Tag: "muni"

Posted August 4, 2011 by christopher

When the UTOPIA network buildout stalled in 2007, some communities were left entirely unserved by a network they helped to create. But now at least two of those towns are finally getting connected to one of the nation's fastest networks where they can choose among many service providers, a rarity in the duopolistic world of US broadband.

The broadband stimulus programs is giving UTOPIA a new lease on life, expanding the middle mile capacity it needs to then connect more residents and businesses. And the community anchor institutions -- schools, libraries, city halls, and more -- will finally have robust reliable connections.

“We’d love to have it,” said Cris Hogan, executive vice president of Hogan & Associates Construction in Centerville. “It’s much faster, with more capabilities, and we’re hoping less expense.”

As a commercial builder, Hogan’s company frequently transfers detailed documents and plans to subcontractors electronically. Under current bandwidth conditions, that process can be time consuming, he said.

Hogan’s wait for screaming-fast Internet could soon be over.

“No one in Centerville has Utopia right now but they’re getting close with the stimulus,” said Blaine Lutz, the city’s finance director. His workplace, Centerville City Hall, should be hooked up by October.

The current expansion will connect 141 anchor institutions in the two communities as well as many more in Payson, Orem, Murray, Midvale, West Valley City, and Perry.

As of now, residents generally have to pay a steep upfront $3,000 connection fee for the physical connection, but local governments are investigating different options to allow residents to connect to the network affordably, as Brigham City did with a special assessment area.

As for the capacity of the network and value offering, it crushes Comcast.

Posted August 2, 2011 by christopher

Hats off to a column published by CED Magazine this week, written by Editor-in-Chief Brian Santo. The discussion centers on proper government role in broadband:

These disagreements are hopelessly tangled in another argument entirely: What role should the government have in any market, let alone the broadband market? North Carolina’s state legislature just passed a law prohibiting municipal broadband services.

But in the communications industry, many free-market and anti-regulatory arguments would be mooted if the market provided what is being asked for – affordable and universal access to broadband. Now, not later.

Communities are not building their own networks on a lark - they do it because they have to in order to ensure their future vitality.

Just last week, we also answered the same question of the role of government in broadband when revisiting an excellent commentary published years ago about the proper role of government in matters of infrastructure.

We will all benefit the most when we all have access to fast, affordable, and reliable access to the Internet. But blindly relying on a few massive companies to get us there is lunacy. They simply do not have the motivation or capacity to sufficiently invest or to run the networks in such a way that all have access -- as private companies, they are supposed to maximize profit. Maximizing profit is incompatible with managing infrastructure -- pricing access to infrastructure too high results in losses for everyone, including the vast majority of the private sector.

At the very least, all communities must maintain the freedom to choose locally if building a network is the right decision for them.

Posted August 1, 2011 by christopher

The Ford Foundation has recognized the important contribution of publicly owned broadband networks to improving affordable, reliable, and fast access to the Internet in communities throughout the US. Using data that we helped to gather, they have launched a single map identifying publicly owned networks around the country and showing states with barriers to such networks.

Ford Foundation Community Map tool

Ford Foundation explores the context around the map here:

The stakes on this issue are high, and the questions are complex—making the involvement of philanthropy especially important. Questions are emerging, for example, about the lack of market competition, and what appears to be the resulting failure to provide good service to rural and working communities. Some localities are responding by establishing municipal broadband networks that meet the infrastructure needs of their citizens and ensure that local businesses and families are not left behind. Our grantee partners are informing debates on issues like these, where the real future of Internet rights is being determined—and where the public interest can easily get lost.

We look forward to seeing this map add more communities as they take responsibility for their digital future.

Posted July 29, 2011 by christopher

I was just reminded of an excellent presentation given by Andrea Casselton back on October 17, 2007, after the Saint Paul Broadband Advisory Committee developed this report. Unfortunately, the city of Saint Paul has not followed through on the fine recommendations of the Committee. As in so many other places, the economic downturn has made public investments more difficult. But not impossible.

Good afternoon, I am Andrea Casselton, the Director of the Office of Technology and Communications for the City of Saint Paul. Thank you for holding this important hearing. On behalf of the City of Saint Paul, I would like to present some thoughts on the role of government in broadband policy.

