The Appalachian Regional Commission has ruled in favor for Huntington, WV for a $2.4M grant after Comcast contested the award earlier this year, claiming it already provided high-speed service. The move will let the city build a 25 mile fiber ring to connect 500 businesses and link up with nearby Barboursville, as well as increase capacity in Wayne County.
I have been tracking from afar local grassroots efforts in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to start a municipal broadband network for years. I've visited them locally and spoken to various people from citizens to elected officials about the different options. The following are my observations. I'm not trying to channel their thoughts on how to move forward.
Cambridge is a high-tech city with nearly ubiquitous coverage from Comcast, delivering more or less the same services they offer to millions of homes — which is too say mostly reliable and high-cost Internet access (that will be still higher cost next year and the next after that). In the case of Comcast, it comes with crippled upload speeds compared to fast download capacity. Customer service is . . . well, you do your best to never have to use it.
But with MIT and Harvard within its confines, many in Cambridge are well aware that Internet access can get so much better and not be mediated by a company willing to spend millions in D.C. to preserve its right to set up tollbooths for certain kinds of content if they so choose.
However, Cambridge is remarkably similar to Palo Alto, which is also home to high tech households that mostly use Comcast cable and sometimes have the option of AT&T fiber. And in both instances, there is a strong case for some kind of municipal network that would create more local Internet choice. Both appear to have significant support in the community for a public option. But both also have city staff that have decided to prevent any meaningful investment.
They have run into the challenge that Seattle also wrestled with. These high profile cities have refused to consider creative, incremental, and targeted efforts. Instead, they have focused almost entirely on the costs of duplicating Chattanooga or Wilson, where the community built the entire citywide at once with debt-financed capital.
In Cambridge, the city council is rebelling after having been stymied by a city manager that has successful resisted efforts to study municipal broadband for years.
City Manager DePasquale has consistently refused to act on municipal broadband despite a...Read more
Across the country, schools have shifted to distance learning after the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in widespread school closures and stay-at-home orders. But many students still can’t get online to learn. A recent survey of Los Angeles Schools found that 16 percent of students don’t have access to broadband and that 15 percent had not yet spoken with teachers.
To connect students on the wrong side of the digital divide, school districts in a number of cities, including Portland, Oregon and San Francisco, California, are working with Comcast to sponsor the cost of the company’s Internet Essentials program for low-income families in need of home broadband connections during the crisis.
In a press release, Guadalupe Guerrero, Superintendent of Portland Public Schools, said of the program:
As we transition from a traditional brick and mortar school experience to one that takes place online, it is more important than ever that we make every effort to remain connected to our students who rely on us for not only academics, but also essential needs and social and emotional supports. . . This partnership will allow us to stay connected to our students who need us most.
Schools Sponsor Student Service
To help ensure all students can access online education while schools are closed, San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) and Portland Public Schools (PPS) plan to pay the monthly cost of Comcast’s Internet Essentials plan for eligible households. The school systems will distribute promotional codes to families who can then contact the company to sign up for broadband access at no cost.
Internet Essentials is Comcast’s affordable broadband plan for low-income households that qualify for a variety of public assistance programs. The program currently offers speeds of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. In response to the...Read more
Our lives have mostly moved online as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, but the millions of Americans who don't have access to home broadband have been left behind. Whether it's unavailable or just unaffordable, these families must risk their health to access essential services, like healthcare and education.
This week for the Community Broadband Bits podcast, Christopher talks with Angela Siefer, Executive Director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA), about the many ways that the pandemic has highlighted digital divides in our country. Angela shares how NDIA is helping address urgent connectivity needs by supporting digital inclusion practitioners on the ground and by raising public awareness during the crisis.
One of NDIA's efforts is their list of Free and Low-Cost Internet Plans from national broadband providers. Christopher and Angela review some of the providers' offers and discuss the problems that NDIA has found with the plans. (Spoiler: Comcast is doing, well, pretty good actually. Charter Spectrum on the other hand . . . ) Angela explains why it's important that these plans serve more than just students if we want to keep people safe at home.
