Middle Mile vs Last Mile - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 214

As the next President considers how to improve rural Internet access, the administration will have to decide where to focus policy. Some at NTIA - the National Telecommunications Information Administration, a part of the federal Department of Commerce - have argued for more middle mile investment. NTIA oversaw major investments in middle mile networks after the stimulus package passed in 2009.

To discuss the relevance of middle mile investment against last mile investment, we brought Fletcher Kittredge back, the CEO of GWI in Maine. Fletcher has extensive experience with both middle mile and last mile investments.

We talk about whether more middle mile will actual incent last mile investment and, more importantly, how to build middle mile correctly to get the best bang for the buck. Along those lines, we talk about avoiding cherry-picking problems and one of my favorites, how to ensure that rural investment does not inadvertently promote sprawl.

Read the transcript of this episode here.

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

This show is 30 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Roller Genoa for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Safe and Warm in Hunter's Arms."

"YES!" RS Fiber Wins More Recognition

Minnesota's RS Fiber Cooperative is getting well-deserved attention from a variety of sources far beyond the Land of 10,000 Lakes. In addition to kudos from experts in the telecommunications industry, their story was recently shared in YES! Magazine.

Innovative Partnership

On August 1st, the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) announced that RS Fiber Cooperative had received that 2016 Community Broadband Innovative Partnership Award. NATOA President Jodie Miller said of this award and the other 2016 distinctions: “These pioneers were selected based on their extraordinary efforts, achievements and innovation in community-based approaches to broadband technology.” NATOA will present the awards in September at their 36th Annual Conference in Austin, Texas.

Earlier this summer, the communities that belong to the co-op were honored with an award from the Minnesota League of Cities.

YES! Magazine Profiles RS Fiber

Ben DeJarnette from YES! Magazine spoke with our Christopher Mitchell about the cooperative:

“I don’t want to say that everyone can do this, but a lot of places could do it if they had this effort,” Mitchell said. “And I don’t think anyone’s going to have to go through the same level of challenge again, because now there’s a model.”

DeJarnette's article described some the struggles of rural life with poor or absent Internet access based on our report, “RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperative”: farmers unable to share crop data with business contacts; local businesses with no access to online commerce; and school children with no way to complete online homework assignments. The article explains how the RS Fiber project is helping this collaboration of small rural communities overcome the rural digital divide.

logo-yes-mag.jpg

The article also dedicates sufficient coverage to the way the RS Fiber Cooperative is funding their infrastructure build. With no federal funding, and investment from community banks, this project is truly locally grown. From the article:

As long as local demand meets projections, revenue from the broadband network will more than repay government loans, and taxpayers won’t owe a dime. 

“That’s the win-win,” said Chris Mitchell, director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative, who has studied the project. “It’s a model in which local governments can take on the risk if they’re willing, and local banks can get a very reasonable return.”

The Fifth Utility

Lisa Skubal, vice president of economic development for the Cedar Valley Chamber of Commerce spoke with DeJarnette about the roll that high-quality Internet access plays in Cedar Falls, Iowa. “From an economic development standpoint, fiber optic high-speed Internet is the fifth utility…We live in such a globalized society right now that having broadband connectivity is imperative for businesses.” Last year, President Obama visited the community to highlight the potential of publicly owned Internet infrastructure.

The RS Fiber Cooperative network has already attracted a new endeavor to the region. The Minnesota College of Osteopathic Medicine, attracted by the new fiber network, will be operating out of a building in Gaylord, one of the communities that belong to the co-op.

More On RS Fiber

Learn more about how farmers use this new utility and how the co-op has changed life in rural Minnesota in a recent PBS News Hour video, which features RS Fiber and a similar project, in Massachusetts, Wired West.

Get the details on the RS Fiber Cooperative from our report, free to download and to share.

