Tag: "transparency"

Posted March 29, 2021 by Jericho Casper

 

Snapshot 

Colorado House passes bill that reduces broadband board membership and conceals mapping data

Michigan legislature approves bill granting ISPs property tax exemptions 

New Mexico and Virginia bills await governors’ action 

 

The State Scene

Tennessee

Tennessee is home to some of the most creative local solutions to bridging the digital divide. Municipal fiber networks across the state, including Chattanooga’s EPB Fiber network, Morristown’s FiberNet, and Bristol’s network, have been a boon to economic development, job creation, educational initiatives, and overall quality of life in the past decade.

The next city to potentially join the ranks of providing municipal broadband in Tennessee is Knoxville. On March 11, the Knoxville Utility Board approved a business plan to provide Internet services across its service area. 

Despite the widespread success of municipal networks across Tennessee, the state restricts what populations they can serve. Although Tennessee law allows cities and towns to offer advanced telecommunications services if they have a municipal electric utility, the networks are not permitted to offer those services to residents who live outside of the utility’s service area. Removing these restrictions would permit substantial fiber expansion to connect more residents at no cost to the state or taxpayers.

Multiple laws introduced this legislative session in Tennessee sought to overturn statutes stifling the expansion of municipal networks. As of yet, these legislative proposals have stalled in committee, had their hearings postponed until next year’s legislative session, or been withdrawn altogether. AT&T and Comcast have historically killed these bills in subcommittees and committees early in the process in order to continue limiting broadband competition in Tennessee,...

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Posted March 23, 2021 by Christopher Mitchell

Welcome to In Our View, the first installment of a new series here. From time to time, we'll use this space to explore new ideas and share our thoughts on recent events playing out across the digital landscape, as well as take the opportunity to draw attention to important but neglected broadband-related issues.

The disaster in Texas resulting from an electric grid that was deliberately left exposed and likely to fail in rare cold weather events has received a lot of dramatic coverage, as well it should given the loss of life and damage to so many homes and businesses. It also raised some questions in my mind regarding competition and designing markets that will be discussed below. Texas was a leader in allowing different electricity firms to compete in selling electricity over the same electric grid, an arrangement that has some similarities to open access broadband approaches.

In digging into that recent electricity history, I made another interesting and relevant finding that I discuss first as part of the background to understand the lessons from Texas. In 20 years of competing models between, on the one hand, municipal and cooperative structures to deliver electricity and, on the other hand, a largely deregulated and competitive market, the munis and co-ops delivered lower prices to ratepayers.

Many of the sources used in this article are behind paywalls. We wish that weren't the case but we support both paying for news and the libraries that have databases that may allow you to track this down if you have the inclination.

Electricity Deregulation, Texas Style

More than 20 years ago, Texas largely deregulated electricity markets. Residents still have a monopoly in charge of the physical wire delivering electricity to the home, but they could choose among various electricity providers that would effectively use the wire and charge different amounts, differentiating themselves via a variety of factors, including how the electricty was produced.

Logo Electric Reliability Council of TexasHowever, some...

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Posted July 23, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

July has seen the release of two complementary reports which shed light on two of the topics we care about a great deal around these parts: availability and affordability of Internet access, and municipally-enabled networks.  

The Open Technology Institute at New America recently released “The Cost of Connectivity 2020” [pdf], which digs into the factors (some of which are explicit and others hidden) dictating how much Americans can expect to spend for Internet access in comparison to Europe, Asia, Canada, and Mexico. They conclude that, compared to the rest of the world, a lack of competition, regulation, and accurate data collection by the FCC has led to higher prices, slower speeds, exorbitant data cap fees, and deep digital divides running between those with high-speed access and those in Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities and low-income parts of American cities. And among its most compelling policy recommendations — based on data points from 296 standalone Internet plans in the United States — is that municipal networks offer a solution. 

If OTI’s report outlines the deep and persistent problem of connectivity in the United States, US Ignite and Altman Solon’s “Broadband Models for Unserved and Underserved Communities” [pdf] provides a clear and thoughtful roadmap for local communities who ask “What can we do?” Above all else, the guide shows that high-speed broadband is a solvable proposition, and sketches out five models for local governments to follow according to their unique conditions. Like the OTI report, US Ignite and Altman Solon highlight the many inherent benefits of community-enabled networks. 

Download the full reports at the bottom of this post.

Digging into the Data

The OTI report is based on data from 760 standalone Internet plans across 28 cities in North America, Europe, and Asia collected between June 2019 and March 2020 (though it also incorporates lessons learned from the current public health crisis). Across every type of connection (DSL, cable, and fiber) it found the U.S. to lag behind in at least one metric...

