Tag: "competition"

Posted December 2, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Cities and towns all over Massachusetts are looking for alternatives to the big incumbent Internet Service Providers in their communities as citizens across the Commonwealth have grown weary of the high-cost, second-rate Internet service – and lack of competition – that plagues markets dominated by monopoly providers.

Gov. Charlie Baker and state lawmakers have yet to settle on how much of the Commonwealth’s American Rescue Plan funds should be devoted to expanding access to affordable and reliable high-speed Internet service in the Bay State. Meanwhile, a growing number of local leaders and community advocates are positioning themselves for the possibility of creating municipal telecommunications utilities to build publicly-owned broadband infrastructure.

Falmouth Leads the Way on Cape Cod

On Cape Cod in the Town of Falmouth (pop. 32,517), the citizen-led non-profit FalmouthNet is making major strides in bringing town-wide fiber-to-the-home Internet service to the second-largest municipality on the southeastern Massachusetts peninsula. (Full disclosure: both Sean Gonsalves and Christopher Mitchell serve as FalmouthNet Advisory Board members).

Having completed a feasibility study last year that laid out a detailed market analysis and financial forecast for building the estimated $55 million town-wide fiber network, FalmouthNet recently announced it has signed a contract with Tilson, a telecom construction and engineering firm based in Portland, Maine, to design the network.

In addition to contracting with Tilson, FalmouthNet is also celebrating a recent Town Meeting vote in which the overwhelming majority of Town Meeting representatives voted in favor of establishing a Municipal Light Plant (MLP) in Falmouth with 175 Town Meeting representatives voting in favor and 13 in opposition.

Forming an MLP enables...

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Posted December 1, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

The USDA’s ReConnect program has disbursed more than $1.5 billion since its inception in December 2018. On the whole, the USDA seems to have done a better job than the FCC of leading to new broadband infrastructure which is fast, affordable, and locally controlled. Much of the money it has given out has gone to community-driven solutions, with Tribes, electric and telephone cooperatives, and local governments applying for and winning awards. The program has also seen partnerships between counties and other public as well as private entities. 

But there’s a lot to like about the newest round of funding, totalling $1.2 billion more (representing a full 80 percent of all money given out so far). The application process for Round 3 began at the end of November, with applications due by February 22, 2022.

Announced at the end of October, the new scoring metric represents a significant step in the right direction, increasing speed definitions on both sides of the application. But there are other things to like here as well. 

First, it gives explicit preference for projects that are community-driven, with CTC Technology and Energy writing of the “preference for local governments, non-profits, and cooperatives as applicants and additional points to those applications.” Second, it will likely result in at least a little more marketplace competition, by not only providing significantly more flexibility in defining proposed funded service areas, but in giving additional points to open access networks as well. Third, it lets applicants demonstrate eligibility completely separate from the FCC’s Form 477 data. Fourth, for the first time the program awards extra points to applications that will bring connectivity solutions to “socially vulnerable...

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Posted November 24, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

A new report by the Electronic Frontier Foundation argues that the general lack of fiber network coverage across the United States - with barely a third of homes able to choose a fiber option -  comes in large part from the domination of the broadband marketplace by incumbent providers who both own and operate the infrastructure that provides Internet access to the vast majority of Americans. It’s a classic market failure, authors Benoît Felten and Thomas Langer argue, where there’s a clear profitable business case for the existence of more fiber access that continues to go unaddressed. At its core, the failure is driven by the attitudes of monopoly Internet Service Providers (ISP) which prefer to reap the profits from existing legacy copper and cable infrastructure rather than invest in new build outs. As a result, a larger proportion of Americans than many other nations remain stuck on slower, more expensive connections.

The solution, the report shows, is relatively straightforward and economically viable for as many as 78 percent of all households across the country: the construction of a series of local or regional fiber networks operated on a wholesale basis, whereby any ISP that wants to can join an open, transparent marketplace, creating much more competition than exists in the current arena. 

