Tag: "astroturf"

Posted June 17, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Last Tuesday, residents of three coastal Maine communities - Camden, Rockport, and Thomaston - voted to support Town Meeting articles authorizing each town's Select Boards to enter an interlocal agreement establishing the MidCoast Internet Development Corporation (MIDC), a nonprofit regional broadband utility in the Penobscot Bay Region of MidCoast Maine.

The type of regional utility the communities are seeking to establish is a broadband network utilizing an open-access model, in which the fiber infrastructure is municipally-owned, the maintenance of the network is managed by an outside firm, and private Internet Service Providers (ISPs) provide retail service to end-users. The ultimate goal of MIDC is to build an open-access, Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to provide universal Internet access across any towns which vote to sign onto MIDC’s interlocal agreement.

More than nine communities located in Knox and Waldo County formed the MidCoast Internet Coalition earlier this year, to indicate their support of establishing the MIDC regional utility district. Now, the towns which form the MidCoast Internet Coalition (Northport, Lincolnville, Hope, Camden, Rockport, Rockland, Thomaston, South Thomaston, Union, and Owls Head) are voting in phases to sign onto an interlocal agreement, legally recognizing the public utility under Maine law.

Faced with aging populations, a need to consider their economic futures, and no hope of investment from the monopoly ISPs, many cities across Maine have joined forces to develop their own publicly-owned broadband utilities. MIDC is one of three regional broadband utilities in Maine, alongside the Katahdin Region Broadband Utility and the Downeast Broadband Utility (DBU). MIDC will follow the same regional approach as DBU, a utility which found deploying a fiber network and allowing local ISPs to offer services over the infrastructure was the most feasible approach to ensure high-speed, reliable Internet was accessible to residents. Since being established in 2018, DBU now...

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Posted June 4, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Since it was first introduced in Congress in March, the Community Broadband Act of 2021 has gained widespread support from over 45 organizations representing local governments, public utilities, racial equity groups, private industry, and citizen advocates. 

The legislation -- introduced by U.S. Representatives Anna Eshoo, Jared Golden, and U.S. Senator Cory Booker -- would authorize local communities to build and maintain their own Internet infrastructure by prohibiting laws in 17 states that ban or limit the ability of state, regional, and local governments to build broadband networks and provide Internet services. 

The Act also overturns state laws that restrict electric cooperatives' ability to provide Internet services, as well as laws that restrain public agencies from entering into public-private partnerships.

States have started to remove some long-standing barriers to public broadband on their own. In the last year, state lawmakers in both Arkansas and Washington removed significant barriers to municipal broadband networks, as high-quality Internet with upload speeds sufficient for remote work, distance learning, telehealth, and other online civic and cultural engagement has become essential. 

Community broadband networks offer a path to connect the unconnected to next-generation networks. State barriers have contributed to the lack of competition in the broadband market and most communities will not soon gain access without public investments or, at the very least, the plausible threat of community broadband.

The Many Benefits of Publicly-Owned Networks

Despite the tangle of financial restrictions and legislative limitations public entities face, over 600 communities across the United States have deployed public broadband networks. (See a summary of municipal network success stories...

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Posted February 7, 2018 by Lisa Gonzalez

In an attempt to negatively influence public opinion, the incumbent cable ISP in West Plains, Missouri, was recently caught masquerading behind a phony citizens group. A real group of locals who support the community’s efforts discovered the astroturf connection and, with no way to deny their involvement, Fidelity Communications tried to rationalize away their subversive tactics to poison the project.

The Needs Of West Plains

About a year ago, we connected with City Administrator Tom Stehn, who described the situation in the south central town of about 12,000 people. Stehn told the story of how in 2015, the city decided to connect its municipal facilities with fiber and how, when word got out about the project, people in the business community approached the city. Even though local businesses could get cable Internet access, rates were up to three times higher than similar services in urban areas. There were also reliability issues that interfered with local commerce.

West Plains had also experienced significant job losses in recent years when several employers left town or closed shop. The city considered a fiber network an economic development tool and a way to keep the local hospital and MSU campus connected with high-quality connectivity. Stehn told Christopher that when new businesses considered moving to West Plains, one of the five questions they always asked was, “What kind of Internet access do you have?” It made good sense to expand the original plan to offer local businesses access to the publicly owned network.

West Plains was offering symmetrical connections to local businesses early in 2017 and had even started offering gigabit service.

The Pilot And The Incumbent

fidelity-web-logo.png The city’s effort to bring better connectivity to a wide range of businesses and residents included a pilot project in West Plains’s Southern Hills district. In the fall of 2017, the city offered gigabit Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connectivity to approximately 80 businesses and 14 residences as a way to work out potential issues and refine their services.

Around the same time, incumbent...

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Posted July 14, 2014 by Tom Anderson

This is the first of a three part series, in which we examine the current state of the UTOPIA network, how it got there, and the choices it faces going forward.

