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Chris Joins Sarah Morris on Oregon Radio to Discuss Cost of Connectivity

This is the third year the Open Technology Institute (OTI) at New America Foundation studied the cost and quality of connectivity in the U.S. Once again, the results indicate we trail behind peer countries. On November 11th, Chris joined Sarah Morris, one of the report authors, to discuss the report's findings, municipal networks, and how Title II reclassification may change the landscape. They joined Dave Miller for the Think Out Loud program on Oregon Public Broadcasting. 

In addition to detailed data analysis on where the best speeds and prices are,  The Cost of Connectivity 2014 provides reviews of several other papers from sources such as Akamai, the FCC, and the American Enterprise Institute.

Some notable findings from the report:

  • The average cost of plans in nearly every speed tier studied for the report was higher in the U.S. than in Europe.
  • Cities considered speed leaders have consistently increased speed offerings on an annual basis. In places where the speed was not increased, as in Lafayette, rates decreased. Almost half of the speed leaders cities offer gigabit speeds. 

OTI made special note of the success of municipal networks in places where traditional providers are not willing to invest:

Although there are many examples of successful locally-owned networks, we focus on Chattanooga, TN; Bristol, VA; and Lafayette, LA, which now offer some of the fastest and most affordable high-speed residential products available in the country despite the fact that they have some of the lowest population densities among the cities we survey.

All three cities offer gigabit speeds that place them on par with Hong Kong, Seoul, Tokyo, and Zürich in our speed leaders rankings, although the prices vary from city to city, and are ahead of the major incumbent ISPs in the U.S. In fact, the only other provider that offers gigabit speeds in the cities we surveyed is Google Fiber, which sells 1 Gbps service in Kansas City, KS, and Kansas City, MO, for the same price as EPB in Chattanooga, TN. By contrast, Verizon’s top tier is a 500 Mbps symmetrical connection that is available to some residents of New York, NY; Washington, DC; and Los Angeles, CA for about $300/month, which is significantly more than the cost of a gigabit in Chattanooga, TN (around $70/month) or Lafayette, LA (around $110/month) and comparable to the price of the gigabit package in Bristol, VA (around $320/month) but only half the speed.

In general, our research shows that these locally-owned networks tend to deliver better value to their customers when compared on a price-per-megabit basis to competing cable and telecom providers in their own cities.

The show runs just under 30 minutes.

"Envisioning a Gigabit Future" Reminder and Livestream Info

Chattanooga is a destination of choice for gigabit seekers and advocates for local choice, especially on Tuesday, November 18th. Next Century Cities and the Southeast Tennessee Development District will convene a field hearing titled "Envisioning the Gigabit Future." If you are not able to attend, the event will be live streamed.

Register to stream the event at http://conta.cc/1yRvAjG.

As a reminder, the event will be at The Church on Main in downtown Chattanooga from 9 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. EST.

Speakers will include Mayors, elected officials, and a long list of other local leaders with firsthand experience in bringing high speed access to their communities. 

There is still time to register online to attend.

EPB Working with Department of Energy to Improve Smart Grid

EPB estimates local businesses have saved approximately $50 million by reducing lost productivity due to power outages by 60 percent over the past two years. Those figures are impressive but Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) will be working with EPB to raise them even higher.

The Times Free Press recently reported that ORNL will send engineers to Chattanooga to optimize the use of data from the EPB smart grid. The goal will be to increase efficiency even further and to use their discoveries to help other U.S. electric utilities.

"We have to have a more reliable electric system," DePriest said after signing an agreement Monday to work with the Oak Ridge lab on electric grid improvements. "Electricity is essential to our modern way of life and we have to figure out ways to use all the data we are gathering in a quicker and more usable manner."

EPB's smart grid now gathers data in 15 minute increments whereas many utilities that have less sophisticated capabilities only collect data once or twice a month. EPB's system quickly discovers problems that can balloon into costly mistakes if not detected early.

As more people use solar, wind, or geothermal power, providing electricity or purchasing electricity from consumers becomes more complicated. 

"We need to continue to innovate and get better," said Patricia Hoffman, assistant secretary for DOE's electricity delivery and energy division. "Chattanooga has been a leader and we hope this will help us find ways to make our electric grid more efficient, more flexible and more reliable."

"Envisioning a Gigabit Future" on November 18th in Chattanooga

Next Century Cities and the Southeast Tennessee Development District will host an event on November 18th in Chattanooga entitled "Envisioning a Gigabit Future" at The Church on Main.

The field hearing runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. EST. Participants will hear from panelists who will discuss how and why gigabit infrastructure is quickly becoming a critical component to local community vitality.

