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."

Bozeman Fiber Transitions from Construction to Operations

Local officials are preparing to light a highly anticipated municipal fiber-optic network in Bozeman, Montana. Over the course of three years, nonprofit Bozeman Fiber, Inc. laid about 30 miles of fiber optic cable in downtown Bozeman, connecting local government, businesses, and schools to a high-speed, fiber-optic network. According to local news provider MTN News via KBZK, Bozeman Fiber will be completely operational within the next 60-90 days. 

For Bozeman, affordable fiber-optic Internet access presents an important opportunity for local economic development. Anthony Cochenour of Bozeman Fiber explained the project’s goal to MTN News, 

"More bandwidth at lower costs, and better availability for higher bandwidth than we can get today. It’s one of the barriers to entry that Bozeman has to attracting increasingly large and interesting businesses, the business that we want to be here.”

A Unique Arrangement

Bozeman recently amended its ten-year old Downtown Urban Renewal Plan to prioritize fiber-optic infrastructure. When the city decided it needed a better network, locals created a private nonprofit entity, Bozeman Fiber, to oversee fiber deployment. Instead of the city running the network itself, they felt that a nonprofit would be better suited for the role. A majority of its seven board members come from the public and private sector, with just one seat for the city. The project’s $3.85 million budget was funded exclusively by private equity investments from local banks. 

We’ve been closely following Bozeman’s unique public-private collaboration:

Check out video coverage from local channel KBZK.com.

Community Broadband Media Roundup - August 1

Minnesota

City studies $50 million broadband plan by Andrew Setterholm, Rochester Post Bulletin & GovTech

 

Tennessee

Broadband service is vital for Tennessee businesses, new study shows by Dave Flessner, Times Free Press

 

Vermont

ECFiber Awards Design and Engineering Contract by BBC Wires 

 

General

A Broad(band) reach: Bringing the Internet to rural America by John Breeden II, StateTech Magazine

For the most part, large cities don’t have a major problem with broadband installation. The populations are so dense that many private broadband providers will take on the expense of building and maintaining networks, confident that customers will follow. But smaller, more rural areas, or those in traditionally economically disadvantaged areas, may not attract a major internet provider right off the bat.

The answer might be for a city’s IT leaders to roll up their sleeves and do it themselves.

How cities can strike smarter deals with private broadband network providers by Alex Koma, StateScoop

In the report, “Successful Strategies for Broadband Public-Private Partnerships,” institute analysts Christopher Mitchell and Patrick Lucey charge that there’s been a good deal of “irrational exuberance” about the potential of public-private partnerships, commonly known as “PPPs.” While they see a partnership with the private sector as an avenue that localities certainly should consider as they weigh the possibility of building a broadband network, they also caution that “PPPs are never without risk.” The also highlight some essential lessons from the experiences of other communities.

North Carolina Communities Create West-Next Generation Network

Drawing inspiration from a previous project in the Research Triangle, communities around Asheville are joining forces. The goal is high-speed Internet access.

West - Next Generation Network (WestNGN) is a multi-government collaboration in the Asheville area to encourage investment in fiber-optic networks for Gigabit (1,000 Megabits) connectivity to the region.

An Established Model

The Research Triangle, the area around Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, started a new collaborative model to bring Gigabit connectivity to their communities. Six municipalities and four universities there established the North Carolina Next Generation Network (NCNGN). The project encourages private sector providers to develop ultra-fast networks.

The Land of Sky Regional Council is an Ashville-based multi-jurisdictional development organization that includes Asheville, Biltmore Forest, Fletcher, Hendersonville, Laurel Park, and Waynesville. 

A Wide Impact

The Land of Sky Regional Council will provide project management by setting up a steering committee, analyzing regional data, and drafting a Request for Proposals (RFP) for Gigabit service. The group hopes high-speed Internet service will boost economic development. 

