News

Posted April 26, 2017 by lgonzalez

Recently, state lawmakers in Minnesota passed legislation to protect Minnesotans’ online privacy. In Tacoma, the City Council made a similar move by passing a resolution asking the Tacoma Public Utilities board prevent ISPs on the city’s fiber network from collecting and selling personal online data. The resolution was an example of local authority stepping in to fill the gap when federal policy fails.

When The State And The Feds Don't Act

Bills were introduced in the Washington State Legislature this session, but state lawmakers didn’t turn them into law. By mid-April, it appeared that the bills weren’t going anywhere so City Council members felt the need to address the issue after the Trump Administration’s FCC allowed privacy protections to lapse.

“I’ve just heard lots of concerns from community members and from boosters of the Click network about privacy,” said Councilman Anders Ibsen… “This also ensures that any private entity that rides our fiber, that uses the Click network, is held to certain ground rules, just really basic ground rules about respecting the privacy of their customers.”

Tacoma's Click! publicly owned network serves about 23,000 people. Over the past few years, the community has debated the future of the network and is still considering several possible scenarios. For more, check out our four-part series on the network's history and an analysis of the benefits from this public investment.

Local Network = Local Control

Like many of the local and regional ISPs that tend to offer services via publicly owned infrastructure, the two providers on Click’s network already commit to subscriber privacy. Since the announcement that privacy protections would be rolled back, several municipal networks that offer retail services have also assured their subscribers that collecting and selling information such as location data, search history, app usage, and browsing history just isn’t in their wheel house. Chattanooga’s EPB Fiber and Optilink in Dalton, Tennessee, are a few that...

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Posted April 25, 2017 by lgonzalez

Maine is the latest battleground for local telecommunications authority. A bill in the state’s House of Representatives threatens to halt investment in “The Pine Tree State” at a time when local communities are taking steps to improve their own connectivity.

"I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means"

Rep. Nathan Wadsworth (R-Hiram) introduced HP 1040; it has yet to be assigned to a committee. Like most other bills we’ve seen that intend to protect the interests of the big national incumbent providers, this one also has a misleading title: “An Act To Encourage Broadband Development through Private Investment.” Realistically, the bill would result in less investment by discouraging a whole sector - local communities - from making Internet infrastructure investment. 

Large national companies have thus far chosen not to invest in many Maine communities because, especially in the rural areas, they just aren’t densely populated. In places like Islesboro and Rockport, where residents and businesses needed better connectivity to participate in the 21st century economy, locals realized waiting for the big incumbents was too big a gamble. They exercised local authority and invested in the infrastructure to attract other providers for a boost to economic development, education, and quality of life.

Not The Way To Do This

If HP 1040 passes, the community will first have to meet a laundry list of requirements before they can exercise their right to invest in broadband infrastructure.

HP 1040 contains many of the same components we see in similar bills. Municipalities are only given permission to offer telecommunications services if they meet those strict requirements: geographic restrictions on service areas, strict requirements on multiple public hearings including when they will be held and what will be discussed, the content and timelines of feasibility studies, and there must be a referendum.

The bill also dictates financial requirements regarding bonding, pricing, and rate changes. Municipalities cannot receive distributions under Maine’s universal service fund.

As one of the remaining states...

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Posted April 25, 2017 by christopher

The larger focus of our work in the Community Broadband Networks Initiative is to ensure communities have the networks they need. Our guest for Community Broadband Bits episode 250 is an expert in how markets break and the policies that make them work. 

Gary Reback is a well known Silicon Valley lawyer and Of Counsel at Carr Ferrell LLP. He also wrote an excellent book, Free the Market: Why Only Government Can Keep the Marketplace Competitive that I fully recommend. Reback has had a front-row seat to the failings of government policy that has allowed a few technology firms to garner so much market power today.

We talk broadly about markets and monopoly rather than focusing on broadband and telecommunications. This is a good introductory conversation for people unfamiliar with the real threat and harms of monopoly. 

