The show is Connections with Evan Dawson. It is a 51-minute discussion and is far more reality-based than most that we come across.
Marketplace Tech’s Molly Wood interviewed Christopher Mitchell, the director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative, this morning on national radio. The pair discussed how broadband providers are responding to increased demand during the Covid-19 outbreak and what barriers there are to expanding Internet access to families sheltering-in-place.
Christopher has been a guest on Marketplace Tech before, providing his perspective on issues including security concerns around Chinese-made network equipment and the effects of ending network neutrality on municipal networks.
Connecting New Subscribers
Schools and businesses have closed across the country, but many students and employees are still expected to complete work from home. This is leading households to subscribe to broadband at record levels in some areas.
There’s a lot of people who are signing up for service who didn’t have it before, or maybe they’re going to a better provider. We’re seeing in areas that have one or more cases of the virus that some of the [internet service providers] are seeing record sign-ups, in some cases twice the previous record of a daily number of new customers.
The surge in demand is creating a challenge for providers still figuring out how to safely connect new users. A number of companies have temporarily halted home installations, while others are instituting policies to protect their employees and household members. “We will need to find a way in which we can do new connections,” Christopher said on Marketplace, “because I think this connectivity is just going to become more and more important”
States Stopping Local Solutions
The novel coronavirus isn’t the only issue providers and communities are grappling with as they try to...Read more
It was about five years ago that we brought consultant Eric Lampland from Lookout Point Communications into the office for episode 80 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. We've completed more than 300 other episodes since then, but his insight still rings true on the many indirect cost savings of community broadband networks. As activity in our office slows down a little for the holiday season, we thought this would be a great time to revisit the conversation with Eric to remind listeners of some of the reasons why so many communities are interested in taking control of their connectivity options with public investment. Enjoy!
Today, Lisa and I are joined by Eric Lampland for a discussion of how a community could justify building a community owned network from the indirect benefits that it would create, including the savings that each household realizes from competition driving down prices. Eric Lampland is the CEO and principal consultant of Lookout Point Communications, which helps local governments that are building a network or considering an investment.
Eric and I start by discussing how quickly the cost savings per household add up to equal more than the cost of building a network and we digress from there, covering other topics related to community owned networks. This includes how big cable companies would respond to this approach.
I have to note that most community networks have not been justified on this basis - the vast majority of community networks were designed to pay their full costs and they are doing so. Here, we discuss the general benefits of these networks that are often sidelined in the policy discussion and how they alone may justify a fiber network.
Toward the end, we begin discussing open access, something we will...Read more
People in the North Carolina towns of Albemarle, Fuquay-Varina, and Jacksonville, are gathering together this week to discuss rural broadband. Our own Christopher Mitchell and Katie Kienbaum are meeting with residents along with representatives from the North Carolina League of Municipalities and NC Hearts Gigabit in the three towns across the state. Recently, in WRAL TechWire, reporter Chantal Allam shared an interview with Will Aycock, who heads up Wilson’s publicly owned broadband network.
Aycock described how Wilson’s Greenight Community Broadband had been developed to support the economic vitality of the community, while also providing other benefits. He also stressed that Wilson’s decision was significant for them and that each community needs to decide what’s best for their own needs.
In Wilson, he adds, the network has helped to spur a long list of economic development investments, including downtown revitalization and investment in the community’s corporate park. New jobs continue to spring up, while other nearby rural areas contend with losses. The local college has taken advantage of new technological training and programs that require gigabit connectivity. Additionally, the city’s other utility systems benefit from the advanced connectivity. “None of these accomplishments are because of Greenlight specifically, but rather Greenlight is part of a team both within the City and across the broader community that all work together to build our future,” says Aycock.
He and Allam also talk about plans that Wilson and Greenlight have to use the broadband network and fiber infrastructure to continue to advance. Smart city applications, innovative options for entrepreneurs, and more collaboration are all in the future for Wilson. Aycock described Wilson's future vision:
We see Wilson being a focal point for micropolitan smart city efforts that is not secondary to Raleigh-Durham, but rather a part of the North Carolina technology and innovation ecosystem. To make progress, we must think of each region of our...
