The city of Ammon, Idaho, continues to garner more recognition and opportunities from its unfolding municipal fiber network.
In a recent news release, Ammon officials announced the city received approximately $600,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to partner with the University of Utah. They will research and develop a series of next-generation networking technologies supporting public safety.
Called SafeEdge, the nearly initiative will give Ammon residents connected to the city's network the opportunity to participate in the initiative to develop applications such as broadband public emergency alerts.
Ammon officials said a major focus of the research will be to evaluate the “feasibility of mixing public safety applications with other applications and services,” such as consumer streaming and data sharing, remote classroom access, and dynamic access to judicial functions, including remote arraignments and access to legal representation.
The city added “It is expected that this open access/multiservice approach will improve the economic feasibility of deploying broadband services in small and rural communities by allowing a variety of services to be deployed across the same infrastructure, while at the same time ensuring that public safety applications can function in this environment.”
The National Science Foundation and US Ignite, an initiative promoting U.S. leadership in developing and implementing next-generation gigabit applications that can be used for social good, are providing nearly $600,000 in funding over a three-year period for the Ammon project. About $235,000 of that funding will go to Ammon as sub awardee, the city said. The project period runs from Oct. 1, 2016 to September 30, 2019.
The NSF grant to Ammon is the latest honor for the city’s municipal fiber network activities. In mid-2015, the city won first place in the National Institute of Justice’s (NIJ) Ultra-High Speed Apps competition, which encouraged software developers and public safety professionals to use public data and ultra-high speed systems to create apps to improve criminal justice and public safety operations. We reported that Ammon’s application used gunshot detection hardware and a school’s existing camera system. The School Emergency Screencast Application provides the location of gunshot fire for first responders and transmits live-video and geospatial information so they know what to expect and where to concentrate efforts.
A few of us from the Community Broadband Networks Initiative recently attended the BBC Community Toolkit Program & Economic Development conference in downtown Minneapolis. On the first day, Gigi Sohn, Special Counselor for External Affairs for Chairman Wheeler at the FCC received the award from the Coalition for Local Internet Choice for the Local Internet Choice National Champion. The Obama administration’s FCC, under the guidance of Chairman Wheeler and the sage advice of Gigi, has become enlightened to the positive potential of community networks.
To their credit, the agency has dealt with a number of issues, including network neutrality and a number of other consumer centric matters. We have reported on some of them, but the most central to our work has been the issue of state laws that restrict the deployment and expansion of municipal Internet networks. Gigi, as one of Chairman Wheeler’s top advisors on this matter, played a pivotal role in helping the agency pursue municipal networks as a critical aid to local control, competition, and the ultimate national goal of ubiquitous Internet access.
Gigi reflected on the court battle that reversed the FCC ruling from 2015 preempting state barriers that prevent North Carolina and Tennessee municipal utility Internet networks from serving nearby communities. She noted that advocates shared truths about community networks with data about economic development, competition, and quality of life. The benefits of local authority became clear but, unfortunately, the courts showed us that this is not a battle to be fought on the federal level. The court may have agreed with the fact that municipal networks are beneficial, but they did not believe the FCC had the authority to preempt state laws, even if they are counter-productive.
In other words, in order to obtain local Internet choice, the fight has to also be local:
The battlefield is no longer the FCC and the courts, but state legislatures. And the battle plan is no longer to file convincing petitions and briefs. It is for advocates for local Internet choice to bring every local mayor, city council, business, school, college, library, chamber of commerce and citizen together to convince state officials that for the future of those cities and towns and by extension, the state itself, localities must have the ability to determine their own broadband futures.
Without a doubt, this new battlefield is much larger and the battle will be much harder, longer and more costly. But victory will be sweeter and less vulnerable to legal challenge if local stakeholders make their voices heard.
Sohn restated what Chairman Wheeler told us in August:
As he said on the day of the 6th Circuit decision: “Should states seek to repeal their anti-competitive broadband statutes, I will be happy to testify on behalf of better broadband and consumer choice. Should states seek to limit the right of people to act for better broadband, I will be happy to testify on behalf of consumer choice.” Trust me, you’ll never get a more passionate and persuasive advocate than Chairman Tom Wheeler.
Considering The Future
Looking ahead, Sohn’s words also turned to the practical matters of the physical infrastructure of Internet networks. She urged communities to address the issue of pole attachments as quickly as possible. In addition to obtaining access to poles under the control of incumbents or utility providers, municipalities need to consider the make-ready process. “This ‘make-ready’ process is ripe for gaming by those who disfavor competition,” she observed. Certainly, the games have already commenced, as AT&T has already filed suit to delay Google Fiber deployments in Nashville and in Louisville by preventing make-ready streamlining in those cities.