A related conversation is my interview with Barry Lynn in episode 83.

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

This show is 25 minutes long and can be played 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 April 24, 2017 by Nick

California

Sonic CEO: Speak up as your Internet privacy gets sold for profit by Dane Jasper, North Bay Business Journal

 

New York

Tyre residents surveyed on desire for broadband access by David L. Shaw, Finger Lakes Times

Grand Island is right to explore its own Internet service by Buffalo News Editorial Board

 

Pennsylvania

Monroe County, Pa., issues RFP for 'Monroe Gigabit Project' by Bill Cameron, Pocono Record (Government Technology)

 

Oregon 

Local ISPs say they'll never share information by John Darling, Ashland Daily Tidings

 

Tennessee

Private telecoms get another win over municipal broadand in Tennessee by David Z. Morris, Fortune

Rural Tennesseans could have gotten free Internet but their legislators shut it down by Lauren C. Williams, ThinkProgress

Tennessee bills send message on municipal broadband by Josh Cohen, Next City

Instead, the legislature passed the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act, a bill pushed by Governor Bill Haslam. It provides $45 million in...

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Posted April 24, 2017 by lgonzalez

A little over a year ago, we first shared the news about Bristol’s decision to privatize its FTTH network, OptiNet. Virginia based Sunset Digital Communications offered to purchase the network for $50 million. The network has saved Bristol millions of dollars, stimulated economic development, and cut telecommunications costs for local residents and businesses. Nevertheless, after several corrupt officials drove the network into a dark period of scandal, all those advancements paled and Bristol was ready to sell the network.

After months of negotiations with BVU’s partner in the Cumberland Plateau area service area, the details for the sale are coming together.

When There's A Partner

One of the last steps to completing the sale required approval from the Cumberland Plateau Company (CPC), which operates as a partner with BVU to bring connectivity to four additional counties in Virginia. As a partner with OptiNet in those areas, CPC owns approximately 50 percent of the assets.

When Sunset Digital offered $50 million for the BVU assets, CPC obtained the right of first refusal for the assets in the four counties where BVU and CPC work together as partners according to their contract.

Back in the fall of 2016, CPC was concerned about the legality and the details of the proposed transaction; they decided to wait for federal and state review before granting approval. Because the NTIA, the Economic Development Administration (EDA), and the Virginia Tobacco Commission provided grant funding to the CPC region for the deployment, the agencies needed to review and approve the proposal. The agencies approved the sale, but required that a large amount of BVU debt be paid. One of the claims that they required be paid was a claim for $8 million from CPC.

Approving The Offer

As part of the offer, Sunset promises to invest $6.5 million to connect more homes and businesses in the CPC region. They estimate CPC will gain about $21 million in revenue over 13 years while Sunset operates the network. CPC will retain ownership of its assets in the CPC service area and Sunset will transfer ownership of equipment in the CPC area to CPC.

After several rounds of...

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Posted April 22, 2017 by lgonzalez

Public Knowledge recently released a video on changes in the new administration’s FCC policies. One by one, progress made during the last eight years is being sliced up and doled out to the detriment of ISP subscribers.

Public Knowledge describes the video like this:

This video draws attention to the growing list of giveaways by Congress and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Pai to large cable and telecommunications companies that act as local broadband monopolies.

The video, which functions as a broad statement of themes, uses a series of pie slices to detail what consumers fear about the new administration’s telecommunications policy positions, in general language. The pieces of pie reflect multiple potential giveaways being heaped onto big cable and phone companies’ plates.

From selling private data without consent and eliminating some companies’ ability to offer affordable broadband, to forcing consumers to rent set-top boxes and embarking upon efforts to kill net neutrality, FCC Chairman Pai and many in Congress are promoting policies that give consumers the short end of the stick.

