Next Century Cities’ “Emerging Issues in Expanding Next-Generation Internet Access: 2017 Policy Agenda” offers recommendations to local communities that want to improve and expand local connectivity. This policy agenda looks at some of the most recent issues facing cities and examines ways they’ve faced the challenges. Many of the examples in the policy agenda come from communities that are members of Next Century Cities.
Reports Highlighted by MuniNetworks.org
A new case study recently released by the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University describes how the community of Concord, Massachusetts deployed its extensive municipal fiber-optic network and smart grid. In Citizens Take Charge: Concord, Massachusetts, Builds a Fiber Network, the authors offer history, and describe the benefits to the community from better connectivity and enhanced electric efficiencies.
A new article from the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society takes a look at the pay in and pay off from Chattanooga’s investment into its fiber-optic network. The article, Smart Grid Paybacks: The Chattanooga Example, was written by Davd A. Talbot and Maria Paz-Canales.
As federal agencies examine the AT&T - Time Warner merger, how we analyze antitrust also needs to be reevaluated - especially in the telecommunications industry. A new report from the Roosevelt Institute takes a closer look at how antitrust enforcement philosophy has changed and how that change has enabled the current state of telecommunications in which a few large anticompetitive players control the market. The authors offer recommendations and cautionary predictions that may arise if we continue without reassessing how we scrutinize these large scale mergers.
The report notes how scrutiny of mergers has come to depend on the perceived harm the results will have on consumers, but such a narrow focus results in harming competition.
Instead, regulators should adopt a more holistic view of market power, specifically incorporating analysis of upstream impact of anticompetitive behaviors, especially those enabled by mergers. This would entail closer scrutiny of vertical mergers, positive price discrimination, and non-price-based schemes to profit excessively by withholding access to consumers.
North Carolina's digital divide between urban and rural communities is increasing dangerously in a time when high quality Internet access is more important than ever. Rural and urban areas of North Carolina are essentially living in different realities, based on the tides of private network investment where rural communities are severely disadvantaged. The state has relied too much on the telecom giants like AT&T and CenturyLink that have little interest in rural regions.
The state perversely discourages investment from local governments and cooperatives. For instance, electric co-ops face barriers in seeking federal financing for fiber optic projects. State law is literally requiring the city of Wilson to disconnect its customers in the town of Pinetops, leaving them without basic broadband access. This decision in particular literally took the high-speed, affordable Internet access out of the hands of North Carolina's rural citizens.
The lengths to which North Carolina has gone to limit Internet access to their citizens is truly staggering. Both a 1999 law limiting electric cooperatives' access to capital for telecommunications and a 2011 law limiting local governments' ability to build Internet networks greatly undermine the ability of North Carolinians to increase competition to the powerful cable and DSL incumbent providers.
In the face of this reality, the Governor McCrory's Broadband Infrastructure Office recommended a "solution" that boils down to relying on cable and telephone monopolies' benevolence. What this entire situation comes down to is a fundamental disadvantage for North Carolina's rural residents because their state will not allow them to solve their own problems locally even when the private sector abandons them.
"It's not as if these communities have a choice as to what they're able to do to improve their Internet service," says report co-author Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. "There's a demonstrated need for high-quality Internet service in rural North Carolina, but the state literally refuses to let people help themselves."
Read ongoing stories about these networks at ILSR’s site devoted to Community Broadband Networks. You can also subscribe to a once-per-week email with stories about community broadband networks.
From The Report:
- Despite significant tax subsidies from the state and federal government, North Carolina's private providers are building their fiber-optic networks only in certain metro areas and none in rural regions.
- Only 12 percent of North Carolina's rural population has a choice for their broadband access, the rest are stuck with only one option and no control over their Internet prospects.
- All of North Carolina's telephone cooperatives are investing in fiber for members in their service territory, some have entirely replaced their copper lines with fiber-optic.
- While North Carolina has 26 electric cooperatives capable of bringing fiber-to-the-home to rural residents, a 1999 state law (N.C. Gen. Stat § 117-18.1) limits the co-ops' access to capital for telecommunications projects.