They want to reach 125,000 customers south and west of Asheville. As Smoky Mountain News reported the project costs for the first year total $35,000. Each community will pay $4,000 and then contribute proportionally based on population. For instance, Asheville will pay $11,893, and Waynesville will pay $4,877. 

Waynesville is the seat of Haywood County, which is working to improve connectivity by developing a broadband master plan. While the Haywood County Economic Development Council’s planning focuses on opportunities for the county, Waynesville is collaborating with communities in nearby counties through the WestNGN project. 

"An Awesome Opportunity"

Andrew Tate, President and CEO of the Henderson County Partnership for Economic Development, explained how the WestNGN model works to local news BlueRidgeNow:

“It allows our local units of government to apply leverage to the private sector to further deploy broadband, especially to areas that wouldn't get it otherwise or that wouldn't see it. ... Most of those areas are not the areas we focus on in terms of employment or industrial development, but I think it's a wise move. I think it's an awesome opportunity for local governments to collaborate with one another and look for an opportunity to improve the region."

Port of Ridgefield, Washington: Dark Fiber Network On Deck

The Port of Ridgefield is planning to build a municipal open access dark fiber-optic network that could provide access to high-speed Internet connectivity for the Washington state community of 7,000. 

Planning Stage

Town officials held a public informational meeting in late June to update residents and businesses on the fiber project, which is still in the planning stage. Estimated cost of the proposed 42-mile fiber backbone is $2.4 million, Nelson Holmberg, Port of Ridgefield vice-president of innovation, told us.

Currently, the Port has budgeted $500,000 from town funds for this year’s portion of the project, the Vancouver Business Journal recently reported. Holmberg told us:

"We are moving  forward with construction design and policy work. The Port will not be the operator, nor will it offer service on the backbone. Retail service will be offered by the [Internet Service] providers  who ride on our fiber. We're simply building the infrastructure and making it available to providers."

Holmberg told us that a firm construction timeline has yet to be set. According to the Business Journal, the Port of Ridgefield will make use of existing assets and take advantage of opportunities to reduce costs. The Port hopes to work with Clark Public Utilities and the Clark Regional Wastewater District to plant conduit whenever there is new trenching and pull fiber through conduit that is already in place.

A Mixed Bag

Currently, Internet service in the Port is a "mixed bag," Holmberg told us, with the offerings including Comcast Business, Comcast or CenturyLink to the home, satellite and point-to-point wireless and even dial-up.

The Port's fiber development project is needed to help retain and attract business, Holmberg continued. The availability of high-speed Internet connectivity is especially important to modern industries that depend on being able to transmit and receive large amounts of data.

Holmberg told us:

"Businesses [in the Port] complain they can't get the bandwidth or speeds they need, and are excited about the opportunity that they see in our system. As an anecdote, Washington State University Vancouver - at the south end of our planned loop - has a need to send 1 Terabyte (over 1,000 Gigabytes of data) of research to the main campus in Pullman, Washington once a week. Because they don't have the bandwith they need, they are literally downloading to a hard drive and overnighting the hard drive to Pullman."

Keeping Up With The Speed Of Dark Fiber

Port of Ridgefield is among a growing number of communities that are seeking to make high-speed Internet connectivity available to businesses and providers via dark fiber, i.e. fiber optic cable that is not currently active or “lit.” In the Northwest, the Idaho towns of Port of Lewiston, Port of Clarkston, and Port of Whitman are working together to use dark fiber assets for commercial connectivity via a similar open access model.

As more communities in the region invest in essential Internet infrastructure, those that don’t have publicly owned networks or private providers to provide high-speed connectivity in their communities will be disadvantaged.

“Accessible and reliable high-speed Internet infrastructure and connectivity is a critical component of successful economic development activity in our region,” said [Columbia River Economic Development Council president, Mike] Bomar. 

“Our region’s ability to add fiber connectivity to our list of business amenities will provide a direct competitive advantage to our existing companies and in our ongoing work to attract and recruit new enterprise into the area across a diverse array of industries.”

