Thanks to Jeff Hoel for providing the transcript for the episode 131 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Chris, Lisa, and Rebecca discuss the highlights of the 2014 year. Listen to this episode here.
Chris Mitchell: Welcome to another Community Broadband Bits Podcast. It's a Year In Review edition.
Lisa Gonzalez: Yay!
Rebecca Toews: Woo-hoo.
Chris: This is going to be a very exciting day. For everyone who's listening to this show. On New Year's Eve.
Lisa: If you're listening to the show on New Year's Eve, thank you for sacrificing your plans to join us.
Rebecca: This means they're really excited about 2015.
Lisa: That's right.
Chris: I strongly recommend that if you're listening between, say, 9 pm and midnight on New Year's Eve, you may want to reassess your life's goals.
Rebecca: Wait, I'm listening.
Chris: So, we're going to talk a little bit about what happened over the course of the year, and then maybe make a few predictions for next year.
Lisa: But we have a special guest.
Chris: We DO have a special guest. A Very. Special. Guest. Rebecca Toews. Who spells her name totally weird, like other Canadians.
Rebecca Toews: Hey, if you are a hockey fan, then you know how to say my name.
Chris: And I know we have a few listeners who are hockey fans. So -- But Rebecca is our communications specialist, and has shown up in a number of places, so --
Rebecca: I'm basically the new **. I'll be the voice of "WHAT?"
Lisa: One of the reasons why we brought Rebecca is because ...
Chris: -- we couldn't find anything else for her to do. No ...
Rebecca: They're taking over my office, and I would just overhear it anyway.
Lisa: Rebecca has this great sense of humor, and she laughs at almost everything we say. So that's why she's here. She makes us feel good. We thought we might also get into a few predictions.
Chris: Yes. A la --
Lisa: -- Carnac the Magnificent!
Rebecca: Predilections? Prevarications?
Lisa: Although many people are too young really appreciate Carnac **
Chris: Apparently, Carnac had a pretty big impact on Lisa, because when I suggested doing a predictions discussion, she got very excited ...
Lisa: I did.
Chris: ... and pantomimed many envelopes crashing into her skull. But we're doing a show that's -- it's going to be -- we're going to start off with the year in review. And Lisa has done a little bit of research and come up with some items. And I have done NO research, in order to claim ...
Chris: ... because I wanted it to be fresh, and to give you a ...
Lisa: Oh, listen to this lame excuse for not doing your work.
Chris: I wanted to give an honest, unscripted reaction to reflecting on what's happened in the year 2014.
Lisa: I just thought of what some of the big stories were. And I'm sure that everybody listening would agree with me that probably the biggest stories had to do with this idea that local communities should be able to have the authority to build out their networks. And the FCC taking the cue from the DC District Court to reassess Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act, to decide whether or not they might be able to roll back some of those state laws that restrict that.
Chris: Well, I -- I think the FCC deserves a lot of credit for -- Tom Wheeler, Chairman of the FCC, coming out in September and saying that many Americans don't have a choice. And putting forth the statistics that most Americans that want a high-speed Internet connection cannot get it from ANY provider. I think 20 percent of Americans can't get anything over 25 megabits. And those who can, the vast majority of them can only get it from one provider.
Lisa: Um hum.
Chris: But I do want to just gently suggest that the FCC has taken the lead on a lot of this stuff. But it was the cities of Wilson and Chattanooga that actually led to the FCC considering these petitions about the municipal-restricting laws of Tennessee and North Carolina.
Lisa: Right. Right. I mean, they -- go ahead, Rebecca.
Rebecca: Well, I was just -- I'm thinking -- I'm wondering -- I'm fairly new to this, just in the past year. And I've noticed a huge difference in the conversation that's going on. And so, do you think that Chairman Wheeler's response has been sort of the reason that this has become more mainstream, it seems like?
Chris: I think that because we have Chairman Wheeler using the bully pulpit on this issue, it's made large press outlets cover it more frequently. I think, you know, press really didn't know what was happening on this before Chattanooga -- and Google in Kansas City, and that sort of thing. And I think that Chairman Wheeler speaking out on this so frequently, and other people from the FCC stepping up, that they've really helped to elevate it, and make it a constant press item. Maybe in the tech press, but often in the Wall Street Journal, or the Washington Post, the New York Times -- all of them have been covering this. And then public radio's had a number of stories about it. So, I think it's been incredible, just the amount of attention on this idea of cities building their own networks.
