Tag: "competition"

Posted February 22, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

Even as high-speed Internet access is widely considered a basic utility akin to electricity and clean water, there are still 17 states with preemption laws that either ban publicly-owned broadband networks or have barriers that make it all but impossible for municipalities to compete with monopoly Internet Service Providers. This, despite the major incumbents having received billions in taxpayer subsidies over the years and having failed to deliver universally reliable and affordable connectivity.

However, as it has become increasingly clear that the private market alone is not going to solve America’s connectivity crisis, last year two states (Arkansas and Washington) rolled back their preemption laws that were protecting monopoly incumbent providers from competition, allowing local and regional governmental entities to build the telecommunications infrastructure their residents need.

Now, one Nebraska lawmaker has recently filed a bill that, if passed, would significantly remove his state’s current barriers to municipal broadband. Nebraska State Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha filed LB916 last week with the state legislature’s Transportation and Telecommunications Committee.

As it stands now, according to the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC), Nebraska “generally prohibits agencies or political subdivisions of the state, other than public power utilities, from providing wholesale or retail broadband, Internet, telecommunications or cable service. Public power utilities are permanently prohibited from providing such services on a retail basis, and they can sell or lease dark fiber on a wholesale basis only under severely limited conditions. For example, a public power utility cannot sell or lease dark fiber at rates lower than the rates incumbents are charging in the market in question.” 

Bill to Let Local Communities Decide on Broadband

As...

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Posted February 10, 2022 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Dickson, Tennessee (pop. 15,500) was the third municipal electric system to take power from the Tennessee Valley Authority after its creation in 1933, but the utility actually predates the regional electric generation system by almost 30 years. Today, it’s entering a new phase of life, parlaying its 117-year history of bringing affordable electric service into an $80 million fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) build that will see every household in its footprint (37,000 meters) get future-proof Internet access within the next four years.

A Cooperative in Municipal Clothing

Established in 1905, the very first Dickson Electric System (DES) customers received their power from a single 150-horsepower external combustion steam engine. DES upgraded its capacity in 1923, switching to two 150-horsepower oil-burning engines. A little more than a decade later, the TVA was established and DES took service, joining the maturing regional electric system and bringing its 650 customers and 50 miles of line into what would eventually be a group of more than 150 local power utilities almost a century later.

Today, Dickson Electric territory covers almost 800 square miles across Dickson, Hickman, Cheatham, Williamson, Humphreys, Houston, and Montgomery Counties (with the bulk of its customers in the first three), across about 2,600 miles of distribution line to 37,000 locations.

Because of this and some other factors, in many ways Dickson, Tennessee’s municipal electric system looks more like an electric cooperative than typical city-centered infrastructure, General Manager Darrell Gillespie shared in an interview. Just the fourth general manager to serve in the position since DES’ founding, Gillespie said that only 22 percent of its meters are located in the city of Dickson. The rest are spread across the seven-county footprint - many in rural areas, and including in parts or all of four other cities. In fact, DES averages just 13 customers per mile across its service area.

With a long history of providing affordable, reliable, locally accountable electric service, leadership at the utility have been talking about expanding into the fiber business for years. The onset of the pandemic in the spring of 2020...

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Posted February 8, 2022 by

This week on the podcast, Christopher is joined by Joe Poire, Director of Petrichor Broadband in Whitman County, Washington.

During the conversation, the two discuss the unique role of Ports in Washington State, which for years have been building robust broadband infrastructure that could be used for increasing competition or extending access into unserved areas. They talk about how the Port of Whitman has stepped up to fill the cracks of a deregulated telecom market, why Petrichor Broadband was established, and how they have used an open access dark fiber business model to bring broadband to communities across Washington State. Christopher and Joe also take time to respond to criticism of publicly owned open access networks, and discuss how Petrichor’s approach has encouraged competition in underserved communities.

This show is 30 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.

Transcript coming soon. 

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

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Subscribe to the Building Local Power podcast, also from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, on iTunes or Stitcher to catch more great conversations about local communities, the concentration of corporate power, and how everyday people are taking control.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm...

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Posted January 27, 2022 by Emma Gautier

In November, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance published a report examining the transparency practices of Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Shopping for Broadband: Failed Federal Policy Creates Murky Marketplace [pdf] identified locally-controlled broadband networks as the most transparent around key service details.

Large ISPs, however, were found to be more likely to make information like upload speed and pricing difficult or impossible for potential customers to find. 

After the report’s original publication, a WISP advocate suggested that our fixed wireless sample may not appropriately represent the industry and requested that we review and re-issue our analysis with an alternative list of ISPs that have been more aggressive in pursuing federal funding and spectrum opportunities. These WISPs greatly outperformed our original sample, which was selected based on those claiming the largest population coverage.

