In the short span of weeks since a membership vote to give the co-op the tools needed to pursue broadband projects for its 84,000 members, the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative has connected its first 900 households. The ceremoney took place in Lempster, where the first electric user was connected 81 years ago.
This week on the podcast Christopher talks with Michelle Barber and Andre Lortz. Both serve on the Kaysville City Council and are members of the group Citizens for Kaysville Fiber, but today they join us to talk as regular citizens of the city of 30,000 in Utah.
Kaysville has been working to improve Internet access for years — some residents have good connectivity, but other parts of town are very poorly served. In 2019 it began considering a municipal network, and Michelle and Andre share the history of efforts to make forward progress as well as the moves made over the last twelve months. The city originally considered a model with a utility fee, but in the face of opposition ultimately decided for a bond approach which just saw a vote where the measure was defeated by less than 200 votes. Michelle, Andre, and Christopher talk about how it happened (including how major providers funded public relations campaigns to scare people away), and what the project’s continued support means for its future.
This show is 41 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.
Don’t forget to check out our new show, Connect This!, where Chris brings together a collection broadband veterans and industry experts live on YouTube to talk about recent events and dig into the policy news of the day.
Transcript coming soon.
Subscribe to the Building Local Power podcast, also from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, on ...Read more
As voters went to the polls to cast ballots in the 2020 Presidential election, in two major metropolitan areas residents overwhelmingly approved ballot questions to move forward on exploring how to expand broadband access in their respective cities.
In Chicago, nearly 90% of those who cast ballots said “yes” to a non-binding referendum question that asked: “Should the city of Chicago act to ensure that all the city's community areas have access to broadband Internet?" With 2,034 of 2,069 precincts counted, 772,235 voters out of 862,140 cast their ballots in favor of that question.
That vote came on the heels of the roll out of “Chicago Connected,” a new initiative to bring high-speed Internet service to 100,000 households that do not have reliable access within the nation’s third-largest school district.
Meanwhile, in Denver 219,435 voters, or 83.5% of the city’s electorate, cast ballots in favor of question 2H, which allows the city to opt out of the state’s 2005 state law referred to as SB 152. That law prevents municipalities from building or partnering for broadband networks. Approval of the ballot initiative also grants the city “the authority but not [the] obligation to provide high-speed Internet access." Two other Colorado communities – Berthoud and Englewood – also voted in favor of similar ballot questions, asking voters if they want to opt out of SB 152. In Berthoud, 77.3% of voters cast ballots in support of the question. In Englewood, the opt-out question passed with 79.4% of voters in favor, which will allow the city to provide Wi-Fi service in city facilities.
In the 15 years since SB 152 was passed 140 Colorado communities have opted out with resultant networks like Longmont’s...Read more
This week on the podcast Christopher talks with the city of Sandwich, New Hampshire’s Broadband Advisory Committee Chair Julie Dolan and member Richard Knox. The join us to discuss the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative’s recent vote to add broadband to its charter.
Sandwich is particularly poorly served in NH and they have been seeking solutions for a long time. In organizing around the electric cooperative (which covers 115 towns and includes 85,000 members), in less than a year local stakeholders have organizing two votes around the importance of quality Internet access which, at the beginning of October, pushed the co-op into the business. Julie and Richard share with Chris how it all unfolded and what it means moving forward.
Don’t forget to check out our new show, Connect This!, where Chris brings together a collection broadband veterans and industry experts live on Youtube to talk about recent events and dig into the policy news of the day.
This show is 38 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.
Read the transcript for this episode.
Subscribe to the Building Local Power podcast, also from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, on iTunes or ...Read more
Building a successful community broadband network, we’ve often pointed out, relies on successful organizing and marketing campaigns as much as it does on putting fiber in the ground. Those networks that do it well succeed, and those that fail to take it into consideration can languish or stall out.
Successful marketing and organizing can build political will for a project, turn enthusiastic adopters into neighborhood champions who help increase take rates, help counter disinformation campaigns and predatory pricing by incumbent Internet Service Providers (ISPs), and show the ways that community owned networks have gone above and beyond over the years to invest not just in the most profitable neighborhoods around but ensure that those along every street and across every block have affordable, reliable, fast Internet access.
