For communities looking to improve Internet access for their citizens but that might be wary of becoming full-fledged Internet Service Providers (ISPs) themselves, open access networks offer a practical model for the future. Like roads, open access networks serve as publicly owned byways that telecommunications providers can then lease bandwidth on and offer a wide array of information services. They ensure competition, provide local control of underlying infrastructure, and lead to economic growth.
This week on the podcast Christopher speaks with Jeff Christensen, President of EntryPoint Networks, a consulting and software company working with communities around the country (including Ammon, Idaho) on open access networks. Jeff shares with Christopher what’s been happening recently, including some of the software upgrades EntryPoint has developed over the last year and the impact they’ll have both for administrators and users moving forward.
Christopher and Jeff then dig into the future of state telecommunications policy, and the vision that communities need to have to confront the realities of existing cable and telecom monopolies around the country. They talk about the potential of government policies that promote competition rather than restrain it, and the possibilities for network innovation if we were to reframe how we think about Internet access in terms of having separate infrastructure and service components. Finally, they spend some time discussing practical steps communities can take, including defining the problem and then making low-interest loans to build open access fiber networks in their regions.
If you’re interested in learning more about open access networks, we break down basic models, concepts, and advantages. Or, listen to Jeff’s TedX talks, The Internet Disruption Every City Needs and Modern Networks, Innovation, and Cities or read his...Read more
On July 6th, the City of West Des Moines, Iowa, announced an innovative public-private partnership with Google Fiber to bring gigabit Internet to all 67,000 of its citizens over the next two and a half years. The city will build conduit connecting every home and business and available for use by different providers. Google Fiber will be the first, coming in and laying and maintaining its own fiber once the city’s construction is complete. It’s the result of years of effort by the city council and serves as an example of other communities looking for solutions to improve options for all citizens.
The origin of the decision dates to 2016 and the city’s 2036 Vision [pdf]. In it, West Des Moines committed to “doubling down on technology,” creating five- and ten-year milestones that reached for specific markers of success by 2026, including: 80% of the population having access to gigabit Internet service, $2.5 million per year in new revenue generated by the city’s information infrastructure, and all citizens using the West Des Moines Integrated Network app for greater dissemination of information and citizen engagement.
In the city’s announcement, Mayor Steve Gaer said,
A key element of the City’s 20-year strategic plan calls for all residents, regardless of their means, to benefit from high-quality and high-speed connectivity.
Community leaders, stakeholders, and citizens all played a role during the planning phase, and project officials considered three criteria for guidance. The first was the expectation by its citizens had that the Internet was a utility; whether or not the city wanted to become an ISP, its efforts would have to work toward universal, affordable, reliable access. The second was a determination to regain and then maintain control of the municipality’s rights-of-way so as to preserve the infrastructure future of West Des Moines. And the third was that any future public network facilitated by the city should serve as a platform for serving residential and commercial users according to their diverse needs, from business to education to telemedicine.
Deputy City Manager Jamie Letzring...Read more
As states are considering whether and how to use federal CARES Act funding to improve Internet access, Idaho is poised to enact counter-productive limits on who can use that money by excluding community-owned solutions.
Though many states have been under pressure from big monopoly providers to only fund for-profit business models with broadband subsidies, those voices seem largely absent in this Idaho fight. Instead, it is some local monopoly providers that are threatened by a wave of new community networks that break the old monopoly approach to broadband networks.
Shock and Aww, Come on
As Idaho began considering how to spend its CARES Act funding, it took comments from a variety of stakeholders on how to achieve the state’s broadband goals. That process suggested an inclusive, open-ended approach that could help fund a variety of efforts that would improve resilience in a variety of ways — not just new connections to homes.But when the Department of Commerce stepped up to operationalize those goals into a matching grant program, something came off the rails. The state is taking comments this week from Idahoans on an approach it unveiled Tuesday evening. View the draft grant application and rules.
This draft grant application goes through contortions to give the CARES Act money to private companies. The only entities that can apply are governments, including sovereign tribes, local governments, or Idaho state agencies. But they are purely a pass-through — the money must go to a private company per rule IV of eligible projects: "Include only new broadband service, installed, owned, and operated by for-profit companies and not the applicant."
