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Community Broadband Media Roundup - July 25

Massachusetts

Leyden opens broadband discussions with MBI by Shelby Ashline, The Recorder

 

Tennessee

Tennessee needs more competition between Internet providers, according to state report by Emily Siner, Nashville Public Radio

But almost all businesses — more than 90 percent — reported that they're not happy with their current options for getting online and aren't finding affordable alternatives.

The study says one of the keys to better internet in Tennessee is increasing competition, noting that businesses with more internet options had much faster speeds. It recommended that the state to reduce regulations, making it easier for more companies to provide internet in more places.

Tennessee study shows state remains a broadband backwater thanks to AT&T lobbyists, clueless politicians, and protectionist state law by Karl Bode, TechDirt

Broadband is a key part of today's infrastructure by Johnson City Press

 

General

Are Public-Private Partnerships the best path to municipal broadband? by Jen Kinney, Next City & Public CEO

Municipal broadband has become a key issue among those who believe internet access is increasingly central to individuals’ and cities’ prosperity...Developing such networks can be prohibitively expensive, however, so more and more municipalities are turning to public-private partnerships to finance and build them. A new report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) takes a look at what makes those deals successful — and what causes them to fail.

Rural and urban America divided by broadband access by Jack Karsten and Darrell M. West, Brookings Institution

There's an obvious way to create more jobs by Susan Crawford, BackChannel

Nearly 80 community-based providers delivering Gigabit broadband to rural communities by Telecompetitor

TN Study Suggests Stamping Out State Barriers

The results of a statewide Tennessee survey on residential and business connectivity are in and they ain't pretty. Thirteen percent of the state - more than 834,000 people - don’t have access to 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload, which is the FCC's definition of broadband. Authors of the study make a number of recommendations, the first of which is removing state barriers that stifle Internet infrastructure investment.

"...A More Open Regulatory Environment"

The study, commissioned by the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development (TNECD) earlier this year, includes feedback from more than 23,000 households and businesses. 

From page 13 of the report:

The State of Tennessee could consider lifting administrative burdens and restrictions to broadband infrastructure investment to fostering a more open regulatory environment. 

In the report, the authors provide detailed reasoning for why the state should embrace an open regulatory environment to encourage competition. They note that state barriers impact electric cooperatives, municipalities that operate electric utilities and cannot expand beyond their own service areas, and municipalities that do not operate electric utilities but can only build telecommunications infrastructure in unserved areas with a private partner.

The FCC came to the same conclusion in February 2015 and rolled back Tennessee state laws in order to encourage competition. Tennessee is leading the charge against the FCC's decision with North Carolina (even though NC's Attorney General criticized the law). The parties have filed briefs, attorneys have presented oral arguments, and now the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals is considering the case.

The report goes on to recommend other policies, including dig-once, smart conduit rules, and one-touch make ready. Some of these policies have been challenged in other states by the big incumbents, such as the AT&T fight in Louisville against one-touch make ready. It’s no secret that Governor Bill Haslam has been content to let these same corporate gigantaurs effectively run the show in his state for some time now. 

Business Critical

Beyond recommendations, findings from the study were also revealing. The press release from the TNECD stated that the study shows fast, affordable, reliable connectivity is especially important to Tennessee’s businesses:

Businesses participating in the assessment reported broadband enabled 43 percent of all net new jobs and 66 percent of revenues. In addition, 34 percent of businesses classified broadband as essential to selecting their location, and 56 percent noted that it was essential to remain in their location. Sixteen percent of economic development agencies reported that businesses frequently chose not to locate in an area due to insufficient broadband. (emphasis ours)

Both business and residential participants cited reliability as the most important factor to them when analyzing their connectivity. Businesses also considered upload speed critical to their use of the Internet.

