Palmdale, California is considering a proposal from SiFi Networks to become a FiberCity. The project would see $600 million from the private infrastructure builder to construct 800 miles of fiber and lease it on an open access basis, as well as provide the infrastructure necessary for smart city applications and 5g.
This week on the podcast, Christopher talks with Maureen Neighbors, Energy Division Chief of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, about the state’s one-of-a-kind, $100 million voucher program designed and deployed for the current school year to help get and keep economically vulnerable students connected.
She tells Christopher how, with the help of CTC Energy and Technology, the state brought together more than three dozen Internet Service Providers (ISPs) — many of which are local companies — connected with school districts around the state, designed an online portal, and mailed out tens of thousands of brochures to households with students on the free or reduced lunch program to help those families to start new service or pay their existing broadband bill.
Maureen shares the challenges they met (data and mapping are hard, and wrangling 37 ISPs equally so) and the satisfaction in helping more than 120,000 students (and counting!) stay connected to school during the ongoing pandemic.
This show is 32 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.
Don’t forget to check out our new show, Connect This!, where Chris brings together a collection broadband veterans and industry experts live on YouTube to talk about recent events and dig into the policy news of the day.
Read the transcript for this episode.Read more
As Mayors must concern themselves with everything from public safety and health to the development of the local economy and the provision of essential municipal services, they tend to have a particular focus on the infrastructure necessary to support it all, amid a cacophony of competing interests.
Over the summer, having reached consensus on the fundamental importance of “the digital infrastructure of tomorrow,” a particular focus of the United States Conference of Mayors 88th National Annual Meeting was to issue a resolution declaring the necessity of “Preserving Local Public Rights-of-Way and Regulatory Authority to Most Effectively Deploy 5G Broadband Access and Bridge the Digital Divide during the COVID-19 Pandemic.”
The Mayors’ resolution comes in response to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC's) 2018 preemption of local governments’ authority to regulate 5G infrastructure in their cities.
At the heart of the regulatory debate: local governments’ ability to determine the amount of fees to charge mobile carriers that want to place 5G equipment in Rights-of-Way. In addition to putting limits on those fees, the FCC Order also sets strict timelines by which cities and towns must respond to carrier applications. The FCC decision, issued over the objections of industry observers and policy experts, essentially eliminates local communities’ ability to negotiate in order to protect their own Rights-of-Way and the poles, traffic lights, and other potential structures within those Rights-of-Way.
Preempting Local Authority
When the FCC handed down the order in the fall of 2018 we noted that it represented a significant giveaway to wireless carrier corporations while placing additional restrictions and undue financial burdens on local regulators, most of which are county boards and city departments.
To justify the order, the...Read more
Another year of the Broadband Communities annual summit is behind us, and it’s worth revisiting the most salient moments from the panels that touched on the wealth and variety of issues related to community broadband regulation, financing, and expansion today and in the future. We weren’t able to make it to every panel, but read on for the highlights.
Last Mile Infrastructure and the Limits of CARES Funding
The first day of the program saw some heavyweight sessions from Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC) on last mile digital infrastructure. For communities at all stages of broadband exploration and investment — whether exploring an initial feasibility study, putting together an RFP, or already planning for the future by laying conduit as part of other projects — partnerships dominated the discussion, with timing and debt also serving as common themes.
ILSR’s Christopher Mitchel helped kick off the conference by moderating the first panel in the Rural/Editor's Choice track, and was joined by Peggy Schaffer from Maine's Broadband Office (ConnectME), Monica Webb from Internet Service Provider (ISP) Ting, and Roger Timmerman, CEO of Utah middle-mile network UTOPIA Fiber.
The group discussed the open access models to start, and the benefits that could be realized from two- or three-layer systems. UTOPIA Fiber has seen some explosive growth and spearheaded significant innovation recently as it continues to provide wholesale service to ISPs that want to deliver retail service on the network. Ting, which recently signed on to be one of two providers on SiFi Network’s first FiberCity in Fullerton, California, also acts as an example of what can happen when we break away from thinking about infrastructure investment and Internet access as one-entity-doing-it-all.