From the invitation:

Chattanooga is one of America's first - and leading - truly "gigabit" communities. Although the city's investment and commitment has yielded dividends for the city itself, this is not just an issue of local or parochial concern. The potential for gigabit and next-generation broadband to improve America's communities is a national question, with national implications. 

For example, Tennessee is one of about twenty states that restrict community broadband choice, prompting Chattanooga and Wilson, North Carolina (another such state), to petition the Federal Communications Commission to remove these restrictions so that Chattanooga and Wilson can expand their highly successful networks.

Speakers and panelists will include:

  • Mayor Andy Berke, Chattanooga, TN
  • Senator Janice Bowling, Tennessee State Senate (16th District)
  • Mayor Gary Davis, Bradley County, TN
  • Harold DePriest, President and CEO, EPB
  • Jonathan Taplin, Director, Annenberg Innovation Lab, University of Southern California
  • Tony Perez, Director of the Seattle Office of Cable Communications and President of the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors
  • Aldona Valicenti, Chief Information Officer, Lexington, KY
  • Rick Usher, Assistant City Manager, Kansas City, MO
  • Beth Jones, Executive Director, Southeast Tennessee Development District

You can register online for the free event.

Community Broadband Media Roundup - October 24

On this week’s community broadband media roundup, we have more reverberations from Next Century Cities, a forward-thinking coalition of cities that promises real progress in establishing or restoring local authority for broadband networks. For the inside scoop on the launch, we suggest taking a look at Ann L. Kim’s Friday Q&A with Deb Socia, the executive director of the organization. 

Here’s an excerpt: 

Q: So when you say you work with cities that are either looking to get next generation broadband or already have it, what does that entail?

A: …We are working with elected officials and also employees, like CIOs and city managers and so forth, and the goal is to really help them figure out their pathway. This is pretty hard work and we recognize that there’s always a local context and so we don’t advocate any one way to do this work, but we help cities think about it.

So [are] you gonna work with an incumbent provider, are you gonna build your own, are you gonna work with a private non-profit? How are you gonna make it happen? What are the alternatives for you? And how can we best support you?

Multichannel’s Jeff Baumgartner covered the launch in Santa Monica as well. The bipartisan coalition offers members collaboration opportunities and support for those communities that face incumbent pressure when they announce plans to move forward with publicly-owned broadband programs. According to China Topix’s David Curry, neither Comcast nor Time Warner Cable have made announcements about gig networks, “with Time Warner Cable even go as far as saying "customers don't want 1Gbps Internet speeds", a statement ridiculed on the Web.”  

Rest assured, there will be much more coverage on this organization’s work in the weeks to come. 

San Francisco is catching on to the “Dig Once” strategy, an idea that is known to help build public fiber networks incrementally, and at a huge cost-savings to communities. According to Marisa Lagos with the San Francisco Chronicle, City Supervisor David Chiu is pushing an ordinance that would require public and private agencies that dig up the streets for other work allow the placement of city-owned conduits that can be used for fiber. 

[Chiu] hopes it will allow San Francisco to help bridge the “digital divide” by eventually letting residents and businesses access fast, inexpensive, city-owned broadband service…

“Quality broadband service is no longer a luxury — it’s a necessity for our economy and our education system. You need access to high-speed broadband to compete, just as you needed access to water, roads and electricity in the 20th century,” Chiu said, noting that the United States lags behind smaller countries “when it comes to speed and reliability.”

The Chamber of Commerce, Comcast and AT&T have agreed to stay neutral on the bill, which will most certainly help it move forward.

“There was a time we thought everyone would have free electricity because of nuclear power,” [Chris Mitchell] said. “I think everyone will be paying for high-quality Internet access for the foreseeable future. But the installation of city-owned fiber will allow San Francisco officials to make sure no one is left without high-speed access, if private companies only build out some areas of town, for example.

“This small step will really enable San Francisco to have more freedom in the future to be creative,” Chris Mitchell said. “It won’t be acceptable for some kids to have access to great Internet service and some not to, so this is important to have.”

Chattanooga’s Electric Power Board (EPB) has saved an estimated $50 million for local businesses due to the smart grid over just the previous 2 years. Now, they’re partnering with Oak Ridge National Laboratory to improve efficiency for renewables like solar and wind. The partnership will allow Oak Ridge to help EPB gather and analyze data to find out where abnormalities and problems might arise. 

"Mid-sized Southern cities in the U.S. are not generally thought of as being ahead of the technological curve," [Mayor] Berke said. "The Gig changed that. We are now ahead of the curve, with other cities looking to us as a leader in the Innovation Century."

