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Broadband Communities Regional Conference Fast Approaching: Oct. 18 - 20

As you say good-bye to September, consider making your way to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to attend the 2016 Broadband Communities Mag Annual Conference at the downtown Radisson Blu. The event is scheduled for October 18 - 20 and you can still register online.

The Economic Development Conference Series brings Fiber For The New Economy to the "City of Lakes" as part of its Community Toolkit Program. The conference is full of information you can use if your community is looking for ways to improve local connectivity through fiber. There will be presentations on economic development, financing, and smart policies that help lay the groundwork for future fiber investment. There are also some special sessions that deal specifically with rural issues and a number of other specialized presentations and panel discussions.

Christopher will be presenting twice on Wednesday, October 19th at 10:00 a.m. and again at 11:15 a.m. with several other community broadband leaders on the Blue Ribbon panel. They will address questions and discuss important updates, review helpful resources, and describe where we need to go next.

Next Century Cities will present a special Mayor’s Panel on October 20th and the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC) will arrive on October 18th for a special day-long program.

Check out the full agenda online.

Key facts on the Broadband Communities’ Conference

What: “Fiber for The New Economy”

Where: Radisson Blu Downtown Hotel, 35 S. Seventh St., Minneapolis, Minnesota 55402.

When: Oct. 18-20, 2016


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Photo of Lake Harriet and the Minneapolis skyline courtesy of Baseball Bugs

In The Hopper: Community Broadband Bill of 2016 From Rep. Eshoo

In order to allow local governments to help communities get the connectivity they need to compete, Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (Dem.-CA) introduced the Community Broadband Act of 2016 on September 13. The bill is designed to preserve local authority for municipalities, tribal, and local governments that wish to serve community anchor institutions, businesses, and residents with advanced telecommunications capability.

From Rep. Eshoo’s official statement:

“I’m disappointed that a recent court ruling blocked the FCC’s efforts to allow local communities to decide for themselves how best to ensure that their residents have broadband access. This legislation clears the way for local communities to make their own decisions instead of powerful special interests in state capitals.”

“Rather than restricting local communities in need of broadband, we should be empowering them to make the decisions they determine are in the best interests of their constituents. Too many Americans still lack access to quality, affordable broadband and community broadband projects are an important way to bring this critical service to more citizens.”

Rep. Eshoo introduced “dig once” legislation last fall and has long advocated for federal legislation to support Internet network deployment and increase universal access. This legislation would pair with Senator Cory Booker's 2015 Community Broadband Act.

When Christopher spoke with Sam Gustin for Motherboard about the bill, he said:

[He’s]“excited to see Rep. Eshoo's bill that would restore local authority to communities. Local governments need to be empowered to decide how to improve internet access rather than leaving their businesses and residents at the mercy of a few big monopolies.”

The Coalition for Local Internet Choice also responded positively:

CLIC applauds Congresswoman Eshoo for her efforts to protect local Internet choice and the options of all local communities to deploy critical broadband infrastructure.

Introducing a bill at the federal level, however, is only the first tentative step in restoring local authority. As Christopher told Gustin, the devil is in the details:

“However,” Mitchell added, “the big cable and telephone companies are so influential, with campaign contributions especially, that the path for this bill is quite challenging.” He warned of potential unintended consequences if lobbyists for AT&T, Comcast, and Charter are able to insert language that “could make investment and competition more difficult.”

Read the text of Rep. Eshoo's Community Broadband Act of 2016.

Examining Connectivity Alternatives: Op-Ed In Rochester

When the Rochester Post-Bulletin published Christopher Mitchell’s opinion piece in August, it wasn’t only because he is an expert on municipal networks. Christopher’s interest in all things geeky started in Rochester - he went to Rochester Mayo High School.

A Budding Idea

For the past few years, various elected officials, and member of the community-at-large have expressed dissatisfaction for services offered by incumbent Charter Communications. In addition to poor services, City Council members have faced complaints from constituents about awful customer service. Over the past year, the community began showing that they will not abandon the idea of publicly owned Internet infrastructure.

The city, home to the world-class Mayo Clinic, is a hub of healthcare discovery. As medical technology becomes more intertwined with fast, affordable, reliable connectivity, Rochester’s expensive and lackluster incumbent Internet providers are showing that they just aren’t cutting it.

Local Support And Early Analysis

In June, the Post Bulletin Editorial Board published their support for a review of the options:

We'd encourage the council and Rochester Utilities Board (RPU) board to make every effort to explore the costs and benefits of installing municipal broadband Internet services as a way of ensuring our community stays effectively connected to the world around it.

