News

Posted December 13, 2017 by lgonzalez

Network neutrality protects Americans from the ability of powerful ISPs to exercise unchecked power over what subscribers access and how quickly they receive certain content. The neutral characteristic of the Internet is one of its finest qualities. If Republican FCC Commissioners and Chairman Ajit Pai vote to shred network neutrality on December 14th as they’ve indicated, 177 million Americans will be left to the whims of a flawed market.

Mapping It Out, Presenting The Fact (Sheets)

We recently presented visualizations based on FCC Form 477 data that supports our findings on the way the repeal will limit vast swaths of people to a bleak Internet access future. Nationwide, approximately 29 million people have no broadband Internet access. Another 129 million will have no ability to change Internet access providers because there is no other option. Out of those folks, 48 million are forced to take service from an ISP that is a known network neutrality violator. Likewise, 146 million may have a choice between two ISPs, but about 52 million must choose between two network neutrality violators that have actively worked to undermine the policy for years. 

Our team also parsed out the numbers for California and the East Coast from Maine to Virginia. The results are just as discouraging.

In our fact sheets, we focused on the number of people who either have no broadband access or who will be forced to take service from a firm that is a known violator of network neutrality. We've included our maps to help illustrate just how pervasive this problem is in each region.

As a defender of network neutrality, this is the kind of information you want to share. You can easily print, post, and pin these resources and we encourage you to do so as often as possible. If you live in California or the east coast from Virginia to Maine, please share these resources with your neighbors. If you live in other areas of the country, the full U.S.A. map and data are also pretty striking.

 

United States Fact Sheet: Download Net Neutrality Repeal By The Numbers, U.S.A. Edition, fact sheet here....

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Posted December 12, 2017 by lgonzalez

As the FCC’s vote on whether or not to remove network neutrality draws near, an increasing number of people are beginning to wonder how Internet access will change for them. Journalists have reached out to us to ask about the role of publicly owned Internet networks and the future without federal network neutrality policy protections. Molly Wood from Marketplace Tech interviewed Christopher to ask about the pros and cons of munis, how the FCC vote could affect municipal networks, and how municipal networks may help when or if we face an Internet no longer protected by network neutrality.

Wood asked some general questions about munis and their cost, and Christopher offered some specific examples from information we’ve learned from the communities we study. Now that big ISPs are set to receive the keys to the kingdom, local leaders wonder if they can take steps to avoid the pitfalls of unfettered power.

Christopher told Molly:

The only way that [ending network neutrality] would help cities and people more generally is that it would lead to more cities considering this and cities being more aggressive because the big cable and telephone companies would likely abuse their new power. But the Internet will still be there behind the scenes and cities can build their own apps and get around the barriers that the big cable and telephone companies are producing.

Listen here or at the Marketplace website.

Posted December 12, 2017 by christopher

If everyone subscribed to Internet access, the business models for supplying it would be much easier. But there are strong reasons for why many are locked out of Internet access today, a subject we explore with National Digital Inclusion Alliance Executive Director Angela Siefer in episode 284 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. 

We discussed what digital inclusion is and what prevents people from subscribing to the Internet. There are no solutions to these problems from the federal or state levels - the most promising solutions are bubbling up from communities. Angela tells us how.

We also talk about the problems created by redlining - where ISPs like AT&T systematically refuse to invest in some neighborhoods for a variety of reasons. And toward the end we talk about network neutrality and its impact on the digital divide. If you want more Angela after you finish this interview, listen to her with Veronica Belmont from Mozilla's IRL podcast.

This show is 28 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or 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 Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Posted December 12, 2017 by Matthew Marcus

In southern California, the city of Manhattan Beach is considering creating a municipal broadband network to extend quality, affordable broadband to its residents and businesses.

Advocating for Quality Internet 

Talk of the network surfaced from Information Technology director Sanford Taylor’s "Fiber Master Plan." Beyond providing better broadband, the network would support “Smart City” projects: synchronized street lights, community cameras, and parking meters that allow drivers to find parking spots through an internet app.

Taylor previously worked for the city of Long Beach where he helped spearhead their fiber network. Municipalities typically pay exorbitant prices for large-scale high-speed Internet. Long Beach had been paying around $14,000 per month before Taylor transitioned from traditional ISPs to a wholesale option costing only $1,100 per month.