Arkansas K-12 educators are asking lawmakers to help them get faster broadband connections. Ryan Saylor with The City Wire explains how the cable and telephone company networks may be cost-prohibitive for public institutions, and why the state’s education board is hoping to tap in to public networks. The Arkansas Education Association’s president, Brenda Robinson says the schools are stuck between being mandated to provide digital learning courses and not having the resources. Current law prohibits schools from using more efficient publicly owned networks.

 “[O]ur state will not be able to fulfill our constitutional obligation of providing an adequate education for our children and the next generation will find themselves on the wrong side of the ‘digital divide.'”

Net Neutrality

“If the Internet is to remain an open, accessible platform for the free flow of ideas, we need strong rules of the road in place to guarantee those protections.”

Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, made a strong statement for Net Neutrality this week when he wrote a letter directly to Comcast Executive VP David Cohen asking him to come out much more strongly in favor of Net Neutrality. Sam Gustin of Motherboard had the story: 

Leahy’s letter could increase the pressure on the Federal Communications Commission, which is evaluating whether the proposed merger advances the public interest, to require Comcast to make a strong net neutrality commitment as part of the deal.

It also demonstrates how closely net neutrality is intertwined with concerns over consolidation in the broadband industry. Comcast and Time Warner Cable are the two largest cable companies in the country, and a union between them would create a broadband colossus with immense market power.

And then, Leahy went further. In The Capital’s Eric Hal Schwartz covered Leahy’s second letter, this time to the leaders of AT&T, Verizon, and Time Warner Cable as well. 

Leahy said he is worried that the FCC's upcoming rule changes to net neutrality will let ISPs arrange deals for websites to pay for faster user access. That's something Leahy said he is committed to stopping and he wants the ISPs to make a legally binding promise that they won't ever engage in that practices, regardless of what the FCC rules.

Which brings up an excellent question, says GovTech’s Brian Heaton. What does the FCC’s authority on Net Neutrality really mean? 

Community Broadband Media Roundup - October 10

If the 3 million public comments, the backing of the FCC Chairman, and the support of big tech companies all over the United States wasn't enough, this week we heard more positive rumblings about Network Neutrality, this time from President Obama.

"My appointee, [FCC Chairman] Tom Wheeler, knows my position. I can't now, that he's there, I can't just call him up and tell him exactly what to do. But what I've been clear about, what the White House has been clear about is that we expect whatever final rules to emerge to make sure that we're not creating two or three or four tiers of Internet. 

Of course, whatever the FCC decides, someone will be taking the commission to court. Edward Wyatt of the New York Times sat through 24 hours of discussions this week and concluded, along with other scholars: "Litigation is probably inevitable."

Muni Networks

This week, our own Chris Mitchell traveled to Washington's Mount Vernon for an event highlighting how their municipal fiber network has improved the business climate [pdf]. While in the area, he spoke at two forums in Seattle about municipal fiber networks. The Stranger’s Ansel Herz is skeptical of the city’s glacial pace for change in terms of connectivity. He and Taylor Soper with GeekWire were among those covering the community events:

Seattle may never see better, more affordable connection speeds unless some serious changes happen.

That was the message from Chris MItchell, the Director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative, who spoke on Wednesday evening at City Hall to a group of 50 that came to hear how Seattle could offer more Internet options — including a publicly-funded municipal broadband service, similar to what’s already available in Washington cities like Tacoma and Mount Vernon.

Another Tennessee Republican is questioning the Sen. Marsha Blackburn’s ten+ million dollar elephant-in-the-room. William Neilson Jr. targets Blackburn’s recent Op-Ed this week.

She wants the government to stay out of her state while she (part of the terrible government) tries putting into place her own rules which do nothing other than eliminate parts of the state from competitive broadband.

Here is an idea: If you want the government to stay out of your business, stop allowing businesses to bribe politicians which in turn gets state/local governments to put in place rules that only help a select few, rather than the public. You can’t hate government involvement yet want that same government involvement to help your side thanks to a few thousand dollars in donations.

Meantime, the FCC has a lot of reading to do, and that’s just of the 230+ comments filed in the proceedings that would allow Chattanooga’s EPB to expand its Gig Network outside its current service area. 

And for this week’s Good Question (take note, WCCO’s Heather Brown!) How Come My ISP Won’t Increase Internet Speed and Lower My Bill, Like they Do in Sweden?” asks Motley Fool’s Anders Bylund. 

