News

Posted February 22, 2017 by lgonzalez

In December Centennial, Colorado’s City Council voted to establish Centennial FiberWorks, a program focused on making optimal use of the city’s fiber-optic backbone. In January, they took the next step by creating a Fiber Commission to manage the program.

One Step At At Time

In 2013, voters chose to opt out of Colorado’s restrictive state law SB 152 that prevents municipalities from offering telecommunications services alone or with a partner from the private sector. As in most other local referendums on the opt out question, Centennial overwhelmingly supported reclaiming local authority.

Since then, the community has established a Fiber Master Plan, which includes investing in a 50+ mile publicly owned fiber backbone. Last fall, Ting Internet announced that it had put Centennial on its list of cities where it’s considering offering fiber-optic connectivity. Since then, Ting has been assessing demand from the Centennial community and should decide soon whether or not they intend to bring Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to the city.

Ducks In A Row

Regardless of whether Ting offers residential Internet access, or some other entrants wish to bring services to Centennial, the city now has a commission to manage the use of the network and the future network. According to a recent press release:

Centennial FiberWorks and the Fiber Commission will continue efficient and cost effective planning, construction, operation and management of the City's fiber optic infrastructure. FiberWorks is formed as an operational department of the City and serves as a publicly-owned business operation. The continuing construction, use, maintenance, and extension of the City’s fiber optic infrastructure falls under the purview of FiberWorks. The Commission provides policy direction, management and day-to-day oversight of...

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Posted February 22, 2017 by christopher

One of the most recurring complaints about cable television is the bundles - people resent having to pay for channels that they do not watch. Especially when those cable prices go up consistently. The cable companies tend to absorb most of the blame and anger for this model, but they aren't entirely responsible.

To explain how the cable industry works, Public Knowledge Senior Counsel John Bergmayer joins us for Episode 241 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. We talk about overlapping monopolies, market power, and how the cable companies themselves are somewhat imprisoned by content owners. 

As fits with our focus, we also talk specifically about how smaller firms (which includes all municipal networks) are particularly harmed by the status quo and even more harmed by the ongoing consolidation of the largest cable companies becuase they then have far greater negotiating power. 

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

This show is 30 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or via 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 Admiral Bob for the music. The song is Turbo Tornado (c) copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. Ft: Blue Wave Theory.

Posted February 21, 2017 by lgonzalez

Christopher recently took some time to visit with John Hockenberry on The Takeaway from PRI and WNYC. The conversation covered municipal networks, big cable and telephone monopolies, and how local community initiatives for better connectivity are raising the bar in rural areas.

WNYC wrote about the show: 

Net neutrality advocates got some bad news when Ajit Pai was tapped by President Donald Trump to be chairman of the Federal Communications Commission — it appears that Pai wants to largely reverse the Obama administration's approach to the Internet.

Large telecommunications monopolies have been digging their heels in, but some citizens are fighting back. The Takeaway considers the broadband debates that currently are taking place with Christopher Mitchell, the director of Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self Reliance.

Listen to the interview; it’s about 4 minutes.

Posted February 21, 2017 by lgonzalez

While Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s “Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act” has been in the news, several other Legislators have introduced companion bills earlier this month that deserve attention.

A Few Gems

SB 1058 and HB 0970, from Senator Janice Bowling and Representative Dan Howell, would allow municipal electric utilities, such as Chattanooga’s EPB, Tullahoma Utilities Board, or Jackson Energy Authority to expand beyond their electric service area. SB 1045 and HB 1410 reclaims local authority for municipalities that want to offer telecommunications service either alone or with a partner.

HB 0970 has been assigned to the House Business and Utilities Committee; SB 1058 was referred to the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee.

Bowling has also introduced SB 1045, a bill that allows municipal electric utilities and electric cooperatives the ability to offer telecommunications services either on their own or with private sector partners. SB 1045 and it’s companion, HB 1410, sponsored by Terri Lynn Weaver in the House, specifies that there are to be no geographic limits to the service area. SB 1045 and HB 1410 are also in the same committees as SB 1058 and HB 0970.

