Tag: "open access"

Posted October 3, 2022 by Karl Bode

The city of Mountain Home, Idaho (pop. 14,000) is embracing open access city-run fiber as it pushes to expand affordable broadband to all city residents. Its stated goals: to boost broadband speeds and availability, while lowering prices 25 to 35 percent for all city residents. 

Like so many city-owned broadband projects, city leaders say they were inspired by the success of Ammon, Idaho, which owns and operates an open access fiber network. That network has dramatically boosted competition in the city, drawing nationwide attention for both lower rates, and the ease with which locals can switch providers with the click of a mouse

“The city is not trying to compete with the private sector,” the Mountain Home website proclaims. “The city will simply build and operate the fiber optic infrastructure. This infrastructure will then be open to any service provider that seeks to offer services in the city.”

With chipmaker Micron planning to build a new $15 billion fabrication plant in nearby Boise, city leaders hope to lure potential new employees through affordable broadband access. So they’re both deploying fiber conduit to every new development, and pushing an open access fiber network to lure additional competitors to the region.

That said, the network deployment is only just getting started.

“As of right now we have gone out for bids for the first local improvement district just like the city of Ammon, Idaho,” Mountain Home Mayor Rich Sykes tells ILSR. “Bids should be back next week and hopefully by the end of the month we can award a company to install the conduit.”

These “improvement districts” will be completed in waves, with the first district consisting of around 600-700 homes, and future districts consisting of...

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Posted September 29, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

Last week, our own Christopher Mitchell, Director of ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative, was the featured guest on the Broadband.Money “Ask Me Anything” series.

The one-hour live program, which invites leading minds in the broadband industry to talk candidly about their knowledge and perspective on broadband-related matters, was moderated by Drew Clark, editor and publisher of the online news outlet Broadband Breakfast.

Evolution of Community Broadband Networks Initiative

The discussion began with Christopher sharing why he joined ILSR over 15 years ago and how the Community Broadband Networks Initiative has evolved over the years.

The core mission of the initiative, he said, “has to do with research and telling stories; seeing what is working for communities … to solve these problems around making sure everyone has high quality Internet access, and they can use it. Every few years, I feel like we change our focus a little bit just based on what is needed. And the way that we do that is, we are constantly talking with people that are out doing the hard work,” Christopher explained.

And while the focus of the CBN team has been on research and publishing stories about the birth and development of publicly-owned, locally-controlled broadband networks across the nation, Christopher noted that ILSR “is not pro municipal network, necessarily.”

We are pro-strong communities. We want communities that are economically and politically able to chart their own course in life. And if we have failing municipal broadband networks – that’s not going to help the community. We are seen as being pro-municipal (broadband), but we are very cautious in wanting to make sure that communities are making this decision in an informed way and taking it seriously.

Meeting the Moment

After discussing the origins and philosophy behind the initiative, Drew and Christopher delve into the “Astroturf” campaigns funded by Big Telecom that are designed to...

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Posted September 23, 2022 by Ry Marcattilio

In early August, the city of Holland, Michigan (pop. 33,000) voted to fund the construction of a citywide, open access fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network. It’s the culmination of almost a decade of consideration, education, planning, and success, and builds on decades of work by the Holland Board of Public Works (HBPW) and city officials to build and maintain resilient essential infrastructure for its citizens. It also signals the work the community has done to listen to local residents, community anchor institutions, and the business owners in pushing for an investment that will benefit every premises equally and ensure fast, affordable Internet access is universally available for decades down the road.

In the Works

Holland has been formally exploring the need for better local connectivity since before 2016. It has been aided in this effort by the fact that the Holland Board of Public Works (HBPW), which already provides electricity, water, and waste water services, has been maintaining a small institutional fiber network that it first installed in 1992 (see current coverage in map, right, current as of May 2019).

AT&T, Comcast, and Spectrum all operate in parts of town, but only 22 percent of Holland has access to gigabit download speeds. And so, beginning in 2016 and pushed by officials and Lakeshore Advantage (the local economic development organization), the city began talking about how it could leverage its expertise, experience, and well-earned local trust to do more. Early surveys showed that as many as 70 percent of residents rated Internet access as important as electricity, water, and wastewater services, with strong majorities supporting a community-owned option as the solution to poor local service. 

"It’s a community investment, just like we invest in our roads that are used by everybody. This is a community investment to build a fiber infrastructure that everybody can use." -...

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Posted September 20, 2022 by Emma Gautier

Plans for an open access fiber backbone in Erie County, New York (pop. 951,000) are being readjusted after having been stymied by the pandemic. The county will use Rescue Plan funding to cover the cost of building the backbone, which will be owned by the county and operated by ErieNet, a nonprofit local development corporation. The backbone will make connectivity directly available to anchor institutions and enterprise businesses, but the county hopes the project will draw private providers to build out last-mile infrastructure to residents. With the new fiber ring, Erie County seeks to increase both broadband availability and competition in the area. 

