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Lafayette Congratulates Wilson; Offers Support After FCC Ruling

When the FCC announced its intention last week to neutralize the negative impacts of Tennessee and North Carolina anti-muni laws, celebrating reached far beyond Chattanooga and Wilson. In Lafayette, home to LUS Fiber, City-Parish President Joey Durel took time to write a supportive letter to Wilson's Mayor Bruce Rose.

We reproduce the text of that letter below. As Durel points out, the two communities have strong similarities and the victory in Wilson has also reached Lafayette. Durel notes that a community's decision to better its connectivity should always be a local choice, that partisanship is not a natural part of the equation, and he encouraged Rose to "stay strong."

Dear Mayor Rose:

As Mayor of Lafayette, LA, a city that proudly provides electric and communications services to our businesses and residents, I want to congratulate you, your colleagues, and your constituents on your achievement in delivering world-class Internet services to the residents and businesses of Wilson - and on the strong endorsement you received last week from the Federal Communications Commission.

As in Wilson, the Lafayette community has been united in our support for high-capacity broadband connectivity to the Internet as an essential tool of economic development and as a means of securing our community's economic future. While some will use any means possible to distract you from achieving your goals for your community, our deeply conservative electorate has consistently supported our electric utility's great achievement in building a future-proof broadband Internet infrastructure, and this support has been consistently bi-partisan. My Democrat colleagues have joined me and my fellow Republicans in insisting that we in Lafayette should have the right to choose our broadband Internet future. We here in Lafayette will determine how our community engages this essential economic development tool, and we will not have our economic future dictated to us by others.

As you in Wilson have, we have seen the increased politicization of the local Internet choice issue in Washington, and we regret that it has. At the local level, in our community, this is not a partisan issue and we have resisted letting it become one. Like you, we do not believe this issue is about politics or partisanship or electoral politics or the public versus the private sector. Rather, it is about strengthening America, local self-reliance and the opportunity of our citizens to live in a community with all the same opportunities - for jobs, education, health care, public safety, and much more. Wilson, like Lafayette, has built a network that ensures that your community will be second to none in these respects. Congratulations to you for taking this important step, you are obviously interested in doing the right thing for your citizens, so stay strong. And, please feel free to contact me anytime, I've been in your shoes.

Sincerely,

L.J. "Joey" Durel, Jr.

City-Parish President

Lafayette Consolidated Government

Blackburn and Tillis Introduce Bill Aimed to Undo FCC Decision to Restore Local Authority

Last week, the FCC made history when it chose to restore local telecommunications authority by nullifying state barriers in Tennessee and North Carolina. Waiting in the wings were Rep. Marsha Blackburn and Senator Thom Tillis from Tennessee and North Carolina respectively, with their legislation to cut off the FCC at the knees. [A PDF of the draft legislation is available online.]

Readers will remember Blackburn from last year. She introduced a similar measure in the form of an amendment to an appropriations bill. Blackburn has repeatedly attributed her attempts to block local authority to her mission to preserve the rights of states. A Broadcasting and Cable article quoted her:

“The FCC’s decision to grant the petitions of Chattanooga, Tennessee and Wilson, North Carolina is a troubling power grab,” Blackburn said. “States are sovereign entities that have Constitutional rights, which should be respected rather than trampled upon. They know best how to manage their limited taxpayer dollars and financial ventures."

Thom Tillis, the other half of this Dystopian Duo, released a statement just hours after the FCC decision:

“Representative Blackburn and I recognize the need for Congress to step in and take action to keep unelected bureaucrats from acting contrary to the expressed will of the American people through their state legislatures.”

Considering that networks in Chattanooga and Wilson are incredibly popular and an increasing number of communities across the country are approving municipal network initatives through the ballot, it is obvious that Tillis is rather confused about the expressed will of the American people. He needs to sign up for our once weekly newsletter!