Correcting Existing Problems

The EPB challenged restrictive state law in 2015; the FCC determined that the law was inconsistent with federal goals. The agency preempted both Tennessee and North Carolina's laws that inhibit municipal electric utilities from expanding. When Tennessee and North Carolina appealed the FCC decision, however, the appellate court determined that that states had the right to impose those laws on local communities and reversed the preemption.

Tennessee's current state law prevents municipal electric utilities that offer Internet access and/or video within their electric service area to expand beyond those geographical limits. These new bills propose removing the restrictions; they also contain a clause...

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Posted February 20, 2017 by Nick

Alabama

Hunstville, Alabama is suddenly awash in broadband competition, showing why Comcast is so afraid of municipal broadband by Karl Bode, TechDirt

 

California

Broadband advocate brings rural perspective to California Assembly by Samantha Young, Government Technology

San Francisco community groups tapped for input on city broadband rollout by Dominic Fracassa, San Francisco Chronicle

 

Colorado

Ex-FCC chief warns of concentrated Internet ownership, lax regulation by Greg Avery, Denver Business Journal

Firms make pitches for broadband by Grand Junction Sentinel

 

Massachusetts

'Bridge to nowhere'? So far, a middle mile with revenue problem by Patricia LeBoeuf, Berkshire Eagle

According to the RFP, eight potential providers indicated an interest in using the middle mile for those end-user connections that haven't materialized for most of Western Massachusetts.

"That was basically a bridge to nowhere — though the [community institutions] desperately needed it," said Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative based in Minnesota and an expert on community broadband networks. "Dollar for dollar, it was not a wise investment at the time." 

Editor's corner - Mount Washington,...

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Posted February 20, 2017 by lgonzalez

In January, Governor Bill Haslam announced that he and Senator Mark Norris would introduce legislation to provide grant funding and tax credits to private companies in order to expand rural connectivity in Tennessee. In a recent Knoxville News Sentinel, Christopher took another look at more subsidies to large private providers and how that strategy has worked out so far.

We've reprinted the op-ed here:

Christopher Mitchell: State needs better broadband, not subsidies

If you were tasked with improving the internet access across Tennessee, a good first start would be to examine what is working and what’s not. But when the General Assembly debates broadband, it frequently focuses on what AT&T and Comcast want rather than what is working.

Broadband expansion has turned into a perennial fight between Tennessee’s municipal broadband networks and advocates of better connectivity on one side and AT&T and Comcast on the other. On one side is a taxpayer-subsidized model, while the other depends solely on the revenues of those who choose to subscribe. But which is which?

AT&T has received billions of taxpayer dollars to build its networks, whereas Chattanooga, Tullahoma and Morristown, for example, financed their fiber-optic networks by selling revenue bonds to private investors and repaying them with revenues from their services. The big telephone companies are massively subsidized, whereas municipal networks have generally not used taxpayer dollars.

It is true that after it began building, Chattanooga received a Department of Energy one-time stimulus grant for $111 million, but that was actually less than AT&T is getting from just one federal program in Tennessee alone – over $125 million from the Connect America Fund. And most of the money to Chattanooga went into devices for its smart grid that have since led to massive job gains.

These community networks offer modern connectivity. Chattanooga offers 10,000 Mbps to anyone in its territory. AT&T is getting enormous checks from Uncle Sam to deliver 10 Mbps. Comcast will soon offer 1,000 Mbps, but only for downloads. If you are a small business trying to upload lots of data, Comcast won’t get you there.

According to a 2016 Consumer Reports study, Comcast and AT&T were among the most hated companies across the board. Chattanooga’s Electric...

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Posted February 18, 2017 by lgonzalez

 

The Maine Broadband Coalition recently released a video on the value of fast, affordable, reliable connectivity in Maine. The group focuses on different needs in Maine and how better Internet access improves small business, home healthcare, education, and general quality of life.

