Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 193

This is Episode 193 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Ted Smith, Chief Innovation Officer for Louisville, Kentucky, joins the show to describe one touch make-ready and wireless innovation. Listen to this episode here.

Thanks to Jeff Hoel for the transcript corrections.

Ted Smith: Just like one dig, the idea would be well, how about if we just roll one truck out there, one truck in the neighborhood, one episode, streamline, go.

Lisa Gonzalez: Welcome to episode one hundred and ninety three of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. When a community chooses to deploy a fiber network it's no small undertaking. Planners must first complete a number of tasks before one foot of fiber can be buried or strung from utility poles. In Louisville, Kentucky, where Google Fiber has considered expansion, an issue has come up regarding utility poles and rights of providers. The debate has shined a light on One Touch Make-Ready, policy designed to hasten preparation of utility poles, while still respecting the concerns of utility companies that own or use the poles. Chris sought out Ted Smith, Chief Innovation Officer for the city of Louisville, to talk about one touch, make-ready. Chris and Ted also expand the conversation to talk about the city's creative approach to improving connectivity for residents of all income levels, and ways they're pushing the boundaries of innovation. Now, here are Chris and Ted Smith, Chief Innovation Officer from Louisville, Kentucky.

Chris Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, I'm Chris Mitchell. Today I'm speaking with Ted Smith, the Chief Innovation Officer for the city of Louisville. Welcome to the show.

Ted Smith: Thanks for having me.

Chris Mitchell: We're excited to talk to Louisville, I've actually long known about Louisville as a basketball city. I understand that you do some other things as well. Why don't we start by just having you give us little details for people who aren't familiar with your community? What sort of things is Louisville known for?

Ted Smith: You probably do know Louisville for basketball, but you should certainly know us for the Kentucky Derby, the most famous two minutes in sports, that occurs every year. You may know the Louisville Slugger bats, I'm sure many of you know the importance that the bourbon industry has had in the world in the last few years. We are the home to bourbon, the champagne region of France, we are that for bourbon. On the business side we have a really diverse and exciting economy. We're home to Humana, UPS World Port, the majority of packages leaving and coming into the country for UPS are coming through here. There's a great set of related kinds of economic activities. We're about seven hundred and fifty thousand people in a merged city county. That's important for those that keep track of what's going on in mid-sized cities, cities that made the decision to bring together and consolidate their city and county, generally have done very well in the last few decades. We've certainly done well operating like that.

Chris Mitchell: As Chief Innovation Officer, I think one of your jobs is going to be to try and make it more high tech and friendly top internet style innovation, internet companies and that sort of thing. What are some of the things that you're focused on to make Louisville more friendly for those high tech companies?

Ted Smith: There's a wide range of things that run the spectrum from our infrastructure, if you will, what's the absolute fabric? I'm spending a lot of my time these days on broadband internet, but it also runs all the way over to the human capital side. We have a thriving maker community here, very large maker space and that culture of tinkering, hacking, breaking, making is also a related and important part of this whole thing. We're really trying to bring an ecosystem of technology and creativity together here. There are a lot of pieces to that.

Chris Mitchell: The main thing that I think people have seen lately in Louisville was how you're one of the first communities, and possibly the very first, to embrace a policy idea called one touch make-ready, which should make it easier for anyone who wants to deploy fiber on poles, to be able to do that. Before we get into that too much, I just wanted to note that we scheduled this call before there was a lawsuit and I understand that you're not at liberty to talk about anything related to the lawsuit. If listeners were interested, we're sorry, but we're going to talk more about the policy stuff than any of the lawsuit activities. What problems did Louisville note in terms of needing to be corrected with a new policy?