Nearby Santa Monica has had success with their publicly owned network, which connects businesses, community centers, and has helped improve the functionality of municipal systems like traffic signals and cameras. The Long Beach I-Net facilitates city operations by providing connectivity to municipal facilities but doesn't connect businesses or residents. A private firm, Inyo Networks, developed a citywide fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network in the nearby town of Ontario; Taylor and Public works director Stephanie Katsouleas have been studying the arrangement closely. They are also visiting other communities that are investing in publicly owned Internet infrastructure, including Beverly Hills.

Taylor issued a Request for Proposals recently and just that small signaling of network independence had ISPs scrambling, resulting in the city obtaining service through a different incumbent provider with more bandwidth at nearly half the cost. 

Manhattan Beach is conducting a...

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Posted December 11, 2017 by Kelsey Henquinet

On December 14th, The FCC will vote on whether or not to repeal Net Neutrality. In anticipation to the vote, we have included a roundup of the media coverage of the vote in our weekly Community Broadband Media Roundup:

Net Neutrality

Preparing for the End of Net Neutrality, City Tech Leaders Warn of Widening Digital Divide By Zack Quaintance, Government Technology News

City gov tech leaders said this week that a repeal is all but certain to make it more difficult for municipal governments to foster digital equity. As Internet access has become essential to modern life — for applying for jobs, helping kids with homework, finding health care, etc. — cities have increasingly dedicated resources toward ensuring that all residents have access to the Internet, as well as to the equipment they need to use it and the skills to efficiently navigate the space.

Comcast deleted net neutrality pledge the same day FCC announced repeal By Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

Nationwide Protests on Net Neutrality Come to Arizona By Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - AZ

[Christopher] Mitchell notes that in many towns, big Internet service providers have a near monopoly.

"Most Americans only have one choice in high quality Internet access,” he points out. “Beyond that, they have to either take a lower quality service option or move."

In more than 30 states, local authorities have taken the matter into their own hands, organizing municipal telephone companies that compete with the big ISPs but are required to operate in the public interest and seek to offer reasonably priced high speed Internet.

...

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Posted December 11, 2017 by christopher

This Thursday, December 14th, the FCC plans to remove network neutrality protections. Republican Commissioners and Chairman Ajit Pai justify the decision by claiming that the market will naturally protect subscribers from predatory big ISP behavior. Unfortunately, the FCC’s own numbers disprove their theory. We dug into the data that reveals how 177 million Americans will be left without any market protection following net neutrality repeal.

Visualizing The Data

Using FCC 477 data, we created a visualization of relevant data. This map focuses on the people and businesses at greatest risk - where they are limited to options from providers that have violated network neutrality in the past or have admitted the plans to violate it in the future.

National Map showing lack of broadband choice by geography

For a larger image, download this version [18 MB png].

Download Net Neutrality Repeal By The Numbers, U.S.A. Edition, fact sheet here.

The results are not inspiring. More than 129 million people are limited to a single provider for broadband Internet access using the FCC definition of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. Out of those 129 million Americans, about 52 million must obtain Internet access from a company that has violated network neutrality protections in the past and continues to undermine the policy today.

In locations where subscribers have the benefit of limited competition, the situation isn’t much better. Among the 146 million Americans with the ability to choose between two providers, 48 million Americans must choose between two companies that have a record of violating network neutrality.

Look at the East Coast, where the problem is particularly bad, except for maybe NYC, where we did not include Altice, which recently purchased Cablevision. We did not feel that we had enough evidence of its history to include it...

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Posted December 9, 2017 by lgonzalez

A month ago we were following the election in Fort Collins in which Comcast had invested heavily to oppose a measure to allow Fort Collins can pave the way for a future municipal network. Comcast lost their bid to buy the election and their recent campaign report reveals that the bankroll they spent was much more than anyone realized.