You can also check out our other coverage, including Christopher's interview with Mark Erickson, City of Winthrop Economic Development Authority Director, and Renville-area farmer Jake Rieke in Episode #198 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. We also spoke with Mark and Coop Vice-Chair Cindy Gerholz early in the process during Episode #99. You can find more at the RS Fiber Coop and Sibley County tags.

Community Broadband Media Roundup - August 8

California

Cruzio to launch high-speed Internet pilot project by Jessica A. York, Santa Cruz Sentinel

The move is designed to create a demonstration area ahead of completed public-private negotiations with the city of Santa Cruz to co-develop a new $30-$40 million broadband utility citywide. Cruzio expects to display both the construction methods and business model needed to wire up each participating home and extend its underground fiber optic cable network “backbone” by self-funding the first step.

 

Colorado

Boulder County, Colo., considers putting municipal high-speed broadband on November ballot by John Fryar, GovTech

 

Florida

AT&T fined $106K for overcharging schools in Florida under E-rate program by Sean Buckley, FierceTelecom

 

Massachusetts

Colrain forming new broadband committee by Diane Broncaccio, The Recorder

 

Minnesota

Border-to-Border Broadband working for Southeast Minnesota by Mary Phipps, The Kenyon Leader

Tired of waiting for corporate high-speed Internet, Minnesota farm town builds their own by Ben DeJarnette, Yes! Magazine

Once complete, the RS Fiber network is expected to match the 1 gigabit top speeds of cities like Cedar Falls, a milestone that would make southern Minnesota the envy of rural America. According to recent data, only 55 percent of rural residents have access to broadband internet faster than even 25 Mbps (compared to 94 percent of urbanites). Moreover, the investment already holds promise for boosting the local economy. In May 2015, the Minnesota College of Osteopathic Medicine announced plans to set up services in an old school building in Gaylord—a decision officials said was because of RS Fiber’s infrastructure investment.

 

Tennessee

Google Fiber stalls in Nashville in fight over utility poles by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

bbd-cowboy-piglet.jpg

Study: Rural areas lack broadband by Kelly Lapczynski, Tullahoma News

 

Vermont

Washington groups attacks Burlington Telecom by Cory Dawson, Burlington Free Press

 

Washington

Municipal broadband advocates say Comcast lawsuit proves need for public internet service by Taylor Soper, GeekWire

Devin Glaser, policy and political director of a grassroots group campaigning for a city-owned broadband network called Upgrade Seattle, told GeekWire that “Comcast’s Service Protection Plan was nothing more than $5 a month of 21st Century snake oil, and the Attorney General’s lawsuit is the kind of work we’d like to see from all of our elected officials.”

How Comcast convinced customers to buy 'near-worthless' service plans by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

 

General

Cities, state battle over municipal broadband by Ellie Smith, Bloomberg Bureau of National Affairs

Structuring successful broadband P3s by Shant Boyajian & Fred Kessler - Nossaman LLP, Lexology & JD Supra

The limits of net neutrality by Susan Crawford, BackChannel

Net neutrality is about attempting to limit the power of internet access network operators (like Charter or Comcast) to choose winners and losers among the services that have to use their wires — because, remember, competition is so limited — to reach consumers. It’s a kind of synthetic attempt to keep the operators from favoring their own commercial interests when sending Internet traffic from other people to you (or vice versa).

But the problem is that where network operators don’t have to compete, and use their digital pipes for multiple purposes (like providing their own TV services that feel just like over-the-top video services), it’s so easy for them to act like media distribution companies, slicing and dicing and packaging, rather than transport providers. And ultimately, that kind of behavior is designed to serve their commercial interests. It’s only rational. But it’s harmful to new competitors and ultimately to consumers.

Building a competitive broadband marketplace for rural America by Christopher Mitchell, The Hill

It does not matter if you live in rural Maine or metropolitan Minnesota, high-speed Internet access is an increasing necessity, essential to modernize communities and power businesses. But there remains a large gap between those living in urban and rural America.