New Set of WISPs Shows Better Transparency 

While many of the original WISPs failed to disclose basic pricing and service information, only two of the second set offered less than excellent information in all categories. The second set had less poor quality information and slightly more missing information than our set of cooperatively-run networks. Municipal networks remained the most transparent. 

Though many of the fixed wireless providers originally studied do seem to claim the greatest number of potential customers, we agree with some reviewers that they are not actually among the largest fixed wireless ISPs with the most subscribers. The new list of WISPs, which is included alongside the original one on the Broadband Transparency Rule Compliance Scorecard, may be a more accurate representation of providers’ transparency practices in this industry. 

We also point out the significant variation in transparency practices between providers of the same type of service, which has been made visible by adding these new wireless providers to the scorecard. While we did expect to see variability between WISPs in particular, we’re interested in whether this variability exists in...

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Posted January 20, 2022 by Christopher Mitchell

With all due respect to Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr, his reaction to the Rescue Plan Act's State & Local Fiscal Recovery Fund (SLFRF) spending rules is way off base. As I wrote last week, the rules for broadband infrastructure spending are a good model for pushing down decision-making to the local level where people actually have the information to make informed decisions. (Doug Dawson recently also responded to Commissioner Carr’s statement, offering a response with some overlap of the points below.) 

The Final Rule from the Treasury Department gives broad discretion to local and state governments that choose to spend some of the SLFRF (SLurF-uRF) funds on broadband infrastructure. The earlier draft of rules made it more complicated for networks built to address urban affordability challenges.

However, in coming out against the rules, FCC Commissioner Carr is giving voice to the anger of the big cable and telephone monopolies that cities can, after collecting evidence of need, make broadband investments even in areas where those companies may be selling services already. Commissioner Carr may also be frustrated that he has been reduced to chirping from the sidelines on this issue because the previous FCC, under his party’s leadership, so badly bungled broadband subsidies in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) that Congress decide NTIA should administer these funds and have the state distribute them. 

Nonetheless, the issues that Commissioner Carr raised are common talking points inside the Beltway and we feel that they need to be addressed. 

Background Note

The failure of the FCC to assemble an accurate data collection is many years in the making. No single presidential administration can take the full blame for it, but each of them could have corrected it. 

President Biden’s FCC is not yet fully assembled because of delays in appointment and in Senate confirmation, but it would not be reasonable to lay blame on the current FCC for the failures discussed below. That said, it is not clear that we are on a course for having better maps and data that will resolve these problems anytime soon...

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Posted January 18, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

Community broadband advocates in New York rang in the new year celebrating Gov. Kathy Hochul’s announcement of a proposed $1 billion investment to beef up broadband in the Empire State. If state lawmakers move to enact the initiative, it would be what the Governor’s office describes as “the largest ever investment in New York's 21st century infrastructure.”

During her State of the State speech, Gov. Hochul unveiled the ConnectAll Initiative, which aims to “deliver affordable broadband to millions of New Yorkers and transform the state's digital infrastructure through new investments,” with municipal broadband as a centerpiece of the plan.

In announcing the new initiative – which would be funded with a combination of up to $300 million in state funds, $345 million in federal funds, with the rest to eventually come from the recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act – Gov. Hochul said:

The pandemic exposed how without broadband Internet, New Yorkers can be disconnected from school, work, and families. The ConnectALL Initiative will empower local municipalities and state agencies to set up nation-leading broadband infrastructure statewide, ensuring that every New Yorker has access to the Internet when they need it.

Six-Part Strategy

The plan not only creates a new ConnectALL Office, it directs the office to work in conjunction with other state agencies in overseeing the major components of the effort, following a six-part strategy that includes:

The creation of a Broadband Assessment Program and Interactive Map. Administered by the state’s Public Service Commission, the Broadband Assessment Program would build the state’s “first ever, in-depth interactive broadband map” that will show where broadband infrastructure is available and how reliable it is across the state. This would be a central...

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Posted January 13, 2022 by Maren Machles

Once a booming center of manufacturing, Allentown, PA (pop. 120,900) is looking to reinvigorate its economy by reinventing itself as a modern 21st century “smart city,” bringing fiber-to-the-home Internet connectivity to every resident in the city.

In October, the city proposed using $7 million of its $57 million in American Rescue Act Funds to aid in the deployment of a citywide FTTH network. City leaders hope the investment will help them reach the goal outlined in its strategic economic development plan to become a smart city by 2030.

The city will work with Iota Communications to conduct a feasibility study they hope will be complete in the coming months. While the possibility of a FTTH network is in the early stages for the city, the proposal signals a serious ambition to bridge the digital divide in the region.