Rebecca: And that's different from years past?
Chris: It IS different. Yes. And I should also say, and also with cities partnering with other local, often trusted allies to build a network. And there's a different momentum here. When you look at a newspaper story now, and it talks about municipal networks, odds are, almost all the comments are very favorable, and saying, yes, cities should be doing this. We just want a choice. We want something more. We don't really care who does it. We need someone to do it. Whereas, two years ago, you know, we would see a real mix of comments. And some of them would be from people who were saying, cities are stupid; cities wouldn't know how to do this. You know, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But now there's definitely a different sense. And there's a respect for the things that cities can do.
Lisa: And, you know, that sort of brings me to what I thought the next interesting thing was -- and, granted, you know, a lot of this is fresh in my memory because it's sort of later in the year -- I thought that what happened in Colorado was really -- and, as you mentioned, North Carolina and Chattanooga, I think sort of got the ball rolling. And -- but, I think, in Colorado, there were eight different communities who decided this fall that they were going to -- maybe not actually start initiatives and start projects, but at least reclaim that authority.
Lisa: Because they realized they could at least say, hey, if we want to do this, we will.
Lisa: And ...
Chris: Which, under Colorado law, they have to do ...
Lisa: Um hum.
Chris: ... before they take any steps. But you're absolutely right. And I think the way you described it was spot on. We've been seeing a lot of these trends. And, you know, when you're trying to figure out what's really happening out there -- which is, I think, different, a lot of the times, from what you or I might WANT to happen -- you know, ...
Chris: It's hard, sometimes. Because you're trying to figure out what's really happening out in the world ...
Lisa: Um hum.
Chris: ... and you think you have a handle on it. And then along comes an election. And it just reinforces everything you've believed. Which is that this is a nonpartisan issue. This is something that people in communities that vote heavily Republican care about. It's something that people who live in communities that vote heavily Democratic care about. And in communities where there's a total mix, and they send some Republicans and some Democrats to represent them, they also overwhelmingly voted for the authority to have this. So, something that we see -- and every year is reinforced, I think -- that this is not a partisan matter.
Lisa: Um hum.
Chris: This is just a matter of people that want to have local authority to make the decisions they need to have their community be very strong.
Lisa: Um hum. And one of the things about that, that I thought was interesting, is that most of those communities were smaller communities.
Chris: Or rural. Yup.
Lisa: Or rural. Which also leads to the next thing I thought was interesting -- is that there were quite a few smaller or rural communities that actually built networks themselves. Or started ...
Chris: Such as?
Lisa: Such as, you know, there were Leverett, Sebewaing, ...
Chris: I knew you were going to say Sebewaing!
Chris: You're a Michigan girl.
Lisa: I am. I'm from Michigan. And I just think it's really cool. And, plus, you know, it's in the "thumb." Geographically, you know, it's kind of like "out there." Or, it's its own little peninsula. So that area kind of gets overlooked, because it's not the middle of the state, ...
Lisa: ... you know. And so they have no choice ...
Lisa: ... you know, and so they're kind of, like, let's do it ourselves, you know. And also Westminster, ...
Chris: Ammon. Ammon, Idaho, is moving forward.
Lisa: Yeah. And then Rockport in Maine.
Chris: Right. A lot of Maine communities.
Lisa: Yeah. So it's like all of these smaller ...
Chris: And Chanute. We found out today ...
Chris: ... which, when we're recording this, Chanute got the OK from the state to bond for ...
Chris: ... their fiber network ...
Chris: ... in Kansas.
Lisa: So, you know, I just think it was interesting that a lot of smaller communities just said, you know what, we're not waiting anymore. We're just going to do it.
Lisa: You know, I thought that was an interesting thing in 2014.
Chris: Which is interesting, too, because it was often these more isolated and smaller communities that got the ball rolling originally, you know. Kutztown, Pennsylvania. Bristol, Virginia. Chelan. Dalton, Georgia -- one of the first ones. I mean, ...
Lisa: Um hum.
Chris: ... a lot of these are smaller places that are -- or at least they're certainly off the beaten path.
Lisa: Um hum.
