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Gigi Sohn Speaks: A New Battlefield

A few of us from the Community Broadband Networks Initiative recently attended the BBC Community Toolkit Program & Economic Development conference in downtown Minneapolis. On the first day, Gigi Sohn, Special Counselor for External Affairs for Chairman Wheeler at the FCC received the award from the Coalition for Local Internet Choice for the Local Internet Choice National Champion. The Obama administration’s FCC, under the guidance of Chairman Wheeler and the sage advice of Gigi, has become enlightened to the positive potential of community networks. 

Pressing On

To their credit, the agency has dealt with a number of issues, including network neutrality and a number of other consumer centric matters. We have reported on some of them, but the most central to our work has been the issue of state laws that restrict the deployment and expansion of municipal Internet networks. Gigi, as one of Chairman Wheeler’s top advisors on this matter, played a pivotal role in helping the agency pursue municipal networks as a critical aid to local control, competition, and the ultimate national goal of ubiquitous Internet access.

Gigi reflected on the court battle that reversed the FCC ruling from 2015 preempting state barriers that prevent North Carolina and Tennessee municipal utility Internet networks from serving nearby communities. She noted that advocates shared truths about community networks with data about economic development, competition, and quality of life. The benefits of local authority became clear but, unfortunately, the courts showed us that this is not a battle to be fought on the federal level. The court may have agreed with the fact that municipal networks are beneficial, but they did not believe the FCC had the authority to preempt state laws, even if they are counter-productive.

In other words, in order to obtain local Internet choice, the fight has to also be local:

The battlefield is no longer the FCC and the courts, but state legislatures. And the battle plan is no longer to file convincing petitions and briefs. It is for advocates for local Internet choice to bring every local mayor, city council, business, school, college, library, chamber of commerce and citizen together to convince state officials that for the future of those cities and towns and by extension, the state itself, localities must have the ability to determine their own broadband futures. 

Without a doubt, this new battlefield is much larger and the battle will be much harder, longer and more costly. But victory will be sweeter and less vulnerable to legal challenge if local stakeholders make their voices heard. 

Sohn restated what Chairman Wheeler told us in August:

As he said on the day of the 6th Circuit decision: “Should states seek to repeal their anti-competitive broadband statutes, I will be happy to testify on behalf of better broadband and consumer choice. Should states seek to limit the right of people to act for better broadband, I will be happy to testify on behalf of consumer choice.” Trust me, you’ll never get a more passionate and persuasive advocate than Chairman Tom Wheeler. 

Considering The Future

Looking ahead, Sohn’s words also turned to the practical matters of the physical infrastructure of Internet networks. She urged communities to address the issue of pole attachments as quickly as possible. In addition to obtaining access to poles under the control of incumbents or utility providers, municipalities need to consider the make-ready process. “This ‘make-ready’ process is ripe for gaming by those who disfavor competition,” she observed. Certainly, the games have already commenced, as AT&T has already filed suit to delay Google Fiber deployments in Nashville and in Louisville by preventing make-ready streamlining in those cities.

Even though she spoke of both positive and negative outcomes, Sohn expressed a hopeful excitement for dark fiber. She mentioned the projects in Westminster, Maryland, and Huntsville, Alabama, and spoke positively of a similar open access model.

What Doesn't Kill Us Makes Us Stronger

Sohn left us with the message that, even though we have been through a setback in obtaining local authority, we have profited from the experience as we move the challenge to the state level. She also drew from the promise of opportunity that she sees ahead:

In closing, I’ll paraphrase just about every State of the Union address – “the state of local Internet choice is strong.” This is true despite the setback dealt by the 6th Circuit. Many challenges lay ahead, but so do many opportunities. If the past three years serve as precedent, I know that the passionate, knowledgeable and resilient advocates of this movement will overcome the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities. Let’s keep working together until every community can determine its own broadband needs without barriers. Thanks again for this wonderful honor and for all the support you have given Chairman Wheeler, the FCC and me for the past three years.

Watch the video of Gigi Sohn's speech, courtesy of Ann Treacy at the Blandin Foundation and check out their blog, Blandin on Broadband:

The text of the speech is also available online.