Feeling The Way Forward

Allentown is one of three cities that make up a larger geographic area known as Lehigh Valley, with the other cities being Easton (pop. 27,000) and Bethlehem (pop. 75,500). For a while now, leaders in the valley have been talking about the digital divide and it’s been made clear with the pandemic that it can no longer be put on the backburner.

Pennsylvania lawmakers passed a law 2019 clearing the way for municipalities to have more of a say in how 5G is deployed in their communities. And while many local officials say the new law will help pave the way for Allentown to stay ahead of the curve, some have cautioned that a focus on 5G is a major distraction.

“My caution (at a recent roundtable) was that putting our focus on 5G and not focusing on the digital divide that still exists would be leapfrogging over the problem,” Lehigh University Diversity, Inclusion and Equity Officer Donald Outing told LehighValleyLive.com. “5G will not resolve that digital divide. If we are not intentional about our efforts...

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Posted January 5, 2022 by Karl Bode

Since 1972, the Fort Pierce Utilities Authority (FPUA) has provided gas, electric, water, and natural gas services to Fort Pierce, Florida and surrounding areas. Now, inspired by efforts in cities like Chattanooga, the utility hopes to leverage that expertise to deliver affordable fiber Internet access to the city’s 45,000 residents as part of a significant expansion of its internal fiber network. 

Building on Its I-Net

Since the early 2000s, FPUA has deployed 110 miles of optical fiber via its FPUAnet Communications division. Initially, the project focused on bringing ultra-fast fiber broadband to large businesses, schools, hospitals, and other community anchor institutions. 

In 2018, the city decided to expand its footprint to boost the local economy and cement Fort Pierce’s future reputation as a smart city of the future. First by upgrading the company’s existing utility systems (connected to 30,000 existing customer energy meters), then by utilizing that access to drive expanded fiber connectivity to smaller business and residential customers alike. 

“We wanted to look at what we can do, and what are the needs in the community,” Jason Mittler, FPUAnet manager told me. “We have other local competition…Comcast, AT&T are competitors in the area. But in the realm of symmetrical speeds, no one really offers it.”

Fort Pierce certainly isn’t alone in that regard. Even the notoriously inflated FCC data indicates that most U.S. communities rarely have access to symmetrical speeds of 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) downstream and faster, and competition at those speeds is largely nonexistent. Addressing this market failure created an obvious business expansion opportunity for FPUANet that would not only bring additional value to its existing utility customers in the form of improved reliability and cost savings, but improve regional connectivity while keeping those dollars local

“Upload speeds here in Fort Pierce are not good,” Mittler noted, pointing to the top-heavy speed tiers of both cable broadband and DSL offerings. In contrast, FPUAnet will utilize GPON fiber...

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Posted January 3, 2022 by Karl Bode

Over 230 communities have applied for National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Broadband Infrastructure Program grants. But community leaders increasingly say they’re facing costly, unnecessary challenges from incumbent broadband providers, who are exploiting unreliable U.S. broadband maps to overstate existing coverage and defend the status quo.

The NTIA’s $288 million grant program - and the looming $42 billion broadband infrastructure investment plan - will help bring affordable broadband to the roughly 20-30 million Americans without broadband, and the 83 million Americans currently living under a broadband monopoly.

In Grafton County, New Hampshire, 39 municipalities are part of a growing list of communities exploring home-grown broadband alternatives. They represent a grassroots movement driven by frustration with market failure that accelerated during the Covid-19 crisis. In response they’ve bonded together to apply for a $26.2 million NTIA grant to improve the region’s substandard broadband.

A Little Something Called Competition

Grafton hopes to use the NTIA funding to provide a middle mile fiber network, making it easier for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to service each municipality and the county’s 90,000 residents. The network will be open access, inviting numerous ISPs to compete over the same shared infrastructure. Studies have repeatedly shown such open access models result in better, cheaper, faster service

“The whole idea is that we want to facilitate competition,” Bristol town administrator Nik Coates shared in a recent phone interview. “I get at least an email a day from people contacting me about how bad their service is.” According to the FCC Form 477 data (which can dramatically overstate access), there are more than 5,300 people in the county completely unserved by wireline connections capable of speeds at 25/3...

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Posted December 29, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

As you curl up by the fire this holiday season, we invite you to take the opportunity to watch (or rewatch!) a collection of excellent short films and documentaries that explore the challenges, obstacles, and success stories for communities all over the country looking to improve Internet access. 

From Cullen Hoback's "Do Not Pass Go," chronicling the impact of monopoly power in Pinetops, North Carolina, to fun and informative tours of the community networks in Ammon, Idaho and Sandy, Oregon, to a short history of the birth of community broadband in the United States, there's something for everyone. 

Check out the Fiber Film Festival collection here, and please share!

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