Tag: "astroturf"

Posted September 29, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

Last week, our own Christopher Mitchell, Director of ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative, was the featured guest on the Broadband.Money “Ask Me Anything” series.

The one-hour live program, which invites leading minds in the broadband industry to talk candidly about their knowledge and perspective on broadband-related matters, was moderated by Drew Clark, editor and publisher of the online news outlet Broadband Breakfast.

Evolution of Community Broadband Networks Initiative

The discussion began with Christopher sharing why he joined ILSR over 15 years ago and how the Community Broadband Networks Initiative has evolved over the years.

The core mission of the initiative, he said, “has to do with research and telling stories; seeing what is working for communities … to solve these problems around making sure everyone has high quality Internet access, and they can use it. Every few years, I feel like we change our focus a little bit just based on what is needed. And the way that we do that is, we are constantly talking with people that are out doing the hard work,” Christopher explained.

And while the focus of the CBN team has been on research and publishing stories about the birth and development of publicly-owned, locally-controlled broadband networks across the nation, Christopher noted that ILSR “is not pro municipal network, necessarily.”

We are pro-strong communities. We want communities that are economically and politically able to chart their own course in life. And if we have failing municipal broadband networks – that’s not going to help the community. We are seen as being pro-municipal (broadband), but we are very cautious in wanting to make sure that communities are making this decision in an informed way and taking it seriously.

Meeting the Moment

After discussing the origins and philosophy behind the initiative, Drew and Christopher delve into the “Astroturf” campaigns funded by Big Telecom that are designed to...

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Posted August 2, 2022 by Ry Marcattilio

This week on the podcast, Christopher is joined by Sean Gonsalves, Senior Reporter and Editor at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. During the conversation, they talk about the value and concrete results of going small and stacking up targeted wins as a path for cities facing less of an appetite for big, bold projects, before digging into recent astroturf campaigns by monopoly Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

Led by the Alliance for Quality Broadband (AQB) (really a lobbying group including providers like Charter Spectrum and others), municipal broadband efforts have seen recent setbacks in places like Southport, Maine. It's a campaign being waged both in print flyers and online facebook ads, with AQB driving misinformation efforts and attempting to scare citizens away from upcoming votes on projects to improve local connectivity after years of underinvestment by incumbents (like Charter Spectrum). 

Christopher and Sean fact check the Alliance for Quality Broadband's bogus claims about the failure of muncipal efforts across the country in places like Pennsylvania, Minnesota, California, Florida, and Vermont, and unpack the deep-seated fear of competition driving such efforts.

Listen to Christopher's in-depth interview with Harold Depriest about Chattanooga, referenced in the episode.

Watch the most recent episode of the Connect This! Show to see Christopher and Travis Carter (USI Fiber) talk with Peggy Schaffer (Director, ConnectME), Andrew Butcher (President, Maine Connectivity Authority), and Christa Thorpe (Community Development Officer, Island Institute) about anti-municipal broadband efforts in Maine.

This show is 38 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...

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Posted July 26, 2022 by Ry Marcattilio

Join us live on Thursday, July 28th, at 4pm ET for the latest episode of the Connect This! Show. Co-hosts Christopher Mitchell (ILSR) and Travis Carter (USI Fiber) will be joined by Peggy Schaffer (Director, ConnectME), Andrew Butcher (President, Maine Connectivity Authority), and Christa Thorpe (Community Development Officer, Island Institute).

The panel will dig into recent anti-municipal propaganda in the New England area, with an emphasis on Maine. They'll talk about the astroturf campaign being waged by groups like the Alliance for Quality Broadband (a front organization for Charter Spectrum) and recent blows to municipal broadband they've fueled in places like Southport and Readfield. The panel will talk who really loses out when the monopoly providers persuade voters and local officials to defer leadership on imrpoving community connectivity. Christa Thorpe will join halfway through the show to share her experiences and perspective.

Subscribe to the show using this feed, view the show on YouTube Live or on Facebook Live, or find it on the Connect This! page.

Email us broadband@muninetworks.org with feedback and ideas for the show.

Watch here on YouTube Live, here on Facebook live, or below.

Posted April 27, 2022 by Christopher Mitchell

Gigi Sohn is still up for confirmation by the Senate to complete the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) - an independent agency in the executive branch of the federal government that has been stuck at a 2-2 split of Democrats and Republicans since President Biden took office. The FCC is supposed to operate with five commissioners, with the party of the President in power having 3 seats. 

She was the obvious choice in December of 2020, when it was clear that Joe Biden would take office. With decades of history in telecom and media-related policy as well as a recent stint as Counselor to Tom Wheeler when he was Chair of the FCC, she would be among the most-qualified people to serve on it since I began working in telecom in 2007. And by among, I mean at the top.

I’ve known Gigi for many years and respected her from the first time I saw her in action. She isn’t a political agent trying to figure out the best path to the top. She has strong beliefs, and she’ll tell you what they are in a wonderful Long Island blur of passion. She respects other beliefs and ideas but she isn’t going to pretend she agrees with you when she doesn’t. 

Maybe my word isn’t that persuasive, because I tend to agree with Sohn on many issues. But a lot of people with far more credibility among conservatives have spoken up on Gigi. So I hadn’t written anything about this because I assumed it would take time but Gigi would get confirmed. Plus, I focus my work outside DC and there is a lot going on that is keeping us busy. 

Gigi was always under fire by the likes of the Wall Street Journal Opinion page, which has made baseless claims about her not being committed to free speech, using tortured logic around denying mergers. If I went off every time that bunch embarrassed the good work of their reporters, I wouldn’t do anything else. 

But then some allies forwarded me claims coming from former North Dakota Senator Heidi...

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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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