Sohn left us with the message that, even though we have been through a setback in obtaining local authority, we have profited from the experience as we move the challenge to the state level. She also drew from the promise of opportunity that she sees ahead:
In closing, I’ll paraphrase just about every State of the Union address – “the state of local Internet choice is strong.” This is true despite the setback dealt by the 6th Circuit. Many challenges lay ahead, but so do many opportunities. If the past three years serve as precedent, I know that the passionate, knowledgeable and resilient advocates of this movement will overcome the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities. Let’s keep working together until every community can determine its own broadband needs without barriers. Thanks again for this wonderful honor and for all the support you have given Chairman Wheeler, the FCC and me for the past three years.
Watch the video of Gigi Sohn's speech, courtesy of Ann Treacy at the Blandin Foundation and check out their blog, Blandin on Broadband:
Earlier this month, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe recognized the community of Roanoke and the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA) for their work in bringing better connectivity to the region. McAuliffe presented the Governor’s Technology Award at the Commonwealth of Virginia Innovative Technology Symposium (COVITS) in Richmond on September 7th.
The award recognizes the project because it has improved government service delivery and efficiency. In addition to serving local government, the network provides high-quality connectivity for businesses, offering affordable dark fiber, transport service, and dedicated Internet service. Christopher spoke with President and CEO Frank Smith about the network in episode #221 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.
“We are honored to be recognized by the state for the work we're doing to ensure the Roanoke Valley continues to be a great place to live, work, and start or grow a technology business. This affirms that as a community we have found yet another creative way to ensure our region is competitive on the national scene.”
It's a great recognition for the innovative little city in Idaho. They have been incrementally building an open access Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network for years. In 2015, they won an award for designing an ultra high-speed application to use the network to coordinate responses to school shootings. And earlier this year, they approved an ingenious funding method: a Local Improvement District (LID). Residents will have the choice of opting into the costs and benefits of the fiber project or opting out completely.
A New Model
It's all about people's choice; Ammon’s open access model itself empowers community members. Instead of making frustrating phone calls with large corporations, residents can change their Internet Service Provider (ISP) simply and quickly from a sign-up portal. The infrastructure remains the same, and the providers focus on offering the best customer service. Ammon’s open access model is the virtual end of cable monopolies.
For more details, listen to Ammon’s Technology Director Bruce Patterson explain the project in Community Broadband Bits Podcast episodes 86, 173, and 207. For even more information, see our in-depth coverage on Ammon.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The League of Minnesota Cities has honored ten communities in the south central part of the state for their role in assisting to launch the RS Fiber Cooperative.
At its annual state conference on June 16th, the League awarded its “City of Excellence Award” in the 5,000 to 19,999-population category to the cities of Brownton, Buffalo Lake, Fairfax, Gaylord, Gibbon, Green Isle, Lafayette, New Auburn, Stewart, and Winthrop.
“These 10 cities, along with 17 townships, worked collaboratively for five years to provide South Central Minnesota residents with access to high speed, affordable, and reliable “gigabit internet service. The cities created a joint governance structure that aligned local taxpayer interests across entities, and initiated a public/private financing structure that enables residents to obtain internet broadband services at minimal risk.
The cities developed grassroots support for the project by hosting more than 150 meetings and by personally contacting hundreds of residents, local businesses, and government officials. Over the next five years, thousands of households and rural farm sites and hundreds of businesses and community organizations will be able to receive high-speed internet service access that greatly exceeds previous services provided by national telecommunications firms.
Communities need reliable broadband access to attract and retain new businesses and residents. The success of the “RS Fiber Cooperative Project” confirms the value of small communities working together with private interests to make a positive difference in lives of constituents.”
Mark Erickson, former Winthrop city manager who was instrumental in developing RS Fiber, told us he was excited about the award.
"It was a cool award to get; an important recognition for our little towns," said Erickson, currently Winthrop economic development director. "I'm just proud of the mayor and councils in the ten communities for having the vision and patience to make the RS Fiber project happen. When communities take steps to insure better futures for their residents, good things can happen."
Officials for the RS Fiber Cooperative, named after Renville and Sibley Counties, expect the fiber-optic network to be completed by the end of 2016 for residents and businesses in the ten cities; build out to the 17 townships should be completed by 2021. Estimated cost for the total project is $45 million.
We expect this won’t be the only accolade for the RS Fiber project, which is gaining national attention for having formed a new telecommunications cooperative. This spring, we released an in-depth report on the RS Fiber Cooperative that notes some of the highlights of the project and why it's so special. You can download the report at RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperatives.
Up to $30,000 for new or existing projects that help citizens become more engaged in the democratic process
Technical assistance to implement their plans
Connections with other like-minded municipalities
At least three communities will be selected for special inaugural Awards
Some examples of eligible projects suggested by Next Century Cities include: participatory budgeting; public transportation and urban planning; involvement in local government deliberations; or community concern reporting and response.
Instructional Webinar on April 20th, Learn More
For communities seeking guidance in applying or just looking for more information, Next Century Cities will host a webinar on April 20th at 3 p.m. ET. The webinar will be available here.
To learn more about the Awards, contact Todd O'Boyle, Deputy Director of Next Century Cities, at Todd(at)NextCentiryCities.org. You can also downloada fact sheet on the Awards for more information, along with the online Application, and the Budget, both of which must be submitted by June 15, 2016.