Check it out:

Posted April 21, 2017 by lgonzalez

The Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency’s (UTOPIA) regional fiber network serves communities in the north central region of the state. Without the publicly owned network, it’s doubtful the eleven communities served would have access to high-quality Internet access. It’s almost certain they wouldn’t be able to choose between so many providers who operate on UTOPIA's open access infrastructure. Now, the city of Bountiful, Utah, wants the network to extend its reach to their community.

Reaching Out To Other Communities

Recently, the city council voted to give UTOPIA a franchise agreement so the network but the city will not contribute financially to the deployment. According to the Standard Examiner, officials from the networks anticipate the first customers will be business subscribers who would help pay for the expansion.

Bountiful isn’t alone - other communities have granted franchise agreements to UTOPIA.

“This is just kind of a natural progression out of the Salt Lake Valley,” said [Roger] Timmerman, executive director of UTOPIA… The deal “brings more options to Bountiful,”

Bountiful City Councilman Richard Higginson described UTOPIA as a “proven player” in an email to the Standard Examiner. Other communities with franchise agreements include Salt Lake City, Draper, South Jordan and Pleasant Grove. Higginson wrote:

“If UTOPIA and its member cities find that providing services to customers in neighboring cities benefits their operation, then it could be a win-win for both UTOPIA and non-UTOPIA cities alike."

The franchise agreements will allow UTOPIA to deploy in cities' rights-of-way in order to connect customers to the network.

Broadband Benefits In UTOPIA Towns

Last fall we spoke with Mayor Karen Cronin from Perry City, which already connects to the UTOPIA network. She described how competition from the open access network has improved local services, the economy, and the general quality of life. Roger Timmerman participated in the interview as well. Listen to the podcast here.

There are...

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Posted April 20, 2017 by lgonzalez

You might not have made it to Mesa for the Digital Southwest Regional Broadband Summit, but you can now watch some of the speakers and panel conversations. Next Century Cities has posted video from panel conversations and the keynote address from Commissioner Mignon Clyburn.

In her address, Commissioner Clyburn said:

“Access to high-speed broadband is a necessity in today’s 21st century economy, providing a gateway to jobs, education, and healthcare. I am honored to join state and local leaders who are on the front lines of closing the digital and opportunities divide. Working together, we can achieve our shared goal of affordable broadband for all Americans.”

The Commissioner’s full remarks were about 18 minutes long:

 

Sharing Knowledge on Infrastructure 

Christopher moderated Panel Two, focused on infrastructure needs, which included CISSP President and CTO of CityLink Telecommunications John Brown, Partner at Conexon Jonathan Chambers, Director of Technology at the Southern California Tribal Chairmen’s Association Matt Rantanen, Manager of Tribal Critical Infrastructure at Amerind Riskand Kimball Sekaquaptewa, and Vice President of Digital Innovation at Magellan Advisors Jory Wolf. If you listen to the Community Broadband Bits podcast, you’ll probably recognize most of these voices.

The video lasts one hour thirteen minutes:

 

The other videos are available on the Next Century Cities YouTube channel page, or watch them here.

 

Welcome and Introduction: Deb Socia, Executive Director of Next Century Cities and Eric Farkas, Fujitsu Network Communications, 7:32

...

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Posted April 19, 2017 by christopher

As we continue to cover the growing movement of rural electric cooperatives to bring high quality Internet networks to their members, we wanted to bring Alyssa Clemsen-Roberts back on the show. Alyssa was last on the show for episode 109 and has since moved from the Utilities Telecom Council to Pedernales Electric Co-op in Texas.

Though Pedernales is not considering a major broadband investment, Alyssa's insights from her years working with many electric utilities are valuable in understanding what electric co-ops have to consider before making a network investment. 

We start off by discussing the recent legislation in Tennessee that finally allows electric co-ops to offer Internet access before we move on to the real considerations a general manager has to examine before getting into telecom. We also talk quite a bit about the interplay between rural electric co-ops and telecommunications companies.

Read the transcript of the show.