Ted Smith: A lot of the focus for large area infrastructure work, it's capital construction work, you're building something. Then the focus becomes what are the barriers to being able to do business in a community? Usually you really do focus on just the way things work. How does permitting work, how does franchising work? There's a lot of wonky stuff that I wouldn't expect anybody who listens to your show care about, really. Sooner or later, you do run into well, how does your city operate as it relates to the public rights-of-way? Many will be familiar with this idea of one dig policy. If you're in downtown Boston and somebody rips open a block of roadway, you would hope that while they've got the road open, they're going to be working on everything that's down there, that is scheduled or needs to be worked on. That'd be the gas line, that'd be the water line, that'd be the electric, a number of things that are in the road way. You would hope they would do that all at once and then close the road up, then it might be a long time before they need to open the road again. Those are called one dig policies, and many cities have one dig policies where they do coordinate the work of the utilities so that there's minimal disruption to the community and it improves overall safety in the community. When you think about aerial attachment to poles, there's a similar idea and it's called one touch make-ready. There's a great white paper [Role of State and Local Governments in Simplifying the Make-Ready Process for Pole Attachments, November 2015] that the Fiber to the Home Council put out a couple of months ago, that really describes how much safer it can be for a community to not have a five or six trucks rolling out to a pole, a utility pole. Each one moving one line a few inches. Then another truck coming out and moving their line a few inches, all to get to a place where the newest attacher can put their line on. Just like one dig, the idea would be how about if we just roll one truck out there, and we have an accredited certified technician who is able to move everyone's line to make room for the new line, and go ahead and attach it, and drive away? One truck in the neighborhood, one episode, one interaction, streamlined, go. That really is the idea behind one touch make-ready.

Chris Mitchell: I think one of the things that people may not be aware of is that for the most part, when this sort of work is being done, it is contract crews, it's not someone who's literally getting a paycheck from AT&T or from Comcast or any of those big companies. They're a crew of local people that those big companies and local companies might contract with. What you're doing to some extent, I think, is you're basically finding common crews that everyone trusts to work with, and just having them do it at once, rather than rolling that truck multiple times.

Ted Smith: At the end of the day, in our community these poles are owned by private companies. In our community they're owned by our electric and gas utility and by AT&T. Those poles are their property, their private property. Pole attachment, having the ability to attach to their pole, is actually governed by their pole attachment policies and contracts. You have to pay for leased space on attachment. When you get to this issue of who's doing the work, I want to be a hundred percent clear, the only that can do work on poles in our community are contractors or labor that is approved by that utility. The ordinance that we passed wasn't to say that well now anybody can climb up this pole and put a wire on. That's definitely not what we're saying. We're saying the pole owners have decided who is credentialed to be on their poles, on their equipment. From that list of contractors, technicians, some new attacher is going to have to select to do the work. Or have their own work force accredited by that pole owner. I know this seems a little bit in the weeds, but it's important to know, because a lot of people have misunderstood this to be now the governments asking to have anybody come up and do whatever they want on our poles. That's not at all the case. We really are working with respect to the way that attachment is governed today. We're just asking for the common sense of let's let that technician move everyone's line, not just touch the one line that they might have been originally dispatched for.

Chris Mitchell: I'm glad that you bring up that the city of Louisville doesn't own the poles in this case, I think that's an interesting piece. Can you say a little bit about why the city of Louisville has this say over the poles? We have talked previously about the right-of-way and how it works, but I think maybe you could give us a very brief refresher of it.

Ted Smith: If you look at the ordinance that was passed, what we're asking for is poles that are in our public rights-of-way. We're asking for essentially, a standard of work for those poles in our rights-of-way. It really is just a matter of we're really trying to streamline and improve the safety and efficiency of operations in public rights-of-way. I understand that the poles are privately owned and that's fine, but this policy applies to our public rights-of-way.

Chris Mitchell: I was going to say as a reminder, I think just a little bit deeper is that you're entrusted, you're required to operate the rights-of-way to regulate them in a way that will benefit the public. As I'm looking at this from afar, it looks to me like Louisville is saying, well we want to make sure that we can make it easier for new investment. We want new investment in Louisville. If you have this system where a company that what's to build fiber has to wait months, and months, and months, that's going to be a problem. You're basically saying our rights-of-way are going to be more efficient. Is that basically the high level?

Ted Smith: I would argue, councilman Hollander, who introduced, sponsored the ordinance and got it passed through, he really has emphasized the importance of the public safety and the lack of interruption in the neighborhood. I know you just made the argument for we want to be a place where product companies can come invest, but I'll tell you, in the formation of the legislation and in the passing full legislation, the higher premium was being placed on, the reason that we believe this needs to be done, is to decrease disruption in the places, around these rights-of-way. Primarily a safety and disruption reduction, again, like one dig is. That's really where we were coming from. I don't view this as an economic development activity, per se, I view this as this is streamlining the way access to our rights-of-way operate. There will be other benefits of working like that, but this isn't an economic policy, this is really a safety and efficiency common sense thing to do. I know it has implications in other quadrants, but when you look at it, we spent most of our time really focused on safety and disruption.