At the end of a month of public meetings, hearings, and city council votes, just over half of the cities that make up UTOPIA have chosen to take the next step in their negotiations with the Macquarie Group. The massive Australian investment bank has put forward an offer to become a partner in the troubled network in exchange for a $300 million capital infusion to finish the long-stalled FTTH buildout.

Of the 11 member cities that have debt obligations for the network, six (comprising about 60% of all 163,000 addresses in the UTOPIA area) have voted to proceed to “Milestone 2,” which means digging into details and starting serious negotiations on the terms of a potential public-private partnership. Macquarie outlined their opening proposal in their Milestone 1 report in April.

Macquarie has about $145 billion in assets globally, and is no stranger to large scale infrastructure projects. Their Infrastructure and Real Assets division has stakes in Mexican real estate, Taiwanese broadband networks, Kenyan wind power, and a New Jersey toll bridge, to name just a few. For their UTOPIA investment, they would be working with Alcatel Lucent and Fujitsu, highly capable international IT companies. So there’s some serious corporate firepower across the negotiating table from the UTOPIA cities - and in this case, that’s not actually a bad thing.

Jesse Harris of FreeUTOPIA has an excellent overview of the whole messy history of UTOPIA and the limited options the network’s member cities now face. While the network offers true competition, low prices, and gigabit speeds through an open access FTTH network, UTOPIA has faced a slew of setbacks over the years, from incumbent lawsuits and astroturf activism to mismanagement, poor expansion planning, loan disputes, and restrictive state laws. As a...

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Posted August 22, 2013 by Lisa Gonzalez

Longmont's City Council and municipal power and communications utility are getting serious about bringing fiber to the people. We reported earlier this month about the decision to allow voters to decide how fast they want that next generation network. Longmont Power and Communications (LPC) already plan to expand the existing network to households and businesses but face a long, slow time table over many years if they expand incrementally without bonding. The City Council will ask voters if they will authorize a $44 million bond issue to pay for capital costs, interest and debt-service reserve.

Many in Longmont recall the ferocious opposition they faced during the two previous referendums. The cable industry (mostly Comcast) spent hundreds of thousands of dollars during each campaign, saturating citizens with a deceitful advertising campaign.

Once again, local citizens are forming their own group to support the measure. A Scott Rochat Longmont Times-Call article reports that the group, Friends of Fiber, recently met in Longmont's TinkerMill "hackserspace" to plan initial strategy. The main take-away for participants was "we need more people."

The group does not want to be taken by surprise by the same astroturf groups that spent $250,000 dollars to defeat the referendum question in 2009. While a second referendum passed in 2011 despite even more astroturf spending, Friends of Fiber are taking no chances and mobilizing now. Both of those referenda dealt with the authority to operate the network, not finance an expansion.

From the article:

[Organizer Scott] Converse said the group had to be ready for just as big a fight now. One tactic will be borrowed from the national political campaigns; creating software that will scan the Internet for negative references to the bond issue so that the group can respond quickly.

Vince Jordan, LPC Telecom Manager, note that the utility has updated the original service offering from $59.95 for 25 Mbps to $49.95 for residential 1 gig service. From the meeting:

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Posted July 18, 2013 by Christopher Mitchell

Rant Warning...

Every state has at least one organization, often calling itself a think tank, that is funded by large corporations to advance their narrow interests, often at the expense of local businesses and the larger public.

Many call these "coin operated" think tanks because they take whatever positions their funders want them to take. Or, a more charitable explanation is that some massive corporations are simply channeling money to those few people who honestly believe that we would all be better off if BP or Comcast or Goldman Sachs had no regulations to worry about.

In Minnesota, one of these is called the "Freedom Foundation" of Minnesota. I tend to ignore them for a variety of reasons.

  1. There just isn't enough time.
  2. They are really, really ignorant. Their papers and posts are so filled with errors in basic fact, it would take a LOT of time to correct them - which brings me back to point 1. (Nonetheless, they are influential because the lobbyists of the companies that fund them distribute their propaganda throughout the capitol that they appear to actually live in.)
  3. Mentioning them can legitimize them.

So here I am, mentioning this group because I just noted a curious example of their utter lack of integrity.

For a few years, the "Freedom Foundation" has worked on telecommunications issues, mostly writing nasty, slanted articles twisting the words of public officials to discredit projects. Given the problems faced by Monticello (as we have covered), they have had a field day there - even tracking down a bondholder that is losing part of his investment.

The fallout from Monticello FiberNet will cost bondholders something like $19 million or about 65 percent of their investment. And the City will likely spend millions in public dollars on the network when it was originally to be paid for entirely by the revenue bonds. This is certainly disappointing. But in Monticello, FiberNet is not the only difficulty - Monticello happens to host one of Xcel Energy's nuclear power plants.

Cost overruns there are taking a $320 million project and turning it into a $640 million project, which will be paid for by ratepayers across Minnesota, including myself.

Yikes, right? I mean if the "Freedom Foundation" is incensed at how unjust it is for...