As part of my role for the City I acted as chair for the Saint Paul Broadband Advisory Committee which met from August 2006 to July 2007. The committee was comprised of 20 representatives from the community, government, a labor union, non-profits, education, and business associations. Some of the representatives on the BAC were also experts in the field of broadband and wireless technology.

Several weeks ago the Committee’s recommendations report was published. My comments borrow heavily from that report.

In my opinion, in order to decide whether there is a role for local and state government in the deployment of broadband in the state of Minnesota, we must first decide if we consider broadband to be infrastructure.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines infrastructure as: “The basic facilities, services, and installations needed for the functioning of a community or society, such as transportation and communications systems, water and power lines, and public institutions including schools, post offices, and prisons.”

For cities, towns and counties to successfully compete in the global economy they must be connected to the world. From harbors to railroads, from highways to airports, infrastructure has historically enabled the exchange of commerce, information, and people. Whether it is a rural town or a major metropolitan city, to remain economically competitive in the 21st century, they must be connected to a new infrastructure – affordable, high-capacity broadband telecommunications.

Broadband, viewed ever increasingly as a utility, provides this new connection to employment, educational opportunities, accessible healthcare, public...

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Posted July 28, 2011 by christopher

Public Knowledge recently had me as a guest on their "In the Know" weekly podcast. Our interview is the last half of the show. The videos we reference in the discussion are embedded below.

Posted July 25, 2011 by christopher

This article from Craig Aaron is a good introduction to some of the key concepts in community broadband, including understanding the difference between wireless and wired approaches.

One tech writer dismissed municipal wireless as “the monorail of the decade.”

But all the obituaries are premature. A closer look at what’s happening at projects across the country—public and private, wired and wireless, big and small—suggests that it’s far too early to start the funeral arrangements. Much of the media are confusing the collapse of one company—or one model of broadband deployment—with the failure of the entire idea of municipalities providing high-speed Internet services.

“It’s like someone striking out in a boat in 1490, it sinking, and people saying, ‘You know what? This whole ocean travel thing isn’t going to work out,’ ” says Christopher Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a Minneapolis-based research group that tracks municipal projects.

And on the matter of what we could do...

Policymakers could create incentives for local communities to build telecom networks, spurring new competition and growing the new market for entrepreneurs and innovators, especially in areas bypassed or underserved by the big phone and cable companies. Better yet, says Asheville’s Bowen, these incentives could mandate that systems be locally controlled and nonprofit, ensuring that the investment stays in the community.

Yet, fourteen states currently have laws on the books—drafted by phone and cable company lobbyists—restricting municipalities from erecting their own broadband systems. The Community Broadband Act, bipartisan legislation that already passed the Senate Commerce Committee, would tear down the roadblocks. “The first thing we have to do,” Mitchell says, “is make sure that communities that want to solve their own problems, that want to build the network they need, can do that.”

Congress and the Federal Communications Commission also could improve municipal wireless by setting aside a greater portion of the airwaves for public use. Wi-Fi systems operate on narrow “junk bands” already cluttered with cordless phones, baby monitors, and the like, requiring more transmitters and higher costs to set up a network.

Posted July 15, 2011 by christopher

For years, telephone and cable companies have claimed there is little demand for better networks because they cannot identify a single "killer app" that needs 100Mbps or 1Gbps. Recently, I've heard from kindred spirits saying that the "killer app" is the network itself.

This is a smart response.

Imagine someone demanding we dismantle the Interstates unless we can identify a single use that makes them worthy. The proposition is absurd. There are thousands of ways the Interstates are used. Some -- like ensuring the military can move about the country quickly -- are quite important whereas others are important only to a few people (as when my family goes on vacation).

We are all better off because we have such a robust transportation system. Our markets are more efficient and we have greater freedom of movement. We all also bear the cost (whether it be through taxes, pollution, or other impacts … and yes, we bear that cost unevenly). Roads have been essential infrastructure for centuries -- few argue they should only be built where those along the path can pay for the full cost of doing so.