Chris Mitchell: It's actually a perfect analog then. You just mentioned it, but I'll note to people that when we were studying Santa Monica, which has one of the more longer running dig once kind of policies, that their initial concern was literally that the streets would be crumbling from all the cuts in them. That was why they embraced that sort of a model, and I think that's why a lot of other cities have as well.

Ted Smith: Through the course of this whole thing I've become very sensitive to poles. What you'll learn is there's a lot of short cuts, I don't know, I think it was hacking that goes on in the pole business. Where you will have, let say the electric utility decides whatever they need to do, that the pole that's standing in place is not going to be able to structurally support whatever needs to be done, so they need to put in a new pole. Well they'll put in a new pole in roughly that location, right next to it. Then they'll move their stuff over, the electric utility. Then, in many cases, they'll chop the pole and then there are two poles there, and we're waiting for all these other communication player attachers to start moving onto the new pole. In worst case scenarios, they've actually then cut the pole at the top and bottom, lashed it to the new pole, because one attacher hasn't gotten their truck out. There's this cancerous looking monster telephone pole, that has most of the new pole and then part of the old pole lashed to it. This is what we're doing today. I encourage anybody listening to actually just taking a look at the way poles look in your community. If you're in a situation where you have these stub poles, lashed partial poles, that is really because of this sequential attachment activity. It might not ruin your day, but it really is a different kind of blight and probably a safety issue, overall.

Chris Mitchell: I'm curious, one of the reasons that I tend not to do a lot of talking about poles, is that after visiting some communities that have, often over a period of many decades, engaged in under grounding projects, I've become very partial to getting as much out of the site as possible. I just think the aesthetics are more wonderful. I'm curious in a longer term, does the city of Louisville, do you think you can encourage conduit access as well? Or are you focused on poles for a long term?

Ted Smith: I don't know that we have a strategy as a city or a community on how much is aerial and how much work is underground. We certainly have a bias, as many communities do, on new development the bias is to have stuff under ground. A lot of our newer developments are under ground. We are a three hundred and fifty square mile merged city county, it's a lot of space and it's not a small thing to say let's make a commitment to getting all this under ground. It's very expensive, it'll take a very long time. We're really just trying to make the best of the situation that we're in right now. Again reducing extra clutter in the right-of-way is a priority. Multiple poles in similar locations is part of clutter and can be a safety issue in it's own right. That, on top of the proliferation of micro cells and I think that's a subject of a whole nother show, I'm sure. There is no slowing down the deployment of fiber as it supports wireless data. We're going to see a ten fold increase in small cell tower work over the next few years. This is, there's no stopping, there's an arms race for getting on tablets and mobile phones. You don't do that under ground, you have to attach yourself to something in the air. I know you have a vision of having everything under ground, but I don't think you can track of all the mobile devices and the internet of things, they're all above ground and they're looking for something above ground.

Chris Mitchell: Yes, you have me there. The wireless access points will certainly have to be above ground.

Ted Smith: There's more of them, more of them all the time. People are going to 4G then 5G and pretty soon you realize that you're going to have be very flexible to these antennas. The only way that's going to happen is if there's a lot of fiber supporting that.

Chris Mitchell: I'm curious if you could characterize some of the arguments? We saw that, I believe in the city council meetings that incumbent providers spoke out against these policies. What arguments did they use?

Ted Smith: In the lead up to the ordinance, there certainly are, I think if you're used to the way you're doing business, you have crews that you send out to do things, then your bias is to say well, I like it the way I'm doing it right now. A lot of it does center on I send my people out to work on my stuff. I understand that. There's lots of interesting arguments the city made around all of that. That's really, I think at the core of it, those are where the concerns are. The status quo at the moment, before this ordinance, really has a whole set of business practices that if you suggest we're going to stop working like that, the first redaction you get is well, this is how we do our work. We really want to keep doing the work the way we've always done the work.

Chris Mitchell: Generally, I don't find that a very persuasive reason. Sometimes it carries the day, but unfortunately, it's one of those things that ... If you have fiber all over town, I can see why you wouldn't want to change things. Anyway, I wanted to throw that in there because I haven't found that their arguments held a lot of merit, but I wanted to make sure that we at least gave a nod to them. I'm curious, is there anything else going on in Louisville, for people who are interested in what cities are doing to improve internet access, that you'd like to note?