Chris: So, it's -- in some ways, it's a return to, I think, smaller, smart, forward-thinking communities that are leading the way. And Winthrop, Minnesota, too. You know, with the RS Fiber, ...
Chris: ... they're getting their financing in-house. And so it's very exciting to see Sibley County in Minnesota, that's -- very farming-dependent communities -- that are going to finally get the connections they need. They're building a coop. It's a very exciting story.
Lisa: Right. Right. Well, what about you, Chris. I mean, what are some things that -- some stories this year that you thought were ...
Chris: Well, today was the day ...
Lisa: ... even though you didn't do your homework, I'm sure some things kind of stick in your brain.
Chris: Well, this was a year when America had enough of me, and I got to start touring the world a little bit more. So, you know, I got to give a presentation in Stockholm, and then in Brussels, about what's happening in the United States. And I also got to attend the Internet governance forum in Istanbul. So, it was a year in which I started paying more attention to what's happening internationally ...
Lisa: Um hum.
Chris: ... and a real reminder that a lot these fights are global -- that big telecom companies -- you know, they have different names in Europe than they do over here, but they really have the same interests ...
Chris: ... and they're really screwing a number of communities over. And so there's a need, I think, to really be aware of what's happening elsewhere, and to learn from the open access in Sweden, to get a better sense of how we might approach open access in the United States, is helpful.
Um, it was a good year for some of the big coalitions that we help create. I mean ...
Lisa: Um hum.
Chris: ... you know, we spent a long time trying to build this Next Century Cities, and working with some people, and sort of figuring out what a coalition like that might do. And so, having launched Next Century Cities is very exciting. And, I think, it's making great progress. Especially with Deb Socia as Director, it's very exciting.
Lisa: Um hum.
Chris: And so, I'm excited to see that continue to grow, and to work with them. And to work with THEM, in the sense that I'm also a part of Next Century Cities, as the Policy Director.
And then the Coalition for Local Internet Choice, I think, is really terrific. And working with Jim Baller and Joanne Hovis in an official capacity is terrific. Because they both do terrific work. They both -- they've been around in this industry for such a long time. I mean, Jim was counsel to Billy Ray, you know.
Chris: So, for anyone who hasn't seen the video we did on Glasgow this year -- we released it in August, and you can find it on our videos page -- the video on Glasgow, Kentucky, is terrific. The birth of community broadband. Billy Ray is amazing, and ...
Lisa: He's such a great character.
Chris: ... and he's the one who taught Jim Baller about broadband. And Jim Baller has gone on to become an incredibly important attorney in these matters. And he helped us to form -- we helped him to form -- the Coalition for Local Internet Choice. And that's, you know, it's a very exciting movement, that, you know, we'll get into a little bit with our predictions. But moving forward, trying to make sure that we can restore some of the authority to communities, and make sure that no one's able to roll any authority back.
Lisa: Um hum. Um hum.
Chris: Yeah. And so ...
Chris: ... that's some of the big things.
Lisa: Yeah. Rebecca? Anything stick out in your mind?
Chris: Rebecca, one year ago, you didn't know what community broadband was, right?
Rebecca: Well, that is not -- OK, I didn't know what community broadband was. No. But I definitely knew about net neutrality issues and things like that. So ...
Chris: Um hum.
Rebecca: ... but it was always something in grad school, where it was, like, oh, well, that's -- you know, it's a wonky tech thing that I won't really ever understand. And it's really been a great transition to sort of see where I've -- how far I've come in understanding these issues, and being able to relate them on a, you know, real-people level, I think -- has been really cool for me.
Lisa: FCC has been very busy this year.
Chris: Yes. Although I think that Chairman Wheeler has done far better than some people expected. I mean, there's a lot of concern ...
Lisa: Yeah, he's done better than I've expected.
Chris: Certainly. I mean, ...
Chris: ... he's definitely lived up to what people like Susan Crawford expected out of him, in a number of ways. Although I will say that we're still deeply concerned about the path network neutrality takes.
Lisa: Um hum.
Chris: And so, there's clearly an issue there, where the Chairman has to find a balancing act, and I think many of us are concerned that he's balancing a little too far, in the terms of industry interests.
Lisa: Um hum.