Urban vs Rural

While the survey determined that 13 percent of people in the state don’t have access to 25 Mbps / 3 Mbps, the “vast majority” were rural folks. According to the survey, 98 percent of urban participants DO have access. Those would include people who live in places such as Chattanooga, Pulaski, and Clarksville - all towns with municipal networks.

The survey found a correlation between access to the Internet and a number of factors, four of which were the most prevalent:

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  • The economic status of the community 
  • Number of ISPs (level of competition)
  • Type of connection
  • Population density 

Removing state regulatory barriers would allow a number of these rural areas to partner with municipalities that have already invested in Internet infrastructure. Nowhere else is this situation more apparent than in Bradley County. Cleveland Utilities (CU), the electric, water, and sewer provider in the county would like to partner with nearby Chattanooga EPB Fiber Optics to bring fast affordable, reliable connectivity to customers but state law forbids it. Bradley County and a number of other rural communities have appealed to state lawmakers because it is a matter of economic urgency and educational necessity for their children. They are still waiting.

Bills to eliminate the state barriers have been introduced but while the number of State Legislators supporting them has increased, the movement does not have the force to restore local authority...yet.

Break Down The Barriers 

Haslam referred to his administration’s report as “a starting point” and TNED Commissioner Randy Boyd cautioned that, “Not every option included in the report may be the answer for Tennessee, nor is there one simple solution.” 

It must be hard to hold the line as expert opinion and evidence chip away at the flawed logic behind Tennessee's state barriers. It's becoming increasingly apparent that the laws do not benefit the people of Tennessee; they are in place strictly for the big cable companies and telcos that operate there.

For the full report, visit the TNECD website.

BBC World Service Visits Chattanooga

Over the past few years, a number of media outlets have spotlighted Chattanooga’s rebirth from “dirtiest city in America” to a high-tech economic development engine. Recently, the BBC World Service produced “Chattanooga - the High Speed City” an episode in its Global Business Podcast series.

Peter Day presents the 27-minute story, described by the BBC as:

Chattanooga has been re-inventing itself for decades. In the late 1960s Walter Cronkite referred to the city as "the dirtiest in America." Since then heavy industry has declined and, to take its place, civic leaders have been on a mission to bring high-tech innovation and enterprise to Chattanooga. In 2010 the city became the first in America to enjoy gig speed internet following an investment of a couple of hundred million dollars from its publicly-owned electricity company, EPB. What economic and psychological benefits have super-fast internet brought to this mid-sized city in Tennessee? Has the investment in speed paid off? 

In the podcast, Day interviews a number of people who describe how access to the fast, affordable, reliable network offered by EPB Fiber Optics has benefitted the community. The story includes interviews with business leaders, artists, entrepreneurs, and others who recount how the community’s Internet infrastructure has influenced their decision to locate in Chattanooga. The Times Free Press covered the BBC podcast in detail and reprinted an excerpt from Mayor Andy Berke:

"The city that I grew up in in the mid 1980s was dying," Berke told the BBC. "We held on to our past for too long. We're not the best at something and that's really important for a community. When you are the best, that changes how you look at things and allows you to take advantage of and utilize your resources. Chattanooga was a community that didn't have a tech community."

You can listen to the podcast on the BBC World Service Global Business website.

Bristol's Muni A Boon for Electric Users

Business and residential electric customers in Bristol, Tennessee are experiencing shorter power outages thanks to recent upgrades to the city’s municipal fiber-optic network. And collectively, that represents annual savings of about $6 million for electric users, according to the CEO of the Bristol Tennessee Essential Services (BTES):

In an opinion piece for the Bristol Herald Courier newspaper, BTES CEO Mike Browder, said a recent upgrade to the electric system, which uses the city’s fiber-optic network, has helped cut power outage time by 35 percent:

“Our goal is less than 60 minutes average outage time per year per customer. In 2015, we exceeded that goal, reducing our outage time to 34 minutes per customer.”

