Tag: "competition"

Posted August 11, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

Three years ago, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) ranked Cleveland as the worst-connected city in the United States (with more than 100,000 households).

City leaders are now using its American Rescue Plan funds to make that dishonorable distinction a thing of the past with a plan to invest $20 million to get the “Comeback City’s” digital future rockin’ n rollin’.

Although the city (pop. 383,000), home to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, is currently underserved by AT&T, Charter Spectrum, and T-Mobile, earlier this summer the city issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) that “seeks one or more partners” to help bridge Cleveland’s digital divide following a two-phased approach that first addresses the city’s immediate needs before tackling its longer-term strategic goals.

More specifically, the RFP details “the Phase I goals: ensuring that individuals who do not engage online can become full Internet users as quickly as possible, relying on digital adoption and affordable access strategies. (While) the Phase II goals (envision) —ubiquitous fiber optic connections and Smart City deployments.”

Or, as Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb told Cleveland.com:

The first phase is on making sure on the short-term basis we connect as many families as we can to high-speed broadband, and the second phase will consist of making sure we lay fiber all across the city so we can be competitive, not just five years from now, but 20, 30 years from now, as a city and as a region.

Technically, the RFP that was issued is to implement the first phase of the city’s vision. The second phase would require the issuance of a second RFP.

Phase 1: Adoption and Affordability

Acutely aware of just how many Clevelanders are being left in the digital dust, the first phase...

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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 August 3, 2022 by Karl Bode

Ashland, Oregon has long been a trailblazer in terms of meeting community demand for faster, more affordable broadband access.

The city-owned network has also had a bumpy road—at times being branded as an example of municipal broadband failure. But the network continues to grow as it faces down an urgently-needed pivot toward a fiber-based future. 

Despite the current economic healthiness of the network and the clear benefits it’s brought to the community over the last 20 years, local officials are talking about divesting instead of making the financial commitment to continue the investment the city has already made.

The community-owned Ashland Fiber Network (AFN) was first developed in the late 1990s by locals angry at the high prices and historically terrible customer service by the local cable company. Like so many community broadband alternatives, it was a network built from grassroots frustration at consolidated market failure. 

Benefits of the community networks were on stark display during the telecommuting and home education boom of the Covid-19 crisis, when the city announced it would be providing free 30 Mbps broadband to all city residents without access to the Internet. 

AFN is an open access network, meaning that numerous companies are allowed shared access to the core city network, delivering a variety of broadband, phone, and TV services. As a result, the network’s no-contract broadband pricing tends to be simpler and less expensive than options found in cities dominated by one or two private sector telecom monopolies.

One central benefit of the network remains that it forced regional incumbent Charter to more seriously compete on price. As with other, similar projects, the network has also proven more responsive to the citizens it serves. 

The Best Laid Plans...

While AFN was a pioneering effort that embraced numerous disruptive ideas in its quest to disrupt the nation’s monopolies, some early managerial missteps, combined with an early decision to embrace the money pit that is cable television...

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Posted August 1, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

City leaders in Gary, Indiana hope to have people singing a song first sung by the city’s most famous family. But instead of relying on The Jackson 5 to lead a reprisal of “Goin’ Back to Indiana,” the sheet music this time is a plan to “deploy ubiquitous, accessible and affordable high-speed broadband to every home and business within the City.”

Two weeks ago, the city issued a Request for Qualification as it seeks Internet service provider(s) for the city to partner with “to build, operate (and) maintain a government middle mile fiber ring leveraging the City’s ARPA funds and working together to obtain additional State funding to ensure the partner deploys commercial and residential retail broadband.” Bids are due by August 12.

While the city wants to build a fiber intergovernmental network to support the city’s government, the plan calls for a city-wide network “that raises all tides on the residential side. That is essential to Gary’s economic future,” Gary’s Chief Innovation Officer Lloyd Keith explained last week during an information session for potential partners.

The genesis of the proposed project, Keith explained, “came from us looking at a study during the pandemic and the issues we were having with students. We are basically inadequate as far as broadband access is concerned in comparison to other communities. So we looked at how we can go about resolving that situation.”