Requiring the networks to be built and operated by for-profit entities runs counter to the suggestions of many stakeholders who discussed how this money should be spent. Non-profit business models run by cooperatives have been essential to expanding the highest-quality Internet access in Minnesota, the Dakotas, and Montana, as we have demonstrated in...Read more
For the eighth episode of our special podcast series “Why NC Broadband Matters,” Christopher and his guests, Catharine Rice and Jack Cozort, continue their conversation on HB 129, North Carolina’s restrictive law that prevents local governments from investing in broadband infrastructure. The first half of their discussion focused on the years leading up to the passage of HB 129 in 2011. Today, Christopher, Catharine, and Jack talk about the bill itself, the influence of the telecom industry over the state legislature, and how HB 129 has impacted connectivity in North Carolina.
Catharine and Jack explain that local broadband authority became a partisan issue after the 2010 election, which flipped control of the North Carolina legislature to the Republicans. They share their experiences advocating against HB 129, explaining how legislators restricted public comments on the bill by limiting speaking time and rescheduling hearings and meetings. Jack tells Christopher that there were as many as 25 lobbyists representing telephone and cable companies at the state legislature pushing for HB 129. Catharine relates how corruption and a lack of transparency in government are the reasons why the telecom industry successfully got the bill passed.
Christopher and his guests also run through some of the provisions of HB 129, dissecting the telecom monopolies’ misleading arguments in favor of the bill.
This is the second half of a two part discussion. For part one, listen to...Read more
We've written a lot about North Carolina's HB 129, the anti-competition law that prevents communities in the state from investing in broadband infrastructure. This week on the Community Broadband Bits podcast, Christopher dives deeper into the history of HB 129 with guests Catharine Rice, co-founder of NC Broadband Matters and project manager at the Coalition for Local Internet Choice, and Jack Cozort, a government relations consultant who has worked with the City of Wilson. In this first half of a two part conversation, Christopher and his guests discuss the years leading up to HB 129, which was passed in 2011, speaking frankly about the sway telecom lobbyists held over state legislators.
To start, Jack describes how Wilson decided to invest in its own broadband network Greenlight, after incumbent providers refused to partner with the city to upgrade the community. He goes on to explain how Wilson's decision led the regional broadband monopolies Time Warner Cable (now Charter Spectrum) and AT&T to advocate for legal restrictions on municipal broadband at the state legislature.
Catharine and Jack review some of the early bills — written by telecom companies and handed off to state legislators — that the monopoly providers introduced in an attempt to stop broadband competition. They share their involvement in those legislative fights and explain how difficult it was to counter the influence that the telecom industry had over politicians in both major parties. However, Catharine points out that there were also Democratic legislators during this time who defended local broadband authority and kept anti-...Read more
In a recent article, “Tell The Story We Know: Broadband Competition is Too Limited,” Jonathan Sallet laid out the case for robust broadband competition as a necessary step in expanding high-quality connectivity nationwide. “Academic research tells us that more broadband competition matters: pushing rivals to up their game, saving money for consumers, increasing the quality of service,” explained Sallet, a current Benton Institute Senior Fellow and former General Counsel at the Federal Communications Commission.
The article, co-published by the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society and the Coalition for Local Internet Choice, identified greater broadband competition as one of the four “building blocks” needed to reach the goal of connecting all Americans to modern Internet access by 2030. Sallet has expanded on this goal in the report, Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s, which we covered last year. In addition to creating more Internet choice, the report cited the need for continued efforts to deploy broadband infrastructure, increase affordability and adoption, and connect community anchor institutions.
Communities Crave Competition
It’s not a secret that greater broadband competition lowers prices and improves service quality. For example, the municipal fiber networks in Wilson, North Carolina, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, have kept incumbent providers’ rates low even as speeds increased. “By the FCC’s calculation, new competition saved Wilson’s approximately 50,000 residents more than $1 million per year,” Sallet noted in the article.
However, as he pointed out, other communities are much more likely to live under a broadband monopoly or duopoly — and to pay dearly for it. “We can expect people with only one choice to pay monopoly prices,” he wrote, “and people with only two choices to pay the higher...Read more
The merger between T-Mobile and Sprint is moving forward, notwithstanding legal opposition from multiple state attorneys general. In a recent article, Christopher Mitchell Director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's Community Broadband Networks Initiative, and Paul Goodman, Technology Equity Director from The Greenlining Institute, explained the tenuous reasoning behind the recent court decision and why they expect nothing good for subscribers and the state of competition as this deal comes to fruition.