Broadband Communities Regional Conference Fast Approaching: Oct. 18 - 20

As you say good-bye to September, consider making your way to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to attend the 2016 Broadband Communities Mag Annual Conference at the downtown Radisson Blu. The event is scheduled for October 18 - 20 and you can still register online.

The Economic Development Conference Series brings Fiber For The New Economy to the "City of Lakes" as part of its Community Toolkit Program. The conference is full of information you can use if your community is looking for ways to improve local connectivity through fiber. There will be presentations on economic development, financing, and smart policies that help lay the groundwork for future fiber investment. There are also some special sessions that deal specifically with rural issues and a number of other specialized presentations and panel discussions.

Christopher will be presenting twice on Wednesday, October 19th at 10:00 a.m. and again at 11:15 a.m. with several other community broadband leaders on the Blue Ribbon panel. They will address questions and discuss important updates, review helpful resources, and describe where we need to go next.

Next Century Cities will present a special Mayor’s Panel on October 20th and the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC) will arrive on October 18th for a special day-long program.

Check out the full agenda online.

Key facts on the Broadband Communities’ Conference

What: “Fiber for The New Economy”

Where: Radisson Blu Downtown Hotel, 35 S. Seventh St., Minneapolis, Minnesota 55402.

When: Oct. 18-20, 2016


Photo of Lake Harriet and the Minneapolis skyline courtesy of Baseball Bugs

Broadband Communities Magazine Spotlights Study on Rural Electric Cooperatives

In the 1930s, rural communities joined together through electric cooperatives to bring electricity to their homes and businesses. Today, rural electric co-ops may have the power to bring Internet access to these same communities.

A recent Broadband Communities Magazine article highlights this potential for rural electric co-ops. In the article, Dr. Robert Yadon and D. Bracken Ross of the Digital Policy Institute at Ball State University explain the results of their recent study. 

Electric Co-Ops as Regional Networks

Yadon and Bracken looked into 30 private sector Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) providers in Indiana and 16 rural electric co-ops providing Internet service around the nation. After predicting engineering costs, the researchers highlighted a dozen Indiana rural electric co-ops that could serve as regional hubs of connectivity.

The researchers developed a specific process for rural electric co-ops interested in providing Internet access. In summary, they propose:

“For REMCs [Rural Electric Membership Cooperatives], the process begins with a commitment to a middle-mile, smart grid fiber deployment connecting their substations, followed by a phased-approach business model with strategic growth focusing on last-mile customer density. Exploring local business partnership underwriting opportunities, examining the use of an efficient regional network design and combining multiple federal funding programs are the keys to rural broadband deployment success down the road.”

We don’t necessarily agree with these proposals. Our Christopher Mitchell has written many times about how middle mile cannot solve the last mile problems. The incremental approach based on customer density can repeat some of the same problems we’ve seen with cable and telephone companies - skipping over the most rural and smallest localities. Relying on federal funds is not always necessary. In fact, the researchers point to the success of a co-op that continued on after being denied a federal grant.

Pioneering Electric Co-Ops are Models

Yadon and Bracken pointed to the incremental approach taken by several rural electric co-ops, particularly Co-Mo Electric. The researchers noted how Co-Mo Electric was able to build out the network overtime to the rest of their electric service area. 

Co-Mo Connect, part of Co-Mo Electric, provides some of the fastest Internet service in the nation to rural Missouri. On, we've covered Co-Mo Connect’s journey to connectivity. After being denied a federal stimulus grant, in 2012 the co-op forged ahead and built a next-generation network. Chris spoke with the previous General Manager of Co-Mo Connect, Randy Klindt, in Community Broadband Bits Episode 140. Klindt now works for Ozarks Electric Cooperative as they deveop their own FTTH project. 

Local Entities With Vision

Although Yadon and Bracken’s recommendations are not quite spot on, one of their final statements is compelling:

“Only those local entities with a vision and a local, vested interest in providing a long-term solution for ubiquitous broadband service to rural areas will succeed.”

Rural electric cooperatives need to be focused on the future of the community. The recent ILSR report, “Re-Member-ing the Electric Cooperative,” from our co-workers in the Energy Democracy Initiative underscores how rural electric cooperatives have so much potential if they only engage and activate their memberships. Rural areas need to part of the new economies (from renewable energy to telecommuting), and rural electric cooperatives need to realize their potential.