“Wholesale Fiber is the Key to Broad US FTTP Coverage” offers an economic case for open access fiber in improving access, affordability, and driving competition. Comparing the potential of what it calls a Vertically Integrated Operators deployment (i.e. traditional incumbent broadband providers that build, own, and operate networks for end users) and Wholesale Network Operators deployment (an open access arrangement where the physical infrastructure is owned by one entity that invites providers to operate on the network and connect end users for a fee), the report finds that the Wholesale Network Operator model reduces the risk of capital investment, drives infrastructure expansion, and would lead to future-proof connectivity for hundreds of millions of Americans. 

  • Reducing the risk of fiber infrastructure deployment is one of the most effective ways to increase the...
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Posted November 23, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

From New York City to Newfield in Upstate New York, local officials in the Empire State have kicked off projects to connect the unconnected to high-speed Internet service.

The biggest of those projects is underway in New York City as Mayor Bill de Blasio recently delivered an early Christmas present for city dwellers who want to see a term-limit set on the digital divide in the Big Apple.

America’s most populous metropolis (est. pop. 8.6 million) is investing $157 million to build publicly owned, open access broadband infrastructure that will lay the groundwork local officials say will enable high-speed wireless Internet access for up to 1.6 million city residents over the next 36 months.

Even as the city is on track to bring free or low-cost Internet service to 40,000 residents living in 18 New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments by the end of the year, this latest initiative aims to expand the city’s existing fiber infrastructure while drawing on minority and women-owned Internet Service Providers to help deliver “fast, reliable, and affordable connectivity options to an additional 70,000 NYCHA residents and 150,000 residents in the surrounding communities by early 2022,” the Mayor’s Office explained in a press release announcing the initiative.

“Broadband isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity,” de Blasio said. “We are closing the digital divide and bringing our city into the 21st century by reaching communities most in need.” 

New York City Chief Technology Officer John Paul Farmer characterized the effort as evidence that city officials are “transforming the broadband marketplace.” 

No matter your zip code, every New Yorker deserves an equal opportunity to participate in building our shared future. The New York City Internet Master Plan has enabled the Big Apple’s unprecedented progress in promoting digital equity and making that idealistic vision a practical reality. New York City’s bold new approach delivers cross-sector partnerships, incorporates cutting-edge technologies, upgrades performance, and ensures affordability for residents and businesses.

Mobilizing ‘NYC Internet Master Plan’

The roadmap the city is following is known as the...

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Posted November 22, 2021 by Maren Machles

Municipal broadband networks have struggled to get a foothold in Washington state given the historical restrictions that have been put on local governmental entities, barring them from offering retail broadband service. But, as state lawmakers lifted those restrictions earlier this year, several PUDs are well-positioned to seize the moment, building on the momentum generated by a collaborative effort led by a publicly owned corporation known as Petrichor

Created in 2018, Petrichor is committed to serving tribes, cities, counties, and ports and is now working with 30 of the 47 counties in the Evergreen State, as well as a number of communities in the neighboring state of Idaho. It’s primary purpose is to share its expertise and help communities apply for state and federal grant money to deploy broadband infrastructure.

Working in collaboration with Cowlitz County (pop.110,600), Petrichor and the county recently co-published a report identifying the region of the state north of Longview, south of Castle Rock and west of West Side Highway as areas in desperate need of expanded high-speed Internet access.  

Connecting Cowlitz County

Just north of Portland, nestled along the Columbia River, the economy of Cowlitz County has historically relied on logging and mining. But, after the Great Recession health care and the social assistance industry became the primary source of employment in the region. And with the change from industries requiring manual labor to technologically-driven industries, a need for fast, reliable Internet access has become paramount. 

Unfortunately, Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers (ILEC) have not been able to meet the need of the moment. Cowlitz County alone has five unique ILECs, resulting in a patchwork of communities with DSL Internet access. Cable Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have also built infrastructure in the area, but there are entire swathes of the county with little to no options. ...