Despite the presence of AT&T and Comcast, Keith described his city of 67,000 just 30 miles southeast of Chicago as still being “underserved” as was made apparent when the city found numerous census tracts with a staggering number of residents who do not have home broadband service.

That’s why, Keith said, now is the time for Gary to leverage its Rescue Plan funds and the federal BEAD program to finance construction of a network that will cover the entire city.

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Posted July 29, 2022 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

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 July 25, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

The City of Waterloo, Iowa has been flirting with the idea of building a municipal fiber network since 2005 when voters approved the creation of a municipal utility service. Voters said yes to the concept then but were not asked to put any money behind it.

"We were so excited we passed it, and then nothing happened. (The plan had) been gathering dust for 16 years," at-large Councilor Sharon Juon, a member of the city’s broadband committee in 2005, told the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier when the city council unanimously approved a $2.5 million contract with Magellan Advisors to design and engineer a fiber network last fall.

This is something our city needs so desperately. We've lost businesses because we don't have the broadband needed.

Now, officials in this northeast Iowa city of 68,000 residents (the eighth-largest city in the state) are ready to take the next step, going back to voters with a ballot question that seeks approval for the city to borrow $20 million to build the network backbone.

Voters will head to the polls to decide the question on September 13. It will need 60 percent approval at the ballot box for the measure to pass.

The ‘Time is Here’

Characterizing the effort to build future-proof fiber infrastructure as “good for the long-range interest of this community,” Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart told The Courier:

For the past 15 to 20 years, the city has done a lot of talking of needing to do this and to work for our own fiber network, and the time is here.

Should the ballot measure pass, the funds would be used to build a 100-mile fiber backbone to support the city’s sewer, storm water, traffic, and water systems. Consultants to the city have said that general obligation bonds are not required, but would be used to lower the cost of financing the overall project....

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Posted July 15, 2022 by Karl Bode

In the summer of 2021, Lakeland city commissioners voted 5-to-1 to strike a private-public partnership (P3) with Summit Broadband, part of a 10 year plan to expand broadband availability within city limits. But officials in this central Florida city of 112,000 have expressed growing consternation that the planned broadband expansion is behind schedule and more selective than expected. 

“I think this is the right move for the City of Lakeland as it will accomplish what was my goal: to make it a smart city without the burden of bonding out our debt,” Lakeland Commissioner Bill Read said shortly after the project was announced. “The private sector can do a job much better than any public entity, better than our city.”

A year later and several city leaders don’t seem entirely sure. 

Local news outlet LkldNow indicated last month that most Lakeland residents have yet to see service, and that Summit appears to have shifted its deployment priorities away from uniform house-by-house coverage, and toward select businesses and housing development developments.

Lakeland Mayor Bill Mutz said of the revelations:  

I am not satisfied with the speed with which Summit is rolling out service to consumers in Lakeland and concerned that they may have de-emphasized that express concurrent desire of the commission. Whereas it has been our goal to provide commercial business with improved Internet service, the consumer emphasis was originally and consistently one of our highest expressed priorities and motivations.

City Officials Question Partners’ Apparent Shift in Strategy

Under the city’s 10 year agreement with Summit, the provider pledged to spend $20 million over the next five years expanding the city’s existing 350-mile dark fiber network. Under the deal, Summit will pay the city $144,000 per year initially, ultimately switching to paying the city 10 percent of gross revenue on Internet services.

Under the terms of the deal...

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Posted July 12, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

In the 1980s, Rancho Cucamonga proclaimed itself “The City with a Plan.” Back then, the plan was to remake this once rural enclave known for its vineyards into more than just one of the many sunny suburbs of Los Angeles. The vision was to leverage its stretch of the famed Route 66 highway as a branding and economic development tool and transform the city into a premier destination within the Inland Empire metropolitan area along the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.

That forward-looking spirit was revived again 30 years later as city leaders looked to cultivate a digital vineyard with the creation of a “Fiber Optic Master Plan” – a six-year $13 million investment plan that targets the city’s new development.

