Reports Highlighted by MuniNetworks.org

How Chattanooga, Bristol, and Lafayette Built the Best Broadband in America

Publication Date: 
April 9, 2012
Author(s): 
Christopher Mitchell

We are thrilled to finally unveil our latest white paper: Broadband At the Speed of Light: How Three Communities Built Next-Generation Networks. This report was a joint effort of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and the Benton Foundation.

We have chronicled how Bristol's BVU Authority, Chattanooga's EPB, and Lafayette's LUS built some of the most impressive broadband networks in the nation. The paper presents three case studies and then draws lessons from their common experiences to offer advice to other communities. Here is the press release:

The fastest networks in the nation are built by local governments, a new report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and Benton Foundation reveals

Chattanooga, Tennessee, is well known for being the first community with citywide access to a “gig,” or the fastest residential connections to the Internet available nationally. Less known are Bristol, Virginia, and Lafayette, Louisiana – both of which now also offer a gigabit throughout the community.

A new report just released by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) and the Benton Foundation explains how these communities have built some of the best broadband networks in the nation. Broadband At the Speed of Light: How Three Communities Built Next-Generation Networks is available here.

“It may surprise people that these cities in Virginia, Tennessee, and Louisiana have faster and lower cost access to the Internet than anyone in San Francisco, Seattle, or any other major city,” says Christopher Mitchell, Director of ILSR’s Telecommunications as Commons Initiative. “These publicly owned networks have each created hundreds of jobs and saved millions of dollars.”

“Communities need 21st century telecommunications infrastructure to compete in the global economy,” said Charles Benton, Chairman & CEO of the Benton Foundation. “Hopefully, this report will resonate with local government officials across the country.”

Mitchell is a national expert on community broadband networks and was recently named a “Top 25 Doer, Dreamer, and Driver” by Government Technology. He also regularly authors articles at MuniNetworks.org.

The new report offers in-depth case studies of BVU Authority’s OptiNet in Bristol, Virginia; EPB Fiber in Chattanooga, Tennessee; and LUS Fiber in Lafayette, Louisiana. Each network was built and is operated by a public power utility.

Mitchell believes these networks are all the more important given the slow pace of investment from major carriers. According to Mitchell, “As AT&T and Verizon have ended the expansion of U-Verse and FiOS respectively, communities that need better networks for economic development should consider how they can invest in themselves.”

Broadband At the Speed of Light: How Three Communities Built Next-Generation Networks is available here.

About ILSR: Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) proposes a set of new rules that builds community by supporting humanly scaled politics and economics. The Telecommunications as Commons Initiative believes that telecommunications networks are essential infrastructure and should be accountable to residents and local businesses.

About Benton: The Benton Foundation works to ensure that media and telecommunications serve the public interest and enhance our democracy. We pursue this mission by seeking policy solutions that support the values of access, diversity and equity, and by demonstrating the value of media and telecommunications for improving the quality of life for all.

Learning from Burlington Telecom: Some Lessons for Community Networks

Publication Date: 
August 18, 2011
Author(s): 
Christopher Mitchell - Institute for Local Self-Reliance

In little more than a year, Burlington Telecom went from being a hopeful star of the community fiber network movement to an albatross around its neck. The controversies surrounding it have encouraged cable and telephone companies to use it as Exhibit A in their case against communities going into the telecommunications business. However, most of those criticizing Burlington Telecom have very little understanding of what went wrong and how it happened. Examining what actually happened helps to explain how these problems may be avoided, as the vast majority of existing community networks have already done.

[Download the full report]

In 2007, ILSR issued a case study on Burlington Telecom. The report argued that Burlington Telecom was a model for how communities could build their own next‐generation fiber‐to-the‐home broadband networks.

This report revisits and updates that report, analyzes Burlington Telecom’s situation (for better and for worse), and extracts useful lessons for other communities pursuing community fiber networks.

In preparation for this report, ILSR examined many documents, including those available due to the investigation of Vermont’s Department of Public Service. We interviewed many people from Burlington, including former BT employees, citizens active around the project, and City Council members. We discussed Burlington’s situation with a number of others intimately involved in community broadband networks around the country and posed questions directly to a representative of BT.

Satellite Internet Connection for Rural Broadband

Publication Date: 
May 2, 2011
Author(s): 
Stephen Cobb, CISSP

We are very fortunate that Stephen Cobb has taken the time to fully explain the realities behind satellite connections in Satellite Internet Connection for Rural Broadband: Is it a viable alternative to wired and wireless connectivity for America's rural communities? The answer is no.

The technical problems (e.g. latency) inherent in a satellite connection to the Internet should disqualify it from being called "broadband." Satellite connections do not allow users to take full advantage of modern Internet applications, which is a common sense definition of the term broadband.

Download the 2 MB version or the print quality 3.3 MB version (both are PDFs).

