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Seattle reporters interview Chris Mitchell about broadband feasibility study

With the release of the city of Seattle's community broadband feasibility study, media outlets turned to ILSR and our own Christopher Mitchell for context, and to help uncover what can be done to help improve connectivity for all Seattleites. 

The same week, Christopher was invited to the city by Upgrade Seattle to help launch their initiative. Below are some selected publicity highlights from Seattle. 

KUOW's "The Record" with Ross Reynolds. How can Seattle get affordable broadband Internet  

KEXP's "Mind Over Matters" with Mike McCormick. Video is below. "What is Seattle's Next Step?" You can also listen to the Audio version here.

GovTech: Colin Wood interviewed Chris for his June 12 article Muni Broadband Goes Mainstream.

“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.”

CrossCut.com: Amelia Havenec covered the lunch & learn conversation between Chris and Upgrade Seattle organizer Hollis Wong-Wear. Following setbacks, municipal broadband supporters continue urging action

“The focus should be on the people who are not connected, the people who are left behind,” Mitchell responded. “Low income people pay $10 a month for Comcast. But you can only connect one device per household. To make sure everybody has a basic connection at home, there’s a $5 million budget to bring one-gigabit, fiber-to-the-premises internet access to tens of thousands of single-family homes in Beacon Hill, Central District, and Queen Anne. With all the transportation planning right now, it’s a good time to identify a fiber conduit in the ground.”

GeekWire: Taylor Soper interviewed Chris as well. The two talked about how the debate over municipal broadband echoes the debate over whether to electrify cities in the 20th century. Municipal broadband in Seattle? New group lobbies city for public Internet

“The big electric companies had formed into giant monopolies, not unlike the monopolies we deal with today with Internet,” Mitchell said. “They repeatedly claimed that local government could not operate a municipal electric grid and said it would end up in failure and disaster. As you know in Seattle, that’s not true. We’ve seen local government take technology of the day and craft it so everyone benefits from it.”

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KeepBTLocal Working on Plan to Purchase BT

Burlingtonians love their municipal network. We have reported in the past that, prior to the sale of the network to Blue Water LLC, a group of locals organized to create the KeepBTLocal cooperative. Recently, the organization reaffirmed its commitment to purchase the network when it goes up for sale, a condition of the Blue Water LLC transaction.

A customer satisfaction survey in April revealed that BT customers are more than twice as satisfied with their provider as those obtaining service from competitors. The VTDigger reported survey results:

· 87% customer satisfaction with BT’s Customer Service;

· 24% of customers chose BT’s services after being recommended by a friend or family member; and

· General impression of BT by non-BT customers saw a 10% “positive” increase over their 2014 impression.

The survey also reported that customers with other providers were 40% satisfied with their service.

BT offers 150 Mbps for $55 per month and gigabit service for $85 per month or $70 per month with a 12 month contract. All speeds are symmetrical.

It has been a long road for BT after prior city leadership covered up years' worth of cost overruns creating serious financial difficulties for the community. Eventually, CitiBank filed suit to recover the $33 million Burlington owed. The two settled and Burlington eventually transferred ownership to Blue Water with the city still leasing. The ultimate goal for the city is to sell the network. Enter KeepBTLocal.

According to a June VTDigger article, the coop has been working with a former telecommunications industry executive now working as a consultant. They are developing business and acquisition plans to purchase the network when it goes up for sale within the next few years.

Andy Mortoll, Chair of the Board of KeepBTLocal told VTDigger:

“It’s just so important for so many of us in Burlington to keep Burlington Telecom a local, community-owned asset,” Montroll said. “If the city is going to sell it, we want to be the ones to acquire it on behalf of the residents.”

KC Fiber Innovates in North Kansas City - Community Broadband Bits Episode 157

Every now and then, we stumble across something, read it twice, and then decide we need to verify it. In North Kansas City, a municipal fiber network operating in partnership with KC Fiber, is delivering a gig to residents at no ongoing charge after a reasonable one-time fee.

To get the story, our interview this week for Community Broadband Bits is with Brooks Brown, Managing Partner of KC Fiber. KC Fiber is now running the North Kansas City municipal fiber network, liNKCity.

The network delivers a free gigabit to the schools and after a one-time fee of $50-$300 (depending on desired connection capacity) residents can get a high quality fiber Internet connection with no additional charges for 10 years.

