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Multnomah County, Municipal Broadband PDX, Reaching Out to Residents for Feedback, Ideas on Network
Earlier this year, community leaders in Portland, Oregon, decided to join other cities in Multnomah County to commission a broadband feasibility study. The goal of the study is to examine the potential for publicly owned broadband network options in the region. Portland's decision to join in the study strengthened the project. As the study moves forward, community leaders and broadband advocates are asking for input from citizens to determine how best to develop a municipal broadband network project.
Spreading the Word and Keeping the Public Engaged
Since their founding, we’ve followed the work of Municipal Broadband PDX, a grassroots collection of residents and businesses working to inform the community about the potential for publicly owned broadband in the region.
The group started off with a bang, by releasing a cool, nerdy video about the need to bring competition to Portland and Multnomah County. They’ve been especially diligent in keeping the public informed about County Board and City Council meetings in which the project is discussed. Their efforts at keeping the public abreast of developments have contributed to the advancement of the project.
Now that the feasibility study is being developed, Municipal Broadband PDX has organized several town hall meetings to share and inform. The goal of the meetings is to allow local elected officials the opportunity to discuss the project progress. In addition, organizers want people attending the meetings to provide “ideas, needs, and wants about Internet access.” They want to make the network a success by keeping lines of communication open and understanding the needs of the public.
The first Broadband Town Hall attracted 75 residents in Northeast Portland on December 4th. The next meeting is scheduled for December 17th in Gresham at the Multnomah County East Building, 600 NE 8th Street, in the Sharron Kelley Room A & B. Elected officials at the event will be:
Christopher to Talk at Muni Fiber Palo Alto Informational Event July 9th
On July 9th, Christopher will be in Palo Alto, California, for a talk on municipal networks and the possibilities as the city searches for better connectivity. Organizers from Muni Fiber Palo Alto will also host a screening of the documentary "Do Not Pass Go." Attendees will have the opportunity to ask questions at the end of the presentation.
Details for the event:
Muni Fiber Palo Alto - How and Why
July 9, 2019 at 7 p.m.
Mitchell Park Community Center
3700 Middlefield Road
El Palo Alto Room West
Palo Alto, California
Google map to the event location
Long Road to Change
For about two decades, Palo Alto has contemplated the possibilities of a municipal fiber optic network. We recently shared an opinion piece by Jeff Hoel, who moved to Palo Alto years ago, in part because he thought the community was sure to invest in citywide Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) infrastructure. As a retired electrical engineer, the ability to get the best connectivity has always been a priority for Jeff. He's still waiting for the city to deploy fiber citywide.
Palo Alto currently leases out dark fiber, generating revenue that goes into a fiber optic fund. With approximately $26 million stashed away so far, Jeff and others are asking Palo Alto to move beyond feasibility studies or private sector partner searches, and build a municipal network. Launching Muni Fiber Palo Alto was one of the first steps to stirring local support; public information meetings like the one on July 9th will also help grow interest.
Support Growing for Muni Initiative in Falmouth
People in Falmouth, Massachusetts, met on June 4th to discuss the possibilities of developing a municipal network in their city. About 80 people attended the meeting, which they held at the local library. By the end of the evening, attendees had discovered more about the process to build a community network, how their city may move forward, and determined that a key element will be building local support from residents and businesses.
An Advantage on the Cape
Even though Falmouth doesn’t have its own electric utility, as do many towns that ultimately develop municipal broadband networks, the city already has an edge — fiber from nonprofit OpenCape already connects approximately 40 municipal facilities and other community anchor institutions (CAIs). David Isenberg, a resident and former FCC senior advisor, helped organize the meeting and noted that the OpenCape infrastructure will provide an option for better connectivity in the community:
“There is a lot of OpenCape infrastructure in Falmouth that is already here for us to use,” Mr. Isenberg said.
OpenCape could hypothetically manage the community-based fiber-optic network, he said. Other options include the Town of Falmouth, a utility district, the Economic Development and Industrial Corporation or a public/private partnership. A feasibility study would determine the viability of those options.
David Talbot from CTC Technology and Energy was on hand to discuss what sorts of issues a feasibility study would address. A study would help the community determine what assets they have that can facilitate a community network, identify where the existing infrastructure’s gaps are, create a basic network design, and offer a strategy and cost estimates.