Close To A Million

When we analyzed Comcast’s investment in the Fort Collins election for our report, Comcast Spends Big on Local Elections: Would Lose Million in Revenue from Real Broadband Competition, we looked at the logic behind the big ISP’s investment to stop measure 2B. At the time, the front for Comcast and CenturyLink, Priorities First Fort Collins, had only spent about $200,000. Within two weeks of releasing our report, that figure rose to more than $450,000. The last campaign report, filed in early December, reports that the organization spent approximately $450,000 more. All told, the total amount spent by Priorities First Fort Collins for the compaign came to a whopping $900,999.

The grassroots organization Fort Collins Citizens’ Broadband Committee spent a little more than $15,000.

The measure to pass 2B to allow Fort Collins to amend its charter to simplify moving forward with a municipal network utility passed with 57 percent of the vote.

We looked at how much both sides spent and how their investments paid off. The anti-muni faction thought they could win by throwing money at the voters, but the locals who understand the problem in the community knew that education and leg-work were the key:

2017-2B-Spending-in-Fort-Collins.png

Learn about what it was like in the trenches for the Fort Collins Citizens' Broadband Committee by listening to Christopher interview Glen Akins and Colin Garfield in episode 282 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Surpassing All Others

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Posted December 8, 2017 by lgonzalez

Last week, Burlington’s City Council finally chose a buyer for Burlington Telecom (BT), their municipal network that began serving residents and businesses in the early 2000s. City Councilors and representatives from Schurz Communications and ZRF Partners hashed out the details of an agreement at the eleventh hour. The Letter of Intent (LOI) was released on December 6th; the public can now analyze the deal their elected officials chose for them.

Night Work

On December 1st, editors at the Burlington Free Press published a piece highly critical of the process that occurred in the late night and early morning hours of November 27th and 28th. They wrote:

Burlington residents have every right to wonder what happened to the promise of an open and public process for picking a buyer for Burlington Telecom.

Many city residents woke up Wednesday morning to find that their elected representatives had chosen Schurz Communications as their preferred buyer for Burlington Telecom based on a bid significantly revised just hours before the vote.

Editors went on to state that the City Council had “negated the months-long public process for the sale” of BT by allowing Schurz and ZRF to alter their bid and accepting it without giving the community time to review it or weigh in. After so much time and effort invested in a process that was intended to be transparent and include the entire community, Burlington leaders seem to have dropped the ball at the five-yard line.

The Letter Of Intent

People following the process know that Schurz was one of the four bidders that made it to the semi-finalist status but was eliminated when the City Council cut the list down to Toronto-based Ting Internet and the Keep Burlington Local Cooperative (KBTL). When the vote was split between Ting and KBTL, the City Council asked the two to try to work...

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Posted December 7, 2017 by lgonzalez

The FCC is scheduled to decide the fate of Internet access on Thursday, Dec 14. Will anyone anywhere in the U.S. be able to pay one basic fee to access information on the Internet from the most popular to the most arcane content providers? If all indications are correct, probably not. ISPs will increasingly decide on what terms we access the content we want. Prepare for your bills to go up. 

You might wonder why the FCC is so focused on rolling back such an overwhelmingly popular policy in favor of giving more power to the most hated corporations in America. It isn't because the most recent rules to codify the long-standing principle of non-discrimination has harmed investment. It hasn't

But something struck us about the lobbying campaigns around this issue. This graphic from the Sunlight Foundation shows just how hard the top telecommunications companies and their lobbying associations have focused on defeating network neutrality. The image shows lobbying reports generated by lobbyists and whether or not the entity is opposed (red) or in favor of (green) network neutrality. As you can see, the amount of red coming from the ISPs that serve most of America vastly outstrips the green.

Lobbying-Reports-Mentioning-NN.png

Seeing Red

Since the Sunlight Foundation published this graphic in 2013, the landscape has changed in important ways. The two top firms supporting network neutrality were taken over by big monopolists that oppose maintaining an open Internet.

In 2015, Verizon acquired AOL for $4.4 billion and CenturyLink recently completed its acquisition of Level 3. CenturyLink, which sued the FCC over Title II reclassification, does not support network neutrality. The next strongest net neutrality supporter was Google, which took a quieter position in the 2015 debate over Title II but has...

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Posted December 7, 2017 by Matthew Marcus

The state of Minnesota has awarded Paul Bunyan Communications the Border-to-Border Broadband grant to expand fiber optic services to three different counties.