Democrats, Republicans and the Internet by Timothy Karr, Bill Moyers.com

Public-private partnerships in municipal broadband Internet by Drew Clark & Peter Merewitz, JD Supra Business Advisor

"Big Sky Broadband Workshop" Set for August 31st - September 1st in Missoula

The National Telecommunications and information Administration (NTIA) will be hosting the "Big Sky Broadband Workshop" on August 31st and September 1st in Missoula, Montana. If you happen to be in the area and keen to learn more about connectivity in the region, plan to attend this free event. Our own Christopher Mitchell will be participating in one of the panel discussions.

From the NTIA announcement:

Broadband is a critical driver of economic growth and prosperity across the country. The “Big Sky Broadband Workshop” will bring together state, local and federal officials, industry representatives, community leaders and other key stakeholders to share real-world broadband success stories and lessons learned from across the region. The summit will also examine the gaps that remain and strategize on what still needs to be done to expand access to and adoption of high-speed Internet services for the benefit of all citizens. 

The event will begin at noon on August 31st in Missoula’s Hilton Garden Inn; there will also be a reception later that evening. Panel discussions will continue the next morning at 9 a.m.

For more details contact Barbara Brown at NTIA, telephone: (202) 280–8260; email: bbrown(at)ntia.doc.gov.

FairlawnGig Connects Two Hotels In Time For RNC

Thousands of delegates, politicians, and media personnel flocked to northeast Ohio in July to attend the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. A lucky few stayed in the bedroom community of Fairlawn at one of two hotels now featuring gigabit Internet connections (1,000 Megabits per second). 

FairlawnGig, the town’s new municipal network, hooked up Hilton Akron-Fairlawn and DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Akron-Fairlawn in time for the convention. Guests could seamlessly stream video, upload content, and communicate with coworkers and family, despite the hotels’ full occupancy. The fiber-optic network will soon be available to residents and businesses across the community. 

More than just the RNC

Fairlawn has a lot to gain from a faster, more reliable network. On a typical workday, the community swells from an overnight population of 7,500 to 40,000, putting a sizeable bandwidth burden on slow-moving incumbent network providers. According to Ernie Staten, Deputy Director of Fairlawn’s Public Service Department in Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 201, a typical connection in Fairlawn measured in at 15 Mbps (Megabit per second) download and 1 Mbps upload before the municipal network.

Incumbent Internet service providers clearly weren’t doing enough for families or businesses in today’s connected economy. As we wrote earlier this year, FairlawnGig will be delivering symmetrical gigabit speeds (download and upload speeds up to 1 gigabit per second) at affordable prices. The ability to send data at high-speed is increasingly becoming a critical feature, especially for business subscribers.

Municipal networks have a profound effect on customer-ISP relationship. The hotels will feature the fastest connection within the Hilton hotel network. Tim Winter, Vice President/Regional Manager of the Hilton Akron-Fairlawn and DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Akron-Fairlawn, was quoted by FairlawnGig: 

“We put a lot of trust into the team Ernie Staten and the City of Fairlawn brought together and we are already seeing the results. Our guests and RNC delegates are getting the fastest Internet service available so they can stay connected to their corporate offices and the rest of the world.” 

Preliminary Study Puts Charles City Back on Track to Digital Self-Determinism

Local officials in Charles City, a town of 7,500 in northeastern Iowa, approved a preliminary study of community broadband interest late last month. The study will determine whether additional funds should be allocated toward a more comprehensive study. This announcement comes on the heels of increased regional interest in the Iowa Fiber Alliance, a proposed multi-community fiber ring. 

The preliminary study will cost the city $18,500 and should be completed before the end of the summer. The Community Broadband Engagement and Education Project seeks to engage key community stakeholders, educate the public on high-speed community networks, and ultimately measure the interest of local residents, businesses, and government leadership. 