"We Can Do This," Says Palo Alto Muni Fiber Leader
During the 20-year on-again-off-again relationship between Palo Alto and a possible fiber optic municipal network, the people of the community have waited while plans have changed, leadership has shifted, and city staff has researched potential infrastructure plans. For the people of the city, it’s a long time to be patient. In a recent opinion piece, resident Jeff Hoel described his long wait and expressed why his city needs to finally move forward and create a citywide municipal Fiber-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network.
Knows of What He Speaks
As a retired electrical engineer who has intimate knowledge of technology and networking, Jeff writes in his piece that one of the reasons he moved to Palo Alto in 1998 was because the city was considering deploying a community network. At the time, Palo Alto had already invested in dark fiber, which they have used to generate approximately $2.1 million per year through leases. The revenue has been held in a fiber optic fund, which has grown to around $26 million.
Over the years, the city has commissioned studies and community leaders have publicly advocated for an expansion of the network to a citywide utility for residents and businesses. Palo Alto’s residents have supported the idea, but stumbles in securing funding, difficulties locating private sector partners for a P3, and a failed bid to bring Google to town, have all left the city with no fiber optic network.
Express Your Support for Community Networks With This Constituent Letter
If you believe that publicly owned Internet networks are one of the tools that can help in efforts to expand fast, affordable, reliable connectivity to people in your state, and you want to share your thoughts with elected officials, use this language to get started. There may not be a project being developed in your area or a specific bill that you support, but you know that you want decision makers to vote favorably on measures that advance policies and financially support local authority and communities’ efforts to improve local connectivity through publicly owned broadband infrastructure. We’ve created a brief constituent letter/email that you can use to get started in drafting correspondence to state and federal lawmakers that convey your support for publicly owned Internet networks and local authority.
Keep It Simple, Keep It Effective
State and federal legislators typically serve on multiple committees and, as a result, their time spent on each issue is often limited. In order to encourage them to digest your full letter, stating your thoughts in a brief letter or email is often the most effective. Being direct, polite, and supportive goes along way with Representatives, Senators, and their staff.
You can include examples from your own state or from other places to help politicians and their staff learn more about the advantages of community broadband networks. Large national Internet access companies spend millions each year to employ lobbyists who spread negative misinformation about publicly owned broadband networks. You can help balance those efforts by sharing some of the positive results. Use our Municipal FTTH Networks page, the Economic Development page, search a specific state on MuniNetworks.org, or click on one of the pins on the Community Network Map to find a sample network.
Holyoke Ballot Will Gauge Feasibility Study Interest This Fall
After a citizen effort in Holyoke, Massachusetts, community leaders will let voters decide this fall on the question of analyzing Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) possibilities.
At the April 4th city council meeting, community leaders passed a recommendation that a nonbinding public opinion advisory question be put on the ballot in November:
Should the Holyoke Gas and Electric conduct a feasibility study on a gradual roll out of fiber optic internet for residents of the City to purchase, and the findings be presented at a City Council meeting by April 2022 or sooner?
There was one Councilor absent and one nonparticipating member of the Council; the measure passed 7 - 4.
First Stop in Committee
The decision to bring the question to voters came after the city’s Charter and Rules Committee reviewed a citizens’ petition in mid-March. A group of citizen gathered signatures for the petition to ask Holyoke Gas & Electric (HG&E) to conduct a feasibility for an incremental deployment for residential premises in Holyoke. HG&E currently offers fiber connectivity to commercial subscribers.
Resident Laura Clampitt appeared at the committee meeting to speak in favor of the measure. She and another local resident, Ken Lefbvre, have lead efforts encouraging city leaders to move toward a feasibility study. Locals have shared information via a Facebook page to keep the public up-to-date on the proposal:
“These residents would love to purchase those services as well,” Clampitt said. “We would like to encourage HG&E to explore that option and present those findings in a public manner."
Comedian Tackles Connectivity - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 347
On a typical episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, you’ll hear from a guest whose community may be in the process of deploying a publicly owned fiber network, or an elected official who has championed a broadband-friendly policy for their city or town. Sometimes we talk to local business leaders or cooperative board members who’ve led their communities toward better connectivity. For the first time ever, we have a comedian on the show this week — Ron Placone. What does this mean? Not that the issue of publicly owned networks is joke material, but that it’s something that people from all walks of life care about.
Ron is host of the streaming show, “Get Your News on With Ron,” a show driven by its audience. He has a popular YouTube channel and is regularly on the Jimmy Door Show and The Young Turks, often discussing municipal networks and the importance of network neutrality. In his home town of Pasadena, Ron is also a broadband champion, inspiring fellow citizens to attend City Council meetings and encourage elected officials to consider the possibility of a publicly owned broadband network. Christopher and Ron discuss how Ron’s using his ability to reach people to help spread the word about the benefits of municipal network and some of the challenges he’s faced as a citizen advocate.