This last-mile infrastructure and the connecting fiber loops are accessible to a variety of telecoms, cable service providers, and Internet specialists. All of them have equal access to the consumer-facing and core networks, on "equal and non-discriminatory terms… The American model is powered by private, for-profit organizations. On the next level down, consumers are facing a Balkanized patchwork of cable, fiber, and DSL services with minimal competition and zero infrastructure sharing. Flooding or overriding this system with government support would be politically impossible, so we're stuck with this framework. That means focusing on profits over service quality, and there is no incentive at all to lower the cost to consumers.

I mean, it’s no “Why do trees change different colors in the fall.” but it certainly strikes us as a question the media should pursue. 

Astroturf

This week, the Boy Genius Report found a video from “NetCompetition,” a non-profit that claims to promote competition for Internet services, but is actually a front for the telco and cable companies.

“People think that you can compete with the government?” Cleland asks incredulously. “You can’t beat City Hall!”

Cleland asks us to simultaneously believe that these municipal networks are total failures and that City Hall is so all-powerful that it will run cable and telephone companies (that are orders of magnitude larger) out of business. BGR offers a smarter take:

If some municipal broadband projects are successes and some of them are failures, doesn’t it make more sense to study them all to see what works and what doesn’t before writing the entire concept off all together? And even if some municipalities do waste a lot of money on broadband projects that go nowhere, isn’t that their right? Aren’t state and local governments the real “laboratories of democracy,” as some like to say?

Cleland has also argued that the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger is pro-competitive. 

Another so-called citizen group is trying rather unsuccessfully to rally their troops against net neutrality this week. Jason Koebler of Motherboard and Joan McCarter with the Daily Kos say “American Commitment” a group run by conservative strategist Phil Kerpen, found 808,363 people in the US to support paid prioritization of the Internet. And all he had to do was lie to them!

Email blasts were sent to hundreds of thousands of people with subject lines that had nothing to do with net neutrality, such as "Only Days to Stop Obama's Takeover."

In the emails themselves, Kerpen called net neutrality "marxist," suggested that maintaining net neutrality would "erase your internet freedoms, upend your right to privacy, censor the content you view on Internet, seize control of e-commerce, keep records of the sites you visit and when, track what you read and for how long and so much more!" 

And, let’s not forget Americans for Prosperity. Kuper Jones chimed in with a few scare tactics of his own on The Hill this week. 

“..municipal networks across the country have had an abysmal track record at best. They’ve left citizens with tremendous amounts of debt and greater tax burdens. Taxpayers in Lafayette, Louisiana as well as eleven cities in Utah can attest to this as they’ve been saddled with $160 million and $500 million in debt, respectively, thanks to broadband boondoggles.”

We would hardly call 1,300 well-paying positions, better connectivity, and competitive pricing a boondoggle, but again, maybe there are multiple definitions of the word out there somewhere we're not aware of. 

Next Century Cities Launch Webcast on October 20

Municipalities are increasingly realizing they need to take steps to ensure fast, affordable, reliable Internet access for local citizens. Some are doing the work themselves with publicly owned projects while others seek public-private partnerships. In order to capitalize on collaboration, a group of city leaders are now forming Next Century Cities.

On October 20, 2014, they will webcast the official launch from Santa Monica at 9:30 a.m. - 1 p.m. PT / 12:30 p.m. - 4 p.m. ET. From the announcement:

We're proud to announce the official launch of Next Century Cities. Next Century Cities is a new, city-to-city collaboration that supports community leaders across the country as they seek to ensure that all have access to fast, affordable, and reliable Internet. Founding Partners represent dozens of cities from across the United States.

On October 20, we will be officially launching at Cross Campus in Santa Monica, CA. Our event will bring together mayors from communities across the country, as well as successful technologists who have helped to implement and run some of the nation's most impressive broadband networks. We're proud to host mayors and leaders from across the country for a series of thought-provoking discussions about how high-quality broadband Internet has begun to empower American communities.

Featured speakers will include

As part of the event, Susan Crawford will moderate a panel discussion with Mayors and city leaders from a variety of communities.

The event will also include a panel discussion moderated by Christopher Mitchell with information and innovation leaders from the cities of Santa Monica, Boston, Kansas City, Portland, Raleigh, and Lafayette.

You can register online for the free event.

Christopher Libertelli From Netflix Joins CLIC Board

The Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC) has announced that Christopher Libertelli of Netflix has joined the Board of Advisors. Libertelli joins a group of policy leaders, including ILSR's Chris Mitchell, to advance the rights of local communities to have authority over their own broadband decisions.

From the CLIC announcement:

Mr. Libertelli has been Vice President of Global Public Policy at Netflix since December 2011. During his time at Netflix, he has been a champion for a variety of internet policy issues including efforts to increase competition among internet providers. Prior to joining Netflix, Mr. Libertelli managed Skype’s government relations programs in the U.S., Canada, and Latin America.