No doubt the decision will be tied up in court proceedings for some time to come as state lawmakers attempt to control what municipalities do with their own connectivity decisions.

In keeping with the drama of the recent days, I have to say, "The lady doth protest too much, methinks." If Blackburn and Tillis are so convinced the FCC is overstepping, why not let the matter be decided in the courts? They know the law is not on their side, that's why.

We encourage you to contact your elected officials, and let them know that you think about the Blackburn/Tillis bill: "that dog won't hunt," in the words of Chairman Wheeler. The victory of February 26th was a significant first step in a long road to ensuring fast, affordable, reliable Internet for every one. Let's keep the momentum rolling.

Jim Baller is the Senior Principal of Baller Herbst Stokes & Lide, the lead counsel to Wilson and the Chattanooga EPB. You can read Jim's full statement at the firm's website:

“This is an important moment for communities in North Carolina, Tennessee, and other states that have barriers to local investments in advanced communications networks,” said Jim Baller, senior principal of Baller Herbst Stokes & Lide. “Not only has the Commission confirmed that it has authority to remove such barriers, but it has also compiled a massive record documenting the critical role that local Internet choice can play in fostering strong, vibrant communities and in ensuring that the United States will remain a leading nation in the emerging knowledge-based global economy.”

Community Broadband Media Roundup - February 27

This week, the FCC made an historic decision in favor of municipal networks in Chattanooga, TN and Wilson, NC. Chris was in Washington, DC to witness the vote, hear the testimony, and celebrate the hard work of several organizations.

As Brendan Sasso with the National Journal reported, "The issue is one of the most controversial that the FCC will vote on this year. But it was largely overshadowed Thursday by the even more explosive debate over net-neutrality regulations." We have full coverage of both decisions this week. 

Municipal Broadband Decision

Feds Nullify State Laws on City Internet: Net neutrality may get more attention, but the FCC is also making a major push for community Internet service—a priority for Obama. This by Brendan Sasso, National Journal

"The bottom line of these matters is that some states have created thickets of red tape to limit competition," Wheeler said Thursday. "What we're doing today is cutting away that red tape, consistent with Congress's instruction to 'encourage the development of broadband' and to 'promote competition.'"

By granting the petitions, the FCC struck down the laws in those two states, but other state restrictions remain in effect. Other cities looking to build or expand their own Internet projects may soon file petitions with the commission.

FCC Grants Petitions to Preempt State Laws Restricting Community Broadband in North Carolina & Tennessee

By Jim Baller, of Baller, Herbst, Stokes, & Lide, who deserves tremendous accolades for this result. Jim has worked for decades toward this goal. It is not possible to imagine these decisions without him. Thank you Jim.

"This is an important moment for communities in North Carolina, Tennessee, and other states that have barriers to local investments in advanced communications networks.  Not only has the Commission confirmed that it has authority to remove such barriers, but it has also compiled a massive record documenting the critical role that local Internet choice can play in fostering strong, vibrant communities and in ensuring that the United States will remain a leading nation in the emerging knowledge-based global economy."

FCC Votes To Allow Cities To Expand Broadband Networks

By Kate Cox, The Consumerist

Speakers at the meeting all referred several times to the FCC’s Congressional mandate to encourage the deployment of advanced telecommunications nationwide on a reasonable and timely basis — a mandate that, the FCC concluded earlier this year, is not currently being met. Several speakers also made references to chairman Wheeler’s stated goal to protect, encourage, create, and promote broadband expansion and competition.

FCC Votes to Allow Municipal Broadband, Overruling Two States’ Laws: Commission’s move sets a precedent for consideration of similar petitions in future

By Thomas Gryta, Wall Street Journal

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and President Barack Obama have said towns need to be free to build their own networks if they decide it makes sense. Towns that explore the option generally do so because they believe private sector development of broadband hasn’t kept pace with their needs.