The expansion will cost $1.78 million, with Paul Bunyan Communications contributing $980,990, and the state Border-to-Border grant covering $802,620. The plan should be finalized by the spring and construction will start this summer. Paul Bunyan Communications projects the build-out will be completed by June 2020.

Rural Minnesota Gets Better Connected

The Border-to-Border Fund was created by the Minnesota state legislature back in 2014. The goal is to help make the financial case for providers to invest in building infrastructure into unserved and underserved areas of the state.

Many underserved areas of the state have included the Border-to-Border grants in their planning process and as a pivotal part of their expansion models. The financial boon from the state has proved successful for many communities. RS Fiber Cooperative has been successfully connecting towns and rural areas in Sibley and Renville County, and they recently announced a gigabit residential connection at no additional cost for subscribers. It’s also attracting investment and industry, explained Mark Erickson in a recent report, citing the forthcoming medical school being built in Gaylord:

"We have that opportunity because of the Fiber-to-the-Home network. Without it, no medical school."

Cooperative Success 

Paul Bunyan Communications Cooperative has already made massive strides in providing high-speed access to large swaths of northern Minnesota. Paul Bunyan’s GigaZone reaches more than 29,400 locations, covering more than 5,000 square miles in Beltrami County, also reaching areas of Cass, Hubbard, Itasca, Koochiching, and St. Louis Counties.

The ever-...

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Posted December 6, 2017 by lgonzalez

We're continuing the interviews Christopher conducted while at the November Broadband Communities Economic Development Conference in Atlanta; this week, he's talking with Stephen Barraclough, General Manager for Burlington Telecom (BT) in Vermont. Stephen has worked diligently to reinvigorate and preserve the publicly owned network that, regardless of troubles, has been popular with subscribers.

Christopher and Stephen had their conversation prior to the November 27th Burlington City Council meeting when Councilors voted to sell the asset to Schurz Communications and ZRF Partners. The vote came after a long and arduous process that dragged on the community. Details of the agreement were still being negotiated when we published this podcast. Read more about the history of BT here.

Stephen and Christopher talk about what it was like when Stephen took the helm of the network. At the time, there were financial difficulties caused by a prior Mayor’s administration, but the community had come to rely on the fiber optic network and wanted to do what they could to preserve it.

Stephen describes the problems he faced and how they went about restoring the network step by step. He notes that saving BT was a team effort that involved industry colleagues, employees at BT, the city’s leadership, and the community as a whole. Central to their rebirth was self-reflection as an organization and taking control to set themselves apart from the competition. Christopher and Stephen also talk about other issues, such as BT’s low-income program, customer service, and the effort to retain a public interest philosophy under the expectation of privatization. Stephen sees only opportunity for BT and its subscribers as the community moves forward.

This show is 23 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here...

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Posted December 6, 2017 by lgonzalez

Ellensburg, Washington, decided to pursue a fiber optic pilot project to serve local businesses almost a year ago, but they’ve encountered some bumps along the way. After revising the original plan and working with the state’s nonprofit Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet), it looks like they’ll be moving forward.

The Logical Progression

Back in 2013, Ellensburg realized that they could save significantly by ending service from Charter Communications and investing in a publicly owned institutional network (I-Net) to bring connectivity to municipal facilities. The positive results from the investment inspired them to take the next step and look into expanding their investment to infrastructure for businesses and residents. Early this year, they decided to start with a pilot program that would build off their I-Net to bring 30 businesses fiber connectivity, including a few home-based businesses and telecommuters.

Financial Slow Downs

The city received a grant from the Distressed County Sales and Use Tax Infrastructure Improvement Program to fund the project; the City Council dedicated the $169,560 grant to the project.

When they asked for bids from three contractors that are listed on their small works roster, none were interested. Next, they chose a firm to negotiate with but the first quote of $415,000 was well above their budget. Even after negotiating the price down to $315,000, the City Council was hard pressed on their next move.

In October, the city’s Utility Advisory Committee recommended they consider reducing the area to be served in the pilot project to reduce the cost of the deployment. They chose to let the bid expire.

The NoaNet Connection

In November, Ellensburg Director of Energy Services Larry Dunbar...