Tullahoma’s LighTUBe Connects 3,500th Customer

Tullahoma Utilities Board (TUB) recently celebrated its 3,500th Internet customer, rewarding the lucky LightTUBe subscriber with a $350 bill credit. TUB has offered Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) triple-play services to the Tennessee town of 19,000 since 2009. 

LightTUBe now boasts an estimated market penetration rate of 39 percent, despite competition from publicly-traded incumbents Charter, Comcast, and AT&T. LightTUBe delivers $90 per month symmetrical gigabit connectivity (1,000 Megabits per second), so upload and download speeds are equally fast. LightTUBe also offers other affordable options and has repeatedly lowered prices and increased speeds.

Lighting the Way for Tennessee

TUB successfully stimulated economic development with its LightTUBe service, attracting businesses like J2 to Tullahoma. It has also enabled smart metering and other cost-saving measures that are a boon to the local community. Yet, Tennessee state law preempts public utility companies from providing Internet services to communities beyond their electrical grid. With little meaningful competition, neighboring communities have no alternative to incumbent providers. 

Although the FCC overruled the State of Tennessee in 2015, both Tennessee and North Carolina are in the process of appealing to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. A recently published study showed that 13 percent of state residents do not have access to broadband services and recommended removing barriers to broadband infrastructure investment. TUB, Bristol’s BTES, and Chattanooga’s EPB are increasingly making the case for overturning the state law in favor of community self-determination. 

Congratulations TUB (and customer number 3,500)!

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Greenlight Upgrades Pinetops, North Carolina, With FTTH

In April, Wilson’s, municipal fiber network, Greenlight, expanded to pass every home in neighboring rural Pinetops. How is it going? Acting Town Manager, Brenda Harrell said, “We just love it!”

No Longer Out of Reach

Pinetops is about a 20 minute drive due east from Greenlight’s operations center, but more importantly, it is in another county entirely. Wilson serves six neighboring counties with its municipal electric services. Turning on internet service in Pinetops was an easy reach for Wilson, where fiber was being deployed as part of an automated meter infrastructure project.

Back in February 2015, the FCC preempted a North Carolina state law, known as H129, that prohibited Wilson from serving any residents outside of Wilson County. The preemption allowed Wilson to finish the project it had to suspend when H129 became law. In addition to the benefits of automated metering, Pinetops now experiences a higher quality of life with fast, affordable, reliable Internet access.

Greenlight To The Present

For Pinetops, bringing fiber services to its residents and small businesses was like snapping it from the late 1980s into the 21st century. Pinetops is a community with about 600 homes all located within one square mile. It is by all signs rural, surrounded by huge open fields of sweet potatoes, tobacco and soy plants. The average median income is $26,333; according to the census bureau, 30 percent of its residents live below the poverty line. Local officials, say that the community was desperately underserved with unreliable DSL service or dialup before Greenlight came to town. Thanks to Wilson, even the local Piggly Wiggly market has fiber-optic Internet from Greenlight.

Looking Ahead

The community is excited for its future. After watching a video of how quickly video homework can be uploaded on a Gigabit connection (8 seconds) versus DSL (2 hours and 59 minutes), the new Town Manager, Lorenzo Carmon, was full of ideas. Pinetops, with median homes valued around $78,000 and the option of Gigabit speeds (1,000 Megabits per second), could offer low cost affordable housing to professionals now living in Greenville, a nearby university community full of doctors, students, digital artists and knowledge workers.

 “If the private sector is not providing the services, the government has to step in,” said Pinetops new Town Manager, Lorenzo Carmon. “The internet is just like electricity. You can’t live without it.”  

Community Connections - Joey Durel: Lafayette, Louisiana

The city of Lafayette, Louisiana had an export problem. For years they had seen their young people become educated and move away from the small city, but local leaders like Joey Durel listened to experts like Terry Huval when they encouraged him to look into building a citywide fiber network.