Chris: So, that's something that will be resolved soon. But I -- I do think that -- one other thing that pops into my head as we're talking about that is, the FCC has been much more -- it's -- the FCC has done a better job of being a regulatory body, I think, when it comes to some of these mergers. It -- you know, it wasn't this year, but it denied, previously, the AT&T/T-Mobile merger, which has led to all kinds of investment in the wireless space. And now -- I think it's asked some really hard questions of Comcast in the Time Warner Cable merger. And, eight or ten months ago, I thought it was ludicrous to think that we could stop it. I thought it was IMPORTANT that we stop it. But I didn't think we would really have a chance at stopping it. And -- no, I always thought we had a chance, but I didn't think we'd actually do it. And now, I'm starting to get my hopes up ...
Chris: I think we can stop this merger. And we can -- that would be a tremendous win for consumers across America. And, more importantly, indirectly consumers. Because it would be a really big win for ISPs.
Lisa: Um hum.
Chris: If Comcast and Time Warner Cable joined together, they're going to be able to change the industry in ways that will really hurt small companies that are the ones that are investing in gigabit networks, and the cities that are in gigabit networks.
Lisa: Um hum. Um hum.
Chris: So I think that that's -- it's exciting.
Rebecca: How often does that happen, that a merger would be ...
Chris: Since Reagan, almost never. It's very rare. I mean, anti-trust policy fundamentally changed during the Reagan years, and, really, just before -- is what began the change. But ...
Lisa: There's also fewer and fewer companies to merge ...
Chris: Right. Although they ...
Lisa: ... because of that.
Chris: No, there's something to that. But we had a podcast with Barry Lynn, that I highly recommend. And his book, "Cornered," I recommend at every opportunity. Because he talks about these issues of consolidation and mergers. And, I think, if this FCC denies the Comcast and Time Warner Cable merger, that may be one of THE most important decisions that they make. Because, frankly, network neutrality is important. But network neutrality just gets us to stay where we are. And we need to figure out how to move forward, and make sure that Comcast has LESS power in two years to hurt the Internet, and to -- you know, to control things -- than it has right now. And I think stopping the merger is the first step in that direction -- to reclaiming some local power. And making sure that one or two companies can't be gatekeepers.
Rebecca: If they denied the merger, can they -- can you go back again and ask to merge again? Or something ...
Chris: Well, they could challenge it in court.
Rebecca: ... that would be different.
Rebecca: And is that likely to happen? I mean, that would ...
Chris: No, what will probably happen is, if the merger is quote-unquote "denied," I think, is that Comcast would withdraw it.
Rebecca: Um hum.
Chris: Because they wouldn't want to have the merger officially denied. So it would be, oh, we changed our mind. Once they found out it was a possibility of it being denied, right?
Rebecca: We didn't want that anyway.
Chris: Yeah. [laughs] Effectively. So -- and, I mean, I'm not a FCC insider. I think that's part of my charm. [laughs] Is being ignorant of some of these things.
Rebecca: I was wondering where your charm came in.
Chris: So, I -- you know, that's my understanding of how it works.
Lisa: So, then, we're talking about predictions. I think we've moved into that area. So ...
Lisa: So we're talking ...
Chris: This is your favorite, Lisa. You're always so ...
Lisa: Carnac says ...
Lisa: So, Chris thinks that we may be able to prevent the merger. So, do you think that that is a decision that will happen in 2015?
Lisa: Or do you think that it will get pushed back farther?
Chris: Well, I don't know what would push it back even further. There's a clock that they have to meet.
Lisa: Um hum.
Chris: And there's some things that allow them to stop the clock, and then restart it. And, as of right now, I think we need to know -- the FCC would need to make a decision -- in April, I want to say? But some time relatively soon.
Lisa: Um hum.
Chris: So I do think we'll have an answer. And I desperately hope that the merger is denied. Um, you know, I'm going to predict that it's going to be denied. Because ...
Lisa: On the books.
Chris: I'm just going to -- I'm just going to go out there and say that I feel like the amount of outrage we've seen across America. And frustration. I think it's going to lead to the FCC denying the merger.
Lisa: I think that they're going to just withdraw it.
Chris: Right. Well, that's where I -- well, I guess, the different way I should say it is -- and I don't think it's ...
Lisa: I don't think it's going to go ...
