Public Knowledge recently had me as a guest on their "In the Know" weekly podcast. Our interview is the last half of the show. The videos we reference in the discussion are embedded below.
Sandy, a growing community of about 10,000 outside Portland in Oregon, is now building a FTTH network to expand on their successes offering city-run wireless broadband in 2003. They've done the whole wireless thing for 8 years but understand the future is high capacity, high reliability connections.
They are starting with a pilot program that seized on energy created by Google's gigabit initiative -- they held a "Why Wait for Google?" contest that asked neighborhoods to show their potential interest in a fiber-optic network.
When the Cascadia Village and Bornstedt Village won the contest, they were asked how they wanted to be involved:
What happens now? This is a pilot program, so we’re taking it step-by-step. We want the residents and property owners in Cascadia/Bornstedt Villages to be partners with us in making decisions on how this service will work. And we want it to be democratic: whatever we do, it will only be with the support of the majority of the residents and property owners who get involved.
The first thing we need to know is: how would you like to be involved? We have a lot of options, depending on your level of interest, and how busy your life is. On one end of the spectrum is simply asking us to keep you informed through e-mail or letters, and at the other end is your active participation (over a course of several meetings) in the detailed planning for the implementation of this pilot project. (Note: in the case of rental properties, we encourage both the landlord and the tenant to stay involved, and we have tried to mail this letter to both, based on available records).
This is a far cry from the massive cable and telco approach of "you will get what we give you when we offer it on the terms we decide."
SandyNet is going to continue providing access to the Internet, but according to the FAQ, they will operate the network on an open access basis, encouraging independent service...Read more
Colorado requires a referendum before a local government can build a broadband network as a result of a 2005 law pushed by Qwest to prevent communities from building next-generation networks. So when Longmont wanted to expand its fiber ring to offer residential and business services, they put it to a vote.
They lost with only 44% supporting the measure. But now, more people understand the issue and the community is considering voting again.
We saw the same dynamic in Windom, Minnesota. Almost ten years ago, Windom held a vote to build a muni FTTH network and it failed to gain the Minnesota-required 65% supermajority. After the vote, a number of people wanted to revote because they realized they had been conned by the incumbent phone provider (ahem… Qwest) and only truly understood the issue after the vote had occurred.
City officials wanted no part of another referendum but community champions eventually prevailed and they had a second vote that authorized the community to build the network.
We'll see if Longmont follows suit. An article discussing the re-vote notes that Comcast and Qwest have dumped unprecedented sums into preventing the community from having a new choice:
The first attempt at getting that approval didn't go so well in 2009. According to city records, opponents -- including the Colorado Cable Telecommunications Association -- spent $245,513 to defeat that ballot measure, the largest amount ever spent on a Longmont city election. By contrast, the city legally couldn't campaign on its own behalf, and the explanations that were out there didn't explain well, according to Longmont Power & Communications director Tom Roiniotis.
The cable and phone companies created an astroturf group called "No Blank Check" that then used standard fear, uncertainty, and doubt tactics to spread misinformation around the community. A quarter of a million dollars is a drop in the bucket to stop the only real threat of competition these companies face anymore -- locally owned community networks.
The situation in Longmont has attracted the interest of the...Read more
You can also read this story over at the Huffington Post.
How can it be that the big companies who deliver some of the most important services in our modern lives (access to the Internet, television) rank at the top of the most hated? Probably because when they screw up or increase prices year after year, we have no choice but sticking with them. Most of us have no better options.
But why do we have so few choices? Government-sanctioned monopolies have been outlawed since the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Unfortunately, the natural tendency of the telecommunications industry is toward consolidation and monopoly (or duopoly). In the face of this reality, the federal government has done little to protect citizens and small businesses from telecom market failings.
But local governments have stepped up and built incredible next-generation networks that are accountable to the community. These communities have faster speeds (at lower prices) than the vast majority of us.
Most of these communities would absolutely prefer for the private sector to build the necessary networks and offer real competition, but the economics of telecom makes that as likely as donuts becoming part of a healthy breakfast. In most cases, the incumbent cable and telephone companies are too entrenched for any other company to overbuild them. But communities do not have the same pressures to make a short-term profit. They can take many years to break even on an investment that creates many indirect benefits along the way.
One might expect successful companies like AT&T and Time Warner Cable to step up to the challenge posed by community networks, and they have. Not by simply investing more and competing for customers, but by using their comparative advantage – lobbying state legislatures to outlaw the competition. As we noted in our commentary and video last week, massive cable and telephone companies have tried to remove...Read more
Some still question whether we need FTTH networks, suggesting that modest copper upgrades will be fine for most over the next 5-10 years. When it comes to essential infrastructure, the idea that we should "cut costs" by operating right on the margin usually ends poorly -- and costs more, particularly in lost opportunities.