In this video Christopher Mitchell interviews Joey Durel, former City-Parish President of Lafayette, Louisiana. In 2009 Lafayette Utilities System installed infrastructure for a fiber telecommunications network called LUS Fiber. The network provides digital cable, telephone service, and high-speed Internet to all households in Lafayette.

In the video, Durel emphasizes the hidden benefit of controversy when building advanced Internet networks: controversy educates the public. When local leaders are able to "think outside the box" and encourage discussion and debate, they are much more able to educate their constituents and in turn, make change. 

 

 

Tiny Mt Washington Builds Fiber-to-the-Home - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 212

Overlooked by the incumbent telephone company, Mount Washington in the southwest corner of Massachusetts is becoming one of the smallest FTTH communities in the country by investing in a municipal fiber network. A strong majority of the town committed to three years of service and the state contributed $230,000 to build the network after a lot of local groundwork and organizing.

Select Board member Gail Garrett joins us for episode 212 of the Community Broadband Bits to discuss their process and the challenges of crafting an economical plan on such a small scale.

It turns out that the rural town had some advantages - low make-ready costs from the lack of wires on poles and no competition to have to worry about. So they are moving forward and with some cooperation from the telephone company and electric utility, they could build it pretty quickly. We also discuss what happens to those homes that choose not to take service when it is rolled out - they will have to pay more later to be connected.

Read the rest of our coverage of Mt Washington here.

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 21 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."

Kandiyohi County And CTC Co-op Team Up For Connected Future

In an effort to improve local connectivity, Kandiyohi County will collaborate with a local cooperative, Consolidated Telecommunications Company of Brainerd (CTC Co-op). Kadiyohi County is in step with the increasing number of rural communities joining forces with cooperatives when big corporate providers find no reason to invest in less populated areas.

Keeping It Local

In early July, the County Board of Commissioners signed a letter of intent with CTC Co-op in order to start planning for a potential project. The move improves the county’s chances to obtain one of the Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband Program grants and motivates CTC Co-op to begin allocating some of its own funds toward a potential Kandiyohi project.

Kandiyohi County is home to approximately 42,000 people in central Minnesota and covers approximately 862 square miles of prairie. The region, filled with lakes, is a popular fishing destination. Like many places well known for outdoor recreation, residents and businesses can’t obtain the Internet access they need to keep pace with more populated areas.  

Minnesota's Lac qui Parle County worked with the Farmers Mutual Telephone Cooperative when incumbent Frontier chose not to pursue a partnership. The county received funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) but did not have the expertise or resources to maintain or manage a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. Farmers Mutual, who already had experience after deploying their own network, stepped in and by 2014 residents and businesses had access to fast, affordable, reliable connectivity. Read more about the project in our report, All Hands on Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Fiber Internet Access.

Determining Need

The county hired a firm to perform a feasibility study, which includes a telephone survey. In April, county officials announced that the firm had started calling residents and businesses and would continue to do so throughout the summer. Now that Kandiyohi County and CTC Co-op have committed to working together, CTC Co-op will be able to use the study results to determine how to improve local connectivity.

Experienced Rural Cooperative

CTC Co-op has already developed high-quality Internet access for many of its members. The co-op received a state Border-to-Border Boradband grant to develop fiber connectivity for the South Brainerd and Fort Ripley areas. The cooperative, started in 1950, serves members in Sullivan Lake, Randall, Pillager, Outing, Nokay Lake, Nisswa, Motley, Mission, Lincoln, Leader, Freedhem, Little Falls, Brainerd, Baxter, and Crosby. They offer Internet access, video, and voice as well as additional services to local businesses.

The letter of intent does not detail any specific plans other than to establish a commitment for the county to work with CTC Co-op. Joe Buttweiler, who works as a Partnership Development Manager for CTC Co-op told the County Commission, "As we work together, we can decide. ... We can create whatever we want.”