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Posted April 30, 2013 by Lisa Gonzalez

Earlier this year we reported on SB 88 in the Kentucky legislature. The bill, sponsored by Republican Senator Paul Hornback and authored by AT&T, would have eliminated the "carrier of last resort" requirement and reduced consumer protections. A similar bill in 2011 was also defeated by a coalition of public interest groups.

This is one of a series of bills crafted by AT&T and ALEC that has been explained in great depth by the National Regulatory Research Institute in their 2012 review [pdf] as well as by Bruce Kushnick in this report [pdf].

Advocates on the side of consumers, including ILSR, were happy to see the bill defeated in the House. Though AT&T will undoubtedly be back again in future years, this victory shows the massive corporate carriers are vulnerable. In addition to blocking harmful deregulation, this is an example of how an organized coalition can protect the public interest.

I spoke with Mimi Pickering, Director of the Appalshop Community Media Initiative in Whitesburg, Kentucky. She described how local groups defeated the bill with the facts. Appalshop teamed up with nonprofit Kentucky Resources Council (KRC), AARP Kentucky, the AFL-CIO, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, and several other groups. The coalition explained the complexities of the proposal and spelled out what could happen to landline service without consumer protections.

Appalshop Logo

KRC is an environmental advocacy group that helped stop SB 88 by providing critical research to educate the public and lawmakers. In Episode #44 of our podcast, Pickering and...

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Posted April 30, 2013 by Christopher Mitchell

Episode #44 of our Community Broadband Bits podcast expands on our story exploring a major victory over bad AT&T-driven legislation in Kentucky. We welcome Mimi Pickering of Appalshop and Tom FitzGerald of the Kentucky Resources Council.

We discuss why the AT&T-authored bill to gut consumer protections was bad for Kentucky and how a terrific coalition of public interest groups, unions, and others were able to protect the public interest. This was the second time they have defeated a similar bill, offering important lessons to those of us in different states that have not yet abandoned basic consumer protections for the telephone just because AT&T told our legislature they were unnecessary.

Read the transcript from our discussion here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 36 minutes long and can be played below on this page or subscribe via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed. Search for us in iTunes and leave a positive comment!

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Find more episodes in our podcast index.

Thanks to Mount Carmel for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

Posted March 11, 2013 by Lisa Gonzalez

Brendan Fischer of the Center for Media and Democracy's PR Watch examines the ties between HB 282, the people behind it, and how it evolved into a threat to connectivity and local control. Brendan gave us permission to repost the story in full here. Since authoring this story, HB 282 was defeated in Georgia in a floor House vote. However, understanding where these bill comes from is critical, so we still wanted to run this piece.

Community-Owned Internet, Long Targeted by ALEC and Big Telecom, Under Fire in Georgia

Members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in the Georgia Legislature are pushing a bill to thwart locally-owned internet in underserved communities, an industry-sponsored effort that effectively reinforces the digital divide. A vote in the Georgia Assembly is scheduled for Thursday, March 7; if Georgia passes the bill it would be the twentieth state to eliminate community control over internet access.

Rural and Poor Communities Take Control of Internet

As many as one in ten Americans cannot get internet connections that are fast enough for basic activities like streaming video or file sharing, largely because big internet providers like AT&T and Time Warner Cable have refused to provide adequate service to communities where the population is too dispersed or too poor. As local economies become ever more dependent on internet access, though, this digital divide is leaving rural and low-income communities in the dust.

But local governments in places like Wilson, North Carolina and Thomasville, Georgia have taken matters into their own hands: they've built publicly owned high-speed internet to keep their communities viable in the 21st Century. These efforts have ...

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Posted May 31, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

In an unsurprising result, voters in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, chose not to build their own FTTH network. The margin was 58% against, 42% for. According to that article, the opponents (bankrolled largely by national cable company Cox) outspent proponents by 3:1.

We previously covered this plan and were concerned that the number one reason identified for proposing the network was to diversify revenue for the local government. Quite frankly, that is a poor reason to go head to head against massive companies like Cox and CenturyLink.

The biggest benefits of community networks tend to be the hard to quantify -- aggregate savings to the community from lower prices from all providers in a competitive environment, increased economic development, better customer service from a local provider, etc. These networks are built to be financially self-sufficient, but we caution against expecting them to be a piggy bank for the local government.

Unlike the successful Longmont approach, where those advocating for the community network engaged others who had been through similar fights elsewhere, it seemed like Siloam Springs preferred not to ask for help. Meanwhile, Cox tapped its nationwide resources to oppose the network, with misinformation like this:

Siloam Springs Opposition

Download the full size flyer here.

Communities that want to build community networks should engage the wider community of community broadband supporters and be prepared for flyers like this one. And when seeking local support, make sure you find messages that resonate. Make sure you read about the grassroots movement in Lafayette in our recent report or how Chattanooga had hundreds of community meetings to explain its plan.

These networks face stiff opposition from entrenched opponents that want to be the sole gatekeepers to the Internet -- ensuring a real choice means doing real organizing.

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