 

The organization describes itself as:

[A]n informal federation of public policy professionals, educational institutions, businesses, non-profit organizations and individuals who care deeply about Maine’s economic future. An important purpose of the MBC is to assemble cogent, fact-based information to help public policy makers and Maine citizens make the best choices about building a robust and productive information technology infrastructure — decisions we are all facing right now. We welcome one and all to this effort.

In the video, they visit a couple of communities, including Islesboro, one of the communities that we've covered that has invested in publicly owned Internet infrastructure.

Check out the video fro the Maine Broadband Coalition:

Posted February 17, 2017 by Nick

FierceTelecom - February 15, 2017

Telco, cable-backed Missouri bill could limit municipal broadband growth, opposition group says

 

Written by Sean Buckley

A new broadband battle is brewing in Missouri as the state’s largest telcos and cable operators are backing a new bill to limit municipal broadband.

The new bill, SB 186, which was introduced by Senator Ed Emery, R-Lamar, seeks to limit the power of municipalities to provide competition to entrenched incumbent service providers.

SB 186, according to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, imposes restrictions on local governments to provide retail and wholesale bandwidth services.

“This legislation is trying to cut off communities at every turn by limiting any sort of ‘competitive service,’ whether it comes from public broadband infrastructure investment or a public-private partnership” said Christopher Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in a statement. “Missouri should be encouraging investment and local Internet choice, not working with monopoly lobbyists to prevent it.”

...

Read the full story here.

Posted February 16, 2017 by htrostle

In 2008, the counties of Accomack and Northampton created the Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority (ESVBA) to serve local needs and boost economic development. NASA provided key funding to build the backbone of the regional network. Today, the ESVBA has already improved wireless services in several communities and is at work on a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) test project.

The space agency played a key role in bringing high-speed connectivity to rural communities on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia, employs 1,100 people, launches rockets, and features a visitor center. Government agencies, local schools, and healthcare institutions on the shore all needed reliable connectivity for their programs.

Internet Service Like Lightspeed

The FTTH test project started last September in Harborton, Virginia, as part of the Town Broadband Initiative Project. The landscape is typical of rural Virginia with little density as houses and businesses spread out into the woods. They have recently signed up the first few customers; this small town on the eastern shore has about 100 homes.

Community Effort: Local Seed Funding

In 2008, the counties of Accomack and Northampton created the public, not for profit entity through the Virginia Wireless Service Authorities Act to solve a growing problem on the shore. The lack of connectivity was having a negative impact on local rural communities. The counties provided an initial sum of about $270,00 to ESVBA to plan the network. 

logo-ESVBA.png

Then the ESVBA went in search of further funding. They received about $8 million in federal and state support - nearly half of which came from NASA - to build the middle mile backbone. Funding for the last mile to residential properties and small businesses came from the communities themselves, with about $...

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Posted February 16, 2017 by lgonzalez

Two Washington state bills in separate committees would allow public utility districts (PUDs) to offer retail communications services. HB 1938 and SB 5139 are the kind of legislation that would allow local communities to improve connectivity. Now, PUDs are restricted to the wholesale-only model, but businesses and residents in rural areas question the wisdom of the restriction.

Unfortunately, big incumbent providers have sent their lobbyists to fight against the two bills and the efforts to pass them are having a difficult time competing. A few representatives from local public utility districts testified in the House committee hearing, but the telecom industry sent out its army in full force.

In order for this bill to go anywhere this session, it needs to be passed by the House Technology & Economic Development Committee and the Senate Energy, Environment & Telecommunications Committee this week. While the bill has had some attention in the House Committee, it has yet to be voted on. It isn’t on the Senate Committee’s agenda, so it doesn’t look likely to move in that body.

