Communities around Rutland in Vermont are moving forward with a planned universal full fiber-to-the-home network. Interestingly, this network has been spear-headed by the Rutland Redevelopment Authority, not a local City Hall.
Back in Tennessee, the Clarksville Fiber Network is running ahead of schedule.
Having reached the 6,000-customer mark, CDE Lightband's broadband service is slightly ahead of schedule in adding new subscribers, an official of the Clarksville utility said Wednesday — good news for a telecommunications division, which is still in its infancy.
Initial projections had the utility servicing around 8,000 broadband subscribers by next June.
New installations usually have about a six-week wait, primarily because of high demand, Batts said.
Though demand is high, the goal of profitability is still a ways off — around 4,000 additional customers are needed to push the utility's telecommunications into the black, according to early department projections.
Seattle's new mayor campaigned on building a publicly owned, full fiber-to-the-home network. Reclaim the Media asks if Seattle will get its broadband 'public option.'
As Reclaim the Media noted last summer, the main obstacles to moving forward with next-generation fiber to underserved areas in Seattle are (1) money and (2) political will. The city budget remains in slash-and-burn territory this year; next year's budget would be the earliest that the new Mayor would be able to effectively push a significant new priority. This winter, however, Schrier's office will be able to apply for federal broadband stimulus funds to build out the skeleton of a citywide fiber network (possibly in collaboration with Seattle City Light), and to provide actual door-to-door "fiber to the premises" (FTTP) service to underserved neighborhoods in the Central District and Beacon Hill. McGinn's leadership will be key in making this project happen.
A few local elections on Tuesday had questions relating to publicly owned broadband networks. In Seattle, candidate McGinn strongly supported a publicly owned fiber optic network for the city and he may yet get his way as the race is a dead heat and ballots are still being counted. We previously discussed Seattle's broadband deliberations.
In Longmont, Colorado, voters voted against giving the municipality authority to expand the city owned fiber-assets into a network offering retail services. As usual, the proponents of the public network were significantly outspent by incumbents seeking to prevent competition.
A group called No Blank Check Longmont, backed with $150,000 from the Colorado Cable Telecommunications Association, spent more than $143,000 in cash and benefited from more than $46,000 in in-kind contributions in its campaign to defeat 2C.
Up on top of Minnesota's North Shore, the Cook County Broadband project got a mixed reception. Though they received the authority to raise a 1% sales tax that would have helped pay for the project, they failed to achieve the necessary 65% super majority required under ancient Minnesota law (1915) to operate a telephone service. A majority supported the idea - 56% - but without the ability to offer a triple-play, the county will have to reconsider its approach.
Though such results are disappointing, every community with a locally owned community network has had to deal with such setbacks. The question is how organizers can respond to challengers and how badly the community wants fast and affordable broadband networks.
In the near term, I hope that both the Minnesota Broadband Task Force Report (due Friday) and the FCC National Broadband Plan recommend abolishing such barriers to public ownership as a 65% referendum.
Tacoma's Click! network, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, has announced a coming price hike to cover increased costs for carrying channels.
Tacoma's Click! network is a long-standing example of a community coming together to solve a common problem - ensuring they have the telecommunications infrastructure necessary for success in the modern world. Being built before FTTH was viable, the network is a combination of fiber and coaxial cable.
More importantly, they have enacted important rules to ensure everyone has access to the network:
Click’s low-income and senior customers will continue to receive a 20 percent discount, Anderson added.
The reason for the price increase is not to generate profits for absentee shareholders, but due to an increase in programming costs:
Click officials said the primary driver behind the proposed customer rate increases is newly imposed “retransmission” fees by local broadcasters. In all, Click faces about $750,000 of the new fees in 2009 and 2010, Wykstrom said.
Facing declining advertising revenues and increased costs caused by the recent change to all-digital formats, local broadcasters required the payments when negotiating new agreements with Click, officials said. In the past, local broadcasts were provided free of charge to Click.
“They basically held us hostage,” said Diane Lachel, Click’s government and community relations manager.
We occasionally look in on Seattle's broadband discussions because they are the largest city in the U.S. in which there is something approaching a serious discussion about a publicly owned community fiber network. They have a mayoral candidate who makes it a high priority and their Chief Technology Officer, Bill Schrier, both gets it and has an excellent staff that understands the benefits of such a network.
Glenn Fleishman has just interviewed Bill Schrier about the network and subsequently discussed the public need for broadband in specific neighborhoods due to extreme market failure. I like Glenn's style - he asks difficult questions and pushes for real answers. That said, I still want to push back on one of his statements because I think it instructive:
Government is often criticized for eliminating competition, inefficiently providing private services, and removing the profit motive. However, market failures are often where governments are asked or begged to step in, and, when accomplished correctly, can provide new opportunities for private enterprise.