FCC Gives Municipal Broadband Providers (and Internet Competition) a Boost

By Joshua Romero, Ieee Networks

“The competitive landscape is pretty bleak,” says Vishal Misra, an associate professor of computer science at Columbia University. He points out that at “true broadband speeds,” some Americans have two broadband providers to choose from, but most have only one (or zero).

When the FCC redefined broadband last month, it did so largely to highlight the lack of consumer choice at higher bandwidths. In general, ISPs prefer to invest in areas where they’ll be the sole provider, as it’s expensive to try to poach customers from an existing provider.

FCC Weighs Overriding state laws to expand broadband access

By Emery Dalesio, Associate Press

For Richard and Brenda Thornton, the FCC decision could mean a big savings. They live less than a mile from the service area for Chattanooga's Electric Power Board, which provides one gigabit-per-second Internet speeds. The Thorntons now pay $316 for landline phone service, Internet and television from wireless hot spots that two telephone companies offered. Their current connection is a fraction of the speed the Thorntons could get for $133 a month for the same bundle from Chattanooga.

The local cable company has refused to extend broadband service to their home, said Brenda Thornton, who likes to trade securities and commodities futures but can't do it because of the slow wireless speed.

"People don't realize how bad it is if you don't have a good Internet. Those people that have it, they don't even realize there's people like us that exist," she said.

FCC overrules state laws to help cities build out municipal broadband: 3-2 vote gives local broadband an important victory

By Chris Welch, The Verge

The FCC's 3-2 vote will serve as a landmark moment that other communities will point to as they try to compete against commercial ISPs and knock down those deeply restrictive state laws… Unsurprisingly, the cable establishment and entrenched ISPs have lobbied against this becoming a trend, with the opposition (and dissenting commissioners) trying to frame it as an aggressive overreach of the FCC's authority.

"We don’t take lightly the matter of preempting state laws," admitted Wheeler. But the chairman made clear this was a situation in which the FCC saw no other choice but to act. "The human faces of those who are condemned to second-rate broadband are a message to all of us.

This FCC Rule Will Matter More Than Net Neutrality Will

By Brian Bergstein, Technology Review

The decision in favor of municipal broadband networks does more than “open Internet” rules ever could to increase competition in a broken market.

FCC trumps state laws on local broadband limits: A 3-2 vote is the first step in allowing municipalities all over the country to offer their own Internet service in the name of competition.

by Marguerite Reardon, Cnet

The reason this regulation is needed, the FCC has argued, is because competition is largely lacking in the broadband market.

The competitive picture looks worse since the FCC earlier this year redefined broadband as a service that delivers download speeds of 25 megabits per second. 

Broadband Laws: Republicans Strongly Dissent From Decision

By: John Eggerton, Multichannel

Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who enthusiastically supported the decision, likened municipal service to a broadband barn raising, an analogy that pleased FCC chairman Tom Wheeler. Commissioner Mignon Clyburn was also strongly supportive. 

FCC overturns state laws limiting municipal broadband

by Grant Gross, PC World

City praises FCC vote to overrule state laws regulating municipal broadband

by David Purtell, Associated Press

FCC Proposal Passes In Landmark Decision; Net Neutrality And Municipal Broadband Win, ISPs Lose

by Michael Justin Allen Sexton, Tom's Hardware

Speaking in support of the proposal, FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn said that "Millions are trapped in digital darkness." Current laws restrict the growth of broadband Internet service, and the lack of competition often results in service fees being much higher than is acceptable. "Break down barriers to infrastructure investment so that no American where they live, no matter their economic status, will be stuck in digital darkness," said Clyburn.

FCC votes to support town of Wilson on municipal broadband expansion

by Lauren K. Ohnesorge, Triangle Business Journal

Mignon Clyburn, commissioner of the FCC, says current regulations have some stuck in a "digital desert," and that communities like Wilson should not be "denied the ability to respond to the infrastructure needs of their communities, particularly when the private sector has opted not to do so."