Nevertheless, this is an opportunity for Washington constituents to call their state elected officials and let them know that, even if this bill doesn’t go anywhere this session, this is the type of legislative change they want for better connectivity.

You can contact House Committee and Senate Committee members and also touch base with your own Representatives and Senators and express your desires to see more legislation like this. Even if the bill doesn’t go anywhere this session, lay the groundwork for future change.

Video from the brief discussion of the bill in the House Committee:

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Posted February 15, 2017 by lgonzalez

Last spring, the BT Advisory Board (BTAB) released a report that recommended the city of Burlington, Vermont, try to find a buyer with local ties to purchase its network with the troubled past. As the deadline draws near and the city seeks out the right entity to take the reigns, the community holds on to that goal. Keep BT Local!, the local organization that has been working since 2012 to turn the network into a cooperative, has announced that it will make an offer on the network.

According to Seven Days:

Alan Matson, vice chair of Keep BT Local, said the local co-op will put forward an offer for the utility. The member-funded effort likely won’t put forward as substantial an offer as a private tech company would, Matson acknowledged. Still, he said, “We hope to be one of the finalists in July.”

Matt Cropp, a member of Keep BT Local, said the co-op model would “build broad-based community wealth” and urged Burlingtonians to pitch in. He said he was willing to commit a portion of his retirement savings to the cause. 

Matson and Cropp were among a group of citizens who attended a public meeting with Advisory Board members to discuss options and offer advice on choosing a buyer. As expected, many of the attendees described the network as a valuable public asset and expressed concern that it not fall into the hands of a large, absentee telecommunications conglomerate such as Comcast. 

Choosing Finalists

As part of the process, the Board voted to send its proposed sale process to the city council for approval. Last year’s report established a set of criteria which the city will use to evaluate interested parties. Once the city council approves the process they propose, the BTAB will create a list of interested buyers and officially launch the sales process. They intend to create a list of finalists who would then present publicly before the city council and, by the end of July, the council would choose a...

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Posted February 15, 2017 by lgonzalez

On February 13th, the Virginia Senate Labor and Commerce Committee held a hearing on HB 2108, previously called the "Virginia Broadband Deployment Act" and now named the "Virginia Wireless Services Authority Act." Delegate Kathy Byron offered an amendment to the bill, it was accepted, and the bill passed. It is now headed for the full Senate where it may or may not be put on the calendar for a vote.

FOIA Language Removed

The bill came to the Senate after a revised version of the original bill passed in the House 72 - 24. The committee amendment removed a FOIA Exemption, which was the last piece of language remaining that local groups strongly opposed. In a press release, President and CEO of Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority said:

“With the removal the FOIA Exemption clause this afternoon, HB 2108 no longer poses a threat to local and municipal broadband authorities. Instead it merely reasserts the very same laws and procedures in the Code of Virginia to which we all already operate and gladly adhere and abide,”

Moving Ahead With Caution

With the exception of the Committee Chair, Sen. Frank Wagner, the vote to pass as amended was unanimous; there was one abstention. Wagner, who is running for Governor, announced his opposition to the original bill at a press conference in January. While advocates of publicly owned Internet infrastructure remain cautiously optimistic, it’s important to remember that the process is not over. The bill could still be amended in a manner that impedes local investment in better connectivity.

Working Despite State Obstruction

Even though State Legislators introduce bills that discourage better rural connectivity, local Virginia communities are doing their best to serve themselves. They realize that waiting is too risky and that the longer they have horrible connectivity, the farther behind they fall.

seal-alexandria-va_0.png

We reported earlier in the legislative session that we knew of ten communities...

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Posted February 14, 2017 by lgonzalez

If you’re like much of the country, you may be stuck in a bad romance with your Internet Service Provider. In the spirit of the holiday, the writers at MuniNetworks.org reimagined three of the biggest providers as their sweeties and, you guessed it, things weren’t all wine and roses.