RuMBA is the Rural Mobile & Broadband Alliance that was inspired by Louisa Handem, who does Rural America Radio. RuMBA published this white paper.

Publicly Owned Broadband Networks: Averting the Looming Broadband Monopoly

Publication Date: 
March 23, 2011
Author(s): 
Christopher Mitchell - Institute for Local Self-Reliance

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance is pleased to release the Community Broadband Map and report, Publicly Owned Broadband Networks: Averting the Looming Broadband Monopoly. The map plots the 54 cities, big and small, that own citywide fiber networks and another 79 own citywide cable networks. Over 3 million people have access to telecommunications networks whose objective is to maximize value to the community in which they are located rather than to distant stockholders and corporate executives.

For several years ILSR has been tracking telecommunications developments at the local and state level. We have worked with businesses and communities protecting their right to self-determination via the fundamental infrastructure for the information-based economy. This report offers some of our findings.

Building an Equity and Justice Movement for Communications

Publication Date: 
March 1, 2011
Author(s): 
Center for Media Justice
Consumers Union

Following a four day retreat in September of 2010, Consumers Union and the Center for Media Justice released a report called Building an Equity and Justice Movement for the Internet, Mobile Phones, and Future Networks: A summary of goals, policies, strategies, and best practices by and for groups working for Internet policies that ensure opportunity, democracy, and equity for all.

Following a four day retreat in September of 2010, Consumers Union and the Center for Media Justice released a report called Building an Equity and Justice Movement for the Internet, Mobile Phones, and Future Networks: A summary of goals, policies, strategies, and best practices by and for groups working for Internet policies that ensure opportunity, democracy, and equity for all.

From the introduction:

This report is a brief summary of the Knowledge Exchange, written for participants and to share with the field. It reflects the open and frank discussions that took place during the convening, as well as the ease of communication among the group.

The Internet That Might Have Been

Publication Date: 
August 19, 2010
Author(s): 
John Blevins, Loyola University School of Law

The abstract immediately captured my attention:

Policymakers often tell us that the Internet succeeded because of a lack of government regulation. For instance, FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell recently noted that the “evolution away from government intervention has been the most important ingredient in the Internet’s success.” These views, while widely shared, happen to be inaccurate. In reality, a diverse range of federal regulations, subsidies, and nondiscrimination protections sustained the Internet’s historic growth.

But what if, as many inaccurately assume, these regulations had never existed? What would today’s Internet look like in such a world? In this essay, I provide a fictional alternate history - in form of a satirical book review - to illustrate how differently the Internet might have developed in a truly privatized world. Although the essay below (beginning after this abstract) is fictional, it draws heavily upon both the regulatory history of the Internet and the policy arguments at issue in today’s leading regulatory proceedings.

This article covers decisions like Carterfone, the FCC's Computer Inquires, giving control over TCP/IP to the National Science Foundation rather than AT&T, and the intentions of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. It also includes a reminder of the difference between open systems and closed systems:

One important way that open policies achieve this goal is by reducing various types of transaction costs. In open networks, new market entrants can completely avoid negotiating with companies who have “gateway control” over the network. The aspiring entrants do not have to pay—nor seek permission from—the network owners for access. Accordingly, these policies encourage vastly more experimentation and amateur “tinkering.” Closed networks, by contrast, produce relatively less innovation because they rely on centralized network owners to introduce—or at least approve—innovation before it becomes available.

This is a fantastic read (really riveting telecom reading -- how often do you get that?) and a good history lesson for people who were not there to see it firsthand over the years.

Breaking the Broadband Monopoly

Publication Date: 
May 3, 2010
Author(s): 
Christopher Mitchell - Institute for Local Self-Reliance

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance is pleased to release this comprehensive report on the practices and philosophy of publicly owned networks. Breaking the Broadband Monopoly explains how public ownership of networks differs from private, evaluates existing publicly owned networks, details the obstacles to public ownership, offers lesson learned, and wrestles with the appeal and difficulty of the open access approach.

Download Breaking the Broadband Monopoly [pdf]

Executive Summary

Across the country, hundreds of local governments, public power utilities, non-profits, and cooperatives have built successful and sometimes pioneering telecommunication networks that put community needs first.

These communities are following in the footsteps of the publicly owned power networks put in place a century before. We watch history repeating itself as these new networks are built for the same reasons: Incumbents refusing to provide service or charging high rates for poor service.

Cities like Lafayette, Louisiana, and Monticello, Minnesota, offer the fastest speeds at the lowest rates in the entire country. Kutztown’s network in Pennsylvania has saved the community millions of dollars. Oklahoma City’s massive wireless mesh has helped modernize its municipal agencies. Cities in Utah have created a true broadband market with many independent service providers competing for subscribers. From DC to Santa Monica, communities have connected schools and municipal facilities, radically increasing broadband capacity without increasing telecom budgets.