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

This show is 32 minutes long and can be played 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 Break the Bans for the music. The song is Escape and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Posted April 19, 2017 by lgonzalez

Johnson City Power Board (JCPB) in Tennessee began considering expanded uses for its fiber-optic infrastructure way back in 2009. After several stops and starts, the community is on track again, having just commissioned a Fiber and Wireless to the Premise (FTTP) Feasibility Study.

A Long Road

In 2009, when the municipal utility was installing fiber to substations they reviewed the idea of offering broadband to businesses and residents. Ultimately, they chose to focus on smart-grid development and save possible telecommunications offerings for some time in the future. 

This isn’t the first time the community of 63,000 has commissioned a feasibility study. In 2011, community leaders took the results from a study and decided a public-private partnership was the best route. The community is located between Bristol, Virginia, and Chattanooga, Tennessee - both communities with municipal fiber networks that have seen upticks in economic development. Competing for new businesses and retaining the ones they already could not have been easy while sandwiched between the two communities with high-quality connectivity.

In 2012, Johnson City announced that it would be working with the BVU Authority in Bristol as a partner. Now that the BVU system will likely be sold to a private provider, Johnson City is back to square one, but with considerable experience in its pocket. 

Asking For Input

As part if the study, JCPB has launched surveys on their website for residents and businesses; they’re also making the surveys available through the mail. JCPB is asking the community to complete the surveys before the end of June.

From the JCPB survey page:

Over 1,000 communities nationwide have undergone similar evaluation processes and benefited from the information obtained from these types of surveys.  Survey results have enabled key decision-makers within these municipalities to make more...

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Posted April 18, 2017 by lgonzalez

By June, the networks in the Ports of Clarkson and Lewiston will at last be connected after months of negotiation, collaboration, and unraveling and old conduit mystery. 

Network Stalled By Conduit Question

Last summer, we reported how the two communities had each invested in publicly owned fiber Internet infrastructure with the plan to connect the networks at the Soothsay Bridge across the Snake River. An issue arose when rights to ownership arose regarding ownership and use of conduit on the bridge. CenturyLink controlled 20 conduits on the bridge that it obtained years ago as part of Pacific Northwest Bell. The provider was only using five of the conduit. The Ports had doubts about who actually owned the conduit and so the Port of Clarkson filed a Freedom of Information Act with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to determine the true owners. In the meantime, CenturyLink offered the Port of Clarkston use of one of the conduits for $0.

Soon, the parties involved discovered that there was no lease between CenturyLink and any of possible four jurisdictions involved - Nez Perce and Asotin counties or the cities of Lewiston and Clarkston, current co-owners of the bridge.

After unraveling the conduit ownership issue, reports the Lewiston Tribune, all five entities worked out an agreement to govern the conduit:

Those entities spent months negotiating, and in recent weeks elected officials from both counties and both cities signed off on an agreement. It makes the city of Lewiston’s Public Works Department the primary point of contact for CenturyLink and allows any one of the bridge owners to veto a lease or sale of the conduit. CenturyLink is not required to pay to be on the bridge.

Moving On

Now that the point of connection between the two networks is settled, the two Ports have completed an agreement to authorize the Port of Lewiston as the entity to head up installation of conduit on the Southway Bridge.

Both networks offer dark fiber connectivity to local community anchor institutions (CAIs), ISPs, and a few businesses. In addition to dark fiber networks in...

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Posted April 18, 2017 by lgonzalez

Net Inclusion 2017 from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) and hosted by the St. Paul Public Library is less than a month away. The event will be on May 16 - 17 in Minnesota and early bird registration prices are available to April 20th.

From the event website:

Participants will discuss current and potential local, state and federal policies and policy innovations that could increase digital equity, current and potential sources of financial and programmatic support of digital inclusion programs, and share digital inclusion best practices and new strategies from across the USA.

Maya Wiley, Senior Vice President for Social Justice and the Henry Cohen Professor of Urban Policy and Management at the New School will present the Keynote address. Read more about her work here.