They discuss the relationship between municipal networks and network neutrality. As an artist and journalist, Ron is a steadfast believer in the tenets of network neutrality and like many people, see that local broadband networks can provide it.
Last October, Christopher appeared on Ron’s show:
For more of Ron’s videos, from comedy to news to more conversations on municipal broadband, check out his YouTube channel. You can also go to ronplacone.com for more information.
This show is 29 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed.
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. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.
Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.
Tennessee Senator Tries Again With Bill to Restore Local Authority
Senator Janice Bowling has become a broadband hero in rural Tennessee and on the pages of MuniNetworks.org. Year after year, she introduces legislation aimed at expanding local authority to allow communities the ability to improve connectivity. She’s back this year with several bills aimed at expanding fiber in rural areas.
Seeking Better Connectivity…That’s All
Like Bowling’s past legislation, related bills SB 489, SB 490, and SB 494 grant municipal electric utilities the authority “to provide telecommunications service, including broadband service” and specifies that they can do so beyond their electric service area. This change in the current law would allow places like her own community of Tullahoma to expand to serve neighboring towns. There is no fiscal impact from the Senator’s bills.
Bowling has seen firsthand how access to fiber optic infrastructure, such as Tullahoma’s LightTUBe, lifts economic development, improves educational opportunities, and helps a local community reduce costs. The city has thrived since investing in the network in 2009, while many of the communities that have had to rely on subpar service from the larger incumbents have limped along.
SB 489 also extends authority for municipalities to collaboration for telecommunications and broadband service, to ease any uncertainty about public-private partnerships.
Local Leaders Looking at Muni Possibilities in Northampton, Massachusetts
In May 2018, Mark Hamill and Lee Feldscher penned an opinion piece that ran in the Northampton Daily Hampshire Gazette. In their article, they laid out all the reasons why they believed their city needs a publicly owned Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. Nine months later, city leaders have approved funding for the first of a two-part feasibility study.
Comcast, the City Council, and Community Input
As the Hampshire County seat and home to about 26,000 people, Northampton, Massachusetts, has attracted Comcast as an Internet service provider. The presence of a cable Internet ISP means better connectivity than in most rural areas, but it also has evolved into lack of competition. As is often the result, residents experience poor customer service and are hungry for local Internet choice.
At a February 21st City Council meeting, Hamill and Feldscher spoke in favor of the feasibility study. They also presented a petition created by their grassroots group, Northampton Community Network, filled with hundreds of signatures.
Feldscher presented the signatures to the mayor at the meeting.
“The unanimous response we received from people was, “Sure, I hate Comcast, where can I sign?” Feldscher said.
At the February 21st meeting, City Council approved funding to survey residents in Northampton to learn more about the potential of a municipal network. The funding, estimated at around $30,000 will come from the city’s Capital Improvement Program. The city will survey the community in 2020 and complete the feasibility study in 2021. Completing the study will cost approximately $40,000.
Portland Is In: City to Contribute to Regional Feasibility Study
In a February Facebook post, the good folks at Municipal Broadband PDX out of Portland, Oregon, shared the news that the city will be contributing to the cost of a broadband feasibility study. The $25,000 city pledge, pooled with the funds the group has raised so far, brings the total funds for a feasibility study to $225,000. The group learned of the city’s intention to contribute on February 2nd and shared the news immediately.
In order to keep the momentum high, leadership at Municipal Broadband PDX are encouraging people to attend a Multnomah County Board meeting on Thursday, February 7th. Multnomah County has already committed $150,000 for the study and the communities of Gresham, Troutdale, Fairview, and Wood Village were also early to express their support.
Grassroots and Growing
In November, Portland was chosen as one of 35 communities as part of the Neighborly Community Broadband Accelerator Program. The program provides access to experts, mapping, and financial tools to help local communities get their projects off the ground.
The grassroots organization launched in the summer of 2018 with the intention of guiding local residents and businesses toward motivating Portland and Multnomah County leaders. They believe that high-quality Internet access is a public utility and should be provided to every member of society in the same way every one has access to electricity. Municipal Broadband PDX also strongly supports network neutrality and believes that lower-income households should have the same access to the Internet as higher-income folks. Their goal is “Internet for the People.”