Third Time’s the Charm

Local interest in community networks has peaked twice in the past decade. In 2005, Charles City residents approved a referendum to create a telecommunication utility with a 62 percent majority. Under threat of losing revenues to a community network, incumbent Internet service providers (ISPs) promised local officials that they would improve the network. Stopgap measures from Mediacom and CenturyLink marginally improved local connectivity in the short-term, but Charles City residents soon realized that they hadn’t escaped the letdowns of the telecom octopus. 

Waverly, Iowa, a town of 10,000 residents, 30 miles south of Charles City, experienced a nearly identical letdown from Mediacom and CenturyLink in the 2000s, only to launch its own community network earlier this year. For rural county seats like Waverly and Charles City, a community network offers an opportunity to stimulate economic development and improve local quality of life. Historically, Charles City is a manufacturing town. The White Farm-New Idea Equipment Company produced tractors and employed up to 3,000 locals during the 1970s before closing its doors in 1993. With manufacturing jobs leaving town, local officials are looking for new ways to bring jobs to town and revitalize their local communities. 

In 2010, interest peaked again when the city conducted a community broadband survey and discovered strong local support for a municipal network. A 2014 Technology Action Plan assessed and outlined a more connected future for Charles City. City officials realized that Internet technology had changed significantly since 2010, however, and are evaluating their options in light of new innovations.

Munis On The Plains

Iowa is home to more than two dozen municipal networks. Thanks in part to their can-do attitude and their self-reliant streak, Charles City, Waverly, and many other Iowa communities have stopped waiting for incumbent providers and taken control of local connectivity. Charles City officials are enthusiastic about the upcoming feasibility study; council member Delaine Freeseman told Charles City Press that, “very interesting things could come out of this, long-term, for the city.”

Community Connections - Terry Huval from Lafayette, Louisiana

"We Speak French, Eat Crawfish, and Have the Fastest Broadband in the World." 

Terry Huval's fascination with fiber started with the fiber on his fiddle strings, so it's pretty appropriate that he regailed Christopher with his skills during this Community Connections episode. 

In the previous episode you heard from former Mayor, Joey Durel about overcoming controversy and Lafayette's LUS Fiber.

In this episode, Huval emphasizes why ownership is so important for cities to control their fiber infrastructure. He also touches on the other benefits of the public fiber network: faster response for outages, better connectivity for public safety and traffic control, and more than $13 million in cost savings for residents and businesses!

We hope you enjoy!

Nashville Considering One Touch Make Ready

In 2015, Nashville welcomed Google Fiber with open arms, anticipating all the possibilities gigabit connectivity could mean for businesses and residents. The deployment is moving slowly, however, in part because of time consuming make ready work on utility poles. In order to speed up the process and establish better policy for the city in general, Nashville has just introduced a one touch make ready ordinance.

Too Many Wires

A recent Nashville Scene article described the situation, common in a number of communities where utility poles already carry a number of wires:

The thousands of poles that stand around the city, most of which are owned by Nashville Electric Service, are arranged with power on top and communications equipment in a line below that. In Nashville, this means NES equipment pushes electricity up top, while broadly speaking, gear from Comcast and AT&T — whether for home phone, cable or internet service — operates below. 

Enter Google Fiber. Because Nashville largely sits on a massive bed of limestone rock, running cable underground is, for the most part, not a viable option. That means Google has to join its new friends in the industry on the poles, through a process known as Make Ready. In a typical scenario, that involves Google — or any other new company trying to enter the market or get on a particular pole — notifying NES, which will then notify each telecom company that it needs to send a crew to the pole — one after another — to move their equipment and accommodate the new party. The process can take months, even if contractually mandated time frames are followed. Google Fiber officials and operatives working on their behalf suggest that’s not always the case. 

One-Stop Approach

One touch make ready will allow one entity the ability to move all the wires from all the entities at one visit. Louisville, Kentucky, has enacted one touch make ready but AT&T and Frontier have joined forces to sue the city to stop it. The policy cuts costs and streamlines deployment for new entrants, thereby encouraging competition, so incumbents are not fond of the idea.