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Posted August 17, 2018 by Lisa Gonzalez

In the most recent report from the Blandin Foundation, Researcher Bill Coleman from Community Technology Advisors and his crew put boots to the ground to examine the results of Connect America Fund (CAF II) investments. Bill recently visited our office in Minneapolis to discuss the report with Christopher for episode 318 of the  podcast.

You can download the report, Impact of CAF II-funded Networks: Lessons From Two Rural Minnesota Exchanges here.

Bill and Christopher discuss the challenges Bill and his team encountered when they initially decided to gather documentation on what services CAF II funded projects brought to rural Minnesota. In order to get past those challenges, the researchers devised a methodology that other communities can reproduce.

Once the team had answered the technical questions about infrastructure, they analyzed the results and applied them to Minnesota’s statewide goals for broadband access. They determined that, in addition to lack of transparency regarding CAF II network plans, the tendency to invest in slower speeds, including DSL, will not help Minnesota achieve its goals. 

For people living in urban areas who have grown accustomed to broadband within reach, it’s hard to imagine the situation in rural Minnesota, where there are still homes that have no access to the Internet at all. The disparity in speeds and availability complicate the idea that rural folks should have access to high-quality connectivity at the same levels as people living in urban centers.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 35 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all...

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Posted February 16, 2018 by Lisa Gonzalez

The city of Ammon, Idaho, has used its open access publicly owned network to create an environment that encourages competition for residents and businesses. In addition to giving them control over which services they use and which companies they patronize, the city is doing its best to share information. In this video, the Ammon Fiber Optic Utility explains information financing for those who decide to connect to the network.

Ammon is using a Local Improvement District (LID) approach to connect premises to the infrastructure. The city determines the boundaries of where the project will occur and property owners have the opportunity at the beginning of the process to pay for connecting to the network by attaching the cost over 20 years to their property. If property owners don’t take advantage of the opportunity during this window of time and decide later to connect, they must pay the estimated $3,000 - $5,000 out of pocket.

As the video explains, connecting one’s property to the network raises its value and makes it easier to sell. It also points out that the cost of connecting stays with the property, so if a homeowner moves before the 20-year period is over, the new owners continue the payments for connecting. The video also explains an estimated monthly cost breakdown for hooking up to Ammon’s network. 

Keeping the community informed about their options keeps residents and businesses engaged in the process and aware of developments related to their network. Check out this short video about the LID #2 options and learn more from this report from Harvard University’s Digital Access to Scholarship at Harvard (DASH).

You can also listen to Christopher interview Bruce Patterson, the city's Technology Director, who has joined us for episodes 259, 207, 173, and...

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Posted September 21, 2017 by Lisa Gonzalez

And then there were three. After months of review and vetting, the field of bidders to purchase Burlington, Vermont’s, treasured municipal network is now a manageable number. On September 20th, city officials announced which entities were still in the running and released details of their proposals.

Ting

Toronto company Ting, which is owned by Tucows, submitted a bid to purchase the network. The company is already providing services in Charlottesville, Virginia; Holly Springs, North Carolina; and in Westminster, Maryland, where the public-private partnership has received several awards. The company is also planning construction in Sandpoint, Idaho, and Centennial, Colorado, where they will also be partnering with the municipalities to use publicly owned fiber.

They describe the key points of their offer as $27.5 million in cash and they will pay the city an additional $500,000 if BT earns $4.25 million earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) during the 2018 fiscal year. Ting is offering the city a minority interest in the network that they can later divest if they choose.

logo-ting.png Ting will also relocate BT’s equipment, currently housed in the city’s Memorial Auditorium. The move is estimated to cost $800,000. As part of the deal, the company will also donate $250,000 toward the city’s Burlington Ignite and other programs to encourage entrepreneurship and closing the digital divide.

In their offer, Ting guarantees expansion within the city and beyond the city limits. Like the other bidders, Ting plans to keep the current operational team in place. They also guarantee customer rates for 30 months.

Review the details of the Ting/Tucows offer here.

Schurz

Schurz...

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Posted February 8, 2017 by Lisa Gonzalez

On February 7th, the Virginia House of Delegates voted 72 - 24 to pass HB 2108, otherwise known as "Byron’s Bad Broadband Bill." The text of the bill was a revised version substituted by Del. Kathy Byron after Governor Terry McAuliffe, local leaders across the state, and constituents very handily let her know that they did not want the bill to move forward. The bill now moves to the Senate.

Byron’s original “Broadband Deployment Act” has been whittled down to a bill that still adheres to its main purpose - to protect the telephone companies that keep Byron comfortable with campaign cash. There is no mention of deployment in the text of the new draft, but it does dictate that information from publicly owned networks be made open so anyone, including national providers, can use it to their advantage.

According to Frank Smith, President and CEO of the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA), 

...Virginia Freedom of Information Act stipulations already codified in the Wireless Services Authority Act are sufficient and the new requirements in Byron’s bill could require the broadband authority to reveal proprietary information about its customers.

