This week on Connect This! Christopher and Travis Carter (CEO, USI Fiber) are joined by Kim McKinley (Deputy Director and Chief Marketing Officer, UTOPIA Fiber) and Kyle Hollifield (VP of Business Development, Magellan Advisors), both veterans with years of experience.
Marketing means more that a logo with a snappy slogan, and it can be hard to quantify the value in taking precious dollars and applying them to tasks other than fiber in the ground and the supporting electronics. The group emphasizes how important it is to get right from the start, and the impact it can have on take rates, positive word-of-mouth, and a sense of goodwill. They discuss why marketing should be both a budget priority and a central part of any business plan, and what it means for everyone from installation subcontractors to CEO to play a role. Travis, Kyle, and Kim share some of their favorite marketing success stories.
In a livestream just before Thanksgiving, Christopher was joined by Althea Networks CEO Deborah Simpier and NetEquity Networks Founder and CEO Isfandiyar Shaheen (Asfi) to discuss an innovative financing model for building Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) with the potential to bring quality broadband connections to the millions of homes around the country that are currently un- or underserved. Best described as a “fiber condominium” approach, it pairs collectively owned network infrastructure with the equity boost that comes with bringing symmetrical gigabit access to residential housing.
In a new video, Shaheen explains how it works in both the short term and over time, with last-mile fiber connections made by leveraging Home Equity Lines of Credit (HELOC) in modest amounts from local credit unions and a payment arrangement that covers everything from the construction to customer service calls.
The meat of the discussion starts around 6:35, with Shaheen describing how a $60-70/month payment for fiber Internet access breaks down. It covers everything needed, including payments for the HELOC to the local credit union, transit rates for the middle-mile network operator, maintenance fees, and an organizing entity like NetEquity Networks to bring all these stakeholders together and manage the connection.
It’s a fascinating model, with some new relationships that need to be created but no revolutionary technology or fundamentally new financing structures.
It's only been 26 days since the dawn of 2021, and somehow it feels like I've aged a relative year in the last four weeks. We've got a lot of exciting projects going on here among the Community Broadband Networks team, but wanted to post a quick update about the Connect This! show. Watch below where Christopher and I talk about what to expect and when. In short, Connect This! will return be returning early in February, and Christopher and Travis will be bringing together a slate of exciting panelists to tackle all the topics we expect to play out in the coming year.
ETI Software Solutions sponsored an event to help untangle the set of considerations facing communities discussing what route they want to take to improve Internet access for families and businesses in the community.
Heather Gold (HBG Strategies) presided over the panel which included ILSR's Christopher Mitchell as well as Ben Fineman, President of the Michigan Broadband Cooperative, Steve Lang, IT Manager for the city of Wadsworth, Ohio and its CityLink Fiber, and Will Aycock, General Manager of the Greenlight Network in Wilson, North Carolina. They cover a lot of ground, from the different models worth considering, to the phases of planning, to financing, construction, and customer service.
Watch the video at ETI's YouTube channel, or below.
Months after work and school went remote for millions of Americans, some communities are still waiting to get online. In the Wall Street Journal in August, members of a rural community in West Virginia discuss the daily toll in their life that this struggle to receive home Internet access takes. ILSR’s Christopher Mitchell also explains the failures of US broadband policy that has kept communities from getting connected:
We see states that are still making policy based on what the cable and telephone companies, the big cable and telephone companies, tell them. But we electrified the country by recognizing that those business models do not work for all of America.
This afternoon we hosted a YouTube Live event to talk about a model for financing Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks with the potential to dramatically expand ultrafast Internet access at affordable rates with no large upfront costs to homeowners. Christopher was joined by Deborah Simpier, CEO of Althea Networks, to talk with NetEquity Networks Founder and CEO Isfandiyar Shaheen (Asfi) about how it works, and dig into practical questions about its potential to fiberize rural America. This “fiber condominium” approach pairs collectively owned network infrastructure with the equity boost that comes with bringing symmetrical gigabit access to residential housing.
Despite repeated reminders from the rest of us that Hollywood will only ever give the late night slots to guys named James, Stephen, or Conan, Christopher is determined that if he just hosts enough things he’ll be able to break into the business and leave us all behind. In that spirit comes a new series here at the Community Broadband Networks initiative within the Institute for Local Self-Reliance: Connect This!
