Broadband Bits by Christopher Mitchell

Community Broadband Bits is a short weekly audio show featuring interviews with people building community networks or otherwise involved with Internet policy. You can listen to the shows via your browser below or by downloading the shows from iTunes to put on a portable media device.

See our index of all shows and links to transcripts. Please send us feedback here. A good way to keep up with new developments is to subscribe to our one-email-per-week list sharing new stories and resources.

Put this link into "Subscribe to podcast" in iTunes or your preferred podcast manager.

Erwin Deploys Phased Fiber Plan - Community Broadband Bits 235

Nestled in the Cherokee National Forest on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, not far from Virginia, is Erwin. Erwin Utilities runs the water, wastewater, and electricity for the town of 6,000 and long wanted to invest in a fiber network. After years of following industry trends, they developed a plan to build it and tell us how in Community Broadband Bits episode 235.

General Manager Lee Brown and Fiber-Optic Engineer John Williams join us to discuss what started as a pilot project but is now an incremental plan to connect the entire community with a Fiber-to-the-Home network offering high speed Internet access and telephone service.

We discuss the reaction from the community, financing, and how they are using it for smart utility management -- not only for electricity but also for water services.

Read the transcript of the show here

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

This show is 29 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 Admiral Bob for the music. The song is Turbo Tornado (c) copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. Ft: Blue Wave Theory.

Community Broadband Bits Podcast Will Be Back Next Week

Due to illness during the past few weeks, Christopher has been out of commission, in a podcasting sense. He’s on the upswing now, but we’ve decided to give him the week off so he can come back strong for the first podcast of 2017.

In the mean time, we hope you will expand your ILSR podcast menu and listen in to Christopher’s other production, the Building Local Power podcast. We recorded episode #8 earlier in December and posted it last week so it’s still fresh. In the podcast, Christopher interviews Olivia LaVecchia of the Community-Scaled Economies initiative, Karlee Weinmann of the Energy Democracy initiative, and Nick Stumo-Langer, ILSR’s Communication Manager.

They review 2016 happenings and analyze them from a local policy perspective. In addition to the rise of corporate concentration, the four discuss electric utility monopolies, and citizen sponsored initiatives. It’s an interesting conversation that will introduce you to some of the other work we do here at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Check it out.

Keep in mind that we want to hear your ideas for the show - e-mail us or leave a comment below.

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

We will be back on January 10 with the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Have a great week!

2016 Review, 2017 Predictions - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 234

It's that time of year - for reflection of the past and thinking about the future. Lisa, Nick, Hannah, and I discuss the previous year and then make some predictions for next year.

Along the way, we have some banter and occasionally an insightful comment if you listen hard enough.

Read the transcript of the show 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 Admiral Bob for the music. The song is Turbo Tornado (c) copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. Ft: Blue Wave Theory.

Bozeman Unique Fiber Model Gets Good Start - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 233

This week, we return to Bozeman's unique model in Montana to get an update now that the network is up and running. President of Bozeman Fiber Anthony Cochenour and city of Bozeman Economic Development Director Brit Fontenot join us again to discuss their unique approach. We last spoke with them on episode 142.

We discuss how they are doing two months after launching the network. With five ISPs already using it to deliver services a several more in the process of signing up, they are on target for where they hoped to be. 

We talk about how their nonprofit approach is governed and how expected challenges turned out to be not as challenging as expected - financing in particular. Many local banks stepped up to particpatein the project, something Bozeman Fiber credits with having strong relationships within the community.

All of our coverage on Bozeman is available here.

Read the transcript from this episode here.

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

This show is 32 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 Admiral Bob for the music. The song is Turbo Tornado (c) copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. Ft: Blue Wave Theory.

Osage and the Iowa Legislature - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 232

Located in northwest Iowa, Osage has been an innovative utility leader with forward-looking investments in both telecommunications and clean energy with wind and solar. Osage Municipal Utilites General Manager Josh Byrnes joins us for Community Broadband Bits podcast 232. He is also in the midst of retiring after 3 terms in the Iowa Legislature. 