Broadband Communities Regional Conference This Fall In Minneapolis

"Fiber For The New Economy" will be the theme of  Broadband Communities' annual regional conference which is scheduled from Oct. 18th to 20th in Minneapolis.

The conference will explore the hottest developments in fiber and economic development with panel discussions and workshop sessions on such topics as Google Fiber, incumbent and other provider deployments, and public-private projects, according to Jim Baller, the conference’s economic development chairman.

There will also be sessions about developments in “major verticals,” including health care, education and energy, adds Baller, who is also co-founder and president of the Coalition for Local Internet Choice

The conference will focus on broadband activities and projects in primarily Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Montana, as well as western Ontario and Manitoba. 

The Blandin Foundation is assisting Broadband Communities with content and conference planning, a move that means the Minnesota non-profit will have a much smaller fall event of its own, said Bernadine Joselyn, Blandin Foundation director of public policy and engagement. Blandin’s fall conference is scheduled for Sept. 13th and 14th in Duluth.  For further information, go to the event website.

Key facts on the Broadband Communities’ Conference

What: “Fiber for The New Economy”

Where: Radisson Blu Downtown Hotel, 35 S. Seventh St., Minneapolis, Minnesota  55402.

When: Oct. 18-20, 2016

Register online for the conference at the event website. Check back in the future with the main event page for more as the agenda is set.

Know Thy Partner: Lessons Learned & Best Practices for PPP's (Video)

Every day, community leaders are working to overcome barriers to developing Internet networks. On Monday, April 4, 2016, Chris took part in the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC) pre-conference panel on Public Perspectives to Partnerships at the Broadband Communities Summit in Austin, Texas. Chris was joined by Gabriel Garcia, Bill Vallee, Jon Gant, and Drew Clark. The panel was moderated by Catherine Rice.

The group discussed strategies, business models, and lessons learned when building a successful public-private partnership (PPP).

Public Perspectives on Partnerships: Lessons Learned and Best Practices


Catharine Rice – Project Director, CLIC


Bill Vallee – Office of Consumer Counsel, State of Connecticut, New Britain, CT

Jon Gant – Director, UC2B

Christopher Mitchell – Community Networks Director, ILSR

Gabriel Garcia – Director, Senior Counsel, General Counsel, Legal Services, CPS Energy, San Antonio, TX

Drew Clark – Chairman and Publisher,

CLIC to Host Preconference Day in Austin on April 4th

Are you going to the Austin Broadband Communities Conference this spring? If you plan on attending the April 5 - 7 event, you may want to head out one day early so you can check out the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC) Preconference Day event on April 4.

From the CLIC email invite:

CLIC's pre-conference day will focus on how communities can facilitate the development of local gigabit networks. Our interactive panel of experts will share best practices and how successful community-led networks have responded to various fiber deployment hurdles, including political, legal, financial, market or resource barriers. You will be able to meet in-person and hear from the public officials who are facilitating, and the private companies who are engaged in and seeking, local public-private broadband partnerships.

The event will be open to all conference attendees and will start at 8:45 a.m. Some of the presentations include: 

A Discussion of How Successful Community-Led Networks Have Responded to Barriers and Challenges

  • Overcoming Legal and Political Barriers: Strategies to Advocate for Your Community’s Authority
  • Overcoming Financial Barriers: Strategies to Identify and Use Funding Sources to Finance Networks from Build-outs to Upgrades
  • Overcoming Market Barriers: Strategies to Maximize the Use and Benefits of the Network Once You Have It 

Public-Private Partnerships

  • An Introductory Survey of Business Models and Legal Considerations in Building Broadband Public-Private Partnerships
  • Private Perspectives on Partnerships: Meet the Private Sector Gigabit Partners
  • Public Perspectives on Partnerships: Lessons Learned and Best Practices (Chris will speak on this topic)

For more information on speakers, you can review the full agenda here.

Join CLIC and register online for the conference. As a member of CLIC, you will receive a special BBC rate of $350 for the entire BBC conference. Use the code CLIC2016 when you register to take advantage of your membership bennie.

