is taking steps to become the nation's first gigabit state. You can also check out our Community Broadband Bits episode 118 for more on how they're doing it.

At Least One State has a (Fiber) Backbone by Susan Crawford, Backchannel

Who’s on track to get citizens high-speed Internet? Hint: it’s the only state with the word “connect” in its name.

How Connecticut set itself up to be the first gigabit state by Colin Neagle, Network World

Georgia

PTC to get into fiber-optic broadband business? by Ben Nelms, The Citizen

Maine

New group forms to support faster Internet in Maine by Darren Fishell, BDN Staff

Dickstein said the group has been organizing for several months in advance of the legislative session that includes about 35 bills dealing with broadband expansion in the state. Learn More: mainebroadbandcoalition.org

Massachusetts

On the Grid: last-mile LeverettNet Connections being made to households by Paul Franz, The Recorder 

The lighting of LeverettNet marks the first “last-mile” network to connect to the Massachusetts Broadband Institute “middle-mile.” The fiber-optic network design provides upload and download speeds of 1 gigabit per second.

Shutesbury, Wendell first Wired West towns to reach subscription threshold for high-speed Internet by Mary Serreze, The Republican 

A Decade Later, Mass. Broadband Coverage Gaps Persist by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

It’s time for western Mass. to get up to broadband speed by B.J. Roche, The Recorder

Webb’s commute is a common ritual — people regularly drive to a library or town hall parking lot for a high-speed Internet connection. At night, you sometimes can see us sitting in the passenger seat side of our cars, uploading a work project or downloading a software update, faces lit by the glow of a warm laptop. It’s not just a question of which movie to stream on Friday night, but whether there’s enough satellite bandwidth left this month to watch it.

Minnesota

‘Rural agenda’ without broadband is rural sham by Aaron Brown, Minnesota Brown

This last year has seen a small but encouraging spurt of state investment into rural broadband on the Iron Range, but it was just the starting bell, not the final buzzer on what needs to happen

... I understand that Republicans don’t trust government. That does not excuse action to eliminate efforts to expand broadband without new ideas to replace them. I wrote earlier today about the perils awaiting places like the Iron Range without broadband and economic diversification. The same is true throughout rural Minnesota. As was true 100 years ago, we need leadership and respect, not promises and exploitation.

US Internet's fiber spreads across south Minneapolis by Adam Belz, Star Tribune

“There are good reasons Comcast should be more afraid of USI,” [Chris] Mitchell said. “Comcast competes with CenturyLink around the country. The cable companies have a history of duopoly — of a soft competition rather than hard competition because they recognize that a rough and tumble competition between the two would hurt each more than each is likely to gain.” 

The cable war is coming to St. Paul by Peter Callaghan, MinnPost

CenturyLink aims to bring more competition to Twin Cities cable-TV market by Shannon Prather, Star Tribune

FCC fines CenturyLink $16M over multistate 911 outage by Riham Feshir, MPR News

New Jersey

Village-wide wifi getting close look by Charles A. Peterson, Newark Advocate

"From the standpoint of a community that basically is a knowledge-based community, it would be nice if we had a little faster Internet service available," Wilken said. "When a community earns its bread through knowledge, it's kind of nice to have that kind of high-speed stuff."

Oregon

Google who? Oregon cities want their own fiber networks by Mike Rogoway, The Oregonian/OregonLive

"We realized we're too small for Google to come to us," said SandyNet general manager Joe Knapp.

Budget plans called for signing up a third of the city initially, growing to 50 percent over several years. But Knapp said well over 50 percent of the homes in the city have already come aboard.

Oregon cities look to bypass Google Fiber by building own 1 Gbps networks by Sean Buckley

"They may be a benign company but they would still be a monopoly," said Lake Oswego city manager Scott Lazenby in an article in The Oregonian. "And monopolies charge what they can."

Vermont

Broadband bills take a number in house commerce by Erin Mansfield, VTDigger

“We’re just a huge, underserved region, but we have a lot of kids who can’t do their homework,” said CJ Stumpf of East Randolph. Stumpf said a child in her town was issued an iPad at school and used it as a paperweight at home because he had no Internet access.

Washington

CenturyLink Apologizes for Misleading Customer About Its Gigabit Internet Service by Ansel Herz , the Stranger

Google Fiber

Google Fiber Is More Important Than You May Think by Jamal Carnette, Motley Fool

Google is forcing big broadband providers to boost speeds by Timothy B. Lee, Vox

Other Broadband News

CLIC Sets Muni Broadband Protection Event: Wheeler to Speak at Broadband Communities Conference by John Eggerton, MultiCHannel 

US broadband providers wake up to the need for speed by David Crow, Financial Times New York

What Does It Mean to Be A Gigabit City? Sharing Positive Outcomes Together (SPOT)

In North Carolina, Wilson’s Greenlight gigabit fiber network is doing everything it can to ensure everyone benefits from this important municipal investment. The city-owned network is a key partner in a digital inclusion program, Sharing Positive Outcomes Together (SPOT), which focuses on the children least likely to have high quality Internet access in their homes.

Though the digital divide remains a serious policy challenge, Wilson Greenlight and SPOT demonstrate s that solutions can be inspiring and fun. 

Training With a 4-Dimensional Approach

SPOT is an after-hours educational program focused on children ages 5 to 18 and attracts youth from all backgrounds, including those who are homeless or fostered to those with professional parents burdened by demanding work schedules. Among other components, its mission is to promote an atmosphere of accountability, confidence, and self-esteem. SPOT invites its children to dream, be “ambitious, inspired, high school graduates,” while “addressing and closing society's darker cracks that way too many young lives fall into.” “Leave it at the door and come grow” is part of its motto.