The New Hampshire Electric Cooperative recently saw firsthand how a smart, engaged, energetic subset of its membership can make Internet access a priority. Fairlawn, Ohio’s municipal network has also been highlighting the value it’s bringing to users in the midst of the ongoing pandemic.
And with votes regarding municipal broadband networks coming up in Kaysville, Utah, Denver, Berthoud, and Engelwood, Colorado, Chicago, Illinois, and Lucas, Texas, taking this into consideration is as important as it’s every been.
See some clever and colorful below examples below, and read our past coverage to see how different community networks have taken on the task of branding, marketing, and organizing for success.
Some images courtesy of Internet Freedom for McHenry County
In the fall of 2019, when the Kaysville City Council was poised to move forward on a $26 million, 30-year bond to build a municipal-owned fiber optic network, the COVID-19 pandemic had not yet turned life upside down.
Although city officials and advisors had spent 18 months thoroughly exploring options in a planning process City Councilwoman Michelle Barber called “one of the most vetted and open projects that we’ve worked on,” a group known as the Coalition for Responsible Kaysville Fiber created enough pushback to convince the City Council to shelve the plan and defer to a citizen-led ballot initiative.
On Tuesday, Nov. 3, Kaysville voters, in this city of approximately 32,000, will not only cast their ballots in the Presidential election, they will also be asked if they want the city to move forward with Kaysville Fiber. If the ballot initiative passes, it will allow the city to deploy a Fiber-To-The-Home (FTTH) network.
Currently, Comcast and CenturyLink are the Internet Service Providers (ISP) for most of Kaysville with some areas near the city relying on satellite Internet access. As has been the case in hundreds of communities across the nation that have built out fiber networks, Kaysville city leaders are looking to build a “last mile” fiber network to lower prices and improve services by creating an environment for increased competition.
Proponents are hoping the new “normal” in the face of the on-going pandemic — with the massive rise in virtual classrooms, remote work from home, telemedicine, and online commerce — will help voters see Kaysville Fiber as necessary infrastructure.
“I personally had residents who previously were either unsure of the project or were opposed, which is fine, now they said, ‘Oh I see what you guys were getting at. This is essential,’” City Councilwoman Barber told the Salt Lake Tribune earlier this month. “It’s not fair that some of us can function in the city and some of us can’t. COVID-19 has been a really poignant case study.”...Read more
Over the summer, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a new program to bring high-speed Internet service to the alarming number of households who do not have reliable access within the nation’s third-largest school district.
The initiative, referred to as Chicago Connected, aims to provide free high-speed Internet service to approximately 100,000 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students. One of the ground-breaking features of the effort is that it includes funds to enlist the support of a number of Community Based Organizations to assist with enrollment in the program, digital literacy and skills development training.
At the end of September, during a virtual town hall meeting, Mayor Lightfoot said that while CPS was making progress connecting eligible families, they had not yet reached the goal.
“We’re not where we want it to be. And I think part of the difficulty is, even though it’s free, it’s about making sure that families feel safe in signing up,” Lightfoot said. “Currently, we have over 25,000 households that are signed up, and that is the equivalent of almost 38,000 students towards our goal of 60,000 households at 100,000 students.”
How It Works
Using a sponsored service model, Chicago Connected seeks to provide the high-speed connection for up to four years by directly paying for the service for eligible families. The program primarily relies on donations from philanthropic partners, CPS and city funds, with an additional $5 million from the CARES Act to fund the $50 million program. Donations, which includes a $750,000 commitment from former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, will cover the first two years, with CPS paying for the third and fourth years...Read more
Iowa is home to many community networks, from co-ops to muni cable, fiber, and other technologies. Three communities in the state have just recently made important announcements about their plans, and several others are moving forward with networks. There is so much happening in Iowa right now that shows potential for other states that don't limit competition.