BBC Summit In Austin: Register Before Nov. 30, Get A Discount

The 2016 Broadband Communities Summit will be held on April 5 - 7 in Austin, Texas. Participants can save $540 by registering early before November 30th. Register online and use the VIP Code: Austin2016 to get a special rate of $410.

The annual Summit is one of the premier broadband events each year. This year, the theme is Fiber: Catch The Wave! Check out the Summit main page for more about the agenda, speakers, and workshops. The event page will be updated as organizers solidify the agenda.

Don't delay! Register before Monday, November 30th!

CLIC to Host Partnership Event at Broadband Communities' September Conference

Is your community considering a public private partnership to improve connectivity for businesses and residents? Will you be attending the Broadband Communities Economic Development Conference in Lexington this September? If you answered 'yes' to those two questions, you should attend CLIC's half-day event on Friday, September 18th.

Spend the morning breakfasting with telecommunication attorney Jim Baller and Joanne Hovis from CLIC along with Maura Corbett, CEO of Glen Echo Group and Heather Gold, CEO of FTTH Council Americas.

The rest of the agenda from a CLIC email invitation:

An Extensive CLIC Paper on the Key Business and Legal Issues in Public-Private Partnerships :

Moderator: Jim Baller - President, CLIC


The Private Sector’s Perspective :


  • Elliot Noss - CEO, Ting Fiber Internet
  • Bob Nichols - President, Declaration Networks Group
  • Levi Dinkla – Vice President & Chief Operating Officer, iTV-3
  • Steve Biggerstaff – Founding President, Director & Advisor, Metronet
  • Nicholas Hann – Senior Managing Director, Macquarie Capital/Macquarie Group Ltd.

The Public Sector’s Perspective :

Moderator: Catharine Rice - Project Director, CLIC


  • Robert Wack - President, City Council, Westminster, MD
  • Scott Shapiro - Senior Advisor, The Mayor’s Office, City of Lexington, Kentucky
  • Jon Gant – Director, UC2B

We Remember Scott DeGarmo

We were saddened to learn of Scott DeGarmo's passing this past week and, like many others who knew him and his work, want to pay tribute to his many contributions.

Scott was the CEO of Broadband Communities, a valuable resource that policy makers, industry chiefs, and community leaders depend on for the most recent developments in the world of advanced communications networks. Scott molded the magazine into a leading publication for readers and began the practice of bringing them together at an annual conference. He took it to a higher level by raising awareness, building coalitions, and creating possibilities.

Scott will be missed by many who care about connecting the world. You can share memories from others who knew Scott at the Broadband Communities Tribute Page. Thank you, Scott. Below is a tribute that Jim Baller has shared via the Coalition for Local Internet Choice.

Scott DeGarmo, CEO of Broadband Communities, passed away this weekend.  He was an ardent and invaluable supporter of CLIC and a champion of local choice.  He published and promoted CLIC’s articles on the Broadband Communities website and made sure that CLIC had a prominent role in Broadband Communities events, including the upcoming conference in Lexington.  We will send out more information on the Lexington conference later in the day, but first, we wanted to share a tribute to Scott from CLIC’s president, Jim Baller. 


On Saturday, August 15, 2015, Scott DeGarmo died of pancreatic cancer at his home in Riverdale, NY, after exchanging goodbyes with his wife and daughters.  Scott was a giant in our field and a dear friend for many years. 

When Scott acquired Broadband Properties a little more than a decade ago, its activities consisted primarily of publishing a trade magazine for owners and managers of multi-tenant properties and holding an annual conference for them.  Over the years, under Scott’s visionary leadership, Broadband Properties expanded its services in the multi-tenant market and it increasingly focused its attention on the needs of cities, towns, and other localities across America for advanced communications capabilities and services.  Broadband Properties ultimately became Broadband Communities, and its magazine, primers, and other publications became must-reading for community leaders, industry executives, policy makers, and others stakeholders in America’s broadband Internet future.  Broadband Communities also hosted increasingly well-attended national and regional conferences featuring the latest and most important developments in fiber-based communications, presented by key federal, state, and local officials and a broad range of experienced practitioners.  Scott repeatedly insisted that speakers talk in plain language and provide as many real-world examples as possible, so that each attendee could take home valuable information that he or she could use immediately. 