Some communities "literally beg" private companies to bring broadband. "Sadly, opportunities are being closed far too often, leaving citizens without broadband and leaders with few meaningful ways to address their needs," she says, calling on the FCC to level the playing field.

FCC votes to enforce net neutrality by regulating ISPs, unleashes municipal broadband

by Sam Oliver, Apple Insider

 

City News: by State

Cities that want to move forward with their own networks have several successful models to look at. Lancaster News in Pennsylvania published this update, and below are stories of several communities testing the municipal broadband waters:

Municipal broadband networks: A short history of plans in 4 cities

 

Arizona:

Vandalism shows internet vulnerability

By Felicia Fonseca, Associated Press

New York:

NYC Will Continue to Lag in Broadband

by Brady Dale, Commercial Observer

While it’s true that New York City’s size makes building a better Internet here vastly more expensive than it is for a Chattanooga or even a Kansas City, it also has economies of scale in its favor. This Thursday, the FCC will consider preempting state laws that forbid municipally owned networks. In other words, there may be many more Chattanoogas moving ahead of Gotham soon.

North Carolina

Wilson, North Carolina And Community Broadband Win With FCC Vote

by Leoneda Inge, WUNC

The City of Wilson floated $35 million in bonds, a move approved by the state, in order to build its community broadband service. Wilson City Manager Grant Goings says they wanted a private partner to help, like Time Warner or Embarq, but those companies said “no.”

“We never set out to be first. Our motivating factor was not to be the first community in North Carolina or one of the first in the southeast to have this fiber to the home infrastructure. Our concern was not being last," said Goings.

FCC should topple NC limits on public Internet networks

by News Observer

Maine:

Why government is trying to boost Maine’s worst-in-the-nation Internet speeds

by Darren Fishell, Bangor Daily News Staff

Proponents say the upside isn’t just attracting businesses. It would allow seniors to age in place using “telemedicine,” meet expectations and needs of people considering moving to Maine, and give a leg up to people and companies already in the state.

The Governor’s Broadband Capacity Building Task Force issued its report in December 2013 making the case for why and how the state should invest in new broadband capacity.

Islesboro voters to consider $3 million for broadband

by Tom Groening, Working Waterfront

Voters will be asked at their May 9 annual town meeting to authorize borrowing $3 million to build a broadband Internet network for the island.

In a front-page opinion piece in the January/February edition of the Islesboro Island News, Arch Gillies, chairman of the board of selectmen, argued in favor of the proposal, asserting that such an investment "is today's equivalent to earlier town decisions to bring the telephone, electricity and cars to Islesboro."

Minnesota:

Mpls. faces tricky questions over cable TV, Internet competition

Minnesota Public Radio 

The question of whether to allow a second cable TV provider into Minneapolis is setting off a contentious debate. Minnesota Public Radio interviewed Chris to find out more. 

Pennsylvania:

Q & A: Lancaster's municipal broadband network

The city expects to save nearly $110,000 a year by no longer having to pay for Internet access, VOIP phone service and air cards for municipal government. Officials also say the new network will allow them to read water meters remotely, which be more efficient than taking manual readings.

Tennessee:

FCC allows EPB service expansion: Gig Internet could expand beyond Chattanooga area

by Mitra Malek, Times Free Press

Broadband battle: FCC, Legislature square off over EPB bid to expand Gig territory

by Dave Flessner and Mitra Malek, Times Free Press

State Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, and state Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, are pushing a legislative proposal again this year to give Tennessee municipalities the freedom to expand high-speed Internet services outside of their electric service area, if local governments request the service.

"We cannot afford to wait with the need as critical as it is today for high-speed broadband service," Bowling said. "We're already behind the curve in many rural areas. Let us come out of the 20th century as small towns and join our sisters that are already in the 21st century with modern-day broadband service."