The project began in spring 2019, when the county announced its plan for a $20 million open access network, which at that time it was looking to have up and running before 2022. ErieNet’s original plan was a response to an acute need for connectivity among the county’s southern and eastern rural towns, as well as much of Buffalo – despite these areas’ proximity to relatively well-connected wealthier suburban communities nearby. The county is for the most part monopoly domain, served by Charter Spectrum, Lumen (formerly CenturyLink), and in some small patches, Verizon. Verizon has cherry picked wealthier areas like Kenmore, Williamsville, and Amherst, as well as a few blocks in Buffalo by the company’s hub there, but has not found the rural or high-density and low-income areas profitable enough to build to. Relatively smaller providers like Crown Castle and FirstLight have also made infrastructure investments in parts of the county, but do not appear to have expansion plans.

The pandemic stalled Erie County’s buildout plans – supply chain challenges and bureaucracy-related complications have pushed the expected project completion date to 2025, though some customers may be able to connect to the network in 2024. According to the plan, Erie County is poised to become “...

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Posted September 19, 2022 by Karl Bode

Last March, Caribou, Maine city council members expressed unanimous support for a charter amendment allowing the Caribou Utilities District to establish a broadband infrastructure division. It was just the latest move in a multi-year quest by the city to finally deliver affordable fiber broadband access to every last city resident.

Groundwork for the effort was laid one year ago, when city council members approved using $159,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds to craft a broadband engineering study with the help of Caribou’s Business Investment Group and executives from local ISP Pioneer Broadband.

Late last March, the Maine Senate unanimously approved LD 1949: “An Act to Amend the Caribou Utilities District Charter to Include Broadband Services,” which formally, as the name makes clear, provided approval for the CUD to expand its services into broadband access.

Now the hard work begins. 

The plan as it currently stands is to build an open-access dark fiber network to every unserved Caribou residential and business location. The city would own the network, but private ISPs would provide last mile service to customers. 

“We would like two or more ISPs to provide citizens with a choice of providers,” Hugh Kirkpatrick, Caribou Utilities District general manager, recently told the Bangor Daily News. “Competition should keep monthly prices lower and customer service higher.”

Pioneer has already expressed interest in being one of the providers, though the city is also still fielding proposals from regional cable giants like Charter Communications. 

Funding for the project remains up in the air, though the project will proceed with or without funding from...

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Posted August 12, 2022 by Karl Bode

Like countless U.S. communities, Duluth, Minnesota (pop. 86,000) got a crash course on the importance of affordable broadband during the Covid-19 crisis. Those struggles in telecommuting and home education helped fuel a dramatic new broadband expansion plan that, if approved by the city council, could revolutionize affordable access citywide.

Last April, the Duluth Economic Development Authority signed a $65,000 contract with Entrypoint LLC to examine the possibility of building a community-owned fiber network in Duluth. The result: a new Digital Access Master Plan that proposes the city spend $7-9 million to build a pilot open access fiber network in Lincoln Park next year. 

“Reliable high-speed internet is no longer a luxury,” Duluth Mayor Emily Larson proclaimed in a recent state of the city address. “It’s an essential utility no less important to our future success than our roads, water, and electricity.”

A Pilot Project, and Potentially More

Under the proposal, 75 percent of the new network would be buried fiber and 25 percent would be microtrenched along public roads. The $7 to $9 million estimated price tag is based on a 60% take rate, short-term interest at 5 percent, and a long-term interest rate of 3 percent for 20 years. The initial pilot project would bring fiber to an estimated 1,900 Duluth residents next year. 

“A 60% take-rate may seem aggressive given the strong market position of the incumbent cable operator,” the plan states. “However, the survey data suggests a strong desire among residents and businesses in Duluth to see competition, choice, better pricing, and the reliability of a fiber optic network.”

The Master Plan highlights how a majority of Duluth is served by either a duopoly or monopoly consisting of Charter Communications (Spectrum) and Centurylink. Centurylink sells $50 a month usage-capped DSL service that doesn’t qualify as broadband, according to the FCC. Charter requires users sign long-term contracts to lock in lower rates, while utilizing fees that can add 15-30 percent to the company’s...

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Posted August 5, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

Spurred to action by inadequate high-speed Internet service as the pandemic besieged their communities, local officials and citizen volunteers in five rural Maine towns formed the Southwestern Waldo County Broadband Coalition (SWCBC) in an effort to bring ubiquitous and affordable broadband to its portion of Waldo County.

Two years later, the SWCBC is close to securing a major victory for local Internet choice in the face of a well-funded opposition campaign sweeping the Pine Tree State as the Big Telecom lobby and its allies try to undermine the very idea of publicly-owned, locally-controlled broadband networks in Maine and elsewhere.