Ted Smith: A lot of the focus of this conversation is how do you really get ultra, high speed, cost effective internet? Mayor Fisher, my boss, really looks at this very holistically. We are certainly concerned about being competitive in that light, but similarly, we are aggressively working on low income neighborhoods, he one I think of is the new digital divide. The new digital divide isn't really about internet access in a sense of, yeah I have it or I don't, it's the way that you get to the internet. We have neighborhoods in Louisville where what's true today. They have access to wireless data, the pricing is so very high, relative to what you would get at a fixed line into your house, that people don't use the internet for educational applications. They do things that are a little more bandwidth intensive. We're focused on what can we do to roll out wireless internet in some of these neighborhoods. We have a meshed network that we've recently put up in one of these neighborhoods. We're learning a ton by doing this, I just want to say. It's not your grandfathers WiFi project, it's a WiFi project, we're really trying to learn about arrays of access points. How they can be used for economic development for small businesses in the area. Recently we rolled out a few big valley recycling waste stations, I don't know if you're familiar with that company out of Boston. They have essentially trash receptacles and recycling receptacles that have, in the case of the ones we rolled out, wireless backhaul, that now, in these neighborhoods, also have hot spots in between units, and they're solar powered, solar on top of the unit. We've put a couple of these units into this neighborhood we've been doing public WiFi and it's really been very interesting to see. Now we have people waiting at a bus stop and they're able to know when the bus is coming because the trash can next to the bus stop is a hot spot. It's powered by the sun and it uses wireless back haul, so it doesn't matter where you are physically.

Chris Mitchell: I have to think that in the near future, those things will also be measuring air quality, and doing all kinds of other things too.

Ted Smith: I really want to emphasize, while it's fun to talk about ten gigabit internet to your house, it's just as fun to talk about wireless trash compactors that also can do other things for you. Help you get the bus, maybe monitor air quality, maybe monitor noise levels, whatever that is, there's all kinds. We're learning that in one of our most economically distressed neighborhoods. It is where our most advanced internet technology work is happening. I couldn't be happier about that. We've recently stumbled into some learnings around vacant properties and the kinds of fires that vacant properties have, turns out they present real risks to adjacent properties that have people in them. Now we had a hack-a-thon to come up with an ultra low cost smoke detector that could talk to our municipal networks. Now the empty house that's catching on fire, can tell us that it's on fire before anybody can see it, because it's empty remember. The idea that we can come up with innovations like this, only really comes from actually having the asset in a neighborhood that's distressed where we can come up with these crazy new ideas. I'm pretty sure you wouldn't come with a situation in a very wealthy neighborhood, where there aren't the same kinds of challenges or constraints. We're doing some of our best learning on the other side of the bandwidth continuum. Slower internet, but the internet of things, broader, everyday use of internet and then, of course, we're going to have our folks that are looking for the speed and trying to telecommute and all that. The mayor really sees the whole continuum and we're trying to work the whole continuum.

Chris Mitchell: It sounds like that's a lot of what Susan Crawford has been calling a responsive city. Which, I've enjoyed her writings about that and talking with her about that. It's also, I think, the case that when you talk about developing these apps and these approaches, you probably wouldn't be doing it if you had to be paying per bit or trying to get someone's permission from the telephone company to do it. There's a lot to be said for being able to build your own network, using unlicensed wireless space. These sorts of things are really important.

Ted Smith: Yeah, it's really ... Like anything in life, you actually don't really know what you're doing until you get busy doing it. We're learning as we're trying. Susan is a wonderful person. Sort of makes the case that this infrastructure is a public good. The only way you can really back up the rhetoric is by actually showing people all the different kinds of good that it can do. That's really what we're focused on. Everyday we think of a new value that a network can provide, really validates that whole point. Just like the road that you built, or the railway. You see all the different uses and all the value that's created. You don't necessarily know about all of that until you lay the infrastructure down.

Chris Mitchell: Great. Thank you for coming on the show and telling us about what's happening in Louisville.

Ted Smith: Well, thank you so much for having me.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Chris and Ted Smith, Chief Innovation Officer from Louisville, Kentucky discussing one touch make ready policy, and what is happening in the derby city. Send us your ideas for the show. Email us a Follow Chris on Twitter, his handle is @communitynets. You can also follow stories on Twitter, where the handle is We want to thank Kathleen Martin for the song, Player Versus Player, licensed through Creative Commons. Thank you for listening to episode one hundred ninety three of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.