Tag: "competition"

Posted December 23, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

As the Biden Administration is working with Senate Republicans and Democrats on a proposed infrastructure deal which now includes a $65 billion federal investment to expand broadband access, the details of how that money should be spent and where those investments should be targeted have yet to be decided.

In a new policy brief, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance looks to provide clarity for policy-makers by exploring the real challenges of America’s connectivity crisis. The brief aims to clear up a common misunderstanding of exactly where the digital divide is located.

Digital Divide is Not Urban Vs. Rural, It’s Both

It does so by explaining why high-speed Internet access is not a challenge confined primarily within rural America. A lack of fast, reliable, and affordable broadband is also a major problem in urban and suburban America.

As the brief details, millions of citizens could subscribe for service right now, if only they could afford it — but they cannot. In fact, most recent municipal broadband systems were built to resolve problems with monopoly excess, not the absence of broadband. Many of the places that appear from the DC as though they have gigabit services actually have unreliable networks that are not getting the job done.

The Case for Prioritizing Local Community Efforts

The brief further elaborates on how America’s connectivity crisis has been created by uncompetitive market conditions, a dilemma that actually presents three interconnected challenges: Access, Affordability and Adoption. 

Finally, the brief makes the case for why the federal and state governments should support local governments in resolving these challenges, rather than continuing to blindly hand out subsidies to the companies with the best government affairs' staff.

Read The Problem(s) of Broadband in America here [pdf].

Posted December 20, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

FairlawnGig has released a new, short, six-minute video that captures why broadband infrastructure is essential for improving quality of life and boosting economic development in communities across Ohio, highlighting a lesson more cities and towns across the nation are learning first-hand: if the goal is to build a bridge over the digital divide, local communities will likely have to build it themselves.

The video (which you can watch in its entirety by clicking on the video embedded below) also serves as a subtle but fitting admonition of an anonymous state Senator who submitted an amendment into the state budget earlier this year. If passed, it would have threatened to put the award-winning fiber network out of business and prevented other communities in the Buckeye State from following in Fairlawn’s footsteps.

Thankfully, the amendment – a gift to incumbent monopoly ISPs intent on crushing any competition – was rejected after state lawmakers were inundated with constituent complaints about the “in the dark of night” proposal.

Compelled to Take It on Themselves

Fairlawn, a small city of approximately 7,500 Ohioans about 10 miles northeast of Akron, created a telecommunications utility in 2015 to bring city-wide access to high-speed Internet service after years of dealing with subpar broadband offerings. Today, the network enjoys a take-rate of 60 percent while subscribers enjoy a choice of three residential services tiers: a 300 Megabits per second symmetrical connection for $55/month; symmetrical gig speed service for $75/month; or 2.5 Gigabits per second service for $149/month.

In the video, the narrator begins with an observation that is fast becoming obvious to just about everyone:

Many communities in the U.S. are being left behind due to a lack of adequate Internet service and access to state of the art technology.

...
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Posted December 17, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

In August we reported on the effort to bring municipal fiber-to-the-home service to Gainesville. At the time, city commissioners were wrestling with whether to spend a portion of its American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to start construction on the first phase of a citywide fiber network.

After postponing a previously scheduled vote on how to spend the money at a meeting in October, city commissioners earlier this month voted to set aside $9.6 million of the city’s $32 million in Rescue Plan funds to extend its existing fiber network to connect over 2,000 businesses and nearly 10,000 homes in areas of the north central Florida city identified by planners as neighborhoods where service is most needed. Those neighborhoods include Springhill, Grove Street, Oakview Duckpond, Stephen Foster, Lincoln Estates, Duval, and Highland Court Manor.

“This is a huge step forward for our community,” said Bryan Eastman, founder of Connected Gainesville, a citizen-led advocacy group that launched in 2017 pushing for the city’s utility company to build out its existing fiber network to serve all of Alachua County.

Our city residents are tired of the status quo and are ready for a more connected future with better Internet [access] options. Thank you to our city commission for investing in this future. This is not the final vote on this, but it's the biggest step we've taken yet.

‘Powerful forces’ Lurk Behind-the-Scenes

While city commissioners voted to “set aside” the ARPA funds for broadband expansion, it was not a final vote to fund the project. The final vote is slated for January 6, 2022 after commissioners hear from city staff on how they intend to roll out the initiative.

Eastman said that while the final vote seems likely to pass, now is the time to keep pushing.

“There are still powerful forces that don’t want this to come to fruition, so we’re doing everything we can to get citizens to reach out and tell their commissioners they want municipal broadband in Gainesville,” he told us earlier this week.

Majority Believe Expanding Broadband Access is ‘Essential’

Gainesville Regional Utility (GRU) has...

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Posted December 16, 2021 by Maren Machles

While it’s been somewhat of a rarity in larger metropolitan areas, the city of Alexandria, Virginia (pop. 158,000) is hoping to bring residents fast, reliable Internet access by building out an institutional network (I-Net) in the state’s seventh largest city.

Construction of the I-Net, which is expected to be completed by February 2025, will connect the city’s schools, public safety buildings and other facilities, and lay the foundation for a city-wide fiber-to-the-home network.

Instead of waiting for Comcast to give residents the service they need, in August the city broke ground on the project that was long in the works. The main aim is to connect government facilities with the hope that the city will lease out the conduit to a private Internet Service Provider (ISP) as a way to incent more broadband competition.

According to the city’s broadband webpage: the “Municipal Fiber project will create potential partnership opportunities to expand consumer choice and increase available speeds for broadband services.” If the city moves forward with a public-private partnership, it could make the municipal network one of the largest in the country.  

City officials have created a Request for Proposals (RFP) process, in which they will be looking for ISPs that have a track record of connecting other communities in the state. The winning bidder would then be given a contract to build a fiber network that best serves the public interest, working closely with the city in deploying network infrastructure.

Broadband In the Works

Virginia is one of the 17 states that puts restrictions on municipal networks, mandating that “municipal networks impute private sector costs, pay additional taxes, set excessively high prices, and/or refrain from subsidizing affordable service, in the name of protecting private ‘competition.’” But that hasn’t stopped city officials from finding solutions to the lack of high-speed connectivity in the community.

The most recent development in Alexandria is ...

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Posted December 8, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Earlier this month, Waterloo City Councilors unanimously approved a $2.5 million contract using its American Rescue Plan funds to hire Magellan Advisors to design and engineer a fiber-to-the-home network for the ninth-largest city in Iowa (est. population 68,000).

The plan, as we previously reported, is to deploy 309 miles of underground fiber across the city, which according to Magellan’s proposed contract, will pass “nearly every household and business throughout the community.”

Although the design and engineering work will provide city officials with an official estimate on how much it will cost to build the network, a study commissioned by the Waterloo Industrial Development Association (WIDA) in 2019 estimated it would cost between $39 million and $65 million to construct a city-wide network, according to the Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier.

The city’s Chief Financial Officer, Michelle Weidner, told Government Technology magazine the city is likewise eyeing American Rescue Plan funds to help pay for construction costs, although City Councilor Pat Morrissey noted that a bond issue will likely be necessary – something that Morrissey said is well worth it “in the long run.”

"You don't grow a community by cutting, you grow a community by investing," Morrissey said. "And what we as taxpayers will be doing is investing in something that is so long overdue, and I believe will be so appreciated."

Long Time Coming

While Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart touted his 2030 Vision Plan, which included bringing better broadband to the city in his recent...

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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, totaling $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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