Tag: "institute for local self-reliance"

Posted July 6, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

As the pandemic drags on, local governments across the country are looking for ways to connect their residents, who need better Internet access for everything from online education to annual taxes to telehealth appointments. But 19 states still place restrictions on cities and counties that want to invest in broadband expansion, hamstringing their ability to address urgent connectivity needs.

To help people figure out if their community is able to take action, we worked with the Local Solutions Support Center (LSSC) to develop a step-by-step guide for local officials and advocates. The guide includes the various considerations communities must make when developing a Covid-19 broadband response, including the extent of local government authority, state legal restrictions, and declaration of emergency powers.

LSSC describes the guide:

As the coronavirus pandemic spreads, local elected officials and advocates alike are asking what they can do for their communities across a range of policies — including to ensure that everyone has broadband Internet access available. This guide can help you determine whether your community has the authority it needs to adopt a particular policy.

View the guide on LSSC’s website or download the PDF below.

“What’s the Policy?”

The guide takes people through the following questions and action steps:

  • What’s the Policy?
  • Is there Existing Authority?
  • Is the Policy Expressly Preempted?
  • Is there a Conflict with State Law or Other Barrier?
  • What is the Extent of Emergency Powers?
  • Demand State Action

For the different steps, the guide offers an explanation, identifies examples from different states, and suggests resources for further research. For example, under “Is there Existing Authority?” the guide directs communities to look at state and...

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Posted June 1, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Last week, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance shared a statement on the killing of George Floyd and the ongoing and necessary protests against police brutality in Minneapolis, where ILSR has an office and where the Community Broadband Networks initiative is based. We are reposting that statement below.

 

“We are devastated by the racist treatment and senseless killing of George Floyd. Along with our neighbors in Minneapolis, we mourn his tragic death, and recognize the profound harm that decades of unjust and oppressive policies have inflicted on people of color in this city.

“As we grieve for George Floyd and for the city that has been our home for nearly 30 years, we pledge to continue to fight for economic and racial justice throughout our work. We desperately need to address the disenfranchisement and oppression that occurs, on a daily basis, across our country.

“We hope that justice for George Floyd’s killing comes swiftly, that peace comes to the streets of Minneapolis, and our community can focus on the healing that can only come with policies and practices that value all people.”

 

Photo Credit: Virgil McDill

Posted May 19, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Contrary to the common narrative of poor connectivity and dim prospects for rural America, the vast majority of rural North Dakotans have gigabit fiber Internet access available to them today.

Our case study, How Local Providers Built the Nation’s Best Internet Access in Rural North Dakota, explains how this came to be, highlighting how 15 telephone cooperatives and local companies came together to invest in their rural communities and build fiber broadband networks across the state. In the 1990s, those companies united to purchase 68 rural telephone exchanges in North Dakota from regional provider US West (now CenturyLink). Then, they leveraged federal broadband funds to deploy some of the most extensive fiber networks in the country, turning North Dakota into the rural broadband oasis that it is today.

Download the case study, How Local Providers Built the Nation’s Best Internet Access in Rural North Dakota [pdf].

A Model for Better Rural Connectivity

The case study explores North Dakota's exceptional rural connectivity through several maps and graphs and offers the following takeaways:

  • 15 local telephone companies and cooperatives took advantage of regional monopoly US West's failure to view its rural properties as profitable and acquired 68 of the provider's exchanges in rural North Dakota, creating the foundation for fiber networks that would one day crisscross the state.
  • More than three quarters of rural North Dakotans have access to fiber broadband today, compared to only 20 percent of rural residents nationally. Over 80 percent of North Dakota's expanse is covered by fiber networks.
  • National telecom monopolies refuse to substantially upgrade their rural networks even though they receive billions in subsidies, while local co-ops and companies continue to invest in their communities ⁠— proving the solutions for better rural connectivity already exist.

Read How Local Providers Built the Nation’s Best Internet Access in Rural North Dakota [pdf].

 

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Posted May 14, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

In their recent, biased report bashing community broadband, the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) alleges that municipal broadband networks are “GON With the Wind,” but it’s really the report’s authors who have run off with reality. Though the report implies that the random subset of 30 municipal networks it features are all government “boondoggles,” TPA only alleges network failure or failure to pay debt in nine cases. After correcting for TPA’s errors, just eight of those 30 networks could be argued as failures.

To counter TPA’s erroneous and misleading claims, the Community Broadband Networks initiative has prepared a response to the report in which we summarize the many shortcomings of the report’s arbitrary approach, correct the authors’ numerous mistakes and omissions, and provide a city-by-city rebuttal of the report’s allegations.

View our response, “Fact Checking the New Taxpayers Protection Alliance Report, GON With the Wind” [pdf], now or download the file below.

“Puzzling” Report Discredits TPA

“The Taxpayer Protection Alliance has returned with another puzzling attempt to discredit municipal broadband networks,” we write in our response to the new report. “They have published a report, GON With the Wind, that mostly affirms that the community networks it picked to study are successful.”