Every two weeks, a diverse panel of broadband policy experts and industry veterans will get together and talk about recent news, untangle regulations, demystify technology, dig into grant programs, and have a good time. Compared to the Broadband Bits podcast, Connect This! will range wider and encourage guests to find common ground on the complicated issues that collectively define our networked future. Episodes will have a set agenda and aim for less than an hour, and the plan is to bring at least one guest across two episodes in a row to provide some continuity.
Host Christopher Mitchell shared the driving impulse behind it:
I don't think people working in this space have enough opportunities to hear people wrestling over these different ideas and challenges. A lot of people are working very hard to build networks or better policies and trying to puzzle through things on their own. What is happening at the FCC? What is the deal with that government program? How does this technology work in the real world?
The goal of the show is to address these issues from different perspectives and ask hard questions — questions that we may not always know how to answer. But also to have fun with it because this is an exciting space to work in and we shouldn't have to be super serious all the time.
The first episode is up, with Christopher joined by Cat Blake (CTC Technology and Energy), Karl Bode (TechDirt), and Travis Carter (CEO, US Internet). They talk about US Ignite’s new Project Overcome, state broadband grant programs that exclude municipal networks, and AT&T’s decision to stop connecting users to its DSL network.
A couple years ago, fed up member-owners of Rappahannock Electric Cooperative (REC) in Virginia banded together to form Repower REC, a grassroots group that’s seeking to reform the state’s largest electric cooperative and advocating for clean energy and improved Internet access.
Rural electric co-ops are supposed to embrace the cooperative principles of democratic member control and concern for community, but some of REC’s members charge that the co-op’s practices fall short of those goals.
Repower REC hopes to bring greater transparency and member oversight to the co-op, as well as clean energy programs and a cooperative-owned broadband network.
Cleaning up Governance and the Grid
Rappahannock Electric Cooperative serves 170,000 meters in portions of 22 counties stretching from northern Virginia toward the Chesapeake Bay. It is the largest electric cooperative in Virginia and one of the largest in the country.
Member-owners of the co-op launched Repower REC in 2018 in partnership with Solar United Neighbors of Virginia, in response to concerns over undemocratic practices and the lack of transparency at REC. The group has called for a number of reforms, including public board meetings and transparent board elections. People involved in the group have also spoken out against lobbying activities that they believe were not in the best interest of the co-op’s members. Repower REC members have run as candidates for the co-op board of directors, though none have won a seat as of yet.
Some of the initial interest in governance at REC stemmed from member dissatisfaction with the co-op’s lukewarm response to renewable energy as well as the co-op’s attempt to double its fixed access charges....
Get up to speed with how electric cooperatives are rapidly expanding rural broadband access by watching a recent webinar on the topic from the Community Broadband Action Network (CBAN). The webinar is part of CBAN’s Lunch and Learn series, and it features panelists Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Community Broadband Networks initiative, and Steve Collier, Vice President of Business Development at consulting firm Conexon.
CBAN is an Iowa-based network of local governments, broadband providers, and community groups that advocates for better community broadband solutions. Its Lunch and Learn webinar series has covered a variety of topics, including digital inclusion and New Market Tax Credits.
On the recent webinar, the hosts and panelists talked about how rural co-ops provide broadband to a large and growing portion of rural America. They discussed the various reasons why electric cooperatives invest in fiber infrastructure, including smart grid applications, local economic development, and the needs of rural communities. Other topics of conversation included financing for co-op fiber networks, electric and telephone cooperative partnerships, and co-op member organizing efforts. For more, watch below.
Merit Network is hosting a weekly Michigan Moonshot Educational Series in the lead-up to their Broadband Summit this fall, and as part of the programming, Director of Community Broadband Networks initiative Christopher Mitchell recently hosted a webinar called “Exploring the Basics of Broadband.” Aimed at community leaders and the interested public, it explores the different solutions — and their relative advantages and disadvantages — in an accessible way.
Christopher offers a frank discussion and an overview of the present deployments and future prospects of cable, digital subscriber line (DSL), mobile and fixed wireless, satellite, and fiber optic network technologies for both high-density urban areas and sparsely populated rural ones. In particular the webinar succeeds at cutting through industry speak and assessing the practical impacts, as well as the breadth and depth of choices, that local communities should consider in their efforts to connect all their citizens with a modern, reliable network. The webinar also includes discussion of economies of scale, financial feasibility, legal limitations, and the current 5G hype, and is intended to equip attendees with the information they need to contribute to local efforts at increasing Internet access. As an added bonus for listeners, Christopher provides commentary on Smokey and the Bandit, Burt Reynolds, and Austin Powers.