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Posted December 5, 2017 by lgonzalez

On November 15th, the City of New York announced that it was looking for ideas to bring high-quality connectivity to every resident and business. Their goal is to get every one connected by 2025; they’re starting with a Request for Information (RFI) to solicit ideas for potential strategies and partnerships. Responses are due January 19th.

The Big Apple’s effort comes on the heels of San Francisco’s decision to invest in municipal broadband to connect the entire city. New York’s RFI states that they will use all their assets — from rooftop to, to poles, to organizational resources — to move their efforts along so New Yorkers can enjoy fast, affordable, reliable connectivity. City leaders want to exhaust all avenues and are encouraging both public and private sectors to become involved in the initiative.

The Vision

In their vision, New York City leaders have identified five goals they wish to achieve through better broadband infrastructure:

Promote competition in the residential and commercial broadband markets.

Provide high-speed residential Internet service for low-income communities currently without service.

Increase investment in broadband corridors to reach high-growth business districts, with a focus on outer-borough neighborhoods.

Promote seamless user experience across public networks to create high speed access across the boroughs.

Explore innovative ways to provide high-speed Internet to homes, businesses, and the public.

At this point, they’re open to any technology or business model that can achieve these goals and is future proof.

Resources

As part of the RFI, the city provides links to New York’s essential reports and information about assets, including information about franchise agreements, micro trenching rules, and Wi-Fi hotspots. There’s also a link to the Queensbridge Connected program, the high-speed Internet service for folks living in the Queensbridge Houses. We spoke with the city’s Senior Advisor to the CTO Joshua Breitbart in May about the project during...

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Posted December 4, 2017 by Kelsey Henquinet

California

Gigabit-speed internet in San Jose? Facebook pilot brings high hopes, despite delays by Queenie Wong, Mercury News

“Facebook is a company that will make money if people are on the internet constantly, and so they’re trying to find a way to get around the cable and telecom company monopoly without going directly to war with them,” said Christopher Mitchell, a community broadband expert at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

Manhattan Beach contemplates municipal broadband service by Mark McDermott, Easy Reader News

The San Francisco Broadband Experiment by Doug Dawson, Pots and Pans

 

Colorado

In Colorado, do more votes for municipal broadband networks mean instant internet access? Not so fast. by John Aguilar, The Denver Post

With Voter Approval for Municipal Broadband, Colorado City Asks Citizens How to Proceed by Tyler Silvy, Gov Tech

Fort Collins broadband plans start to take shape by Nick Coltrain, The Coloradoan

 

 

New York

North Country broadband is a patchwork quilt by Glynis Hart, Adirondack Daily Enterprise

 

North Carolina

...

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Posted December 4, 2017 by lgonzalez

As the threat to network neutrality seems imminent, an increasing number of local people are organizing grassroots groups and are looking for the best steps to start local initiatives. When you decide that your community needs to make a change that isn’t happening organically, it’s time to nudge that change along. Starting a grassroots movement with like-minded citizens will help educate the community, build support, and generate ideas as you all consider what is the best solution for your unique situation. We’ve talked with local folks over the years who have shared lessons learned with us and we’ve gathered together some of the best grassroots stories with resources to share. 

Seek Out The Masters 

Of course, there’s nothing better than getting tips from some one who’s already climbed the mountain. John St. Julien from Lafayette passed away in 2016, but his voice and work lives on. We interviewed him in the early days of the Community Broadband Bits podcast for episode 94 in 2014and he had some great advice on engaging other people in the community and keeping the momentum positive.

logo-LPFBanner.png We also obtained permission to archive and preserve some of the writings on the Lafyette Pro Fiber Blog, John’s brainchild he developed as Lafayette struggled against the many challenges by incumbents who wanted to preserve their monopoly.

Hanging’ With Buds

Often it is a mutual and familiar need that brings grassroots organizations together. In North Carolina, NC Hearts Gigabit started as a way to connect to each other when they don’t feel connected to the current political process, want better Internet connectivity in North Carolina, and need to get out from behind a desk. They organize their meetings around lunch and, hey, we all need to eat amiright? Christopher spoke with the people who got the group off the ground, with Economic Development Consultant Christa Wagner Vinson, CEO of Open Broadband Alan Fitzpatrick, and Partner of Broadband Catalysts...

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