Muni electric services want restrictions lifted on broadband

J.R. Lind, Nashville Post

"The 21st century version of electrification is high speed broadband, providing the same benefits in both eras: access to modern utilities for more people across the state decided at a local level," TMEPA Executive Director Mike Vinson said. "Just as local electric systems did then, municipal electric broadband helps to spur job creation, encourages innovation, and is a driver for economic growth, all by bringing modern services to their communities."

Currently, eight municipal electrical services — those in Bristol, Chattanooga, Clarksville, Jackson, Morristown, Pulaski, Columbia and Tullahoma — offer broadband service, with Erwin starting service soon.

Tennessee’s Municipal Electric Systems Asking Legislature To Remove Broadband Restrictions

by The Chattanoogan

TMEPA consists of the state’s 60 municipal systems which serve 2.1 million homes and businesses, or 70 percent of Tennessee’s electric customers.  TMEPA is supporting legislation (SB1134 / HB1303) that removes the current limitation on municipal electric broadband providers that restricts broadband service to just its electric service territory.  This change in the law would allow municipal electric broadband to expand to more areas where it is needed if those communities want it, the group said…

“High-speed broadband is the next utility of the 21st century, and municipal electric broadband should be allowed to be an option for more communities across Tennessee,” said Jeremy Elrod, director of government relations for TMEPA.  

He said, "Today’s world has made high-speed broadband vital infrastructure that drives local economies, promotes economic development, increases educational opportunities and outcomes, increases regional and global competitiveness, and allows more opportunities for telemedicine, telework, and a better quality of life.  Communities with fast internet service become attractive for private investment, and communities without it are unable to provide the modern services that businesses and consumers need and want.

Net Neutrality Decision

What Happens Now With Net Neutrality? 

 by Michael Weinberg, Public Knowledge

The rules voted on today will define the debate around an Open Internet for the foreseeable future and establish a strong precedent in favor of robust net neutrality protections going forward. However, for better or worse, they do not bring that debate to an end. While it is unclear exactly what the next step will be, this post is an attempt to briefly outline the possibilities.

Before the Vote:

Several outlets were on top of the decision this week, and if you need background, or to help friends and family understand the issues, we include these articles posted before the decisions came down. 

NYC mayor Bill de Blasio pushes for net neutrality on eve of critical vote

By Jacob Kastrenakes, The Verge

"Major media companies shouldn't be gatekeeping our internet access — speeding up some content, blocking other — simply because they're able to pay for it," de Blasio writes. "The FCC must not allow mega firms to stifle innovation, competition, and public goods through exorbitant price points for the speeds that drive the 21st century economy."

Net neutrality: FCC to vote on tougher rules for Internet service providersSyracuse.com

No fast or slow lanes for Internet?Enid News

FCC net neutrality vote: Why there’s a flurry of eleventh-hour lobbying 

by Jeff Ward-Bailey, CS Monitor

The Federal Communications Commission is expected to vote on Thursday morning to reclassify broadband Internet providers as "common carriers." That would give the FCC the authority to enforce "net neutrality" principles by requiring those providers to treat Internet traffic equally.

FCC set to vote on municipal broadband rules, ‘net neutrality’ by Wesley Brown, Talk Business & Politics

What You Need To Know About Tomorrow’s Votes On Net Neutrality And Municipal Broadband by Kate Cox, Consumerist

How Proposed Net Neutrality Law Could Affect You by Christina Lavingia, Daily Finance

FCC net neutrality Vote Feb 26: Why you should care by Hannah Chenoweth, The Daily Athenaeum: West Virginia University

An open Internet is something that deserves strong advocacy from us all unless we would like to promote unfair practices and give away our freedom to corporations. Internet companies have been adversely affected by monopolistic ISPs for years; protection for these companies is far overdue. With net neutrality, our freedom to access websites and services stays intact.