Considering Rochester's economic dependence on science and technology, having access to the highest speeds possible is crucial to the city's future. Unfortunately, existing services lag behind those being offered in other cities, putting Rochester's businesses and residents at a competitive disadvantage.

Many questions and concerns remain, but finding answers is the best way for the city to make sure it is serving the needs of its constituents to the fullest.

RPU staff consulted experts as it investigated options and presented their estimates to the City Council and the RPU Board in July. They concluded the city would need to invest approximately $53 million in capital to build a fiber-optic network. With the cost of bonding, staff estimates the total cost for a citywide municipal fiber-optic network would be $67 million.

Smart Move

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Soon after the city heard RPU staff’s findings, the Post Bulletin published Christopher's piece. He points out that the city makes a smart move in evaluating the options. Businesses and residents are lacking choice and the community’s economic foundation is likely at risk unless connectivity improves:

According to the Federal Communications Commission, 3 out of 4 Americans only have one choice of high-speed Internet provider. If you hear claims that Rochester has many providers, dig deeper. Those statistics are aggregated, which means that while you could have four different providers in a single neighborhood, most homes probably only have access to one or two of them.

Another challenge that Rochester faces is that some nearby communities like St Charles have HBC, a private provider from Winona with an excellent reputation, that is expanding a gigabit fiber-optic network throughout smaller towns in the region. Those communities will increasingly draw high-tech people out of Rochester, trading a commute for far better Internet access.

Christopher points out that there are a number of possibilities and that the city is already ahead because they have an electric utility. He reminds them that they need to consider the future of the community and that the greatest peril comes from inertia:

None of these approaches comes without risk — but then, many communities have found that doing nothing is an even greater risk. Just don't let anyone fool you into thinking the choice is between borrowing $67 million and doing nothing.

Rochester should continue examining its options and decide on the best step forward for it as a whole for the long term. We all want a solution to meet our needs in the near term, but as RPU demonstrates, smart investments can continue benefiting the community decades upon decades later.

Unanimous Dissent Radio On Munis, The FCC Decision, And State Barriers

Last week, Christopher was a guest on the Unanimous Dissent Radio Show. Sam Sacks and Sam Knight asked him to share information about the details on state barriers around the country.

The guys get into the nitty gritty on state level lobbying and anti-muni legislation. They also discuss how a growing number of communities are interested in the local accountability, better services, and improved quality of life that follows publicly owned Internet infrastructure.

The show is now posted on SoundCloud and available for review. Christopher’s interview starts around 17:00 and runs for about 15 minutes. Check it out:

 

Community Connections - Anne Schweiger, Boston, Massachusetts

In this week's Community Connections, Christopher chats with Anne Schweiger, Broadband and Digital Equity Advocate for the city of Boston. Schweiger talks about the challenges that Boston faces, including a lack of competition and adoption of broadband in the home. She talks about the importance of "baking good broadband practice" into building codes for cities.

In February, 2016 the Boston Globe editorial board came out in support of a municipal network. 

Boston has its own conduit network and significant fiber assets, but residents and businesses must seek service from large private providers. 

Major Media Outlets Cover 6th Circuit Decision Limiting Local Authority

Various Sources, August 10-11, 2016

A circuit court decision this week means the digital divide in Tennessee and North Carolina will be allowed to continue. This week, the 6th Circuit Court of appeals decided to dismiss the FCC's decision to encourage Internet investment by restricting local authority to build competitive Internet networks. In February, ILSR and Next Century Cities filed an Amicus Brief in support of the FCC's position. Here is a selection of media stories which cite ILSR.

MEDIA COVERAGE - "Court of Appeals Overrules FCC Decision"

Cities looking to compete with large Internet providers just suffered a big defeat by Brian Fung: The Washington Post, August 10

There are signs, however, that municipal broadband proponents were anticipating Wednesday's outcome — and are already moving to adapt. One approach? Focus on improving cities' abilities to lay fiber optic cables that then any Internet provider can lease; so far, only one state, Nebraska, has banned this so-called "dark fiber" plan, said Christopher Mitchell, who directs the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's Community Broadband Networks Initiative.

"We're pursuing strategies that are harder for the cable and telephone companies to defeat," said Mitchell.

Circuit court nixes FCC’s effort to overturn North Carolina, Tennessee anti-municipal broadband laws by Sean Buckley: Fierce Telecom, August 10, 2016

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However, pro-municipal broadband groups like the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which filed an amicus brief in support of the FCC's position, said they are "disappointed that the FCC's efforts to ensure local Internet choice have been struck down.”