According to BTES' About Us page, customers who lose power can depend on the smart grid to alert the utility to any outages:

Those customers with fiber services to their homes have automatic power outage detection, meaning that they do not need to make a telephone call if their power goes out. In addition, the system provides automatic meter reading and theft detection.

Browder offered this example in his piece:

"BTES recently had an outage that caused half of The Pinnacle, including Bass Pro Shops and Belk, to lose power. Using the fiber optic system, the BTES electric system automatically opened one switch and closed three more in sequence while testing each section of line. All of The Pinnacle had service restored in less than one minute!"

Bristol’s Smart Network

Reducing outage time is among a number of benefits that Bristol's 26,000 residents and its local businesses are enjoying from the city’s municipal fiber network, which it launched in 2005. The city also uses the infrastructure for fast, reliable, affordable connectivity in the community.

Browder said BTES’s broadband division pays for most of the cost of the fiber system.

“The electric customers pay only a small portion and experience a much more reliable electric system with more than $6 million a year savings because of the fiber optic system and the way we use it. Through this system, BTES is able to read more than half of the electric meters. This system is able to detect a power outage the second it occurs. Each substation automatically reports data and problems at the speed of light, and resolves those problems — again, at the speed of light, helping to prevent many outages altogether.”

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Browder also noted that the community's fiber-optic network is used to monitor its load managed water heater program. The program monitors and manages water temperature inside customers' water heaters, switching the appliances on an off automatically to save energy. The program cuts costs to BTES and customers to the tune of $1 million per year

Other Cities Enjoy Smart Savings

Bristol is just one of a growing number of cities whose electric utilities benefit from their connection with the municipalities’ fiber usage and monitoring. For example, in Chattanooga, Tennessee; the EPB (Electric Power Board) held electric utility rates steady for four years because it was achieving considerable savings due to the municipal fiber network.

Morristown, also in Tennessee, has experienced significant savings in operational efficiencies and electricity consumption due to their fiber-optic enabled smart meter program.

You can learn more by listening to Chris's December 2012 conversation with Dr. Browder in episode #24 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

EPB, Power of Munis In "The Nation"

This week in The Nation, Peter Moskowitz highlighted some of the nation's fastest municipal networks, bringing these Gig cities to a new level of national awareness. From Sandy, Oregon, to Wilson, North Carolina, and Chattanooga, Moskowitz touted these networks as a main reason the cities have been able to attract entrepreneurs and businesses.

The focus of the article was on Chattanooga's EPB Fiber network, how it propelled the city into the 21st century, and continues to spark innovation. Chattanooga's EPB now boasts a subscribership of 82,000 -- testimony to fast, affordable, reliable connectivity and good customer service.

“Really, these last two years you’ve seen it pick up steam,” said Christopher Mitchell, the director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR). “It’s just going to keep on spreading.”

Six years ago, Chattanooga was the only city offering publicly owned 1-gigabit Internet. Today, over 50 communities do, according to ILSR, and there are over 450 communities in the United States offering some form of publically owned Internet. Many municipal networks are in small towns and rural areas where private high-speed Internet is hard to come by. But several dozen are in cities like Chattanooga, where there are other, private options for internet that tend to be much more expensive and slower than what governments have proven they can provide.

While the Internet network is one of many things Chattanooga is doing right, the option to obtain Gigabit per second (Gbps) service for only $70 per month is a big bonus. Other communities see Chattanooga's success and are starting to replicate their own affordable Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Gig plans.

Read full article

Tennessee Potential Partnership Between Morristown Muni and AEC Co-op - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 203

In Tennessee, this month marks 10 years of Morristown Utility Systems delivering fiber-optic triple-play service to the community, including great Internet access. But those living just outside the city and in nearby cities have poor access at best. MUS General Manager and CEO Jody Wigington returns to our show this week and we also welcome Appalachian Electric Cooperative (AEC) General Manager Greg Williams to discuss a potential partnership to expand Morristown services to those that want them.