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Posted November 11, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

A new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) examines Internet Service Providers’ (ISPs) transparency — or lack thereof — around the Internet service packages they offer. Shopping for Broadband: Failed Federal Policy Creates Murky Marketplace [pdf] finds that locally-controlled broadband networks are the most transparent around key service details. Large ISPs, on the other hand, are more likely to make information like upload speed and pricing difficult or impossible to find. 

Missing or unclear information is frustrating for anyone shopping for a new Internet service. It can make it especially difficult for low-income customers, who need to know pricing details (such as the difference between a service’s promotional price and standard monthly cost) in order to navigate the market and budget for service. Federal standards for transparency exist, but are not currently enforced in any real way by either federal regulation or market pressure.

Recently, Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which includes new information disclosure requirements for ISPs. To underscore the value of these requirements and the need for their proper enforcement, this report offers detailed analysis of 50 of the nation’s largest private wireless, private fiber, cable, municipal, and cooperative ISPs based on how clearly they disclose basic service and pricing information. Key findings include:

  • Municipal broadband networks offer the most available and accessible information in the three categories analyzed.
  • Private fixed wireless providers had the most missing information, with only three out of ten offering clear information in all three categories.
  • Locally-controlled networks — including municipal and cooperative networks — are held accountable by their customers to a greater degree than their larger counterparts, with more incentives to disclose information in a more comprehensive and accessible way.
  • Overall, the ISPs analyzed in this report tend to offer the best information regarding download speeds and the worst information regarding upload speeds.

The report identifies multiple dimensions of the Internet transparency problem and offers a series of policy solutions to help hold providers accountable and get customers the information they need...

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Posted November 11, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Frustrated while shopping for Internet service? Blame federal policy (and monopoly power). 

A new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) examines Internet Service Providers’ (ISPs) transparency — or lack thereof — around the Internet service packages they offer. Shopping for Broadband: Failed Federal Policy Creates Murky Marketplace [pdf] finds that locally-controlled broadband networks are the most transparent around key service details. Large ISPs, on the other hand, are more likely to make information like upload speed and pricing difficult or impossible to find. 

Missing or unclear information is frustrating for anyone shopping for a new Internet service. It can make it especially difficult for low-income customers, who need to know pricing details (such as the difference between a service’s promotional price and standard monthly cost) in order to navigate the market and budget for service. Federal standards for transparency exist, but are not currently enforced in any real way by either federal regulation or market pressure.

Recently, Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which includes new information disclosure requirements for ISPs. To underscore the value of these requirements and the need for their proper enforcement, this report offers detailed analysis of 50 of the nation’s largest private wireless, private fiber, cable, municipal, and cooperative ISPs based on how clearly they disclose basic service and pricing information. Key findings include:

  • Municipal broadband networks offer the most available and accessible information in the three categories analyzed.
  • Private fixed wireless providers had the most missing information, with only three out of ten offering clear information in all three categories.
  • Locally-controlled networks — including municipal and cooperative networks — are held accountable by their customers to a greater degree than their larger counterparts, with more incentives to disclose information in a more comprehensive and accessible way.
  • Overall, the ISPs analyzed in this report tend to offer the best information regarding download speeds and the worst information regarding upload speeds.

The report identifies multiple dimensions of the Internet transparency problem and offers a series...

Read more
Posted November 4, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Because its downtown buildings were made to resemble Windy City architecture, Fort Dodge was once nicknamed “Little Chicago.” But now, this north-central Iowa city with a population of just under 25,000 is building something the real Chicago, 360 miles east of Fort Dodge, does not have: a municipal fiber-to-the-home (ftth) network.

Having secured up to $36.8 million in loans from a consortium of local banks, the Cedar Rapids-based engineering firm HR Green has been hired by the city to put together a final engineering and design plan for a city-wide fiber network.

The RFP to do the construction work will go out to bid in late spring 2022, with actual network construction slated to begin in the summer of 2022. City officials say the new utility will likely begin offering high-speed Internet service to Fort Dodgers as soon as the summer of 2023, though the network won’t be fully built-out city-wide until 2024.