Court Deals FCC a Big Blow in Municipal Broadband Ruling by Alex Byers: PoliticoPro August 10, 2016 (subscription needed)

For now, proponents of the FCC’s order said they would work state-by-state to change laws restricting municipal broadband networks. Christopher Mitchell, director of the Institute For Local Self-Reliance’s Community Broadband Networks program, said the FCC order highlighted the issue and inspired other communities. “The FCC may have lost the case but they’ve still done a service for America,” Mitchell said. “In making the decision that was later overturned, they certainly elevated the issue.”

Analysis: The government just lost a big court battle over public Internet service by Brian Fung: Chicago Tribune, August 11, 2016

Congress Should Support Community Broadband Networks, Advocates Say by Sam Gustin: Motherboard Vice, August 11, 2016

“I would love to see renewed enthusiasm around this bill, and I would love to see it pass,” Christopher Mitchell, Director of Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, told Motherboard. But with Republicans currently in control of both the House and the Senate, Booker’s bill has virtually no chance of becoming law, especially given the tremendous amount of political influence wielded by the likes of Comcast and AT&T, Mitchell said. He warned that even if the legislation moved forward, industry-friendly lawmakers could try to weaken the bill or insert anti-community broadband provisions... “With the GOP in control, Marsha Blackburn would crush this legislation,” Mitchell said. “That’s why she gets more money from the cable and telecom industry than anyone else. She would make sure it doesn’t go anywhere.”

U.S. court rules FCC lacks authority to upend state bans on community-run broadband by Aaron Sankin: Daily Dot, August 11, 2016

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Last year, the FCC made a bold push to let cities and counties around the county make significant investments in their high-speed internet infrastructure. On Wednesday, a trio of federal judges dealt that effort a major setback... “We thank the FCC for working so hard to fight for local authority and we hope that states themselves will recognize the folly of defending big cable and telephone monopolies and remove these barriers to local investment,” Mitchell said in a statement. “Communities desperately need these connections and must be able to decide for themselves how to ensure residents and businesses have high quality Internet access.”

Federal court blocks FCC efforts to protect municipal broadband expansion by Alex Koma: StateScoop, August 11, 2016

Indeed, Chris Mitchell — director of the community broadband initiative for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance — argues that “states have gotten away with pulling a fast one in terms of lying about their intentions,” claiming that the matter isn’t so easily dismissed as a question of federalism. “The challenge is understanding whether these states are regulating their cities or regulating interstate commerce, as the FCC argued, and I think that these states are clearly trying to regulate internet access, as opposed to just what these cities could do,” Mitchell said. “I don’t think the court really got that.”

Next Steps Pondered After Muni Cable Ruling by Gary Arlen: Broadcasting and Cable, August 11, 2016

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"Once there's light shined on those laws, enough state legislators will decide it's time to stand up to the incumbents," said Mark C. Del Bianco, an attorney who represented Next Century Cities and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, two advocacy groups that supported the efforts of Chattanooga, Tenn., and Wilson, N.C., to build competitive high-speed networks for their citizens."

Court Says FCC Can't Stop States from Blocking City Broadband Efforts by Shirley Siluk: NewsFactor Network August 11, 2016

"We're in a better place now that we had been [before] the FCC order," Mitchell told us today. "More communities have been inspired. We've seen a remarkable increase in the number of municipalities promoting access."

Mitchell said FCC commissioners who supported the order deserve a lot of credit for such developments. Mitchell said that outside of efforts in Tennessee and North Carolina, his organization's work to promote local broadband development will continue uninterrupted.

Photo of the newspaper stack courtesy of Globalimmigrantnews through Wikimedia Commons. 

Press Release: The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals decided to dismiss the FCC's decision to encourage Internet investment in Tennessee and North Carolina

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals decided to dismiss the FCC's decision to encourage Internet investment in Tennessee and North Carolina

Minneapolis, MN - The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals decided today to dismiss the FCC's February 2015 decision to encourage Internet investment in Tennessee and North Carolina. Tennessee and North Carolina had both restricted local authority to build competitive networks.

"We're disappointed that the FCC's efforts to ensure local Internet choice have been struck down," says Christopher Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. "We thank the FCC for working so hard to fight for local authority and we hope that states themselves will recognize the folly of defending big cable and telephone monopolies and remove these barriers to local investment. Communities desperately need these connections and must be able to decide for themselves how to ensure residents and businesses have high quality Internet access."

ILSR and Next Century Cities filed an Amicus brief in support of the FCC's position. View the Court's Opinion here.

Contact:

Rebecca Toews

rtoews@ILSR.org

612-808-0689

"YES!" RS Fiber Wins More Recognition

Minnesota's RS Fiber Cooperative is getting well-deserved attention from a variety of sources far beyond the Land of 10,000 Lakes. In addition to kudos from experts in the telecommunications industry, their story was recently shared in YES! Magazine.