Deb and Todd Talk With Craig About The Awards
You can learn more about the awards and the project in this episode of Craig Settles' Gigabit Nation. He interviewed Deb Socia and Todd O'Boyle from Next Century Cities who provided details about Awards and how participants can learn more.
At a ceremony in early October, the Hugh M. Hefner Foundation gave its 2015 First Amendment Award to Malkia Cyril, the Executive Director of the Center for Media Justice. She received the award for her role as a network neutrality advocate and for emphasizing its connection to civil rights.
Malkia has also been recognized for her work as a co-founder of the Media Action Grassroots Network. Her writings on network neutrality and communications rights of prisoners have appeared in the Huffington Post, Politico, and a number of other publications.
In her acceptance speech for the award, Ms. Cyril noted that net neutrality is ultimately about understanding that having power requires access to knowledge:
“My mom taught me that knowledge is not power, contrary to many people's opinion. What she told me is that only power is power. But, knowledge is power’s prerequisite, it is power’s driver. As such, an open, affordable and democratic Internet is a requisite driver for powerful social justice movements and democracy,” said Cyril.
Chattanooga was hot in August - and we don't mean just weather-wise. EPB Fiber Optics achieved a major milestone, raising subscribership to over 75,000. The Gig City also outpaced the rest of the state in new startup activity and received recognition from Outside Magazine as the 2015 Best Place to Live in America.
The Times Free Press covered the Chattanooga startup scene in a recent article, describing how the city is leading the state in economic investment for new business ideas. When compared to the same period in 2014, Hamilton County's initial business filings rose 12.6 percent in the April - June 2015 period. Statewide that figure for the same timeframe was 9.9 percent.
The Times Free Press article focused on Platt Boyd, an architect and entrepreneur who came to Chattanooga with his 3-D printing business. He moved his business there after competing in the 2014 GigTank. His 3-D printer large enough to create walls may one day change the way buildings are constructed.
"If you are searching for a place to open up a business and looking for a community to grow in, I think the very positive experience of our startups here and the rather unique network of support that Chattanooga offers (are) a really big advantage and draw for a lot of enterpreneurs," said Mike Bradshaw, executive director of The Company Lab, a nonprofit group that works to help startup ventures get off the ground. "Branch Technology, and many other similar companies, have found they can succeed in Chattanooga."
Apparently when measuring quality of life, some people consider factors outside of Internet connectivity: Outside Magazine applauds the Chattanooga sandstone climbing cliffs, its 120-mile mountain bike trail, and the Tennessee and Oconee Rivers where kayakers can find thrilling rapids. But outdoor adventure is not all Outside considered when handing out the award; the presence of the fiber network and its value to young entrepreneurs favored Chattanooga:
“The Gig showed that Chattanooga was committed to developing business,” says Joda Thongnopnua, communications director of Lamp Post, a venture fund that invests in local startups.
It might be too early to start calling it Silicon Gorge, but people are relocating to Chattanooga because it has something that many other recreation meccas don’t: opportunity.
Watch Outside's video below to learn more about Chattanooga's adventure appeal.
In a press release NATOA praised the P3 “...for showcasing an entirely new approach in public private partnerships to reach the common goal of bringing next generation fiber broadband to communities while demonstrating the possibility of creative solutions.” In Ting’s own press release announcing the award, they described their unique arrangement as private partners in Westminster’s initiative aimed at providing their rural community of more than 18,000 people with blazing fast fiber internet service:
“We have agreed to an open access model. For a period of time at launch, Ting will be both the exclusive network operator and the exclusive service provider. After that, while we will maintain the exclusive role of network operator, we will open up the network to competitive service providers. That gives Westminster the dual benefits of stability and competition. They know that the network will be managed competently by one closely managed relationship. They also know that their businesses and residents will benefit from having many providers competing to offer them the best service at the best price.”
As we wrote in our recent extensive piece about P3s, a company like Ting is seen as a useful partner with expertise that cities may not want to cultivate directly as broadband service providers. Cities like Westminster view such partnerships as offering the benefits of shared risk. Although the data and expert opinions are varied as to whether such partnerships actually offer a reduced risk for municipal networks, Ting’s parent company Tucows has proven itself a responsible and progressive telecommunications company.
In a January 2015 podcast, we spoke to CEO of Tucows Elliot Noss about Ting’s enthusiasm to work with Westminster. And in Episode #100 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast last May, Chris also talked to the City Council President of Westminster Dr. Robert Wack about the Ting/Westminster partnership.
In 1868, the railroad bypassed Forestville, Minn., and the town died. The decline came slowly, and over time my distant relatives, Thomas and Mary Meighen, saw the town dwindle and people move away. They were left in an empty town with their farm and a general store attached to their home. Farmworkers, paid in "chits" to spend in that store, kept it open until 1908, when business in it came to a screeching halt as Thomas abruptly closed up shop — the last business in Forestville — with all the merchandise inside...
What happens to your town if it's bypassed by high-speed broadband like Forestville was by the railroad in 1868?