Osage built a hybrid fiber coaxial cable network many years ago that they are considering upgrading to being fully fiber-optic following a lot of community support for next-generation connectivity and most importantly, greater reliability. 

Josh and I also talk generally about the importance of connectivity in rural areas and how the state of Iowa has dealt with the need to improve access. We both agree that Iowa's approach thus far leaves much to be desired and we discuss the challenges that legislatures face in making these decisions. 

Read the transcript of the show here.

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

This show is 32 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 Admiral Bob for the music. The song is Turbo Tornado (c) copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. Ft: Blue Wave Theory.

San Francisco Proposal For Tenant ISP Choice - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 231

Cities across America are implementing policies that create friendly environments for Internet Service Providers in order to encourage competition. In San Francisco, the Board of Supervisors is now considering legislation that will create choice for residents or businesses in multi-welling units, or MDUs. In episode 231, Mark Farrell, a member of the Board of Supervisors, joins us to discuss the proposal.

City leaders have worked in various ways to chip away at the digital divide and have discovered that a number of MDU building owners do not allow more than one ISP access to their buildings. As a result, residents have no option but to subscribe to the ISP of the owner’s choice, or have no service at all. The proposed ordinance will put an end to that practice by ensuring that building owners do not deny tenants choice and do not deny ISPs access to their buildings.

In this interview, Mark discusses the need for the ordinance and what city leaders hope to achieve with this new policy. When they investigated the issue, they realized that it impacted a significant number of stakeholders. Mark acknowledges the care of the city’s approach in encouraging competition, supporting responsible entrants, and doing so in a community with a range of old and new structures. The city is eager to improve their connectivity and this policy is one step in a larger plan.

Read the transcript of the show here.

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

This show is 18 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

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

Thanks to Admiral Bob for the music. The song is Turbo Tornado (c) copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. Ft: Blue Wave Theory.

The Deep History of Chattanooga's Fiber Network - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 230

In a break from our traditional format of 20-30 minutes (or so), we have a special in-depth interview this week with Harold Depriest, the former CEO and President of Chattanooga's Electric Power Board. He recently retired after 20 incredibly transformative years for both Chattanooga and its municipal electric utility. 

We talk about the longer history behind Chattanooga's nation-leading fiber network and how the culture of the electric utility had to be changed long before it began offering services to the public. We also talk about the role of public power in building fiber networks.

Something we wanted to be clear about - we talk about the timeline of when Chattanooga started to build its network and how that changed later when the federal stimulus efforts decided to make Chattanooga's electric grid the smartest in the nation. This is an important discussion as few understand exactly what the grant was used for and how it impacted the telecommunications side of the utility. 

But we start with the most important point regarding Chattanooga's fiber network - how it has impacted the community and the pride it has helped residents and businesses to develop. For more information about Chattanooga's efforts, see our report, Broadband at the Speed of Light, and our Chattanooga tag

Read the transcript of the show here.

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

This show is 70 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 mojo monkeys for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Bodacious."

Rural Electrics Solve Rural Internet Access Problems - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 229

Rural electric co-ops have started delivering high quality Internet access to their member-owners and our guest this week on Community Broadband Bits episode 229 is dedicated to helping these co-ops to build fiber-optic networks throughout their territories. Jon Chambers is a partner at Conexon and was previously the head of the FCC's Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis.

Jon is a strong proponent for ensuring rural residents and businesses have at least the same quality Internet access as urban areas. We talk about his experience and frustration at the FCC, which was content to shovel money at telcos for the most basic infrastructure rather than setting higher expectations to ensure everyone had decent Internet access. We talk about how Co-Mo rolled out fiber to its members without federal assistance, inspiring electric cooperatives around the nation to follow suit.

In our discussion, I reference Jon's blog post "FCC to Rural America: Drop Dead." In it, he cites some of the reactions in the FCC from his advocacy for real rural solutions rather than signing big checks to big telcos for delivering slow and unreliable Internet access. One of quotes from a Democrat: "Republicans like corporate welfare, so we’re going to give money to the telephone companies to keep the Republicans on the Hill happy."