The relative merits of wireless (both fixed and small cell) generated a lively discussion, with the panelists talking about advances to the...Read more
In the city of Fullerton, California (pop. 140,000), privately owned infrastructure builder and operator SiFi Networks has turned on the first section of what will be a city-wide, open access Fiber-to-the-Home network. The project makes Fullerton SiFi’s first FiberCity — a privately built, financed, and operated open access network it plans to duplicate in more cities across the country in the future. When complete next fall, the Fullerton FiberCity network will pass every home and business in the city, with the company's subsidiary, SiFi Networks Operations, selling wholesaling capacity to as many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as want to enter the market.
A Different Approach
SiFi’s FiberCity model remains somewhat unique in the United States, and is much more common in Europe and Asia. CEO Ben Bawtree-Johnson attributes their success to cracking the economic code for private investment in open access information infrastructure, which has seen more attention in recent years as investors and fund managers have seen opportunities. “[O]ur vision really is to create as many last-mile fiber optic networks as we can across the USA in a long term sustainable fashion,” Bawtree-Jobson remarked on an episode of the podcast last fall. “[W]e're all about long term, dry, low yielding, risk mitigated investments, so everything we do is based around 30-year plus type investments.”
Fullerton, according to SiFi, was an ideal candidate for its first FiberCity because it applied to be one of the original candidates (though not chosen) for a Google’s fiber program, begun in 2010. The company sees it as sitting in the Goldilocks’ zone in terms of size and population. Construction started last November, and currently consists of around 600 miles of fiber all underground via microtrenching. Nokia serves as the main equipment partner on the project.
Turning on the Lights
The first residential customers...Read more
Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, is currently experiencing firsthand the consequences of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC's) 2018 preemption of local governments’ authority to regulate 5G infrastructure in their cities. With its initial handful of applications for new small cell transmitters just submitted to the county board by Verizon under the new rules, local officials are grappling with a host of limitations — including fee caps, shorter timing windows, and rights of way exemptions — which outline clearly a problem more and more communities will face in the coming months and years.
Less Say, Less Money
We pointed out when the FCC handed down the order in the fall of 2018 that it represented a significant giveaway to wireless carriers while placing additional restrictions and financial burdens on local regulators, most of which are county boards and city departments. Among the most troublesome of the order’s provisions are new 60- and 90-day approval windows for the installation of infrastructure on existing and new wireless facilities, a limitation to annual fee scales for small cell sites set between $100-250, a right now enjoyed by wireless providers to place infrastructure on municipally owned poles and traffic lights, and a rule that says if regulating authorities don’t get to an application within sixty days it automatically becomes approved. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the fee cap in a ruling last Wednesday.
In sum, it puts additional strain on local governments (many of whom are already stretched thin) while limiting their ability to set their own fees for access to publicly owned infrastructure as well as the expedited work they are being forced to do. At the time, opponents called it a public tax on private 5G deployment, a giveaway,...Read more
This week on the Community Broadband Bits podcast Christopher speaks with Deborah Simpier, CEO of Althea. Althea offers software and tools for communities looking to build and maintain sustainable networks in their own communities.
Althea works by installing custom firmware on the routers of its member-operators, connecting them all together in a fixed wireless, ad hoc network that dynamically responds to the supply and demand of individual users. That network is then linked to a commercial-grade backhaul, and users pay each other for bandwidth while configuring their own connection preferences and needs. Althea’s innovative software and staff help manage the network in real-time. The result is a decentralized, flexible, privacy-focused community of devices. Althea exists in more that three dozen communities around the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, and Africa.
Deborah reflects on how she came to the broadband space, and the origins of the first Althea network. Christopher and Deborah discuss what it means to play a central role in empowering communities to help create their own sustainable networks, and watching people put in Internet infrastructure themselves and take ownership. One example is Enfield, North Carolina, a state with some of the most onerous broadband restrictions which have resulted in poor connectivity options for that community.
We want your feedback and suggestions for the show; please e-mail us or leave a comment below.