Unserved, Underserved and Poorly Served

In many rural communities, local governments, cooperatives, public entities, or nonprofit organizations will sometimes build the infrastructure necessary to deliver high-speed Internet service to the unserved and underserved because incumbent providers don’t see enough short-term ROI to justify the expense. But in more densely populated locales, municipal broadband is often pursued because the existing service from private providers simply isn’t up to par. The market has failed rural, suburban, and urban communities - just in different ways.

And that’s why in cities like Fort Dodge, the feasibility study commissioned by the city hits on a familiar refrain found in feasibility studies across the nation:

“Despite being the largest city in the region and key commercial hub, Fort Dodge telecommunications infrastructure is less advanced than in surrounding rural areas and small towns like Lehigh, Dayton, and Badger.”

Fort Dodge is currently served by Frontier and MediaCom – two of the lowest-ranked national ISPs, according to Consumer Reports. But, after years of citizen complaints about poor incumbent service, Fort Dodge City Councilors in 2018 decided to create a strategic...

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Posted October 25, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

A month ago, President Biden visited the city of Golden, Colorado to tout his Build Back Better Agenda, which includes a bipartisan infrastructure package that invests $65 billion to expand access to high-speed Internet connectivity. But years before that, city officials had already been preparing for the possibility of building a municipal fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network.

Although the President didn’t say it during his remarks after a tour of Golden’s National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), the city’s desire to offer municipal Internet service is a prime example of what the Biden Administration’s American Jobs Plan envisioned: investing in local, publicly-owned community broadband networks.  

Though this city of approximately 20,000 is served by CenturyLink and Comcast Xfinity, along with a handful of other smaller Internet Service Providers (ISPs), city councilors agree that a municipal FTTH network would be a boon for business and offer more affordable and reliable options to residents.

It’s an idea that has garnered the support of voters when five years ago a referendum was passed authorizing the city to opt out of the Colorado state law (SB 152) that bars local governments in the Centennial State from establishing municipal Internet service. Golden is one of over 150 communities in the state to have opted out of SB 152 since the law was passed 15 years ago; most notably Loveland, Fort Collins, and Estes Park, all of whom are building out municipal fiber networks in the Front Range region.

A...

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Posted October 21, 2021 by Maren Machles

Situated in rural Central New York, Madison County (pop. 71,000) was named in honor of America’s fourth President, James Madison. But it was the region’s history of growing hops for beer that really put the county on the map. By 1859, New York state produced 80 percent of all hops grown in the U.S., thanks in no small measure to the crops in Madison County.

Today, while the community still celebrates this history at the annual HopFest, county leaders are now focused on the future and how to ensure the region does not get left in the dust by missing out on an essential economic development ingredient: high-speed Internet connectivity. In a modern economy, broadband infrastructure is indispensable in general terms and specifically for the efficient operation of precision agriculture

With a focus now on the digital landscape, Madison County planners have embarked on a project to bring fiber to the farm as well as thousands of other other residents and businesses across the region.

What really got things off the ground, or rather into the ground, was the county being awarded a USDA ReConnect grant last year. Madison is the only county in United States to directly receive ReConnect grant funding in FY 2020.

In July, the USDA announced it would grant $10.1 million in ReConnect funds in support of the project to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network that will connect 2,170 people, 50 farms and 30 businesses to high-speed broadband in Madison County as part of a larger countywide project. The county will work with private Internet Service provider (ISP) Empire Access to eventually bring fiber connectivity to nearly 7,600 households in the region.

A Fertile Land For Fiber

Two years ago, Madison County officials decided to make broadband a top priority. The most underserved area of Madison is in the southern part of the county, where DSL and satellite were primarily offered, with limited addresses eligible for cable access. 

The county held community forums. The response was overwhelming: frustrations with the limited, unreliable options had been long brewing in...

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