Access to the Internet is rapidly becoming as important as the roads have long been. Whether for economic development, education, health, or quality of life, a lack of fast, reliable, and affordable access to the Internet diminishes all.

For years, rural cooperatives have built telecommunications networks in rural areas where no private company would dare invest. Joan Engebretson explains why "Broadband Payback is not Just About Subscriber Revenues.".

Antique Phone

The upshot is that in doing a cost/ benefit analysis on telecom infrastructure investment, it’s important to take into account not only the direct revenues that the infrastructure generates but also the dollars that flow into a community as a result of the investment.

Imagine trying to sell a home today that only had party line phone service and think about the impact that would have on the value of the home. Now apply that logic to broadband. With two-thirds of U.S. households accustomed to having broadband connectivity, I’m already hearing that homes in areas with inadequate broadband...

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Posted July 14, 2011 by christopher

Colorado requires a referendum before a local government can build a broadband network as a result of a 2005 law pushed by Qwest to prevent communities from building next-generation networks. So when Longmont wanted to expand its fiber ring to offer residential and business services, they put it to a vote.

They lost with only 44% supporting the measure. But now, more people understand the issue and the community is considering voting again.

We saw the same dynamic in Windom, Minnesota. Almost ten years ago, Windom held a vote to build a muni FTTH network and it failed to gain the Minnesota-required 65% supermajority. After the vote, a number of people wanted to revote because they realized they had been conned by the incumbent phone provider (ahem… Qwest) and only truly understood the issue after the vote had occurred.

City officials wanted no part of another referendum but community champions eventually prevailed and they had a second vote that authorized the community to build the network.

We'll see if Longmont follows suit. An article discussing the re-vote notes that Comcast and Qwest have dumped unprecedented sums into preventing the community from having a new choice:

The first attempt at getting that approval didn't go so well in 2009. According to city records, opponents -- including the Colorado Cable Telecommunications Association -- spent $245,513 to defeat that ballot measure, the largest amount ever spent on a Longmont city election. By contrast, the city legally couldn't campaign on its own behalf, and the explanations that were out there didn't explain well, according to Longmont Power & Communications director Tom Roiniotis.

The cable and phone companies created an astroturf group called "No Blank Check" that then used standard fear, uncertainty, and doubt tactics to spread misinformation around the community. A quarter of a million dollars is a drop in the bucket to stop the only real threat of competition these companies face anymore -- locally owned community networks.

The situation in Longmont has attracted the interest of the...

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Posted July 12, 2011 by christopher

You can also read this story over at the Huffington Post.

How can it be that the big companies who deliver some of the most important services in our modern lives (access to the Internet, television) rank at the top of the most hated? Probably because when they screw up or increase prices year after year, we have no choice but sticking with them. Most of us have no better options.

But why do we have so few choices? Government-sanctioned monopolies have been outlawed since the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Unfortunately, the natural tendency of the telecommunications industry is toward consolidation and monopoly (or duopoly). In the face of this reality, the federal government has done little to protect citizens and small businesses from telecom market failings.

But local governments have stepped up and built incredible next-generation networks that are accountable to the community. These communities have faster speeds (at lower prices) than the vast majority of us.

Most of these communities would absolutely prefer for the private sector to build the necessary networks and offer real competition, but the economics of telecom makes that as likely as donuts becoming part of a healthy breakfast. In most cases, the incumbent cable and telephone companies are too entrenched for any other company to overbuild them. But communities do not have the same pressures to make a short-term profit. They can take many years to break even on an investment that creates many indirect benefits along the way.

One might expect successful companies like AT&T and Time Warner Cable to step up to the challenge posed by community networks, and they have. Not by simply investing more and competing for customers, but by using their comparative advantage – lobbying state legislatures to outlaw the competition. As we noted in our commentary and video last week, massive cable and telephone companies have tried to remove...

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Posted July 8, 2011 by christopher

I have long been a fan of Larry Lessig's work, so I was proud to see him use our work as the foundation for his presentation at the 2011 Personal Democracy Forum.  He talks about the fundamental right of communities to build their own networks as well as Time Warner Cable's successful purchase of competition-limiting legislation in North Carolina.

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