 

Steve Wozniak declares FCC’s net neutrality ruling a ‘victory for the people’

by Alex Heath, Cult of Mac

“To me, more than anything else, this is a victory for the people, the consumers, the average Joes, against the suppliers who have all of the power and the wealth and make decisions for them and they feel hopeless and helpless,” Wozniak told Bloomberg. “And here 4 million of us signed petitions. It’s an indication that the people can sometimes win. We’ve had a lot of defeats over the years, but once in a while we get a win.”

Comcast-Time Warner:

Now it's Time Warner Cable's turn to insult a customer by Chris Isidore, CNN Money

"We are truly sorry for the disgraceful treatment of Ms. Martinez, and we apologized to her directly. Our investigation showed that this was done by an employee at a third-party vendor. We have terminated our agreement with this vendor and are changing our processes to prevent this from happening again," said spokeswoman Susan Leepson."

Comcast, Time Warner Cable hit with $20 billion racial bias lawsuit Fortune

Comcast Still Sees Time Warner Cable Deal Closing as Planned by Scott Moritz and Kelly Gilblom, Bloomberg

Net Fix: 8 burning questions about Net neutrality by Marguerite Reardon, Cnet

With the FCC set to vote this week on new rules governing the Internet, CNET breaks down everything you need to know about complicated, but critical, issue.

Cable Companies Lose Big at FCC, Barriers to Community Broadband Struck Down

For Immediate Release: February 26, 2015

Contact: Christina DiPasquale, 202.716.1953, Christina@fitzgibbonmedia.com

BREAKING: Cable Companies Lose Big at FCC, Barriers to Community Broadband Struck Down

Two southern cities today persuaded the Federal Communications Commission to recognize their right to build their own publicly owned Internet networks where existing providers had refused to invest in modern connections. The 3-2 FCC vote removes barriers for municipal networks in Chattanooga, Tennessee and Wilson, North Carolina, to extend their high-quality Internet service to nearby areas.  

Said Christopher Mitchell, Director of Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance:

“Cable companies lost their bet that millions spent on lobbying to stifle competition was a wiser investment than extending high-quality Internet to our nation’s entrepreneurs, students and rural families. 

“Preventing big Internet Service Providers from unfairly discriminating against content online is a victory, but allowing communities to be the owners and stewards of their own broadband networks is a watershed moment that will serve as a check against the worst abuses of the cable monopoly for decades to come.”

The FCC decision sets an historic precedent for towns working to offer municipal broadband networks in twenty states that have enacted limits or bans on local governments building, owning, or even partnering to give local businesses and residents a choice in high speed Internet access. Three-quarters of Americans currently have either no broadband or no choice of their Internet provider. 

Christopher Mitchell, the Director of Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, has traveled to over 20 states and spoken with over 100 community groups looking to provide high-quality Internet for their residents. He has also advised members of the FCC on related telecommunications issues in the lead-up to the decision.

For interviews around the FCC decision, please contact Christina DiPasquale at 202.716.1953 or at christina@fitzgibbonmedia.com. To view a map tracking local government investments in wired telecommunications networks and state laws that discourage such approaches, please visit: http://www.muninetworks.org/communitymap.

Municipal broadband networks (munis):