Chris: ... the merger's going to go through.
Lisa: Yeah, I don't think it's going to go all the way through the process.
Lisa: I think that, as you said, that there's going to be an indication that it would be denied, and so Comcast and Time Warner would just say, well, then, we'll try again later.
Chris: That's what -- that's what I'm -- I'm going to -- you know, a lot of times, I think, with predictions, it's important to not just go with what you WANT to happen.
Chris: But on this one, I'm going to say, yeah. The Gophers are going to win ...
Chris: ... the NCAA tournament in men's basketball.
Lisa: And it's going to rain gold coins.
Chris: And there will be no merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable.
Lisa: We talk about community networks all the time. How -- what do you see there? Do you see more community networks emerging? Do you see more communities building them? Do you see different methods? What do we expect to see there?
Chris: Well, that's -- it's a good question. And I think we WILL continue to see more networks.
Lisa: I think so too.
Chris: I have a fear, though. And on this one, I'll just say that I'm a bit worried about seeing more cities that I think are going to be trying to figure out how to do something easier.
Lisa: Um hum.
Chris: They're going to be too intimidated at building their own network. And they're going to think that it's not possible for them to do it. And, in some cases, they may be making a smart decision. Not every community should build a network. I agree. But I think some communities -- and, I think, too many -- will be looking at foolish partnerships, where they're partnering with an entity that will ultimately not work with them in the ways that they want to. Or that won't have the community's interest at heart. Or an entity that could turn around and sell the network to Comcast. And then, you know, you have a slightly better network, with terrible pricing and no real choice in providers, and that sort of thing.
So, I think we'll see that. But I also think we're going to see, you know, more models emerge. I think we're going to see more cities working together -- in ways that we're starting to see in Connecticut.
Lisa: Yeah. That's what I was thinking, too. I was thinking more partnerships, hopefully, more creative approaches to partnerships, that are more meaningful for the cities.
Chris: Um hum.
Lisa: And I'm expecting more work with coops.
Chris: Right. I think that's -- yeah, I think we're going to see coops expanding and -- And, something that I think that we'll start to see in states -- we'll see more states debating programs like Minnesota did.
Lisa: Um hum.
Chris: And, hopefully, we'll see Minnesota put more money into their fund, which -- we don't know where that money's going yet. There's been -- there's a $20 million fund. I think, $66 million in applications. I think we're going to see -- I do think we're going to see more states experimenting with projects -- or with programs like Minnesota has -- it has a $20 million fund. And I hope that a lot of that money is directed to coops and rural areas. Because I think that munis, counties, and coops are THE solution for rural areas.
Lisa: Um hum.
Chris: It's a -- there's a challenge of getting long-term, low-interest capital. But if that can be made available, then we can basically build fast Internet networks the same way we built electricity networks, with local entities that are responsive to the needs. And they're not going to a terrible job of customer service, like Windstream or Frontier. They're not going to criminally underinvest in the network, like CenturyLink does in rural Minnesota. I mean, you know, these are the sorts of things that cities that are looking at private ownership, particularly in rural areas, need to look at the ways in which these big companies just have NO interest in investing in rural America. So -- so I think we're going to see more of that sort of thing. And we're going to see more states recognizing they have to do something. Something positive. Not just basically handing the legislature over to cable and telephone lobbyists.
Lisa: Um hum. So, then, as far as lobbyists go, I feel -- my prediction -- Carnac Lisa predicts that, you know, the lobbying efforts at the state legislatures is going to slow down a little bit, as a way to not ...
Chris: The anti-municipal lobby?
Lisa: Yes. As a way to not provoke the FCC. That's my guess. And ...
Chris: I'm curious. You know, I'm -- I think that's -- it's rational thinking, to think that the cable companies will not want to keep going into these battles, that they haven't won. I mean, it's been a while. You know, they fought a number of these battles. But in Kansas, they were EMBARRASSED totally. And AT&T was just embarrassed, I think, in Kansas, again, for it's, you know, getting involved a little bit with Chanute. So, I think, you know, I'll be watching Maine, because there's so much more interest in Maine than there has been in the past. And Fairpoint is trying to figure out how to keep its TERRIBLE monopoly for its TERRIBLE service in a lot of the state. I'll be watching Georgia and Kansas, because we've seen recent attempts there.