KC Fiber is not your ordinary ISP, coming from the data center world where it does business as Data Shack. We discuss how this background makes it easier for KC Fiber to offer the gigabit at no ongoing cost in our interview.

Read the rest of our coverage of North Kansas City.

Read the transcript from our conversation here.

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

This show is 16 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."

Ketchum Will Install Conduit Only; Cox's Role?

In Idaho, Ketchum appears to have abandoned its flirtation with a municipal fiber optic network, choosing instead to lay conduit as a way to encourage private investment. The decision is an interesting result that suggests incumbent Cox Communications has considerable power over local decision making.

Readers may recall how in May 2013 the local broadband advisory committee booted Cox representatives off the roster. Residents began to receive telephone calls which amounted to push polls from the incumbent cable provider; the then-Mayor would would have none of that. Even though communities leaders had not stated they were considering a municipal network, they were put off by Cox's underhanded approach.

Since then, the administration has changed and it appears this time Cox has successfully shanghaied the decision. Cox is back on the committee establishing a plan and pressing for the result we would expect. From a Mountain Express article:

Guy Cherp, vice president of operations for Cox Communications, was part of the strategic planning committee. He said the group concluded that the city should not become a public Internet provider, as the cost would be exorbitant and high bandwidth is not needed by most Wood River Valley businesses. Those who desire it, he said, can pay for private installation—and several local businesses do.

Ketchum’s Internet service is as good as it is anywhere, Cherp said—speaking to the 2013 Magellan report, which stated that traditional broadband users complained of inconsistent speed and reliability, as well as slower service during peak Internet times.

“The notion that Ketchum is lagging behind, we don’t see that,” he said.

In May, voters passed a water revenue bond to replace the city's old and leaking Springs water line. Certainly this need also influenced community leaders' decision to forego investment in a fiber network. The city will install conduit in the open trench when that line is replaced. Recently, City Council approved $7,000 to install conduit in open trenches resulting from construction under two main streets in the downtown area. Ketchum will continue to deploy conduit whenever the opportunity arrives:

“The city’s role is to facilitate installation of the infrastructure for future broadband,” Mayor Nina Jonas said in an interview. “That occurs through installing empty conduit with new construction, co-locating conduit when there is an open trench and making available the Ketchum Springs lines once they’re abandoned.”

Even though Cherp says that Cox "doesn't see" the problems caused by lack of high capacity connections, local entrepreneurs do. From the Mountain Connect article:

George Golleher, owner of Bigwood Bread Café, chose to install fiber-optic cables under his second Bigwood Bread restaurant in the light industrial district when it was constructed last year, using Cox Communications as his provider.

No wonder they don't see it - it is more profitable to wait until business owners like Golleher point it out the need.

“It’s the wave of the future, I’d be crazy not to do it,” [Golleher] said. “I’d rather do it now than retrofit it later.”

Though we believe it is smart for communities to place conduit wherever possible, we fear that communities that stop with conduit are limiting future investment and competition. Conduit is limited -- perhaps a few providers can lease it to expand. But when local governments populate the conduit and lease the fiber, they can enable far more investment and prevent a single firm or two from creating scarcity.

Municipal Networks and Economic Development

Economic Development and Community Networks

When a community invests in a municipal broadband network, it often does so because it hopes to reap economic benefits from the network. Much has been written about the positive relationship between municipal Internet networks and economic development, including a White House report published in January 2015. Municipal networks create jobs by serving existing businesses and attracting new businesses to local communities, increase productivity by allowing individuals to telecommute and work from home, support advanced healthcare and security systems, strengthen local housing markets, and represent long term social investments in the form of better-connected schools and libraries. They also create millions of dollars in savings that can be reinvested into local communities. 

When municipalities choose to deploy fiber networks, they introduce Internet services into the community that are not only significantly faster than Digital Subscriber Lines (DSL) and cable, but more reliable. With fiber connections, businesses and individuals are far less likely to experience temporary blackouts that can harm their ability to provide services to customers. And because these networks are locally-owned and operated, business owners do not have to spend hours on the phone with an absentee Internet Service Provider like AT&T in the (albeit unlikely) event of a problem. 