Today, Rancho Cucamonga (its name was derived from a Native American word meaning “sandy place”) owns and operates Rancho Cucamonga Municipal Broadband in partnership with Onward, a local private Internet service provider.

The city built, owns, and maintains the physical infrastructure, which is managed by the Rancho Cucamonga Municipal Utility (RCMU). Onward, which is based in the city, provides gigabit speed Internet access to the network’s 525 mostly residential subscribers as the network slowly expands to reach yet-to-be-built residential developments.

Targeting Greenfield Projects and Businesses

The move toward municipal broadband began in earnest in 2016 when the city hired Magellan Advisors to develop a plan that would leverage the city’s existing fiber assets and expand its municipal utility fiber network to “greenfield projects” and the city’s business parks (see the map below that shows blue areas where service exists and orange areas where service is coming).  

“We had a bit of a...

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Posted July 11, 2022 by Karl Bode

Driven by Covid frustration and a boom in available grant money, Santa Clara County, California officials say they’re moving forward with their plans to explore a municipal broadband network, with the formal next steps expected to be announced at the tail end of this year. 

Last December, the board of supervisors in Santa Clara unanimously approved the creation of a publicly-owned fiber municipal broadband network. Spearheaded by County Supervisors Cindy Chavez and Susan Ellenberg, the project aims to provide “affordable, reliable high speed broadband service” to communities across Santa Clara County.

Santa Clara county contracted CTC Technology and Energy to examine various construction and funding proposals and develop a project master plan. County officials tell ILSR that the next report on that effort isn’t expected until November or December of this year, but the county is working on building a bridge toward a publicly-owned option in the interim. 

Hidden In Plain Sight

According to the California State Association of Counties (CSAC), 70,000 Santa Clara residents have no access to broadband whatsoever. Another 73,000 currently qualify as underserved, meaning they remain stuck on dial up or antiquated DSL incapable of meeting the FCC’s minimum threshold of 25 Megabit per second (Mbps) downstream/3 Mbps upstream to even be considered “broadband.” 

“The pandemic has exposed the digital inequity that has been hidden in plain sight in the heart of Silicon Valley for two decades now,” Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez told ILSR. 

“Our region has generated an unimaginable amount of wealth off of the Internet,” Chavez said. “We have transformed every facet of humanity in the last 25 years, but we also left more than 70,000 of our neighbors behind. Now is the time to fix that by bringing high speed broadband access to our entire community.”

State data indicates that another 689,000 of Santa Clara County’s residents currently live under a monopoly, resulting in high prices, slower speeds, and substandard customer service—all usually worse in already marginalized neighborhoods. All of CSAC’s data is pulled from...

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Posted June 28, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

For the past four consecutive years, community owned and/or operated broadband infrastructure has proven to be a key ingredient in the makings of some of the fastest Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the nation.

As was the case last year, PCMag’s recently released Top 10 list of “The Fastest ISPs of 2022” feature operators that are either municipal broadband networks or use city-owned fiber or conduit to deliver service across whole or parts of their footprint (with the exception of this year’s ninth-place finisher). Another way of saying that is: not one of 10 fastest networks in the nation are owned or operated by the major national ISPs, many of whom have embarked on an aggressive lobbying campaign to misinform public officials in particular and the public in general on the viability and successes of municipal broadband and local partnerships.

After ranking the major ISPs in their own slower category, PCMag turns to “talk about real speed.” 

For that, you don’t go to the big guys … Higher speeds are found in smaller, localized ISPs.

Need for Speed? Look to Local ISPs and Munis

After PCMag compiled a year’s worth of speed tests to analyze which ISPs offer the fastest download and upload speeds, Sonic – a California-based independent ISP – came out on top this year, having “posted the highest number we have ever seen in our test results. Because the uploads this company offers are, on average, eclipsing download speeds—by a lot.”

Catapulting to the top of this year’s list (from 10th place last year), Sonic is a privately-owned company that uses publicly owned conduit in Brentwood, California.

The reason is 10-Gigabit service. Sonic offers it, doesn’t cap it, and it starts at just $40 a month. Yet if Sonic’s uploads were just 1/10th of that speed, the company would still win...

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