It is that time of year - as 2017 draws to a close, we pulled Nick, Hannah, Lisa, and myself back into a podcast to talk about the predictions we made one year ago on episode 234. And despite having to deal with our failed predictions from last year, we dive right into making more predictions for next year.
Along the way, we talk about the lessons we are taking away from 2017 and thinking more broadly about 2018.
We talk about net neutrality, cooperatives, preemptive state laws, consolidation, and even start with me going on a mostly-unneeded rant about radio.
So give the show a listen, and then start forming your own local Broadband and Beers informal group to begin organizing locally around better Internet access!
David Young is a veteran of our Community Broadband Bits podcast, having been interviewed in episodes 182, 228, and 238. For reasons that are beyond this interviewer, he still has a job in Lincoln as the Fiber Infrastructure and Right of Way Manager. Just kidding David - you are such a friendly person I cannot help but say mean things about you due to my own character flaws. Don't worry folks, I'm just a little bit anxious to get out of 2017 alive. And does anyone actually read these podcast descriptions anyway?
Where were we? Ah yes - David consented to another interrogation while we were both in Atlanta for the Broadband Communities Economic Development conference. He updates us on the progress around the Fiber-to-the-Home network that Allo is building using conduit leased from Lincoln.
We also talk about Lincoln's progress in working with wireless carriers to deploy 5G and the role David played in helping the Nebraska Legislature develop appropriate deployment policies for the entire state. We wrap up talking about US IGNITE.
Ending 2017 with David Young is a privilege so you might want to ignore next week when our Community Broadband Networks staff discusses our past predictions for 2017 and what we are thinking about heading into 2018.
As the FCC’s vote on whether or not to remove network neutrality draws near, an increasing number of people are beginning to wonder how Internet access will change for them. Journalists have reached out to us to ask about the role of publicly owned Internet networks and the future without federal network neutrality policy protections. Molly Wood from Marketplace Tech interviewed Christopher to ask about the pros and cons of munis, how the FCC vote could affect municipal networks, and how municipal networks may help when or if we face an Internet no longer protected by network neutrality.
Wood asked some general questions about munis and their cost, and Christopher offered some specific examples from information we’ve learned from the communities we study. Now that big ISPs are set to receive the keys to the kingdom, local leaders wonder if they can take steps to avoid the pitfalls of unfettered power.
Christopher told Molly:
The only way that [ending network neutrality] would help cities and people more generally is that it would lead to more cities considering this and cities being more aggressive because the big cable and telephone companies would likely abuse their new power. But the Internet will still be there behind the scenes and cities can build their own apps and get around the barriers that the big cable and telephone companies are producing.
If everyone subscribed to Internet access, the business models for supplying it would be much easier. But there are strong reasons for why many are locked out of Internet access today, a subject we explore with National Digital Inclusion Alliance Executive Director Angela Siefer in episode 284 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.
We discussed what digital inclusion is and what prevents people from subscribing to the Internet. There are no solutions to these problems from the federal or state levels - the most promising solutions are bubbling up from communities. Angela tells us how.
We also talk about the problems created by redlining - where ISPs like AT&T systematically refuse to invest in some neighborhoods for a variety of reasons. And toward the end we talk about network neutrality and its impact on the digital divide. If you want more Angela after you finish this interview, listen to her with Veronica Belmont from Mozilla's IRL podcast.
We're continuing the interviews Christopher conducted while at the November Broadband Communities Economic Development Conference in Atlanta; this week, he's talking with Stephen Barraclough, General Manager for Burlington Telecom (BT) in Vermont. Stephen has worked diligently to reinvigorate and preserve the publicly owned network that, regardless of troubles, has been popular with subscribers.
Christopher and Stephen had their conversation prior to the November 27th Burlington City Council meeting when Councilors voted to sell the asset to Schurz Communications and ZRF Partners. The vote came after a long and arduous process that dragged on the community. Details of the agreement were still being negotiated when we published this podcast. Read more about the history of BT here.
Stephen and Christopher talk about what it was like when Stephen took the helm of the network. At the time, there were financial difficulties caused by a prior Mayor’s administration, but the community had come to rely on the fiber optic network and wanted to do what they could to preserve it.
Stephen describes the problems he faced and how they went about restoring the network step by step. He notes that saving BT was a team effort that involved industry colleagues, employees at BT, the city’s leadership, and the community as a whole. Central to their rebirth was self-reflection as an organization and taking control to set themselves apart from the competition. Christopher and Stephen also talk about other issues, such as BT’s low-income program, customer service, and the effort to retain a public interest philosophy under the expectation of privatization. Stephen sees only opportunity for BT and its subscribers as the community moves forward.
As the threat to network neutrality seems imminent, an increasing number of local people are organizing grassroots groups and are looking for the best steps to start local initiatives. When you decide that your community needs to make a change that isn’t happening organically, it’s time to nudge that change along. Starting a grassroots movement with like-minded citizens will help educate the community, build support, and generate ideas as you all consider what is the best solution for your unique situation. We’ve talked with local folks over the years who have shared lessons learned with us and we’ve gathered together some of the best grassroots stories with resources to share.