Nevertheless, the state's Department of Economic and Community Development (TNECD) recently released the results of a study which included one touch make ready one of several recommendations. Enacting the policy is a way to control poles and proactively handle many of the disputes that can arise between entities that use them.

Learn more about Louisville's approach to one touch make ready; listen to Christopher interview Ted Smith, the city's Chief Innovation Officer, in Episode #193 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Lake Region Electric Cooperative: More Fiber in Oklahoma!

Electric cooperatives are bringing high-speed Internet service throughout northeast Oklahoma. In 2014, Bolt Fiber, a subsidiary of Northeast Oklahoma Electric Cooperative, started building a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network throughout their service area. Now, slightly to the south, Lake Region Electric Cooperative is planning to expand their FTTH network.

Lake Region Electric Cooperative is about to begin another phase of construction on their FTTH network in the area around Tahlequah, Oklahoma, capital of the Cherokee Nation. The subsidiary or the electric co-op, Lake Region Technology and Communications, is managing the project.

Expanding Reliable, Rural Internet Service

In late 2014, the co-op began two pilot projects for FTTH service. After the success of those projects, the co-op decided to expand. They have divided their service area into 11 zones and are seeking sign-ups. The co-op will expand the FTTH network to the zones where the most people pre-register. The network provides high-speed Internet access, HD video, and high-quality phone service.

The electric co-op requests a $50 deposit with pre-registration, but will waive the $250 installation fee with a pre-registration. If someone signs up after construction starts, they pay a reduced installation fee. Residents and businesses who decide to sign up for services after the network is up and running in their zone will pay the full installation fee. The co-op might also charge a line extension fee depending on the distance from the existing fiber line.

Rates are still subject to change, but the co-op's website suggests Internet access will be symmetrical, offering the same speeds on the upload and download, starting at $49.95 per month for 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) for residential customers. Business Internet access will start at $99.95 per month for 50 Mbps. Both include a free Wi-Fi router.

Positive Responses 

More than 700 members are already online. Lake Region Electric Cooperative serves the communities around the city of Tahlequah. With this project, the electric co-op hopes to bridge the digital divide between the urban and rural areas. In a September 2014 newsletter, one of the pilot project customers expressed enthusiasm at having fiber: 

“I am extremely pleased with my Internet service! It’s been very exciting to have high speed reliable Internet so far out of town, and at such an affordable rate!!”

The electric cooperative expects the build out to most of their service area to take two to three years. A previous survey noted that 83 percent of the electric co-op’s members believe that it’s important for the co-op to offer this service. And 75 percent support the electric co-op getting into the business. In a March 2016 Tahlequah Daily article, Hamid Vahdatipour, CEO of the Lake Region Electric Cooperative, talked about the positive response to the FTTH network: 

“Some of them have switched to us and say they don’t ever want to go back to anyone else, or that they didn’t know how much they really needed Internet [until they signed up].” 

Smart FCC Decisions Helped Create the Internet - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 213

We originally planned this episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast to answer the question of "What is the Internet?" But as we started talking to our guest, Principal of Interisle Consulting Group Fred Goldstein, we quickly realized we first had to dig into a little bit of history.

This is not the story of how the Department of Defense and university researchers created the ArpaNet. We are focused on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and telephone companies and how the FCC's Computer Inquiries allowed the Internet to thrive.

Fred lived it and offers a passionate retelling of key events, motivations, and more. This conversation is setting the stage for a future show - later this month - focused on answering the original question: "Just what, exactly, is the Internet?" And we'll also talk about network neutrality and other hot topics in answering it. But for now, we hope you enjoy this show. We went a bit long and it is a bit technical in places, but we think the history is important and a reminder of how good government policy can lead to great outcomes.

Read the transcript of this episode here.

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

This show is 35 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Roller Genoa for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Safe and Warm in Hunter's Arms."