There is a long history of local broadband excellence in Iowa for new networks to draw on. Cedar Falls Utilities was just recognized as the fastest ISP in the nation by PCMag. It has well over 20 years of success, but recent years have seen it sharing its expertise and facilities to lower the cost for other communities to build networks without reinventing the wheel. Local private Internet service provider ImOn is also a partner for these networks, offering voice services.
Many of these networks being built will be able to share services and lower their costs by being on the same ring to get some scale benefits despite being smaller communities. I remember many years ago when Eric Lampland of Lookout Point started pushing for this ring, and I am dumbfounded why we don't see more of this cooperation among munis and small providers in other states. Thanks to Eric and Curtis Dean of SmartSource Consulting who helped me with background for this Iowa update.
We have a brief mention of West Des Moines's recently announced partnership with Google Fiber in here, but we're finishing a longer post that solely examines their approach. Between this, that, and our Coon Rapids podcast this week, it is officially Iowa week on MuniNetworks.org!
Vinton's new municipal fiber network has just started connecting subscribers, leading to a memorable testimonial in the local paper, Vinton Today:
As a gal that uses the Internet every day, and as someone who had the chance to briefly use...
This past summer, consultants hired by Lakeland, Florida, shared their opinion that the community has the necessary components to launch a broadband utility. In a recent opinion piece in The Ledger, city commissioner Justin Toller encourages Lakelanders to let their elected officials know that they want a public vote on the issue.
We’re Paying for it, Regardless
Toller, who has championed the broadband initiative as the chair of the Broadband Task Force, appeals to the public’s sense of value. He notes that, while everyone in the community has contributed financially to developing the existing 330-mile fiber optic network, only a small number of commercial entities use the infrastructure along with local schools, libraries, and public safety facilities. The city collects around $4 million per year in dark fiber leases.
By investing in the final connection, we can reduce customer costs in the long-term, because you are the owners and not just the users. To private providers, you are a source of profit; to our city, you are an investment in our shared community. That investment will create innovation, economic development, job growth, and a higher quality of life, while also providing a savings on your Internet bill.
Repeating the Past
Toller also notes how Lakeland decided as a community in the past to invest in the electric utility, the hospital, and the roads. He sees a similar path with fiber.
Today, the roadways of the future are not concrete; they are fiber. Lakeland has invested millions of dollars in building the current fiber network, and now it’s time to make the final investment to connect all Lakelanders. Keep in mind, whether we hook-up that fiber to every home and business or not, we all continue to pay for the existing infrastructure.
The city has done its due diligence by having a feasibility study. There have been numerous community meetings, a survey, a forum, and hundreds of public comments. In response, private providers have done what they do best, raise prices.
Many of us are still using decades-old infrastructure, and we’ve grown accustomed to the high prices and lousy...
Iowa already has more municipal broadband utilities than many other states and the voters in Fort Dodge decided on November 5th, that that it's time for one more. "Yes" votes came in at around 72 percent of the total while 28 percent of those casting ballots decided against a measure to grant authority for a municipal telecommunications network.
A Copper Island in a Sea of Fiber
In June, consultants described the way Fort Dodge had become "an island of copper in a sea of fiber to the home." Local rural cooperatives around the city of around 24,000 have been investing in Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) while incumbents Mediacom and Frontier still rely on old infrastructure to serve the more densely populated city areas. Curtis Dean from SmartSource Consulting noted that people in the rural areas served by the co-ops likely have access to better connectivity than those living within Fort Dodge. The city had hired SmartSource to evaluate the broadband situation in Fort Dodge and make recommendations.
The results of a survey and assessment of connectivity in the community encouraged community leaders to ask voters for the authority to look further into a possible municipal telecommunications utility.
At an October forum, Mediacom representatives argued their case against a "yes" vote on the proposal. Those that attended, offered negative comments to Mediacom about the service they've received from the company. Frontier Communications, another major Internet service provider in Fort Dodge, didn't bother to send a representative to the forum.
In an interview in late October, Fort Dodge Mayor, City Manager, Assistant Director of Parks, and Curtis Dean, spoke with The Messenger and provided more detail about the proposal and what people in the community could expect if the measure passed. They...Read more