 

Comcast - “The Creep”

by Kate

comast-stalker.jpg

All across the U.S., Internet subscribers are settling for Comcast when there’s no one else to date. After the excitement of a new relationship in the form of low price introductory rates disappears, you are left with nothing more than slow, inconsistent speeds and jacked up service fees. What had been a steady relationship quickly hits rocks when Comcast becomes lazy, realizing that you will never break up with them because there’s no one else in town to date. When you finally can’t stand Comcast’s high costs, added fees, data caps, and inconsistent speeds, you decide to take a break but just like a bad date, Comcast refuses to take “no” for an answer. What can you do when your only other choice is DSL? You’re trapped by “The Creep.”

 

AT&T - “Darth Vader”

by Hannah

att-death-star.PNG

AT&T is the empire of telecom.  The empire will control everything and everyone through the power of the Death Star or, in AT&T’s case, through lobbyists and high prices. AT&T’s willing to put in a minimal level of support in rural areas: just like the empire maintains a small outpost on Tatooine but doesn’t care that the rural planet is full of smugglers and run by a mob of Hutts. Personified, the company is most certainly Darth Vader: manipulative, secretive, and powerful. He will only help you if there’s something in it for him. He doesn’t actually care about your feelings, only that he maintains power over you (it's just like paying AT&T not to spy on you). Don’t date Darth Vader – you can’t trust him.

 

CenturyLink - “The Old Geezer”

by Lisa

...

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Posted February 14, 2017 by lgonzalez

On Monday the Colorado Senate Business, Labor and Technology Committee heard SB 42, a bill to repeal the state’s requirement for referendum to reclaim local telecommunications authority. The committee of seven Senators voted 4 - 3 to postpone the bill indefinitely, leaving it in legislative purgatory. We've provided the audio above, but we missed the first minute or so of the recording.

Ample Support

A number of testifiers came to Denver to support the bill and also testified remotely from several locations around the state. Several testified that local investment in Internet infrastructure is the only hope they have for necessary high-quality connectivity. 

Elected officials from communities that have already invested shared stories of how they had approached big national providers and were dismissed. They went on to describe how the state imposed referendum causes missed funding opportunities and the ability to partner with private providers is also at risk when communities have to jump through hoops.

Overwhelming Opt Outs

Sponsors of the bill pointed out that all communities that have held the required referendums have chosen to reclaim local authority by huge margins. Nevertheless, several lawmakers continued to attempt to tie the referendums to community debt and competition with local providers. As our readers know, passing the referendum is an opt out of state law and a number of communities don’t take any other steps.

For some, their purpose is only to have the ability to work with private providers because national providers have already denied the services local communities need. As several testifiers stated at the hearing, local communities don't typically invest in publicly owned Internet infrastructure because they want to be providers - they invest because no one else will do it for them.

It Wouldn't Be A Hearing Without Them

Big providers opposed to the competition and the bill sent lobbyists to testify also. In true form, they advanced the false narrative that local publicly owned network infrastructure competes unfairly with big providers. What they really mean is that they don’t want new entrants to partner with local governments and establish a new model that would threaten their standing as...

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Posted February 14, 2017 by christopher

The most rural area of Missouri is getting a Fiber-to-the-Home network from the United Electric Cooperative, which has created United Fiber and is expanding across its footprint and to adjacent areas that want better Internet access. Chief Development Officer Darren Farnan joins us to explain why his co-op has taken these steps.

We discuss how they are rolling it out - focusing on areas that need the service while respecting the telephone cooperatives that are within their electric footprint. The project has benefited from a broadband stimulus award and also incorporates fixed wireless technology in some areas.

We discuss some of the economics behind the project and are sure to clarify that though the utility has needed some capital subisides to build the network, it does not need any operating subsidies to continue - it runs under its own revenue. And we talk about the demand for better, faster connections - it is much higher than most realize.

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

This show is 30 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or via 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 Admiral Bob for the music. The song is Turbo Tornado (c) copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. Ft: Blue Wave Theory.

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