As we have frequently noted, Tennessee law prohibits municipal fiber networks from expanding beyond their electric territories. The FCC decision repealing that favor to the big cable and telephone company lobbyists is currently being appealed. But Tennessee also prohibits electrical co-ops from providing telephone or cable TV service, which makes the business model very difficult in rural areas.

Nonetheless, MUS and AEC have studied how they can team up to use the assets of both to deliver needed services to those outside Morristown. We discuss their plan, survey results, the benefits of working together, and much more.

Read the transcript from this show here.

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

This show is 24 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Forget the Whale for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "I Know Where You've Been."

Better Connectivity, Better Public Safety

For public safety, fiber networks can offer new opportunities and improve existing services. Last year, Ammon, Idaho, created an award-widding, high-speed application to provide real-time information about school shooters to emergency responders. This year, Chattanooga is continuing to improve its video infrastructure at public housing.

The police force for the Chattanooga Housing Authority (CHA) now use fiber connectivity to identify and locate suspects - protecting victims and witnesses who fear having to testify in court.

Fiber For Reliable Cameras

The Times Free Press reported on how the CHA has already installed over 50 high-resolution digital cameras in half of its family housing sites. The old cameras were connected via a wireless network, which occasionally lost signal.  All the new cameras are hooked up to a fiber network - a huge improvement in reliability. Officers can now view images from the new cameras with smartphones, tablets, and other computers. Rather than having to return to the precinct, law enforcement can see images while they are still at the site.

Installing the 50 high-resolution digital cameras cost $200,000. In an effort to continue improving video evidence, the CHA has recently applied for a $5,000 grant from the Tennessee Municipal League. With a local match of $5,000, the CHA will upgrade the video equipment in some of the elderly high-rise buildings.

The Digital Video Recording As The Witness

Reaction to the presence of surveillance cameras at the CHS facilities varies. While some people know the footage will help prosecute those who commit crimes, they don't believe the cameras will deter criminal activity. Others feel safer with the cameras in place. 

Video footage is evidentiary and often considered more reliable than eyewitness testimony. While prosecuting those that harm people living at CHS facilities and deterring crime are important, the primary goal is to create a safer environment for residents. Without the added pressure to testify, people who experience criminal activity at CHS facilities can move on with their lives with one less thing to worry about.

Listen to the Lawyers: Audio of Oral Arguments Now Available in TN/NC vs FCC

Attorneys argued before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on March 17th in the case of Tennessee and North Carolina vs the FCC. The attorneys presented their arguments before the court as it considered the FCC's decision to peel back state barriers that prevent local authority to expand munis.

A little over a year ago, the FCC struck down state barriers in Tennessee and North Carolina limiting expansion of publicly own networks. Soon after, both states filed appeals and the cases were combined.

You can listen to the entire oral argument below - a little less than 43 minutes - which includes presentations from both sides and vigorous questions from the Judges.

To review other resources from the case, be sure to check out the other resources, available here, including party and amicus briefs.

Chattanooga's EPB Sparks Local Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

Chattanooga's EPB Fiber Optics continues to stand out as a model for the municipal broadband movement, demonstrating the extraordinary impact that fast, affordable, reliable Internet access can have on economic development efforts. 

Now, a new research report from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation highlights the network’s vital role in kick starting the development of what has become a thriving “entrepreneurial ecosystem” in this city of about 174,000.

Collaboration, Public Private Partnerships

The report, titled "Little Town, Layered Ecosystem: A Case Study of Chattanooga," credits the EPB network as the “spark” for an explosion of economic development since the network's launch in 2010. As the article notes, the EPB estimates that since the launch, Chattanooga has seen an influx of ninety-one new companies with approximately $50 million in venture capital contributions from six firms. 

According to the report, the network has also encouraged an entrepreneurial climate in this city that had a “long history of collaboration and public-private partnerships” even prior to the network launch. The report cites examples of the city's collaborative spirit in several non-profit entities, city officials, local anchor companies and universities, and the city’s recently opened Innovation District.