The pair also talk about creative efforts to temporarily deploy public Wi-Fi hotspots as well as longer term plans to improve broadband access and availability. However, Angela reminds...Read more
Because of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, Internet access is more important than ever before. Elementary school math classes, routine doctor’s appointments, after-work happy hours, and more all require a high-speed broadband connection now.
In response, many national Internet service providers (ISPs) have introduced free and discounted plans to keep people connected during the crisis (though there are still holdouts). Comcast has raised speeds and is offering 60 days of free broadband service to new low-income subscribers. Charter Spectrum is extending a free two month offer to new customers with students in the household. And AT&T is giving low-income families signing up for new service a couple of months free.
The charity of these companies is commendable, but their plans still leave many people disconnected, forcing them to choose between staying safe at home and accessing essential services. Eligibility oversights leave out households in need, and overwhelmed call centers make signing up for programs difficult. In many cases, families are falling through the cracks simply because the national ISPs are too big and too monopolistic to catch them.
Ineligible and Unaccessible
The National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) has documented many of the issues that families across the United States face in trying to access ISPs’ Covid-19 offers. Ars Technica covered their concerns in a recent article, spelling out the shortcomings of various providers’ plans.
One problem is the eligibility guidelines restrict many households from taking advantage of ISPs' programs. In many cases, free connections are only available to new subscribers, even though many people are now struggling with reduced incomes. A number of companies have excluded prior customers with...Read more
In an effort to keep families connected as schools and workplaces close in response to the novel coronavirus, many Internet service providers (ISPs) are taking steps to make their services more accessible and functional for those of us who are staying home for the foreseeable future.
Some policies are being officially encouraged by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) through Chairman Ajit Pai’s new Keep Americans Connected Pledge. By signing onto the pledge, providers agree to open Wi-Fi hotspots to the general public and to not disconnect or charge late fees to those struggling to pay bills due to the pandemic.
To ensure people have sufficient connectivity during the public health crisis, some ISPs are going beyond the pledge’s requirements by raising speeds, suspending data caps, and offering free Internet access to certain households.
While these efforts will not close all of the digital divides being exacerbated the pandemic, they are an important step toward mitigating the immediate impact on families and businesses.
Keep Americans Connected Pledge
FCC Chairman Pai announced the Keep Americans Connected Pledge last Friday, March 13. The pledge calls on ISPs to make Wi-Fi hotspots publicly accessible and to keep households and small businesses that are facing financial difficulties because of the pandemic connected over the next couple months.
“As the coronavirus outbreak spreads and causes a series of disruptions to the economic, educational, medical, and civic life of our country, it is imperative that Americans stay connected,” said Pai in a press release [pdf] issued by the FCC. He also noted the importance of broadband access to enable remote work, online education, and telehealth appointments during periods of “social distancing.”
The press release, available below, shared the text of the pledge:
Given the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on American society, [[Company Name]] pledges for the next 60 days to:
(1) not terminate service to any residential or small business customers because of their inability to...
As schools and businesses ask people to stay home to reduce the spread of Covid-19 coronavirus, I wanted to share some thoughts about how I expect broadband Internet access networks will handle the change and increase in broadband traffic in residential areas.
Our first reaction is that, as with so many areas with network effects, the rich will get richer. This is to say that historic inequities will be exacerbated — people that have been able to afford the high-quality networks will probably see very little disruption and those who have older networks may be effectively disconnected.
Better Network Scenarios
Those on fiber optic networks probably won't notice major changes in demand. This is the easy one — it is why we have long believed that fiber optics should be the goal for the vast majority of Americans.
Most modern cable networks should be also able to handle the demand — especially on the download end. This is good because 2 out of 3 Americans with broadband gets it from a cable network. Upgrades in recent years from the aggressive cable companies (Comcast Xfinity, Cox, and some of the many smaller cable networks — Charter Spectrum less so) should allow more than sufficient download capacity even if home video streaming increases significantly. But in smaller towns, where the local cable companies haven't been able to afford those upgrades and the bigger cable providers have just ignored them, I would expect to see intermittent and in some cases, persistent congestion problems from bottlenecks.