Neither political party comes off looking very good when it comes to rural connectivity, which fits with our impression. But Jon confirms another of our experiences when he says that when he works with rural communities, politics doesn't come up. They just focus on solutions.

Read the transcript of the show here.

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

This show is 36 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 mojo monkeys for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Bodacious."

City of Lincoln Conduit Spurs FTTH, School Network Innovation - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 228

When we last spoke to people from Lincoln, Nebraska, about their innovative conduit program to improve Internet access, we focused on how they had done it - Conduits Lead to Competition, podcast 182. For this week and episode 228 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, we focus more on the community benefits their approach has led to.

We are once again joined by David Young, Fiber Infrastructure and Right of Way Manager in the Public Works Department. We offer a shorter background about the history of the project before focusing on the franchise they developed with local ISP Allo. Allo is building citywide Fiber-to-the-Home and has agreed to provision 15 VLANs at every endpoint. We talk about what that means and implications for schools specifically.

We also touch on permitting issues for local governments and David explains his philosophy on how to speak to the community about potential projects in an engaging manner.

Read the transcript of the show 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 mojo monkeys for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Bodacious."

Madison Starts Muni Fiber Effort, Considers Citywide Effort - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 227

The second-largest city in Wisconsin and the home of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, is pursuing a path-breaking municipal Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) strategy. They have already started by deploying fiber to several low-income neighborhoods and working with local ISP ResTech to offer services.

Madison CIO Paul Kronberger joins us for Community Broadband Bits episode 227 to discuss their plan. We start by discussing how they decided to deploy FTTH as a digital divide strategy. Like more and more of the communities considering this approach, Madison does not have a municipal electric utility.

We also discuss how Madison plans to deal with the state law that limits municipal fiber network investments and why Madison has decided to work with a private provider even though the city will retain ownership of the network. Read more of Madison coverage here.

Read the transcript of the show here.

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

This show is 18 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

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

Thanks to mojo monkeys for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Bodacious."

Pinetops Threatened by Hurricane and NC Legislature - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 226

Pinetops, a town of about 1,300 outside Wilson, North Carolina, is suffering a double calamity as Hurricane Matthew has left floods and incredible damage in its wake. Less natural but no less frustrating is the unforced error by the North Carolina Legislature in effectively prohibiting municipal broadband networks.

This week, we have a doubleheader interview with Will Aycock, the General Manager of Wilson's fiber-optic Greenlight service, and Suzanne Coker Craig, a local business owner and town council member. They talk discuss the devastation from the hurricane and the threat from the town's only broadband provider being forced to leave town by an ill-conceived state statute.

We often talk about how important modern Internet networks are, but the Pinetops reaction to this storm is a stirring reminder of how true that is. Whether it was as the hurricane approached, hit, or left town, local leadership had to continue fighting to retain Wilson's Internet service because it is that important to them.

Fortunately, Wilson has announced that it will not cut off Pinetops as expected. Instead, it will offer free service, which is not prohibited by current law. Wilson is generously giving the state six months to fix the law so Pinetops is not economically harmed by losing high quality Internet access.

Read the transcript of the show here.

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

This show is 28 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 mojo monkeys for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Bodacious."

Midwest Energy Cooperative Connects Rural Michigan - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 225

Telephone and electric cooperatives are making strides in bringing high-quality connectivity to rural areas while national providers stay in the city. This week we speak with two gentlemen from rural southwest Michigan’s Midwest Energy Cooperative: President and CEO Bob Hance and Vice President of Regulatory Compliance Dave Allen.

The electric cooperative has embarked on a project to bring fiber-optic connectivity to its members within its electric distribution grid. The multi-year project will bring better functionality to electric services and high-speed Internet access to areas of the state struggling with yesterday’s technologies. Bob and Dave describe the cooperative’s commitment to it’s members and discuss the deep roots of the cooperative in the region. They also touch on how the project is already improving lives in the areas that are being served.