Netflix has been a strong and consistent supporter of local internet choice. 

Netflix has been very helpful in advocating for the right of communities to build their own networks if they so choose. They filed comments [pdf] in the Wilson and Chattanooga petitions and have been listing some of the larger municipal networks in their monthly speed rankings. We are very grateful for their assistance in these important matters.

Local Businesses Suffer in Tennessee as State Prevents Chattanooga Expansion

As our readers know, the FCC is currently considering petitions submitted by Chattanooga and Wilson, North Carolina. Both communities want the ability to expand their ability to offer advanced telecommunications services, contrary to existing state anti-muni laws. As we glance through the comments, we notice that ISPs, advocacy groups, and local governments are not the only commenters with a vested interest in the outcome. 

There are also compelling stories from individuals, local businesses, and organizations that are looking for better options. In some cases they have one provider but are unhappy with the service so support municipal network expansion. In other cases, they have dial-up (or no service at all) and are maddeningly close to an EPB or Greenlight connection but state restrictions forbid service to them.

We recently spoke with Joyce Coltrin, owner of J & J Nursery located on the edge of Cleveland, Tennessee, in Bradley County. She is about 32 miles from the heart of Chattanooga but only 3/8 mile from the edge of the EPB fiber optic service area. Her only choice for Internet at her nursery is AT&T dial-up. Joyce tells us:

"I could walk right to it - it is the closest provider and we don't have any broadband access!"

Joyce submitted comments early in the proceedings. She choose to send her comments via snail mail because her email is so unreliable.

For the past 15 years, Joyce and other people in her community have requested better service from AT&T. They were told repeatedly it would be 3 months, 6 months, 9 months until they would get upgrades but it never happened. They finally decided to look for connectivity elsewhere. Joyce and her neighbors approached their electric provider, Volunteer Energy Cooperative, in the hopes that they could work with EPB to bring services to the area. Volunteer and EPB had already discussed the possibility, but when the state law was passed that prevented EPB from expanding, the efforts to collaborate cooled.

Joyce uses her cell phone to access the Internet while she is at work. Like some of the other business owners in Cleveland, Joyce pays $200 - $300 per month because she is constantly running over data caps to conduct business. There are others who live or work in areas near her that do not have cell phone coverage.

Another local business owner that runs a poultry business almost lost a large number of chicks when their alarm system, dependent on wireless Internet access through a Verizon "MiFi" personal hotspot, failed during cold weather.

Joyce does not plan on expanding to an online store but she finds it difficult to adhere to state business regulations without better connectivity. For instance, she must do business taxes online from home, where she has a little better Internet access.

She knows that Tennessee's anti-muni laws came from giant cable and telco lobbying efforts. She also recognizes the negative impact it is having on Cleveland. In her comments to the FCC, Joyce writes:

College students drive to McDonald's to use Wi-Fi and work from their cars to do homework and projects. This situation is choking business and making our children third class citizens.

I have always been for free enterprise, but when some businesses win due to unfair protection, free enterprise dies.

To read the rest of Joyce's comments, visit the FCC website.

Local Tennessee Communities Rally Behind EPB

As the FCC contemplates the fate of the Chattanooga EPB's ability to expand to surrounding communities, some of those Tennessee communities are publicly announcing their support. The Town of Kimball and Marion County, both part of the Chattanooga metro area, have passed resolutions asking state legislators to reconsider Tennessee's anti-muni law.

The Times Free Press reports that Kimball's Board of Mayor and Alderman unanimously and officially asked their state officials to introduce legislation enabling local authority. They requested action as early as the next legisaltive session.

Marion County passed a similar resolution in August - also unanimously. According to Kimball's City Attorney Bill Gouger:

"It is a situation where there are providers out there who would like to extend fiber-optic cable and high-speed Internet-type systems throughout our county," Gouger said. "The simple fact is, right now, our state laws make that really difficult to do, if not impossible."

County Mayor David Jackson is reaching out to the other municipalities in Marion County to increase support. From the article:

High-speed Internet access is "very important" for the entire county, said Jackson.

"It would, hopefully, give us another edge in getting new industry and other businesses to our county," he said. "It [quality Internet access] is very vital. We've got some industries now that are really struggling because they have limited Internet access."

Gouger said commercial and industrial developments are making high-speed Internet access a "requirement" for setting up shop in rural areas like Marion now.

"If we can't get those types of things throughout our county, it's going to disqualify us from some future growth," he said. "That's the whole purpose of this resolution."