  • Create thousands of new private sector jobsA collaborative muni effort in Georgia between five towns, is credited with bringing over 6,000 new jobs to the region by building and sustaining their network. The muni in Springfield, MO convinced online travel company Expedia to move to the town and has 900 local jobs because their network allowed the company to stay and expand.
  • Protect consumers by offering competitive pricing. During the period of 2007-08, Time Warner Cable increased rates up to 40 percent in some of the areas in Raleigh, NC, while not increasing rates in nearby Wilson—which has a strong muni. Chattanooga’s muni grew from a basic connection of 15 Mbps, when it was first founded, to 100 Mbps today–without raising prices once. The slowest connection available in Chattanooga from the utility is 10 times faster than the average American connection.
  • Provide higher speed Internet that allows for increased business activity. The largest employers in Wilson, NC rely on the municipal broadband network for their transactions. The muni in Springfield, MO, attracted John Deere Remanufactured and the McLane Company to the area. 
  • Do not rely on taxpayer financing, like large private telephone companies. Most municipal networks are financed through methods that do not involve raising taxes: revenue bonds, interdepartmental loans and savings created by ending expensive leased services. Dakota County in MN has saved $10 million over 10-15 years by building their own network and ending leases. Over $2 million in revenues from the Thomasville, GA network contributed to the town’s ability to eliminate its local fire tax.
  • Receive broad support from voters, regardless of party affiliation. Roughly 3 out of 4 cities with citywide munis reliably vote Republican and polling shows that 2 out of 3 Republicans, Independents, and Democrats prefer that decisions about how to best expand their Internet access be made by local governments.
  • Foster the strength of local businesses. Politically conservative communities in Chanute, KS, and Lafayette, LA, have munis that are working on the deployment of fiber networks to encourage economic development by allowing businesses to market themselves and compete online in the global marketplace. Lafayette has added over 1,000 tech jobs in 2014 alone.
  • Expand educational opportunities. The muni in Longmont, CO, is now providing 10 times the bandwidth that their school district previously received from a private provider at an annual savings of $100,000. Munis in Carroll County, MD, and Chanute, KS, have both allowed schools they service to offer new distance learning classes in multiple locations via video streaming. The city of Rockport, ME, partnered with a nonprofit college to bring students upload speeds 200 times faster than Time Warner Cable’s package for the area.

"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.

"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.

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.

ILSR Submits Comments to FCC in Support of Restoring Local Authority

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance recently submitted comments on FCC petitions filed by Wilson, North Carolina and Chattanooga, Tennessee. We have been following the proceedings that may prove to be the tipping point in the movement to regain local telecommunications authority.

Our organization collaborated with eight other groups and two D.C. Council Members to provide detailed comments for the Commission's consideration. Our group supplied examples of the benefits munis bring to local communities. In addition to providing connectivity where the incumbents fail to meet demand, our comments point out that municipal networks encourage private investment. We provide concrete evidence of both.

With our partners, we also addressed the fact that state restrictions like the ones in North Carolina and Tennessee are not needed. Local communities must go through a rigorous, transparent process everywhere before investing. State legislative barriers are the product of intense lobbying from the cable and telecommunications giants.

As we point out to the Commission, municipal networks are an important tool to bring ubiquitous Internet access to the U.S.:

The FCC is tasked with ensuring high speed access is expanded to all Americans on a reasonable basis and to remove barriers to broadband deployment. Local governments have proved to be an important tool in expanding access to high speed Internet access. Both Chattanooga and Wilson have neighbors that publicly want the local municipal network to expand access to them. Both Chattanooga and Wilson are prepared to invest in connecting their neighbors. Restoring authority to local governments, so they may decide for themselves if a municipal investment or partnership is an appropriate way to expand high speed Internet access, will result in a more rapid deployment of high speed Internet access.

We also filed comments alone to provide the FCC a small sample of the support people and organizations have shared with us. Even before the comment period, we heard from local governments and organizations that passed resolutions in favor of local authority, members of the business community that support local authority, and media outlets that endorse local decision making.

From our closing comments:

ILSR stands with local businesses, residents, media outlets, and many others in encouraging the FCC to grant this petition, restoring the capacity of local governments to invest in next generation Internet access or partner to the same effect, if they so choose. We have worked with communities across the nation and recognize that this is not a partisan issue at the local level. It is about jobs, education, and quality of life. Restoring the right of communities to invest in fiber networks will result in faster deployment of fast, affordable, and reliable Internet networks.

Center for Public Integrity Covers Big Telecom Attacks on Munis

The Center for Public Integrity recently published an excellent article worth sharing. In "How big telecom smothers city-run broadband," Allan Holmes describes the money-for-infleunce machine at the state level, connects the dollars, and reveals bedfellows. The article is part of a series investigating the political power of big cable and telecom companies.