But to get a taste of what is possible on next-generation networks, check out a short video synopsis (the first video) of an entire conference discussing this subject.
The following videos are much more in-depth (and in chronological order), following the theme of "Public Services in a Gigabit World."
The East Central Vermont Community Fiber Network has announced it will connect an entire town as its second phase. Barnard, Vermont, will be the first town to have universal access to ECFiber's next-generation network.
An update on Phase 1 of this network:
Phase 1, with construction under way (see photo) and scheduled to go live in early August, brings an ultra-high-speed fiber loop from the ECFiber central office near I89 Exit 3, along VT Routes 107 and 12, to the center of Barnard. ECFiber expects to begin connecting businesses and residents who live on this route in early August and will provide detailed subscriber information closer to that date.
ECFiber has 23 member towns, but Barnard could be the most enthusiastic. This is as grassroots as it gets:
At its June meeting, the ECFiber Governing Board authorized an initiative to extend service to the rest of Barnard town. This requires a second round of capital-raising through a similar "friends and families" offering directed specifically to residents, businesses, and others who wish to support the deployment of universal broadband in Barnard.
Loredo Sola, ECF Governing Board Chair commented, "When we first took our plan to Barnard, we were inundated with residents offering to pay the entire cost of extending the Phase 1 trunk to their homes. This enthusiastic response inspired us to authorize a Barnard-only fund drive." ECFiber will be organizing informational meetings for Barnard residents and businesses to explain the details of the plan.
When sufficient funds have been committed to build out the entire town, the Barnard Local Fund will close, and construction of Phase 2 can begin.
Barnard had 94% of the community presubscribe!
The success of ECFiber comes without any support of the state, which has continued to pretend wireless connections and out-of-state corporations will provide the networks necessary for the economic development needed by communities.
Valley News took note of the story and expanded on it:
Without other funding streams, it could take seven to 10 years to build out to all 23 towns...
Update: You can also watch the video over at the Huffington Post, in our first post as a HuffPo blogger.
While we were battling Time Warner Cable to preserve local authority in North Carolina, we developed a video comparing community fiber networks to incumbent DSL and cable networks to demonstration the incredible superiority of community networks.
We have updated the video for a national audience rather than a North Carolina-specific approach because community fiber networks around the country are similarly superior to incumbent offerings. And community networks around the country are threatened by massive corporations lobbying them out of existence in state legislatures.
Feel free to send feedback - especially suggestions for improvement - to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Without further ado, here is the new video comparing community fiber networks to big incumbent providers:
Like many Washington Public Utility Districts, Pend Orielle, has connect small portions of its electric territory with an open access fiber-to-the-home. But these projects have been difficult to finance in remote (and often mountainous) areas. Pend Oreille previously built a pilot project but is now expanding its network with a stimulus grant from the feds.
The work has begun and is expected to end by November 30, this year. From a previous press release:
The project will make highspeed Internet available to approximately 3,200 households, 360 business, and 24 community anchor institutions such as schools, libraries, and health care facilities. Residents and business owners will have the opportunity to subscribe to a variety of highspeed Internet services through local internet service providers.
Lafayette's publicly owned FTTH network has created a YouTube channel featuring a commercial aimed at residential subscribers (in 15, 30, and 60 second spots) as well as a longer video aimed at increasing economic development. Both are embedded below.
These are "no-brainer" marketing techniques that every community should have at a minimum to promote their services.
Craig Settles recently interviewed Dan Speers, the Executive Director of the Pulaski-Giles County Economic Development Council, focusing on the publicly owned PES Energize muni FTTH network.
Craig started by asking how the network is used by local businesses:
There’s a printing operation here with their corporate headquarters in Los Angeles. They have to be able to send artwork all the time to headquarters. There’s a guy who works developing catalogue books that are published by an outfit in Canada. Before the network it would take him six hours to upload materials and now it’s done in minutes. One company has their offices on the north side of community and the manufacturing plant on the south side. They’re always sending large data files back and forth.
Hospitals here can upload and download files such as x-rays, MRIs, and CT scans immediately between other hospitals and doctors 75 miles away in Nashville. Patients don’t have to be transferred there, and they don’t have paper records that have to be carried by hand to specialists like they did in the old days. All of this saves lives and it saves money.
When Craig asked what the Obama Administration can do to expand broadband to "improve local economies," Speers asked for an end to state-created barriers to community networks and mentioned a Tennessee bill that would allow muni utility networks to offer services to communities outside their historic electric territories:
From a Tennessee perspective, first put us on a level playing field with the telcos. Allow municipalities to get into the business with none of the restrictions we have. We wanted to be able to wholesale our network services. Take Lawrenceberg, for example. They have no broadband and the telcos flat out refuse to build it there. We can expand our network over to them and they’d save $3 Million. But with the law the state legislature passed, we can’t serve them because they’re out of our area. If we shared head-in facilities, this would go a long way for economic development there.