These pioneering cities have had to struggle against many obstacles, often created by incumbents seeking to prevent the only real threat of competition they face. Eighteen states have passed laws that discourage publicly owned networks. When lawsuits by entrenched incumbents don’t thwart a publicly owned system, they cross-subsidize from non-competitive markets to temporarily reduce rates in an attempt to starve the infant public network of subscribers.

Despite these obstacles, more and more cities are building these networks and learning how to operate in the challenging new era in which all media is online and a high speed tele-communications network is as much a part of the essential infrastructure of a modern economy as electricity was 100 years ago.

Communities that have invested in these networks have seen tremendous benefits. Even small communities have generated millions of dollars in cumulative savings from reduced rates – caused by competition. Major employers have cited broadband networks as a deciding factor in choosing a new site and existing businesses have prospered in a more competitive environment.

Residents who subscribe to the network see the benefits of a network that puts service first; they talk to a neighbor when something goes wrong, not an offshore call center. At the municipal fiber network in Wilson, North Carolina, they talk of the “strangle effect.” If you have problems with their network, you can find someone locally to strangle. Because public entities are directly accountable to citizens, they have a stronger interest in providing good services, upgrading infrastructure, etc., than private companies who are structured to maximize profits, not community benefits. Residents who remain with private providers still get the benefits of competition, including reduced rates and increased incumbent investment.

Some publicly owned networks have decided to greatly increase competition by adopting an “open access” approach where independent service providers can use the network on equal terms. Public ownership and open access give residents and businesses the option of choosing among many providers, forcing providers to compete on the basis of service quality and price rather than simply on a historic monopoly boundary.

Perhaps the greatest benefit communities have gained from owning their telecommunications networks is self-determination. Recent court rulings enable private network owners to set their own rules, including increased charges for accessing some sites – much like a cable bill charges more for some programming. The rules are made far from where the customer resides and the criteria used to design such rules maximizes benefit to the private firm, not the community.

There is no one model for community broadband. Communities vary greatly in their needs, assets, desires, and culture, not to mention a regulatory environment that varies from state to state. This report presents case studies, evaluates existing networks, offers lessons learned, and highlights the most important issues facing both communities and policy makers at all levels. Public ownership offers the best prospect for building the networks we need to succeed in the 21st century.

Open Access: The Third Way

Publication Date: 
February 1, 2010
Author(s): 
Andrew Cohill, Design Nine

Andrew Cohill of Design Nine has released a report about Open Access networks: "Broadband for America: The Third Way." I wanted to highlight this report because open access is an important idea that should be promoted and discussed. I believe open access is the most promising way to create the world most people want to live in - fast and affordable networks offering many choices in services and service providers to all Americans. However, though I hold Andrew in high regard, I have some disagreements with the paper that are noted below. This paper comes at an important time. For more than a decade, we have ended each year with less broadband competition than we started with. Politicians and regulators have abandoned policies aimed at promoting competition despite their continued lip service in favor of it. Incumbents have more and more power over both subscribers and entire communities. If we want competition in broadband and cable (and I certainly do!), open access is the only feasible approach. The cost of building the networks is fantastically high whereas the cost of offering services to an additional user are tiny. The result is a network with strong natural monopoly characteristics. Without a network that shares infrastructure (wires, poles, CPE, etc.), the market will trend toward monopoly or duopoly. Wireless complements wired broadband but cannot provide the high speeds and reliability of fiber-optic networks. Even if some metro areas can support multiple networks, most rural areas can barely support one network. Without open access, significant parts of the country cannot have a choice in service providers. Read more...

NYU School of Law Analyzes, Supports Net Neutrality Policy

Publication Date: 
January 7, 2010
Author(s): 
Inimai Chettiar
J Scott Holladay

In 2010, the Institute for Policy Integrity at the New York University School of Law released a report titled Free to Invest: The Economic Benefits of Preserving Net Neutrality. The report, authored by Inimai Chettiar and J. Scott Holladay, is a great resource - substantial and very digestible - on what net neutrality really is, how it is (or is not) regulated, and the economic possibilities policy makers must consider when moving ahead.

OneCommunity: An Important Model for America’s Broadband Revival

Publication Date: 
November 11, 2009
Author(s): 
Jim Baller - Baller Herbst Law Group
Sean Stokes - Baller Herbst Law Group
Casey Lide - Baller Herbst Law Group

The Baller Herbst Law Group filed an extensive report with the FCC detailing important information about OneCommunity - a fascinating nonprofit organization connecting many communities with fiber and wireless connectivity in Ohio. OneCommunity works with a variety of public and private sector partners to expand access to last mile and middle mile connectivity. Because they fall within our broad definition of putting public needs first, I wanted to highlight this report.

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