A growing number of U.S. cities have broken up monopoly control of the Internet marketplace locally. They're promoting entrepreneurship while giving residents and businesses real choice in how they connect and reach new audiences. They've put a new wrinkle in an old model: the public-private partnership.
"Communities desperately need better Internet access, but not all local governments are bold enough to 'go it alone'", says Christopher Mitchell with Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. "Here, we've outlined a few remarkable cities who have demonstrated how smart strategies are helping them help themselves."
A city that builds its own fiber and leases it to a trusted partner can negotiate for activities that benefit the public good, like universal access. It may even require (as Westminster, Maryland did) that the partner ISP have real human beings answer the phone to solve a customer's problems.
The term "public-private partnership" has been muddied in the past. This report clears up the confusion: public entities and private companies must both have "skin in the game" to balance the risks and amplify the rewards.
- Partnerships in broadband have never been in greater vogue. Communities are realizing they don’t have to build it entirely themselves to get the benefits of gig networks in Chattanooga or Google cities.
- The report features the revolutionary Westminster/Ting partnership and notes its first copycat: Cruzio and the city of Santa Cruz. These networks are groundbreaking in terms of offering a "third way" for communities to join the ranks of gigabit cities.
- This report offers a roadmap for cities and outlines the important questions that need to be asked and answered in order to find the right partner with the right priorities for each community.
In its first two years of implementation, the Minnesota Border-to-Border program distributed $30 million to 31 rural Minnesota communities. But the state has not put enough money into the program and needs to put more focus on getting investment in Greater Minnesota cities to spur economic development.
“This funding is essential to greater Minnesota communities that are being left behind,” says Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Community Broadband Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “The current disbursement is only meeting a fraction of the state’s high-speed Internet needs as it is. The program’s rules must be reconsidered to meet economic development goals for the state.”
"Getting the Rules Right" is a policy brief on the Border-to-Border Broadband program. It covers what the program is, how it works, and why funding must be expanded in order to serve more greater Minnesota communities.
In 2010, communities in rural western Massachusetts began a group that would evolve into the WiredWest Cooperative. Over the past six years, the group, formed to bring better last-mile connectivity to the unserved and underserved areas of the state, has faced a number of challenges. Most recently, disagreements with the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI), the state agency tasked with distributing funds for last-mile connectivity, have threatened WiredWest's regional cooperative model.
In a new report released by the Berkman Center, authors David Talbot, Waide Warner, and Susan Crawford share the story of these communities' attempt to band together to establish a fiber-optic network.
In WiredWest: a Cooperative of Municipalities Forms to Build A Fiber Optic Network, we learn not only how this region came together, but how they developed their business plan and procured funding, how they anticipate the network to affect affordability, and the ways they have adjusted the plan as circumstances required. The authors also take the time to share some history of cooperatives, and address how the cooperative model - used in the past for electricity and telephone - can benefit the communities in rural western Massachusetts.
A new trend is emerging in rural communities throughout the United States: Fiber-to-the-Farm. Tired of waiting for high-quality Internet access from big companies, farmers are building it themselves.
Communities in and around Minnesota’s rural Sibley County are going from worst to best after building a wireless and fiber-optic cooperative. While federal programs throw billions of dollars to deliver last year’s Internet speeds, local programs are building the network of the future.
In “RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperative,” the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) and Next Century Cities documents a groundbreaking new model that’s sprung up in South Central Minnesota that can be replicated all over the nation, in the thousands of cities and counties that have been refused service by big cable and telecom corporations.
As communities across the country realize the big corporate providers may never bring the kind of connectivity they need, they are considering the potential of public-private partnerships. A new report by Joanne Hovis, Marc Schulhof, Jim Baller, and Ashley Stelfox, takes a look at the issues facing local governments and their private sector partners.
The Emerging World of Broadband Public-Private Partnerships: A Business Strategy and Legal Guide examines the practical considerations when investigating PPPs for better connectivity. The report was published by the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC) and the Benton Foundation.
The report offers case studies from several networks to illustrate the findings. Among others, the authors write about Westminster, Maryland; Urbana/Champaign, Illinois; and Holly Springs, North Carolina. Each community has collaborated with the private sector in some unique partnership.