Glenn is absolutely right both in capturing some of the criticisms leveled at public networks as well as noting that publicly owned broadband tends to occur in the most difficult environments. Contrary to telco rhetoric, local government officials tend not to want to jump into telecommunications efforts unless they see it as vital for the community. They are busy enough and these networks take years of planning, public hearings, and lots of loud attacks from the very companies that refuse to build the needed networks.
But look at the first two items that Glenn notes government is accused of: eliminating competition and inefficiently providing services. How is it that it can do both? Governments cannot coerce people into using the network and federal regulations prevent the local government from abusing its authority over the rights-of-way for the public network. Local governments can use untaxable bonds but private companies get depreciation, tax incentives, and can cross-subsidize from the nearby communities where they charge monopoly prices.
As for removing the profit motive - this is hardly a criticism. Infrastructure should not be controlled by any entity with a profit motive - it is the foundation of all other markets. If...Read more
Glenn Fleishman, of the excellent Wi-Fi Net News, recently interviewed Mike McGinn, a candidate for Mayor of Seattle that has talked frequently about the need for a publicly owned full fiber network in the City.
Larger cities have been slow to move on publicly owned broadband, in part because they typically already have some level of service available throughout the city (though perhaps not universally). Fleishman rightly notes this:
But is the fact that people can “only” get slow Internet connections enough to float $450 million in bonds, however financed? McGinn says that there are two separate reasons to push for universal availability. “Access to the Internet is access to the economy, access to the community, in some cases access to democracy, access to issues,” he says. But it’s also about the bottom line: “It’s an essential [piece of] infrastructure to compete in a world economy.”
Fleishman also notes a concern frequently cited by incumbent carriers who don't want a public network to compete against:
There have been many concerns raised about public entities, especially those with regulatory power over competitors–such as Seattle’s cable franchise board that controls access to public rights of way and facilities–entering the broadband market. But most of those concerns imply that the market will solve the problem. However, with no requirement for building out service to all customers, or having the same level of service available, an efficient market won’t provide universal coverage.
In my experience, this is a theoretical fear. Typically, when a community decides to build its own network, the incumbents rush to upgrade their infrastructure (often after denying that they thought there was a need for faster services in the area). If local governments were abusing their authority over the right of way, you can bet there would have been lawsuits filed - these incumbents have sued over everything else. I do not know of a single successful lawsuit against a local government for what would be a violation of law.
Getting back to the interview, they discuss both Lafayette, Louisiana:
The reason for the fight wasn’t about the right to 500 channels, about low prices, or about the city wanting a piece of the action. It was about the city’s desire to have 21st...
Congratulations to Click! on its ten years of service to the community.
This video is no longer available.
A couple of short interesting stories this week:
The Chattanoogan.com published a "Declaration of Independence from Comcast", written by a "fi-oneer" or person who is testing the new publicly owned FTTH services.
Unsurprisingly, there are some glitches this early in the process, but the fi-oneer seems pretty happy with it overall:
The television is fantastic; we have a multitude of channels, both high def and non high def; local, 'cable,' sports, movies, etc. Contracts are still being completed with a couple of providers, so we are missing my favorite, HGTV. I have been told that it will be coming in less that two weeks.
Although as with any new product there are occasional glitches, but we have only had a few, minor not major ones, at that. The picture might freeze for a few seconds, or pixilate for a few seconds. There are some things you need to learn about the remote control.
Interestingly, early problems can actually help community networks. In Burlington, Vermont, early problems allowed the publicly owned network to demonstrate how good its customer service was compared to the incumbents and gained a better reputation.
More news out of Seattle - following up on our recent story noting Reclaim the Media's push for public broadband in Seattle, Seattle radio station KUOW's program "The Conversation" had some guests discussing the existing network in Tacoma and a potential network for Seattle. Follow that link to listen in, the relevant portion runs from 14 minutes to 21 minutes (a total of 7 minutes).
- Karl Bode at DSL Reports slams a recent report by incumbent-flack group Discovery Institute that concludes government regulation of broadband is unnecessary. Bode's response is worth reading, here is an excerpt:
All of this makes Swanson's whining about "groups that want heavier regulation" disingenuous, given men like Swanson just got done seeing more than a decade of sustained deregulation in the telecom sector thanks in large part to his own lobbying. The result was the United States setting new records for being thoroughly mediocre, given American consumers pay more money for less bandwidth than a significant...