Community Broadband Networks and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance have catalogued numerous examples of economic development achievements that have occurred as a result of cities and counties deploying a municipal broadband network. Below, you can find a wide range of articles, studies, blog posts, and other resources that speak to the economic successes enabled by municipal networks, organized by topic:

* Job Creation

* Attraction of New Businesses

* Expansion of Existing Businesses

* Home-based Productivity 

* Healthcare, Education, and Research

* High Tech Industries and Entrepreneurship

* Savings 

* Property Values 

* General Resources

In West Texas, "Hub City" Conducts Fiber Feasibility Study

A feasibility study conducted by the Lubbock Power & Light (LP&L) Electric Utility Board this April discussed several potential benefits of installing a fiber optic cable in the City of Lubbock, Texas. Charles Dunn, a member of the Utility Board, proposed installing fiber optic cables alongside the city’s utility lines, which are currently being buried underground as part of a three-phase, $1.9 million downtown redevelopment initiative

A fiber optic cable, Dunn contended, could increase Internet speeds hundredfold (from a max speed of around 10 Mbps to one above 1 Gbps), attract high tech companies to the city, and induce Texas Tech University students to stay in Lubbock after they graduate. In Lubbock, where Internet speeds run about 35 percent slower than they do in the rest of the state, a fiber network could be a boon for businesses and residents alike.

According to the April feasibility study, the fiber project might not even eclipse $100,000. LP&L would shoulder the costs of the project by drawing from its own budget. Both Dunn and LP&L director of electric utilities, David McCalla, believe that fiber would greatly benefit the community.

CEO of McDougal Companies, Marc McDougal, also argued in favor of the installation of the cable. From Fox 34 News:

Quite honestly, it would give us something that very few cities have... It would give us a huge advantage in another market to recruit businesses for downtown Lubbock. 

If plans to build the network were to move forward in Lubbock, LP&L would not be able to immediately offer Internet access to customers because of state law discouraging municipalities from offering telecommunications service. Though a Texas Utilities Code prohibits municipalities from offering telecommunications services to the public, that restriction does not appear to apply to Internet service (which is why AT&T a decade ago unsuccessfully tried to explicitly revise the barrier to include Internet access). The municipality would almost certainly have to defend its interpretation of the law in court, work with a private provider to offer services, or petition the FCC to overturn the current state law

While many municipal networks are located in smaller towns and rural areas, Lubbock seems to be an ideal mid-sized city for a high-speed municipal fiber network. Nicknamed the “hub city” on account of the key economic and educational role it plays in the South Plains region of West Texas, a foray into fiber optics has the potential to turn Lubbock into a hub for local self-reliance, as well.

From FOX 34

Chanute's FTTH Project on Hold Indefinitely

Changes in leadership in Chanute have put the community's FTTH plan in suspended animation. In April, the City Commission decided to delay financing shortly before the scheduled bond sale. It is unfortunate that residents and businesses will lose the opportunities the fiber deployment would bring. Nevertheless, they deserve the right to make their own choices, good or bad.

The community of Chanute deployed a network incrementally with no borrowing or bonding in order to improve efficiencies, save public dollars, and control connectivity for municipal facilities. Local schools and colleges, struggling to compete, began taking advantage of technology in the classroom and expanded distance learning. The network eventually created a number of economic development opportunities when community leaders started providing better connectivity to local businesses. We told Chanute's story in our 2013 report "Chanute's Gig: One Rural Kansas Community's Tradition of Innovation Led to a Gigabit and Ubiquitous Wireless Coverage." 

Chanute made history when it was the first municipality in Kansas to obtain permission from the Kansas Corporation Commission to issue bonds for the project. They also became the first municipality in the state to seek and receive "eligible telecommunications carrier" (ETC) status. Chanute was awarded over $500,000 in Rural Broadband Experiment Funds from the FCC. Whether or not they will still be able to take advantage of those funds remains a question. After taking action and putting so many of the necessary pieces in place, it is disheartening to see the plan abandoned by politicians.

Regardless of the future of the FTTH project, Chanute has the infrastructure in place to encourage more economic development, connect community anchor institutions, and allow the community to control its own costs. The FTTH project is still a possibility.

You can learn about the origins of Chanute's network in episode #16 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Longmont's NextLight Video: A Brief Look at the Network and the Community

When we talk to municipal network leaders about lessons learned, they often tell us that marketing is an area where they feel a particularly vulnerability. Whenever we see a great piece of marketing from a municipal network, we like to share it.

When Longmont rebranded its FTTH network under the name NextLight, they released this awesome video. Check it out!

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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."

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.