In addition to not even alleging network failure in most cases, TPA’s report struggles with a basic understanding of the telecommunications business, fails to correctly cite and use facts, and relies heavily on a discredited study. In particular, we note the many sloppy errors that the report’s authors make in the section on Chattanooga, Tennessee:

We examined their sourcing for claims made in the Chattanooga case study and found numerous problems. The most obvious is related to the claim on page 15 that Chairman Ajit Pai reversed former Chairman Wheeler’s effort to limit state preemption policies. The 6th Circuit reversed the FCC Order while Chairman Wheeler was still in office, long before Republicans won the 2016 election. Oddly enough, TPA correctly characterized this on page 16.

Furthermore, the report excludes relevant...

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Posted May 13, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Yesterday, the Transnational Institute (TNI) released The Future Is Public, a book that explores international municipalization efforts and the benefits of public ownership. In addition to tracking the successful transition of water, waste, energy, and other essential services to public ownership in hundreds of communities, the book describes how local governments in the United States have increasingly invested in municipal broadband networks.

Chapter 9, “United States: Communities providing affordable, fast broadband Internet” [pdf], analyzes the significant growth of publicly owned broadband networks across the country. The co-authors Thomas M. Hanna, Research Director at the Democracy Collective, and Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Community Broadband Network initiative, explain in the chapter:

In the United States, one of the fastest growing areas of municipalisation and local public ownership is high-speed broadband Internet networks. This is due, in part, to the failure of the highly concentrated, corporate-dominated telecommunications sector to provide fast and affordable service in many parts of the country – especially rural areas, smaller towns and cities, and communities with low levels of income and economic development.

Download The Future is Public and the chapter on municipal broadband on TNI’s website.

Municipal Broadband’s “Proven Track Record”

Tens of millions of Americans still don’t have access to broadband, and Hanna and Mitchell point to telecom monopolies as the reason for the disparity. “A corporate oligopoly in the telecommunications sector is a major reason why wide swathes of the country (both geographically and socioeconomically) are left with inferior or unaffordable service,” they argue.

As case studies, the chapter features several local governments that have responded to inadequate connectivity by building their own fiber optic networks to connect residents and businesses, including Wilson, North Carolina; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and...

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Posted May 12, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Late last month, we reported on Frontier Communications’ claim that it now offers broadband in 17,000 rural census blocks in an effort to remove those areas from the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) upcoming rural broadband funding program. At the time, we expressed concerns that the provider may be exaggerating Internet speeds, and after publishing that article, we heard from Frontier subscribers, local officials, and private companies who shared their own doubts over the accuracy of the company’s reporting.

Earlier today, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance filed comments with the FCC to draw attention to Frontier’s questionable claims. “We are concerned that Frontier may have overstated its capacity to actually deliver the claimed services in many areas,” the comments read.

We call on the FCC to either investigate or to simply refuse Frontier’s disputable claims to ensure unserved rural areas aren’t prevented from receiving subsidies to expand broadband access. The comments argue:

Allowing Frontier to so remove hundreds of thousands of Americans from one of the most significant rural broadband programs in history would send a strong message that there is no claim too far that the Commission will be skeptical of . . . Frontier is all but inviting the Commission to make an example of it and serve notice that the Commission intends to ensure Americans in rural regions have real opportunities to connect rather than continuing to play games with bankrupt firms.

Download ILSR’s comments to the FCC at the agency's website or below.

Inconsistent Reports Raise a Red Flag

We have seen inconsistencies in Frontier’s past reports to the FCC on its broadband offerings, which the company is required to file twice a year. A few years ago, Frontier reduced reported speeds in a number of census blocks from 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload — the FCC’s minimum definition of broadband — to just below broadband speeds.

Our analysis of federal data shows that the 17,000 census blocks that the company recently reported as having access to broadband have seen similar inconsistencies. In December 2018, Frontier claimed that more than 3,000 of those blocks suddenly had...

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Posted May 11, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

Merit Network is hosting a weekly Michigan Moonshot Educational Series in the lead-up to their Broadband Summit this fall, and as part of the programming, Director of Community Broadband Networks initiative Christopher Mitchell recently hosted a webinar called “Exploring the Basics of Broadband.” Aimed at community leaders and the interested public, it explores the different solutions — and their relative advantages and disadvantages — in an accessible way.

Access the webinar on Merit's website, or watch the video below.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Christopher offers a frank discussion and an overview of the present deployments and future prospects of cable, digital subscriber line (DSL), mobile and fixed wireless, satellite, and fiber optic network technologies for both high-density urban areas and sparsely populated rural ones. In particular the webinar succeeds at cutting through industry speak and assessing the practical impacts, as well as the breadth and depth of choices, that local communities should consider in their efforts to connect all their citizens with a modern, reliable network. The webinar also includes discussion of economies of scale, financial feasibility, legal limitations, and the current 5G hype, and is intended to equip attendees with the information they need to contribute to local efforts at increasing Internet access. As an added bonus for listeners, Christopher provides commentary on Smokey and the Bandit, Burt Reynolds, and Austin Powers.

Additional Information

Merit will be also hosting another webinar later this month titled “Local Community Broadband: A Good Answer to Internet Connectivity”, on Thursday, May 28, at 12 p.m. ET.