Yasuyuki Motoyama, director of Research and Policy at the Kauffman Foundation and one of the paper's authors, explains the lessons that other cities might take away from Chattanooga’s example:

"Chattanooga organized and mobilized its assets to orient itself to entrepreneurial initiatives. This demonstrates what a small-size city can do when factions from different sectors focus on a common goal and collaborate to achieve that goal. This case of Chattanooga provides lessons for other cities to leverage their own unique assets and to create equally successful ecosystems."

AT&T Celebrates, Tennessee Families Go Another Year Without Internet Hope

As I write this, I suspect the "platoon" of lobbyists from AT&T and Comcast in Nashville are waking up with hangovers from celebrations last night after they once again defeated a bill to restore local authority in Tennessee. After a grassroots uprising, we thought the state would finally allow communities to decide for themselves if networks like Chattanooga's famed gigabit EPB would be able to expand.

Color me extremely disappointed - not because AT&T won, but because I fooled myself into thinking this grassroots mobilization might matter.

From the Times Free Press,

On Tuesday at the state Capitol in Nashville, a platoon of lobbyists and executives, including AT&T Tennessee President Joelle Phillips, were present in the House hearing room or watching on a video screen as Brooks presented the bill and the amendment.

...

It failed on the 5-3 [committee] vote with Rep. Marc Gravitt, R-East Ridge, voting for Brooks' amendment and Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, a one-time AT&T executive, voting against it.

Eight people voted on the bill. AT&T and Comcast formed the majority of the 27 lobbyists fighting against the bill according to Karl Bode.

People in Bradley County have either no service or poor access from companies like AT&T - but Chattanooga's EPB is not allowed to expand due to a state law pushed by the cable and telephone companies nearly 20 years ago to prevent competition.

These are people whose children have to go to libraries or fast food restaurants every day to do their homework. These are businesses that can barely compete in the digital age because AT&T doesn't view modern connectivity in the region an investment that would garner a fat return.

But alas, money and corporate influence again ruled the day in Nashville, where the Governor and others have continued to refuse to admit there is any problem worth fixing. This lede from Times Free Press answers the question of why companies like AT&T "donate" so much to political campaigns:

Gov. Bill Haslam says efforts by EPB and other municipal electric services to expand high-speed Internet to rural areas won't fully solve Tennessee's broadband accessibility issues and doesn't fairly treat for-profit servers like AT&T and Comcast.

In the face of this injustice, the Governor's first concern remains with what is fair to AT&T and Comcast, not what is best for the millions of Tennesseeans struggling with no connectivity or last generation slow Internet access.

To cover any charges they are doing nothing, they have announced an official "kick the can down the road strategy." Consider the Facebook post from AT&T executive turned state Legislator Patsy Hazlewood:

The state has invested $250,000 for a comprehensive study of broadband in TN. The report will be presented in June and will do a number of things. It will define broadband--which has a wide variety of definitions by both providers and customers across the state. The report will outline options for deployment and penetration on a statewide basis.

Great - one hopes that as parents drive their children to do homework while parked in front of closed libraries with active Wi-Fi access points that the state will soon decide how to define broadband.

This is why the FCC ruling to restore local Internet choice to communities is so important and oral arguments for the appeal are this week.

What remains to be done is a greater grassroots mobilization to demand that Nashville allow communities to solve their own problems. Republicans regularly critize Democrats for trying to enact a "nanny" state where the government refuses to let people make their own decisions. But when those same Republicans are in power, we see them restricting local governments from solving their own problems locally.

Bradley County and the local governments therein should be free to work with EPB if that is their choice. All this nonsense about fairness to AT&T and studying the definition of broadband in the year 2016 are a direct result of AT&T's power in Nashville and the dependency of elected officials on powerful companies for political donations and favors.