Seek Out The Masters
Of course, there’s nothing better than getting tips from some one who’s already climbed the mountain. John St. Julien from Lafayette passed away in 2016, but his voice and work lives on. We interviewed him in the early days of the Community Broadband Bits podcast for episode 94 in 2014and he had some great advice on engaging other people in the community and keeping the momentum positive.
We also obtained permission to archive and preserve some of the writings on the Lafyette Pro Fiber Blog, John’s brainchild he developed as Lafayette struggled against the many challenges by incumbents who wanted to preserve their monopoly.
Hanging’ With Buds
Often it is a mutual and familiar need that brings grassroots organizations together. In North Carolina, NC Hearts Gigabit started as a way to connect to each other when they don’t feel connected to the current political process, want better Internet connectivity in North Carolina, and need to get out from behind a desk. They organize their meetings around lunch and, hey, we all need to eat amiright? Christopher spoke with the people who got the group off the ground, with Economic Development Consultant Christa Wagner Vinson, CEO of Open Broadband Alan Fitzpatrick, and Partner of Broadband Catalysts...
Fort Collins, like more than 100 communities in Colorado, had already opted out of the state law that requires a referendum prior to a city or county investing in an Internet network, even with a partner. But it went back to another referendum a few weeks ago to amend its city charter to create a telecommunications utility (though it has not yet decided whether it will partner or operate its own network).
After years of sitting out referenda fights in Colorado, Comcast got back involved in a big way, spreading money across the Chamber of Commerce and an astroturf group to oppose the referendum. And just like in Scooby-Do, they would have gotten away with it... but for local grassroots organizing.
They share important insights to organizing around broadband Internet access and a strategy for success against hard odds. They had very little experience organizing and were up against a cable industry willing to spend more than $450,000 to defeat them, setting a record in Fort Collins elections.
For people who feel frustrated by the federal government handing Internet access regulation to the big monopolies, Glen and Colin offer hope and a roadmap for better Internet access.
Christopher went to Atlanta for the Broadband Communities Economic Development Conference in early November, and while he was there, he touched base with this week’s guest Will Rinehart. Will is the Director of Technology and Innovation Policy at the American Action Forum, a DC nonprofit organization that’s been around since 2009.
Will and Christopher don’t always see eye to eye on issues that affect telecommunications and broadband policy, but both agree that it’s important to have spirited debate to share perspectives. Only by examining issues from different sides can we craft policy that creates lasting benefits.
In this interview, Will describes his organization and his work there. Chris and Will look at compelling issues such as ISP competition, government regulations, and how the FCC’s 2015 upgraded definition of broadband has reverberated in the market. The two get into franchising and ubiquitous broadband, local authority, and connectivity in rural America. It’s a spirited discussion chock-full of issues.
The FCC is set to vote on whether or not to repeal network Neutrality under the deceptive guise of “Restoring Internet Freedom” on December 14th. Like others who study broadband and telecommunications policy, we’re distressed by the possibilities for the Internet and its users, should the Commission decide to repeal these protections. Because we use the Internet for so much in our daily lives, reversing network neutrality will give big ISPs like Comcast and Verizon undue power over what information we receive, our online business, and the result may negatively impact innovation.
We’ve gathered together some of our earlier posts on network neutrality to help explain why the policy is so important. In this collection, we’ve included some of our own writings as well as media that we consider paramount to understanding why we need to preserve network neutrality.
The Basics At 80 MPH (Video):
An old but a goody. In this video, Professor Tim Wu explains network neutrality, including paid prioritization. The video is from 2016.
The Big ISP Perspective (Video):
Many of us consider a free an open Internet a necessity to foster innovation and investment, but the words from the lips of the big ISPs are changing, depending on whom they’re talking to. This video reveals what they tell the government about network neutrality versus what they tell investors.
The Small ISP Perspective (Audio):
Like other small ISPs and municipal networks that offer services to the public, Sonic takes the opposite view of Comcast, Verizon, and other big corporate incumbents - they believe network neutrality is important and should be preserved. Dane Jasper, Sonic’s CEO and Co-Founder explains why innovation needs network neutrality in episode 261 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.
NC Hearts Gigabit is a grassroots group recently launched in North Carolina that aims to dramatically improve Internet access and utilization across the state. We caught up with Economic Development Consultant Christa Wagner Vinson, CEO of Open Broadband Alan Fitzpatrick, and Partner of Broadband Catalysts Deborah Watts to discuss what they are doing.
We discuss their goals and vision for a more connected North Carolina as well as their organizing methods. Given my experiences dining in that state, I'm not surprised that they have often organized around meals - good stuff!
NC Hearts Gigabit offers an important model for people who feel left out of the modern political system. It is an opportunity to get out from behind the desk, engage others, and build a coalition to seize control of the future for a community or even larger region. And have a tasty lunch.