The Community Broadband Networks Initiative is only one of several research areas at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. It’s common for people who follow the work of one initiative to find overlapping interests in other initiatives at ILSR. In addition to the effects of concentration of power from large corporate entities, local power and how best to exercise it for the community are common themes in all our initiatives. That’s why the ILSR Building Local Power Podcast and our host, Hibba Meraay, occasionally take time to touch base with initiative directors. In October, Hibba interviewed Christopher for episode 57 of the podcast.
In addition to sharing information about some of the publicly owned network models making recent headway, Hibba and Christopher discussed initiatives in Colorado, California’s network neutrality legislation, and 5G. It’s a broader level conversation we don’t always have on the Community Broadband Bits podcast. The show lasts about 30 minutes.
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As the FCC’s vote on whether or not to remove network neutrality draws near, an increasing number of people are beginning to wonder how Internet access will change for them. Journalists have reached out to us to ask about the role of publicly owned Internet networks and the future without federal network neutrality policy protections. Molly Wood from Marketplace Tech interviewed Christopher to ask about the pros and cons of munis, how the FCC vote could affect municipal networks, and how municipal networks may help when or if we face an Internet no longer protected by network neutrality.
Wood asked some general questions about munis and their cost, and Christopher offered some specific examples from information we’ve learned from the communities we study. Now that big ISPs are set to receive the keys to the kingdom, local leaders wonder if they can take steps to avoid the pitfalls of unfettered power.
Christopher told Molly:
The only way that [ending network neutrality] would help cities and people more generally is that it would lead to more cities considering this and cities being more aggressive because the big cable and telephone companies would likely abuse their new power. But the Internet will still be there behind the scenes and cities can build their own apps and get around the barriers that the big cable and telephone companies are producing.
Listen here or at the Marketplace website.
As the new administration’s FCC re-examines Network Neutrality rules, rural communities are wondering how any changes may affect areas in the U.S. that already have difficulties obtaining fast, affordable, reliable Internet service. In a recent Mountain Talk podcast, Mimi Pickering tackles the question by talking to several knowledgeable guests.
In addition to Christopher, Mimi talks with other guests who offer insight into why Network Neutrality is critical to rural areas as we move forward. Rural areas tend to feel impacts harder than urban areas. The show includes audio from past interviews, news reports, and events.
The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) move to repeal Net Neutrality and classification of Broadband Internet as a Title II Telecommunications Service could have significant impact on rural America, where the digital divide is already the largest.
In this edition of Mountain Talk, host Mimi Pickering explores potential impacts with economist Roberto Gallardo from Mississippi State University Extension Services and Christopher Mitchell, Director of Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
We also hear from a 2015 interview with Edyael Casaperalta, representing the Rural Broadband Working Group of the National Rural Assembly, on the 2015 reclassification of Broadband as a Title II Telecommunications Service and its potential to reduce the digital divide, increase competition, and protect consumers.
Finally, FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn talks about her work on the FCC to increase access and affordability for people of color, low income, and rural communities. Her term at the FCC will soon end but she promises to continue to speak for those who are not typically represented and calls on all folks to make their voices heard at the FCC at every opportunity.
Christopher joins the interview at around 30 minutes into the show.
For an in-depth discussion about connectivity in rural America, Public Rado WAMU called our own Christopher Mitchell who joined host Joshua Johnson on the 1A show. The conversation covered a variety of topics from technical points to policy. If you missed it, you can listen now and get caught up.
Other guests included journalist Jennifer Levits, who often reports on tech matters, and Matt Larsen who is the founder and CEO of a fixed wireless ISP, Vistabeam. His company serves subscribers in rural areas.