The five SWCBC towns clustered about 30 miles east of Augusta – home to approximately 5,600 Mainers – are looking to create what is known as a Broadband Utility District (BUD). Four of those towns (Freedom, Liberty, Palermo, and Searsmont) recently voted in favor of establishing a BUD. Montville will be the last of the five towns to vote on whether to BUDdy up with the neighboring municipalities via an Interlocal Agreement (ILA). That vote is slated for August 23.

Similar to Communication Union Districts (CUDs) that the neighboring state of Vermont is relying on to deliver reliable and affordable broadband to its residents and businesses, Maine state law “allows towns to band together to form a community-owned organization, controlled by the municipality members but a legally separate organization - a regional non-profit utility. The BUD is allowed to incur debt that is separate from and not guaranteed by the municipalities.”

...

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Posted July 29, 2022 by Ry Marcattilio

A new report out from the Copia Institute highlights the failures of the current national broadband marketplace and the value of locally-driven connectivity solutions, while underscoring once again the potential for open access models to break entrenched monopoly power. Along the way, the report offers some useful ways of reframing our understanding of how we got to a place where Internet access is dominated by just a handful of companies across the United States.

Cities as Laboratories, and the Possibilities of Open Access

“Competition is Just a Click Away” covers a lot of ground. Its author - Karl Bode - is a veteran of the broadband policy space (including writing for ILSR recently), and has long helped shed light on the consequences in increasing monopoly power in the technology landscape.

In the report, he begins by laying out the problems borne from a lack of competition, including: the consequences of regulatory capture of the FCC by huge, for-profit companies, past and continued problems with mapping, and the resulting slower speeds, lack of investment, astonishing extraction of wealth, and worrying lobbying power enjoyed by monopoly providers, all fueled by increasingly high prices and the efficient extraction of wealth from communities to further concentrate market reach and lobbying power. 

An important early point made in the report is that, in the face of these realities, over the last fifteen years local cities have become “telecom laboratories where financial and technical innovation flourish, providing blueprints federal policy makers struggling to boost affordable broadband availability would be foolish to ignore.” Chattanooga and a handful of other city-owned and operated networks illustrate the power of communities to retake control of essential infrastructure.

The community broadband movement is an organic market response to market failure and the extractive power of unchecked monopolization.

Among the many results, the report points out, is that subscribers in the United States pay higher prices for slower service than many other places. But it doesn’t have to be that way, Bode reminds us.

Open access networks offer a concrete path to separating Internet infrastructure from service provisioning, and allow even conservatively minded cities to use...

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Posted June 7, 2022 by Ry Marcattilio

It’s been nine months since we launched our Big List of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Community Broadband Projects, tracking what communities are doing with the various pots of federal money intended to go towards solving local broadband challenges. Since then, we’ve recorded 250 community projects and 27 states which have announced significant broadband grant programs or disbursement for new infrastructure projects. Here we highlight some of the community projects we’re really excited about, including those that have decided to build their own networks and those building on existing projects, as well as those using ARPA dollars for open access networks, affordable connectivity, or Internet access for students. We also discuss some examples of solutions we believe are less permanent, forward-thinking, or likely to result in long-term success, including the distribution of hotspots and the allocation of funds to monopoly providers. 

What We’re Excited About: Community-Owned Networks and Open Access  

Fortunately, we’re seeing a number of communities approve plans to spend their Rescue Plan dollars on building their own municipal networks. In Lexington, Tennessee (population 8,000), the city is collaborating with Lexington Electric to bring broadband to the community. An ARPA grant is expected to cover about $20 million of the total $50 million price tag, and the city will issue bonds for the rest. If this grant is received, Henderson County (28,000) – where Lexington is located – has agreed to a 10 percent match (from $300,000 to $500,000). 

Maine has also allocated just over $15 million to eight broadband projects through the ConnectMaine Authority, $8.5 million of which comes from the American Rescue Plan. The funding will go to five municipal projects and three provider-led initiatives, and will serve approximately 6,000 residents “in some of the least-served areas of the state.”

Other communities are deploying fixed wireless solutions....

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Posted May 10, 2022 by

This week on the podcast, Christopher is joined by Benoit Felton (Independent Consultant, Diffraction Analysis). 

During the conversation, the two discuss the transformational potential of broadband,  international developments in fiber deployment and lessons on wholesale broadband networks. 

They talk about the state of European broadband service, what keeps customers from changing providers within open access models, and compare “open access” with “wholesale” terminology.

Benoit and Chris discuss the reality of Internet connectivity and access in China and Southeast Asian countries finding recent success in fiber deployments. Finally, they end the show with thoughts on regulatory capture and why regulation is key to the success of wholesale networks.

This show is 49 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.

Transcript coming soon. 

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

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Subscribe to the Building Local Power podcast, also from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, on iTunes or Stitcher to catch more great conversations about local communities, the concentration of corporate power, and how everyday people are taking control.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm...

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