If you are a regular at MuniNetworks.org or any other news source covering telecommunications, you are familiar with the renewed push to restore local telecommunications authority that began in January of this year. Holmes provides a little background on the court case that inspired FCC Chairman Wheeler to publicly state that the agency is serious about restoring local authority.

Since those developments, an increasing number of journalists have reported on how we came to have barriers to municipal networks in some 20 states. The revived interest has further revealed that state legislatures are big benefactors of campaign contributions from cable and telecom leaders. "Think tanks" aimed at protecting industry giants and conservative millionaires prove to be at the heart of this payola. Holmes does an excellent job of simplifying the web of political influen$e that dooms millions of people to dial-up, outdated DSL, and aging cable infrastructure.

Holmes follows the story of Janice Bowling, a state senator from Tennessee representing the district that is home to LightTUBe in Tullahoma. When she introduced a bill to allow LightTUBe to expand to serve surrounding communities, she did so because:

…I believe in capitalism and the free market. But when they won’t come in, then Tennesseans have an obligation to do it themselves.

When it appeared the bill might get some traction:

That’s when Joelle Phillips, president of AT&T’s Tennessee operations, leaned toward her across the table in a conference room next to the House caucus leader’s office and said tersely, “Well, I’d hate for this to end up in litigation,” Bowling recalls.

Holmes delves into the Herculean efforts by incumbents to quash municipal network projects in other communities, such as Lafayette, Louisiana. Millions of dollars have been spent on lobbying and lawsuits instead of upgrades to improve services or connect more potential customers.

For the next three years, Lafayette spent $4 million responding to three lawsuits and subsequent appeals from BellSouth, which AT&T bought in 2006, and Cox.

The article addresses the fact that better connectivity leads to better economic development. This is only one of many stories from Tullahoma:

Agisent Technologies Inc., which provides online records management for police departments and city jails, moved to Tullahoma in 2011 because it needed a fast reliable broadband network that had a backup if the connection failed, said David Lufty, the company’s president.

Charter and AT&T couldn’t offer redundancy, but LightTUBe could.

“Since we’ve been here, we haven’t had more than five minutes of downtime in almost three years,” Lufty said.

Holmes compares Tullahoma, where job growth outpaces the state average, to Fayetteville, North Carolina. Fayetteville, struggles to beat down unemployment. All the while existing fiber resources that could be used for local business and residents sits untapped due to a 2011 state law. When a Fayetteville Senator tried to exempt his community through legislative process, he was personally attacked in the Chambers. Fayetteville did not get its exemption.

For Steven Blanchard, chief executive of Fayetteville’s Public Works Commission, prohibiting Fayetteville residents from using the fiber network that’s already there doesn’t make sense.

“Why shouldn’t we be allowed to sell fiber if it runs by everyone’s house?” Blanchard said. “They are already paying for the fiber to be there, so why not allow them use it for telephone and Internet and capture back a lot of the cost they put in to have it there?”

The article offers some powerful graphics comparing services, state laws, and political influence dollars.

A must read! Don't miss it!

Understanding the Wilson and Chattanooga FCC Petitions - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 110

Given the exciting development of the FCC opening comment on petitions from Wilson, NC and Chattanooga, TN to restore local authority to their states, Lisa and I decided to take over this week's podcast of Community Broadband Bits.

We talk about the petitions, some background, and interview Will Aycock from Wilson's Greenlight Gigabit Network and Danna Bailey from Chattanooga's EPB Fiber network.

We finish with some instructions on how you can comment on the record. The Coalition for Local Internet Choice also has commenting instructions and some sample comments.

Read a transcript of this show, episode 110, courtesy of Jeff Hoel.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

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 Waylon Thornton for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Bronco Romp."