We've shared the article in full here; you can also read it at The Greenlining Institute website.
EXPECT BROKEN PROMISES FROM T-MOBILE/SPRINT MERGER
By Christopher Mitchell and Paul Goodman
Earlier this week, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit to stop the proposed merger between T-Mobile and Sprint. As a result, it’s highly likely that by the end of the year, Sprint will no longer exist, and that AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile will be the only major wireless providers in the United States. The judge’s decision is 170 pages long but boils down to this: The judge believes that even though T-Mobile will have the ability to increase prices, it won’t, because T-Mobile promised not to.
What, Exactly, has T-Mobile Promised?
The same things that communications providers have promised us for decades when drumming up support for a merger—lower prices, the creation of thousands of jobs, and new and exciting service offerings. As a result, the company argues, T-Mobile will have the size and resources to transform itself into a company like AT&T.
It’s that last sentence that’s particularly troubling. In 2018, AT&T purchased Time Warner Media, arguing that doing so would result in lower prices, the creation of thousands of jobs, and new and exciting product offerings. Which sounds fantastic, except for the fact that AT&T failed to deliver on those promises:
- Instead of lowering prices, AT&T has increased its prices twice in the past year (it also gave some its customers a “bonus” of 15 GB of data a...
It was about five years ago that we brought consultant Eric Lampland from Lookout Point Communications into the office for episode 80 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. We've completed more than 300 other episodes since then, but his insight still rings true on the many indirect cost savings of community broadband networks. As activity in our office slows down a little for the holiday season, we thought this would be a great time to revisit the conversation with Eric to remind listeners of some of the reasons why so many communities are interested in taking control of their connectivity options with public investment. Enjoy!
Today, Lisa and I are joined by Eric Lampland for a discussion of how a community could justify building a community owned network from the indirect benefits that it would create, including the savings that each household realizes from competition driving down prices. Eric Lampland is the CEO and principal consultant of Lookout Point Communications, which helps local governments that are building a network or considering an investment.
Eric and I start by discussing how quickly the cost savings per household add up to equal more than the cost of building a network and we digress from there, covering other topics related to community owned networks. This includes how big cable companies would respond to this approach.
I have to note that most community networks have not been justified on this basis - the vast majority of community networks were designed to pay their full costs and they are doing so. Here, we discuss the general benefits of these networks that are often sidelined in the policy discussion and how they alone may justify a fiber network.
Toward the end, we begin discussing open access, something we will...Read more
Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence and her husband who live in Breckenridge, Colorado, received a special holiday treat on December 9th — their house was connected to the new community network, Fiber9600. Crews braved the snow in the mountain community in order to complete the first home install.
Winter Waits for No Fiber
Two residential neighborhoods have been chosen for the first installs. ALLO Communications, the Internet access provider delivering service via the publicly owned fiber optic infrastructure, has stopped scheduling new installation appointments due to the inhospitable winter construction season.
According to ALLO senior operations manager Junius Businelle, however, crews will continue to complete scheduled installations in the first two designated neighborhoods with expected completion by February 1. Installation is free and takes about 90 minutes to two hours, unless a subscriber asks for TV installation, which requires up to an hour.
Lawrence and her spouse, Ryan Scholl, wanted to switch to ALLO because their previous Internet access was too expensive and unreliable. “We’re really looking forward to it because we have really inconsistent internet,” she told Summit Daily.
From Open to ALLO
The city’s early plans were to develop an open access network in order to spur competition. The community, which welcomes large numbers of tourists every year, has experienced poor Internet access and high rates. City leaders, however, considered the challenges for ISPs operating on open access networks, such as getting a foothold in the community, and decided instead to work solely with ALLO for the first ten years.
With the option to renew the arrangement with ALLO for two more 10-year terms, Breckenridge will give the company a chance to establish themselves as a new entrant. The community will preserve an option to find another ISP in the future, if they’re not satisfied with ALLO after a reasonable period.
As Commissioner Lawrence noted, subscribers will be able to sign up for better service than has...Read more