...

“There’s nothing hidden under the table,” Smith said. “The Wireless Services Authority Act is sufficient because you all did your job in 2003.”

The broadband authority’s rates, books and board meetings already are open to the public.

Private providers would never be required to publicize information that could jeopardize their operations. The objective here is to discourage public private partnerships and prevent local governments from investing in the type of infrastructure that would attract new entrants into the region.

Not "Us" vs. "Them"

At a time when everything seems political, both...

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Posted February 3, 2017 by Lisa Gonzalez

Republican Delegates in the Virginia House Labor and Commerce Committee advanced HB 2108 yesterday, despite opposition from constituents, local leaders, and members of the telecommunications industry. A revised version of Byron’s Bad Broadband Bill now heads to the House Floor today for a vote from the entire body.

A bill titled the “Virginia Broadband Deployment Act” by its sponsor now contains nothing about “deployment” but retains provisions forcing publicly owned networks to reveal proprietary information that limit competition. In the hearing yesterday, President and CEO of the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA) testified that this bill is overkill:

In front of the committee, Smith argued the Virginia Freedom of Information Act stipulations already codified in the Wireless Services Authority Act are sufficient and the new requirements in Byron’s bill could require the broadband authority to reveal proprietary information about its customers.

Under this bill, the broadband authority could have been forced to reveal information about Meridium — that GE Digital was planning to purchase the Roanoke-based company for $495 million, Smith said.

“There’s nothing hidden under the table,” Smith said. “The Wireless Services Authority Act is sufficient because you all did your job in 2003.”

The broadband authority’s rates, books and board meetings already are open to the public.

Our Christopher Mitchell noted that the attempt to force publicly owned networks into a state of "ultra-transparency" was also a thinly veiled attempt to ward off competition from potential public-private partnerships:

The opening of potentially proprietary information under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act regarding pricing, rates, and fees is something the private sector does not have to deal with and would strenuously object to. This is particularly harmful to potential public-private partnerships where I fear an incumbent would seek to punish the partner of a rival by constantly seeking...

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Posted June 18, 2016 by Lisa Gonzalez

Depending on where you live, you may be able to choose between two or three big name ISPs. No matter which one you ultimately select, you might face some difficulty obtaining the kind of service you deserve. If you know what to expect, it’s easier to prepare yourself and, in the event you DO have a choice, pick the one that’s right for you.

BroadbandSearch has likened transparency in the telecommunications industry to nutrition information on food packaging. They have produced a set of “Nutrition Labels” for your Internet access diet.

xfinity-label.jpg

They describe the project:

We believe that anything that makes buying broadband Internet service easier is a good thing, and for that reason we've created these ready-made broadband nutrition labels to help you choose from the biggest providers in the nation. 

Here is Comcast’s Xfinity label, a big provider in our Minneapolis area.

Of course, rates from Xfinity and other providers vary from place to place and they offer introductory deals that depend on a number of factors. For more on how BroadbandSearch obtained their data, check out their Sources page.

Now that the FCC’s network neutrality rules have been challenged and upheld in the Appellate Court, providers are required to be more transparent. These labels can help them share the information that subscribers need to make informed decisions. Check out the complete set at BroadbandSearch.

Posted August 28, 2015 by Lisa Gonzalez

The Kitsap Public Utility District (KPUD) is turning to residents to plot the course for expansion, reports the Central Kitsap Reporter. In order to find out where the greatest interest lies in municipal fiber connectivity, KPUD will be using the COS Service Zones survey system.

“Since this is a public network, we do not feel comfortable relying on anecdotal data to determine the next phase for broadband expansion,” said Bob Hunter, Kitsap PUD General Manager. “What’s most appealing with the COS Service Zones is that it enables us to let the gathering and push come from the citizens. We want to be sure the residents are driving this.”

We have reported on the KPUD, mostly as it related to other stories. The publicly owned open access fiber network in Kitsap County Washington began providing wholesale only service in 2000. The goal was to provide better connectivity to public facilities and improve emergency communications and the KPUD has reached that goal.

Readers will remember Seth, who almost had to sell his Internet-less dream home due to mapping errors and the general failures at Comcast. When he approached the KPUD, they found a way to bring him an Internet connection. An increasing number of residents have asked the agency to find a way to serve their homes. Currently, PUDs in Washington are prohibited by state law from offering retail service, which can limit financially-viable investments, but Kitsap is trying to get a sense of the size of the interest.

The COS Service Zones system will help KPUD plan for any potential buildout by determining where customers are most likely to subscribe. The system will also allow the public to see where the KPUD plans to expand as a result of the survey.

Kitsap County residents can go to the website kpud.servicezones.net to fill out the online survey.

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