Reclaim the Media has published a position paper making the case for a publicly owned fiber network in Seattle. Seattle is in a difficult position, being served by Comcast and Qwest's copper networks while the suburbs are being snapped up by Verizon's fiber-powered FiOS and nearby publicly owned Tacoma Click! has attracted more than 100 businesses.
Not only is Seattle underserved relative to its neighbors, it has a significant digital divide from neighborhood to neighborhood. Reclaim the Media offers a solution to deal with both problems.
Going in Seattle's favor is a significant amount of fiber assets and the public power utility, City Light. Compared to other cities of its size, Seattle is among the best poised to build a publicly owned citywide fiber-to-the-home network. Now it needs the motivation.
Make no mistake, the costs would be significant- toward the mid hundreds of millions. Of course, this amount is tiny in comparison to the costs of replacing the crucial 520 bridge and the amount is similar to the public financing for beautiful Safeco Field.
Fiber-to-the-home for everyone or a sports stadium? That is an interesting decision. I think most would recognize the economic impact from being internationally competitive in broadband is considerably higher than that of a stadium. While the costs are substantial, they should be put in perspective.
RTM is right to note:
With the right vision backed by strong decisions, Seattle is poised to become a true national leader in connecting its residents, businesses, community organizations and public institutions with next-generation Internet access. Federal broadband stimulus funds, available for application this year, provide a remarkable opportunity for bold elected leaders to push forward our city's best plans, and make real our shared vision of affordable broadband for everyone.
NATOA, the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, comprises many people who are in, and work on, community broadband networks. Whether they are dealing with cable-company owned I-Nets or citizen owned networks, one of their jobs is to make sure the community has the network it needs.
Starting this year, NATOA has made its publication, the NATOA Journal, available to everyone, not just members. This will be a great resource for community broadband information.
This issue has important articles - from an in-depth comparison of the physical properties of copper and fiber to less technical arguments by Tim Nulty and myself. Tim Nulty wrote "Fiber to the User as a Public Utility."
He advances a number of important arguments:
- Universal - everyone should have access at affordable rates
- Open Access - it must encourage competition, not stifle it
- Future Proof - the technology must be built to last and meet needs currently unforeseen
- Financial self sufficiency - this can be done and the political culture suggests it must be done
He then delves into the problems Burlington Telecom faced, how it resolved those problems, and some of the strengths of their approach. He also offers some details on his new project - East Central Vermont Community Fiber Network.
My "Community Owned Networks Benefit Everyone" makes the case that only publicly owned networks can offer true competition in the broadband market because private network owners will not open their networks to other providers. Facilities-based competition is a policy that encourages monopoly or duopoly throughout most of America.
However, I also argue that public ownership, and the accountability that comes with it, may be more important than competition in cases where the community chooses that model. As always, we stand up for the right of communities to choose their future and to take responsibility for their choices.
Other important articles in this issue discuss the...Read more
Jim Baller and Casey Lide are two of the foremost experts on municipal broadband systems in the United States. This report offers a clear and rational defense of publicly owned broadband systems. The discussion takes on philosophical, economic, and pragmatic arguments and comes to the conclusion that communities should not be prevented from building their own networks.
From the Intro:
The Tennessee Broadband Coalition has asked the Baller Herbst Law Group to respond to the main criticisms that opponents of public Fiber-to-the-User (FTTU) initiatives have raised in Tennessee and elsewhere. The Coalition would like to know whether any of these criticisms is valid, and, if so, what lessons the Coalition can learn from them to avoid or mitigate similar problems in Tennessee.
Over the last decade, Baller Herbst has been involved in most of the leading public communications projects in the United States. In almost all of these projects, the incumbent telephone and cable companies have rejected or ignored the locality’s invitation to join in cooperative efforts that would benefit all concerned and have instead mounted massive media and lobbying campaigns in opposition to the proposed public network. Often, the incumbents have funded support from industry “experts” and artificial “grassroots” groups (which have come to be known as “Astroturf”).
In their campaigns, the incumbents and their allies have typically included emotional appeals to private-enterprise ideology; flawed statistics; complaints about supposedly unfair advantages that municipalities have over the private sector; attacks on the motives and competency of public officials; and false or incomplete, misleading and irrelevant examples. In many cases, these arguments have mirrored the unsuccessful arguments that the major electric power companies and their allies made against municipal ownership a century ago, when electric power was the must-have technology of the day, and thousands of unserved or underserved communities established their own electric utilities to avoid being left behind in obtaining the benefits of electrification.