Bob, Dave, and Chris, also spend some time discussing the difficulties that face rural cooperatives, especially regarding federal funding and its distribution. Serving sparsely populated areas is a challenge. Federal funding is often distributed more favorably to big corporate providers that promise to deliver much slower speeds than cooperatives like Midwest Energy. Co-ops are delivering better services, and building better networks with less federal funding; they also face higher hurdles to obtain that funding.

Why do they do it? Because they are invested in the future of their communities.

Read more about the project at the Midwest Connections Team Fiber website.

Read the transcript of the show here.

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

This show is 28 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 mojo monkeys for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Bodacious."

H.R. Trostle On Co-ops, Munis, Connectivity In North Carolina - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 224

In June, North Carolina released a report pronouncing that 93 percent of the state has access to broadband speeds. At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, our Research Associate H.R. Trostle, who has been examining reporting data in North Carolina for the past year, came to some very different conclusions. In episode 224, she and Christopher talk about the report they co-authored, which gives a different perspective on the connectivity situation in the Tar Heel State.

In their report, North Carolina Connectivity: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, Trostle discovered that, while urban areas have been well served by the big private providers, those same national companies have shunned rural areas. Instead, rural cooperatives and municipal networks are attempting to serve their residents and businesses with high-quality Internet access. It isn’t easy, however, when state laws discourage investment and access to federal funding.

Trostle gets into her analysis of the data, its limitations, and what we can learn from both. She and Chris go through some of the recommendations they provide to the state of North Carolina as it moves forward. The obvious first step is to repeal the state’s barrier on municipal network expansion, which has caused real harm in Pinetops, North Carolina. They also offer advice on how to facilitate telephone and electric cooperative investment and what that could mean for rural North Carolina.

For more, take a few minutes to download the report, which offers useful maps of where to find various connection speeds in the state.

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

This show is 23 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 mojo monkeys for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Bodacious."

Update on Utah's Open Access UTOPIA - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 223

In the north central region of Utah, eleven communities are now served by a regional open access fiber-optic network operated by the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency or UTOPIA. UTOPIA’s Executive Director, Roger Timmerman, and Mayor Karen Cronin from member community, Perry City, take time to speak with us for Community Broadband Bits episode 223.

One of the great advantages UTOPIA has brought the region is the element of competition. Rather than facing a choice of only one or two Internet Service Providers like most of us, people in UTOPIA cities sign up for a connection to the network and then choose from multiple providers who offer a range of services via the infrastructure. Competing for business brings better products, better prices, and better customer service.

Since launching in 2004, UTOPIA has faced financial uncertainties created by onerous state laws that force a wholesale model on publicly owned networks. Regardless, Mayor Cronin has seen the network improve connectivity in her community, which has improved the local economy and the quality of life. After working with the network since the early days, Roger sees that UTOPIA’s situation is on the upswing but has witnessed firsthand how those harmful state laws limiting local authority can put a smart investment like UTOPIA in harm’s way.

Read the transcript of the show here.

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

This show is 25 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 mojo monkeys for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Bodacious."

Carrier-Grade Fiber in Centennial, Colorado - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 222

Located in the Denver metro region and shaped like a barbell, Centennial has effectively used dig once policies to build conduit and fiber assets that have attracted Ting to the community. Tim Scott is the Director of Fiber Infrastructure for the city and joins us on Community Broadband Bits podcast episode 222.

Centennial took advantage of a project installing fiber for Intelligent Transportation Signaling. But just putting in more fiber was not sufficient to establish a carrier-grade network that ISPs would want to use. Tim explains what they had to do to attract ISP interest.

Centennial's shape is very conducive to their strategy (which may be a tautology - they chose that strategy because it works for them). At any rate, their arterial corridors run quite close to the majority of premises and therefore a well-designed fiber backbone network is more attractive in that community than others.

Read the transcript of the show here.

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

This show is 29 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 mojo monkeys for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Bodacious."