Innovative Partnership

On August 1st, the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) announced that RS Fiber Cooperative had received that 2016 Community Broadband Innovative Partnership Award. NATOA President Jodie Miller said of this award and the other 2016 distinctions: “These pioneers were selected based on their extraordinary efforts, achievements and innovation in community-based approaches to broadband technology.” NATOA will present the awards in September at their 36th Annual Conference in Austin, Texas.

Earlier this summer, the communities that belong to the co-op were honored with an award from the Minnesota League of Cities.

YES! Magazine Profiles RS Fiber

Ben DeJarnette from YES! Magazine spoke with our Christopher Mitchell about the cooperative:

“I don’t want to say that everyone can do this, but a lot of places could do it if they had this effort,” Mitchell said. “And I don’t think anyone’s going to have to go through the same level of challenge again, because now there’s a model.”

DeJarnette's article described some the struggles of rural life with poor or absent Internet access based on our report, “RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperative”: farmers unable to share crop data with business contacts; local businesses with no access to online commerce; and school children with no way to complete online homework assignments. The article explains how the RS Fiber project is helping this collaboration of small rural communities overcome the rural digital divide.

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The article also dedicates sufficient coverage to the way the RS Fiber Cooperative is funding their infrastructure build. With no federal funding, and investment from community banks, this project is truly locally grown. From the article:

As long as local demand meets projections, revenue from the broadband network will more than repay government loans, and taxpayers won’t owe a dime. 

“That’s the win-win,” said Chris Mitchell, director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative, who has studied the project. “It’s a model in which local governments can take on the risk if they’re willing, and local banks can get a very reasonable return.”

The Fifth Utility

Lisa Skubal, vice president of economic development for the Cedar Valley Chamber of Commerce spoke with DeJarnette about the roll that high-quality Internet access plays in Cedar Falls, Iowa. “From an economic development standpoint, fiber optic high-speed Internet is the fifth utility…We live in such a globalized society right now that having broadband connectivity is imperative for businesses.” Last year, President Obama visited the community to highlight the potential of publicly owned Internet infrastructure.

The RS Fiber Cooperative network has already attracted a new endeavor to the region. The Minnesota College of Osteopathic Medicine, attracted by the new fiber network, will be operating out of a building in Gaylord, one of the communities that belong to the co-op.

More On RS Fiber

Learn more about how farmers use this new utility and how the co-op has changed life in rural Minnesota in a recent PBS News Hour video, which features RS Fiber and a similar project, in Massachusetts, Wired West.

Get the details on the RS Fiber Cooperative from our report, free to download and to share.

You can also check out our other coverage, including Christopher's interview with Mark Erickson, City of Winthrop Economic Development Authority Director, and Renville-area farmer Jake Rieke in Episode #198 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. We also spoke with Mark and Coop Vice-Chair Cindy Gerholz early in the process during Episode #99. You can find more at the RS Fiber Coop and Sibley County tags.

"Big Sky Broadband Workshop" Set for August 31st - September 1st in Missoula

The National Telecommunications and information Administration (NTIA) will be hosting the "Big Sky Broadband Workshop" on August 31st and September 1st in Missoula, Montana. If you happen to be in the area and keen to learn more about connectivity in the region, plan to attend this free event. Our own Christopher Mitchell will be participating in one of the panel discussions.

From the NTIA announcement:

Broadband is a critical driver of economic growth and prosperity across the country. The “Big Sky Broadband Workshop” will bring together state, local and federal officials, industry representatives, community leaders and other key stakeholders to share real-world broadband success stories and lessons learned from across the region. The summit will also examine the gaps that remain and strategize on what still needs to be done to expand access to and adoption of high-speed Internet services for the benefit of all citizens. 

The event will begin at noon on August 31st in Missoula’s Hilton Garden Inn; there will also be a reception later that evening. Panel discussions will continue the next morning at 9 a.m.

For more details contact Barbara Brown at NTIA, telephone: (202) 280–8260; email: bbrown(at)ntia.doc.gov.

Community Connections - Terry Huval from Lafayette, Louisiana

"We Speak French, Eat Crawfish, and Have the Fastest Broadband in the World." 

Terry Huval's fascination with fiber started with the fiber on his fiddle strings, so it's pretty appropriate that he regailed Christopher with his skills during this Community Connections episode. 

In the previous episode you heard from former Mayor, Joey Durel about overcoming controversy and Lafayette's LUS Fiber.

In this episode, Huval emphasizes why ownership is so important for cities to control their fiber infrastructure. He also touches on the other benefits of the public fiber network: faster response for outages, better connectivity for public safety and traffic control, and more than $13 million in cost savings for residents and businesses!

We hope you enjoy!