Examining Rural Connectivity
What is the best way to get high-quality connectivity to rural America? In addition to discussing the challenges of bringing Internet access to America’s less populated regions, the panel touched on a recent proposal by Microsoft to use TV white spaces to bring Internet access to rural areas. Libraries and schools have experimented with white space technology in recent years. The low-frequency spectrum used to be reserved for television prior to digitization; now that it’s not being used for TV, it’s been freed up. White space spectrum, or TVWS, is less likely to be interrupted by trees or walls then traditional fixed wireless signals.
Microsoft announced this spring that it would partner with the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation (MBC), a Virginia broadband cooperative, on a pilot project using white spaces in Halifax and Charlotte Counties. The project will allow households with school kids to access their school's network from home by using TVWS.
During the interview, listeners emailed and tweeted questions to the show. In addition to the audio of the show, check out some of the comments at the 1A website. Worth the time!
Journalist Jill Nolin recently dove into the details of electric cooperatives and Internet service in an article for the Thomasville Times-Enterprise in Georgia. Rural electric co-ops offer an avenue for robust rural connectivity that is in keeping with the long-standing rural tradition of self-reliance.
Talking With The Cooperatives
The article features interviews with several local electric cooperatives (EMCs) for their perspective on providing Internet service. Nolin spoke with Blue Ridge Mountain EMC, an electric cooperative that has been offering Internet service for almost ten years.
“Sometimes you have to venture out and do what’s right because your members need you to do it, because they’re demanding you to do it and because it’s the right thing to do. That’s what we did. We ventured out. We didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” -- Erik Brinke, Economic Development Director for Blue Ridge Mountain EMC
Nolin explored several possible barriers facing electric cooperatives that want to provide Internet service: from murky legal territory to capital funding. Christopher Mitchell said:
“It’s a kind of inertia to keep doing what they have been doing, and I think that’s changing more rapidly than I thought, candidly. But I think that’s the number one reason why we don’t see a hundred or 200 of the EMCs in this right now, although I think we’ll be there in another year or two from the rate of escalation we’re seeing,”
Nolin describes how the electric cooperatives are currently asking for the law to be clearly spelled out in the state of Georgia.
Electric Cooperatives Across the Country
Many electric cooperatives around the country have started projects and programs to connect residents and businesses. At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we have counted about 50 electric cooperatives involved so far. Our report on North Carolina noted how the rural electric cooperatives could provide Internet access to many unserved communities in that state; changes in the law would allow better EMCs to...Read more
Preemption at the state and federal level threatens local telecommunications authority, as we’ve seen in about 20 states. When state laws usurp local governments’ ability to decide how they improve poor connectivity, they disregard an understanding of local affairs that is unique to each community. Some states are threatening to take preemption another damaging step farther with super-preemption.
Super-Preemption: "Super" In A Bad Way
The Campaign to Defend Local Solutions describes the problem like this:
State legislatures across the country have gone beyond preventing local governments from passing common-sense local solutions. They’ve begun silencing local voices using draconian super-preemption laws. These laws allow special interest groups to sue local governments and in some cases personally sue local officials for doing their job. These laws are designed to intimidate, bully, and chill government at the local level. This infographic highlights where these laws exist, where they have been recently proposed, and what their impacts could be to cities, counties, local officials, and taxpayers alike.
Mayor Andrew Gillum from Tallahassee, Florida, recently spoke with Christopher and our Communications Manager Nick Stumo-Langer about super-preemption for episode 17 of the Building Local Power podcast. He noted that local governments need flexibility to meet the demands of local constituents:
“There’s a nimbleness to local governments that I think people have an appreciation for. The legislature [is trying to] exclude us from being able to make any investments in that space for the greater good.”
In order to spread the word about super-preemption, the Campaign to Defend Local Solutions created an infographic to help educate lawmakers, constituents, and communities about the issue. The resource describes how super-preemption influences policy makers, giving lobbyists and their corporate or special interest clients' power. The infographic also shows where super-preemption laws are in place or are proposed. Lastly, the infographic suggests how citizens can get...Read more