The event will start on Tuesday, May 16th, with tours of local inclusion programs and lunch at the historic James J. Hill Center. Participants will then move to the St. Paul Central Library and City Hall for the Break-out Sessions. The Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion Award will be presented on Wednesday along with some other special discussions on local government investment and the digital divide.

Christopher will be speaking on Tuesday at the 2:45 p.m. “Statehouse strategies: State-level digital inclusion advocacy and programs” panel. Other familiar speakers include:

  • Chris Lewis, Public Knowlege
  • Joanne Hovis, CTC
  • Laura Breeden, NDIA
  • Nicol Turner-Lee, Brookings Institution
  • Bernadine Joselyn, Blandin Foundation
  • Matt Wood, FreePress

…and many others.

In addition to speakers from national organizations, the agenda includes quite a few participants from St. Paul and Minnesota groups working toward digital literacy and finding ways to bridge the digital divide.

Break-out sessions discuss a range of issues, including legislation and policy,...

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Posted April 17, 2017 by Nick

California

Bridging the digital divide is imperative for economic prosperity by Barbara O'Connor, The Sacramento Bee

 

Idaho

Why does broadband even matter? by Josh McDonald, Shoshone News Press

 

Minnesota

World-class medical community needs world-class broadband by Mike Schlasner, Rochester Post-Bulletin

Let's double down on what works: Border to Border Broadband Fund creates connectivity by Matt Schmit, MinnPost

To date, the argument for better broadband in Minnesota has focused on (1) the imperative for ubiquitous access for all homes and businesses, (2) the benefits of widespread use in applications ranging from e-commerce and distance learning to telehealth and precision agriculture, and (3) economic growth, opportunity, and competitiveness in every corner of the state.

Broadband remains the greatest of equalizers for economic opportunity, competitiveness, and quality of life in Greater Minnesota.

 

New York

State must help safeguard personal privacy by The Daily Gazette Editorial Board

 

Ohio

State laws allowed AT&T to exclude Cleveland's poorest neighborhoods from high-speed Internet service by Eric Sandy, Cleveland Scene

 

Pennsylvania

...

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Posted April 17, 2017 by htrostle

The Cherry Capital of the World, Traverse City, Michigan, continues to weigh its options to improve high-speed Internet service. The city of 12,000 homes and businesses has the results of a feasibility study and is carefully eliminating options as they look for the one that best suits their needs.

Most Likely Possibilities

Local newspapers, the Traverse Ticker and the Record Eagle, have followed the planning process. In late 2015, the city utility Traverse City Light and Power (TCL&P) began developing ideas on how to bring better connectivity to residents and businesses. The possibilities ran the gamut from an open access network to a public private partnership (PPP), and different groups within the community advocated for each option.

In February 2017, the community received the results of a feasibility study, which detailed two main options: operating the network as a city utility or leasing the network to a single private provider. Both options assume about two years for construction and an initial customer base of around 2,900 homes and businesses. The proposed prices are $25 per month for phone service, about $50 per month for 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) Internet access, and about $80 per month for a gigabit (1,000 Mbps) Internet access.

What About Open Access?

Local tech enthusiast group TCNewTech, however, pressed the city to also consider an open access approach, where multiple private providers share use of the infrastructure. TCNewTech member Russell Schindler explained to the Traverse Ticker that he supports public ownership of the network, but his focus is on increasing competition...

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Posted April 15, 2017 by lgonzalez

RS Fiber Cooperative, serving communities in central Minnesota, has received attention and awards for a collaborative approach to improve local connectivity. The project is bringing better Internet access to farms, businesses, and residents in rural Minnesota that had little chance of ever getting better service from the national providers.

In a recent edition of National Public Radio’s The Call-In: Rural Life, Winthrop economic development director Mark Erickson, who was one of the champions of the project, talks with series host Lourdes Garcia-Navarro about what better connectivity means for rural areas.

Remember to check out our extensive coverage of the RS Fiber Cooperative, including our 2016 report, RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperative.

Erickson’s interview begins at around 4:20. Transcripts for the show are available here.

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