For more, visit our Key Points page, see our coverage of other communities that have explored building municipal networks, or browse the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

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Posted May 8, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Earlier this week, Community Broadband Networks Director Christopher Mitchell joined the radio talk show 1A, distributed by NPR, to talk about poor connectivity in rural America and how the Covid-19 pandemic is exacerbating existing digital divides. U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger from Virginia and ranch owner Tiya Tonn from Kansas also called into the show.

Listen to the show.

Digging Into the Divide

Christopher and 1A’s other guests explained how rural Americans across the country, from the mountains of Appalachia to the plains of Kansas, struggle with inadequate Internet access. Broadband quality varies greatly, so some households must rely on spotty cell phone hotspots or fast food Wi-Fi networks while neighbors several miles down the road may have access to fiber optic connectivity.

1A logo

The pandemic is heightening the impacts of the rural digital divide on students and workers who now aren’t able to access their usual connectivity stopgaps, such as public Wi-Fi at libraries and schools. Tiya explained how the shaky broadband connection at her family’s ranch forces her to drive into town for routine activities, and her son spoke to the difficulties he experiences trying to attend online classes now that college campuses are closed.

But poor connectivity isn’t only a rural issue — people who lived near Houston and Columbus, Ohio, called into the show to share how they also can’t access high-speed broadband. Christopher added:

Even just three miles outside Chapel Hill, there are stories in North Carolina about people that are stuck on a technology that hasn’t been upgraded since before the kids that are in high school were born.

How to Expand Access

The guests also touched on government efforts to close the digital divide, particularly as Covid-19 highlights the connectivity crisis in rural America. Last week, Democrats in the U.S. House unveiled an updated plan to invest more than $80 billion in rural broadband expansion. Representative...

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Posted May 5, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

A recent case study from the Community Broadband Networks initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) finds that rural North Dakotans are more likely to have access to fiber connectivity and gigabit-speed Internet than those living in urban areas. This may surprise many of us city dwellers, who are often stuck with large monopoly providers and their expensive, unreliable Internet access.

The case study, How Local Providers Built the Nation’s Best Internet Access in Rural North Dakota, highlights the efforts of 15 local companies and telephone cooperatives who came together to invest in rural North Dakota and build gigabit fiber networks across the state. Their success is traced back to the companies' acquisition of 68 rural telephone exchanges from monpoloy provider US West (now CenturyLink) in the 1990s. The local providers then leveraged federal funds to connect rural residents and businesses with some of the most extensive and future-proof fiber networks in the country.

North Dakota Fiber Coverage

Download the case study, How Local Providers Built the Nation’s Best Internet Access in Rural North Dakota [pdf].

The case study features several maps and graphs that demonstrate North Dakota's widespread, high-quality connectivity, including this map of fiber coverage in the state.

Some key lessons from the case study:

  • When US West, the regional telephone monopoly, didn't believe their rural North Dakota networks would be profitable, the local providers saw an opportunity to acquire US West’s rural territories in the state and to expand their services.
  • More than three quarters of rural North Dakotans have access to fiber broadband today, compared to only 20 percent of rural residents nationally. Over 80 percent of North Dakota's expanse is covered by fiber networks.
  • National telecom monopolies refuse to invest in rural areas even though they receive billions in subsidies, while local co-ops and companies continue to innovate and build better networks for their communities.

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Posted May 1, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Not only has the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic exposed our nation’s dire lack of medical equipment and protective gear, but it has also shone a light on the inadequacy of our rural broadband networks.

A recent CNN article, “Why rural Americans are having a hard time working from home,” by Harmeet Kaur, explores the many struggles that rural households face now that jobs, schools, and everything else has moved online and their outdated broadband connections can’t keep up.

“We Should Be Embarrassed”

CNN reports that while only 1.4 percent of urban Americans don’t have access to broadband speeds of at least 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload, more than a quarter of rural households don’t have broadband available to them. And almost three quarters don’t have access to faster upload speeds of 25 Mbps.

These disparate stats are currently on display at parking lots across the country, as families without adequate home connectivity are forced to drive to open Wi-Fi hotspots and sit in their cars while completing assignments for school and work.

The article shared how one teacher in rural Virginia has turned her school’s parking lot into her new office:

Every Sunday since the coronavirus lockdown started, Stephanie Anstey drives 20 minutes from her home in Grottoes, Virginia, to sit in her school's near-empty parking lot and type away on her laptop. Anstey, a middle school history teacher, lives in a valley between two mountains, where the only available home internet option is a satellite connection. Her emails can take 30 seconds to load, only to quit mid-message. She can't even open files on Google Drive, let alone upload lesson modules or get on a Zoom call with colleagues.

“We are the country that created the internet,” Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Community Broadband Networks initiative, said in the article. “We should be embarrassed that millions of people have to drive to a closed library or a fast food restaurant in order to do their jobs or do their homework.”

High Costs, Slow Speeds

The CNN article points to a number of reasons for the dearth of high-quality Internet access throughout rural America.

Deploying broadband infrastructure is expensive in urban and rural communities, but in sparsely...

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