Lisa: Um hum.
Chris: But you're right, I think. I wouldn't be surprised if they pull back. But I also wouldn't be surprised if they just go full speed ahead. Because these are CABLE LOBBYISTS. It's their JOB to try and, you know, do whatever they can ...
Chris: ... and they have to justify their salaries. So I wouldn't be surprised if we see more states that are looking at this.
Lisa: Maybe. I don't know. I just feel like they're too smart. I don't -- I think that that would be just -- that would be like shooting yourself in the foot. But then again, you know, it's all short-term thinking. So ...
Chris: All right. So, here's a -- here's a -- I'll predict that there will be five or more states in which there are attempts to restrict local authority. And you can take the other side. And in a year, ...
Lisa: I don't ...
Chris: ... we'll come back and ...
Chris: ... you can just say ...
Lisa: I don't think there's going to be any -- this next ** ...
Chris: Wow! You're going to go with zero.
Lisa: I'm going to go with zero this next legislative session.
Chris: Well, we'll know in January whether you're winning that one or not.
Lisa: Yeah. Yeah. We'll know. Yeah. Unless there's something that's already -- I mean, if there's something that's already in the -- no, I think that even if there is something that's already written and sitting on someone's desk, they will probably say, why don't you just wait.
Chris: All right.
Lisa: Hold off.
Chris: All right.
Rebecca: You talked about embarrassment in -- with AT&T in Chanute. And I'm wondering, do you think that that -- that sort of embarrassment is happening a lot more frequently ...
Rebecca: ... with companies that are getting kind of, you know, foot-in-moutn, I guess? Or, ...
Chris: Yeah. I think so. And, frankly, it should happen a whole lot more. I mean, these are companies that are not used to being in the public eye, I think. You know, when you have Verizon and the cable companies running ads, every morning, on the buses or the trains in Washington, DC, saying, you know, too much net neutrality and we're not going to invest anymore, and it's going to kill our industry. At the same time, they're telling Wall Street, hey, don't worry about this whole thing. If the FCC cracks down on Title II, we're still going to invest. It's not going to change out investment plans. Because they don't want investors to freak out. And they KNOW that they're going to -- that their investment plans aren't really impacted by whether it's Title II or not, because the FCC is not going to overregulate in this matter. But they could say those things in the past, because -- speaking out of both corners of their mouth -- and never be called on it. But now, the Washington Post has people that are actually pay8ing attention to telecom. And I would say that the Washington Post, the New York Times to a lesser extent, they're listening to people like me more. And people that are actually trying to collect these examples, and say, hey, look at this! This is absurd! They're lying! Write about this. And in the past, they wouldn't write about it, but now they are writing about it. So --
So that's good. And I think it makes them, you know, uncomfortable. Because they're not used to actually having real scrutiny. So, this is a very exciting time. And, I think, you know, it's exciting that people are interested in this subject. And I think we, you know, all deserve a little pat on the back. You know, our audience and us. Because it's been an exciting year. And we've spent a lot of years working up to it.
Lisa: Pat on the back, everybody. Pat, pat, pat, pat, pat, pat, pat. Yay!
Chris: And I do want to thank people. Because these are things that would not be happening without the people that are ...
Lisa: That's for sure.
Chris: ... in our communities. Now, I'm very glad that people are interested in what we have to say. But, Lisa, you and I both know -- most of what we do is just reporting in what other people are doing. You know, we're not really doing a whole lot. Fundamentally, we're just the messengers ...
Lisa: That's true:
Chris: ... of what's happening across America.
Lisa: That's absolutely true. Um hum.
Chris: So, thank you, everyone. And have a great new year.
Rebecca: Happy New Year!
Lisa: Thank you for listening to the Community Broadband Bits Podcast, this week and throughout 2014. It's been our pleasure bringing you news of community networks and telecommunications throughout this eventful year. We hope you'll continue to tune in during 2015 to our advertisement-free show. We encourage you to visit ilsr.org and click on the orange "donate" button to contribute to our work.
Send us your ideas for the show. E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org . You can also follow us on Twitter. Our handle is @communitynets . Thank you again to Dickey F for the music this week. His song, "Florida Mama," is licensed through Creative Commons. Thanks again for listening, and we wish you a safe and Happy New Year.