In the upstream direction, the cable networks will have some challenges. I wouldn't expect most Comcast or Cox markets to have too many problems, though neighborhoods with lots of professionals using video conferencing tools could congest. I would expect Charter Spectrum, Mediacom, and many of the others to have frequent congestion for upstream connections, lowering throughput extremely at times.
Worse Network Scenarios
Fixed Wireless networks will be all over the board. Urban and advanced fixed wireless networks like ...Read more
As we greet each holiday season, we try to re-live the classic creations from years gone by and treasure hoilday memories the creative writers at MuniNetworks.org have developed to enjoy the season. Four years ago, Tom Ernste and Hannah Trostle wrote “Twas the Night Before Muni Fiber” which has always been one of our favorites.
Both authors have journeyed on to other careers but we get to keep their contributions to ILSR’s work, including this poem in the style of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement Clarke Moore. We've made it a tradition each year to publish the piece for new readers.
Enjoy, share, and thank you for your support!
As the seasons change, we're fondly remembering past team members from the Community Broadband Networks Initiative and their creative contributions to our Halloween stories. Scott, Kate, and Hannah have moved on to other paths in their careers, but we'll always treasure their contribution to our 2016 celebration of movie monster madness. A special hat tip to our Development Director John Bailey, who pointed out this Halloween morning that "Munis are 'ghoul!'" Check it out:
Much like the the bone-chilling flicks celebrating eerie entertainment that dwells in the depths of our dark imaginations, monster cable and DSL Internet service providers strike terror in the hearts of subscribers…if they survive. Mesmerizing fees, hair-raising customer service, and shockingly slow connections can drive one to the brink of madness.
In celebration of Halloween 2016, our writers each selected a national ISP and reimagined it as a classic horror character. The results are horrifying! Read them here…if you dare!
This shocking film tells the horrific tale of a mad scientist in his quest to create the world’s largest telecommunications monopoly monster. The scientist’s abomination runs amok, gobbling up company after company, to create a horrifying monster conglomerate. Watch the monster terrorize towns across America as it imposes data caps, denies people access to low-cost programs, and refuses to upgrade infrastructure. What nightmare lies ahead? Will the townsfolk and their elected officials unite to stop the monster, before it acquires Time Warner? Watch and find out!
The Mummy From Last CenturyLink
Archaeologists unearth the Last CenturyLink Mummy from a rural...Read more
In the most recent episode of his weekly Netflix show Patriot Act, comedian and former Daily Show correspondent Hasan Minhaj answers the question we’ve all asked ourselves: “Why does my Internet service provider suck so much?” To figure it out, the show, which features research from the Community Broadband Networks initiative, takes a deep dive into Internet access inequality, lobbying telecom monopolies, inept federal regulators, municipal broadband networks, and more.
Minhaj, citing our Profiles of Monopoly report, points to monopoly broadband providers as one of the main reasons for slow speeds, poor service, and uneven access. He calls out Comcast in particular:
“Now look, all of these companies are terrible, but Comcast deserves a special place in Hell . . . In fact, Comcast has been called “America’s Most Hated Company” . . . The emotions are real. People hate Comcast.”
Later, he notes that the federal government shares responsibility for the sad state of affairs:
“The most frustrating part about the broadband cartel is that the government isn’t just letting this happen; it’s helping it happen. They are protecting broadband monopoly power over the public good, and most of the blame falls on one agency: the Federal Communications Commission, or the FCC.”
In the episode, Minhaj also explains how the FCC’s data collection methods vastly overstate broadband coverage, calling Form 477, which the agency uses to collect deployment data from providers, the “government version of ‘grade your own quiz.’”
As a counterpoint, Minhaj highlights how communities across the country, like Chattanooga, Tennessee, are building their own broadband networks to get around monopoly providers and sluggish regulators:
“Small cities are going DIY, and they’re setting up their own Internet. It’s become known as municipal broadband, and it is phenomenal. It turns out, when cities create their own Internet, then their own broadband customers get faster speeds, lower prices, and better customer service — you know, all the things that violate Comcast company policy.”
Municipal broadband, he says, is creating competition and faster, more affordable Internet access:
“Chattanooga forced Comcast to magically find a way to offer the...