To reach such lofty goals, SPOT uses a four-dimensional approach called “project-based learning.” This New Tech School method requires that all elements of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, math and the arts) are part of the program and must utilize technology. According to SPOT’s Executive Director, Matt Edwards, “Learning is activity-based. Kids learn by seeing, touching, doing, and  incorporating technology into their program … and everything is interactive and Internet oriented with kids.”  Embodying this approach, SPOT recently won a $53,000 grant from the state of North Carolina to realize its 21st Century Learning Initiative. The initiative  will hinge on access to high capacity bandwidth and wireless access throughout its 30,000 square foot former Tabernacle church building. 

SPOT Kids at computers

The  Kids Are Teaching Us

“Let’s be honest,” explained Edwards, 
“When it comes to technology, the kids are teaching us.” Adults can now be a hurdle  to closing the technology side of the digital divide. “We put our kids in a box and think they can’t learn this because they are kindergarteners. I can tell you now. My kindergarteners and first graders probably know more about computers than my high schoolers.” A first grader or kindergartener will be stumped on a project, and “you’ll have another one go over there and show them how to look something up. You just sit back and watch. I mean, it is awesome.” This means in the computer lab, SPOT only needs an advisor or a volunteer, not a computer teacher. 

Putting the World in their Hands and Guiding Them

SPOT’s Executive Director described how his experience in closing the digital divide is on a whole new level. “The kindergartner today, they are going to be able to look at their computer and say ‘Find me (the game) Roadblocks’  and the computer will find it. You don’t need to teach the kids how to use the computers and the keyboards and the mouse, you just need to get them access and guide them on how to learn and utilize them in different ways...Get them the iPad. Put the protections on it and let them go. Our role is to guide.” With high capacity broadband, the world is in their hands. “We make sure they go to the best part of the world.” 

Overall, for SPOT, closing the digital divide is about teaching critical thinking, team work, and providing the bandwidth to keep up with the speed of their young minds. Wilson’s Greenlight community owned fiber network is part of that process by providing SPOT no-cost, 75 Mbps upstream and downstream broadband speeds. 

“Five years ago my grants would talk about the technology component needed to combat the technology divide. I don’t use that terminology anymore. It has changed to how do you use technology properly for advancement of our students and kids to enhance critical thinking … and teamwork. When you go out into the work place, very seldom are you an individual worker. You are going to have to get along with different people, work in groups, and solve difficult problems.”

SPOT’s activity-based, STEAM dimension locks into that teamwork. So the program’s focus is not as much on obtaining one to one computers, but having the children work in teams on whatever the project is. 

Greenlight Logo

And Then, of course, There’s Video

Closing the digital divide also means incorporating video, because “theirs is a world of daily Youtubes.” SPOT gives its children access to Kindle HDs where they can push a button, step back and do a video recording. “We teach them how to do it and work with the teenagers to control the uploading...They love watching themselves run in sports...dancing to music...discussing topics, like elections.”  

According to Jeff Fox, volunteer and IT Director, SPOT’s new 21st century classroom will allow students to beam images from their smart phones and tablets spontaneously to flat screens circling the room. The old divide between teachers and students dissolves. With the devices and the speed, everyone becomes a teacher. “It’s such an opportunity,” said Fox. “I’m hooked.” 

But video, especially uploading, requires much more bandwidth and, according to Edwards, “a third-grader’s mind goes very fast.”

“Greenlight’s symmetrical speeds keep up... most of the time,”  he laughs.  “I mean, [on the old system] there was a time when you could walk away, have lunch, and it would still be loading when you returned. Because Greenlight’s signal is strong, it makes the program stronger in all its facets.” 

This all makes sense to the General Manager of Greenlight, Will Aycock, who notes that enhancing the quality of life in Wilson is part of their mission. “Here is yet another example, where our community-owned network, is SPOT on. We give back to the community to benefit future generations, because we are the community.”

Comcast's Contradictory Conundrum: Title II Tightrope

Comcast must continue to prove growth is a breeze to satisfy stockholders while simultaneously arguing that, gadzooks FCC! how do you expect us to grow under Title II?! As DSL Reports points out, contradicting itself just doesn't work:

At the time [of the FCC's proposal to implement Title II regulations], Comcast CFO Michael Angelakis proclaimed the switch to Title II introduced "higher uncertainty" into the company's broadband investment strategy. Meanwhile, top lobbyist David Cohen was quick to insist in a blog post that we'd see an immediate investment hit should the FCC proceed with its plans:

quote:

"To attempt to impose a full-blown Title II regime now, when the classification of cable broadband has always been as an information service, would reverse nearly a decade of precedent, including findings by the Supreme Court that this classification was proper. This would be a radical reversal that would harm investment and innovation, as today's immediate stock market reaction demonstrates."

DSL Reports points out that the change has not slowed down Comcast's desire to invest or innovate:

So what are we to make of Comcast's announcement that it's making a major investment to push 2 gigabit fiber to 18 million homes before the end of the year, followed by a major DOCSIS 3.1 push in 2016? While more speed to more people is a welcome announcement by any measure, Comcast's pretty clearly interested in charming the regulators currently considering the company's $45 billion acquisition play for Time Warner Cable. 

Comcast must perform a tightrope act to rival the Flying Wallendas to keep everybody happy and achieve its goal of world domination.

Oddly enough, we believe Comcast is lying about both things! Its supposed upgrade to 2 Gbps is smoke and mirrors AND there continues to be no evidence that outlawing paid prioritization will reduce investment beyond the status quo.