Read the transcript for the episode.Read more
I have been tracking from afar local grassroots efforts in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to start a municipal broadband network for years. I've visited them locally and spoken to various people from citizens to elected officials about the different options. The following are my observations. I'm not trying to channel their thoughts on how to move forward.
Cambridge is a high-tech city with nearly ubiquitous coverage from Comcast, delivering more or less the same services they offer to millions of homes — which is too say mostly reliable and high-cost Internet access (that will be still higher cost next year and the next after that). In the case of Comcast, it comes with crippled upload speeds compared to fast download capacity. Customer service is . . . well, you do your best to never have to use it.
But with MIT and Harvard within its confines, many in Cambridge are well aware that Internet access can get so much better and not be mediated by a company willing to spend millions in D.C. to preserve its right to set up tollbooths for certain kinds of content if they so choose.
However, Cambridge is remarkably similar to Palo Alto, which is also home to high tech households that mostly use Comcast cable and sometimes have the option of AT&T fiber. And in both instances, there is a strong case for some kind of municipal network that would create more local Internet choice. Both appear to have significant support in the community for a public option. But both also have city staff that have decided to prevent any meaningful investment.
They have run into the challenge that Seattle also wrestled with. These high profile cities have refused to consider creative, incremental, and targeted efforts. Instead, they have focused almost entirely on the costs of duplicating Chattanooga or Wilson, where the community built the entire citywide at once with debt-financed capital.
In Cambridge, the city council is rebelling after having been stymied by a city manager that has successful resisted efforts to study municipal broadband for years.
City Manager DePasquale has consistently refused to act on municipal broadband despite a...Read more
We're starting off the new year with episode four of the new podcast project we're working on with nonprofit NC Broadband Matters. The organization focuses on finding ways to bringing ubiquitous broadband coverage to local communities to residents and businesses in North Carolina. The podcast series, titled "Why NC Broadband Matters," explores broadband and related issues in North Carolina.
As we look forward to a new year, we're also looking back with this week's guest, Jane Smith Patterson, a Partner with Broadband Catalysts. Jane has a deep love for North Carolina and a deep interest in science and technology. Throughout her life, she has put those two interests together to help North Carolinians advance human and civil rights, education and learning, and to advance the presence of high speed connectivity across the state.
Jane's decades of experience at the federal, state, and local levels make her the go-to person to provide content for this episode, "North Carolina's unique broadband history and lessons for moving forward." She and Christopher discuss how the state has become a leader in science and technology, including the state's restrictive law limiting local authority. Lastly, Jane makes recommendations for ways to bring high-quality Internet access to the rural areas where people are still struggling to connect. The conversation offers insight into North Carolina's triumphs and challenges in the effort to lift up its citizens.
We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please ...Read more
The Blandin Broadband Communities (BBC) program from the Blandin Foundation has been helping local cities, counties, tribes, and other self-identified communities of interest or place take steps to meet technology goals since 2013. The foundation is once again seeking participant communities and is accepting applications to be part of the 2020-2021 program cohort.
Download the BBC Application Instructions here for more information on how to apply to the program. The application deadline is January 24th.
Helping Communities Meet Their Goals
Bernadine Joselyn, Director of Public Policy and Engagement at the Blandin Foundation alerted us to the search for participating communities. In an email, Bernadine stated:
This program emphasizes broadband adoption and use in rural communities through the provision of leadership and project development facilitation services as well as project funding of up to $75,000. Project examples include public Wi-Fi access, business technology assessment and training, workforce training, online community and business marketing, online government services and other community generated projects. Communities are required to create a steering team to oversee the effort over the 18-24 month program period
For communities that have quality broadband services in place, this program can showcase the value of broadband network deployment. For communities working to improve their broadband networks, Blandin Broadband Communities can provide a platform for building community consensus that enhanced broadband networks are critical to a community’s future.
Working for Other Communities Across Minnesota
The last cohort focused on Iron Range communities in northern Minnesota; the Blandin Foundation was able to make use of funding from the Minnesota Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation (IRRR) and St. Louis County. Past entities working with the Blandin Foundation include the Cannon Falls School District, Bois Fort Reservation, Renville and Sibley Counties, the Mille Lacs Band of...Read more