If these had been Scott’s only accomplishments, they alone would have entitled Scott to our deep gratitude and praise.  But Scott’s contributions ran so much deeper.  In particular, in establishing the policies and high standards for Broadband Communities publications and events, Scott also played a major role in shaping and accelerating America’s deployment, adoption, and use of fiber-based broadband access to the Internet.  That is, Scott did not just disseminate information about important developments; he also had much to do with stimulating and influencing many of these developments. 

More specifically, Scott and his excellent team at Broadband Communities typically targeted the most important issues of the day and brought together the best minds to address them, with Broadband Communities readers and event attendees sharing the experience.  Among the many critical issues that Broadband Communities explored this way were how to develop a national broadband strategy, how to use advanced communications capabilities to drive and support economic development, how to stimulate broadband deployment and use in rural and other high cost areas, how to make federal stimulus-funded projects economically sustainable, how to preserve and protect local Internet choice, and how to foster public-private collaboration and partnerships.  In his quiet, understated way, Scott left an important mark on all of these issues and many more.   As Harry Truman observed, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”

But what about the man himself?  As word of Scott’s passing has gotten around, tributes have poured into Broadband Communities from all directions, from individuals and entities of all kinds.  Again and again, Scott’s many colleagues and friends have stressed his intelligence and creativity, his unbounded positive energy, his kindness and grace, his generosity, his unassuming modesty, and his deep commitment to making fiber-based access to the Internet the platform and driver of simultaneous progress in just about everything that matters to America’s communities. 

In sum, in his professional life, Scott had an extraordinary significant impact in making our corner of the world a better place.  On a personal level, he left us a wealth of warm and wonderful memories.  In fact, looking back over the last decade, it’s hard to think of many individuals who contributed more. 

Scott has now left us physically, but his legacy will live on.  In recent weeks, recognizing that his time was short, Scott repeatedly asked those of us in his leadership circle to do everything possible to ensure that Broadband Communities will continue to grow and thrive.  In particular, Scott wanted us to have a great conference in Lexington, Kentucky, from September 15-18, 2015, in part to demonstrate that Broadband Communities can remain successful without him at the helm.  Please join us there if you can.   In particular, I urge CLIC members to check out our outstanding program on the morning ofSeptember 18. 

Photo of Scott courtesy of Broadband Communities.

Fiber or Fireplace? Study Links FTTH to Increased Housing Prices

Only one in 11 households in the United States have fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) subscriptions, according to a 2014 Broadband Communities primer, but that might begin to change as more and more studies show the economic benefits of fiber. Most recently, the Fiber To The Home Council Americas funded a study in conjunction with the University of Colorado and Carnegie Mellon that showed a fiber dividend of $5,437 on a $175,000 home. Fierce Telecom reported on the results:

The boost to the value of a typical home – $5,437 – is roughly equivalent to adding a fireplace, half of a bathroom or a quarter of a swimming pool to the home.

The results of the study, which compared roughly 500,000 housing prices over the course of two years, have made their rounds on the Internet, even receiving coverage in the Wall Street Journal. It builds upon a small, but growing, body of research that links fiber deployments in homes and multiple dwelling units (MDUs) to economic growth.

As more research on housing prices and home Internet access surfaces, the value of FTTH deployments appears to be on the rise. A 2014 study by the consulting firm RVA LLC revealed a $5,250 increase in the value of a $300,000 home. Now, according to the newest study, a similar increase in value can be seen in homes worth half this amount.

The benefits of FTTH networks are not just relegated to single family homes. In 2014, the FTTH Council released a report that showed a 1.1 percent increase in GDP in communities that deploy gigabit broadband services, representing about $1.4 billion in total in the 14 gigabit communities studied.

The Council also conducted a survey in 2014 that looked at the effect of FTTH on multiple dwelling units, which we covered in an April story. Access to fiber increased sale and rental prices in MDUs by three and eight percent, respectively.

Some forward-thinking communities, like Loma Linda in California, have gone so far as to modify their municipal building codes to require new construction to install fiber connections. While not widespread, this practice could foster economic growth on a community-wide scale.