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"Big Sky Broadband Workshop" Set for August 31st - September 1st in Missoula

The National Telecommunications and information Administration (NTIA) will be hosting the "Big Sky Broadband Workshop" on August 31st and September 1st in Missoula, Montana. If you happen to be in the area and keen to learn more about connectivity in the region, plan to attend this free event. Our own Christopher Mitchell will be participating in one of the panel discussions.

From the NTIA announcement:

Broadband is a critical driver of economic growth and prosperity across the country. The “Big Sky Broadband Workshop” will bring together state, local and federal officials, industry representatives, community leaders and other key stakeholders to share real-world broadband success stories and lessons learned from across the region. The summit will also examine the gaps that remain and strategize on what still needs to be done to expand access to and adoption of high-speed Internet services for the benefit of all citizens. 

The event will begin at noon on August 31st in Missoula’s Hilton Garden Inn; there will also be a reception later that evening. Panel discussions will continue the next morning at 9 a.m.

For more details contact Barbara Brown at NTIA, telephone: (202) 280–8260; email: bbrown(at)ntia.doc.gov.

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.

Can't Get to Keystone? Periscope Mountain Connect

It’s June, and that means Mountain Connect is upon us. The theme of the 6th annual conference is, “Hybrid Infrastructure Supporting Smart Cities.” It's a good opportunity for broadband development leaders from all over the country come together to discuss cutting edge networks and models that are shaping connectivity.

More than 60 communities in Colorado have passed referendums to demand local authority to build their own broadband networks; one at a time, more local communities are doing the same.

You can follow all the action at the conference via @CommunityNets on Twitter, and @MountainConnect for the full rundown. There will be Periscope broadcasts of some of the panel discussions throughout the conference.

Christopher will moderate the Public Sector Broadband Development panel Tuesday at 1 p.m. Mountain Time. It features Rio Blanco County’s Blake Mobley, Glenwood Springs’ Bob Farmer, Rick Smith from Cortez, and Brent Nation from Fort Morgan. Panelists will discuss their community’s projects and share lessons learned building smart broadband solutions for their communities.

View the full agenda online.

Decentralized Web Summit, June 8 - 9, San Francisco

The Decentralized Web Summit: Locking the Web Open will happen on June 8th and 9th at Internet Archive in San Francisco. The event will be live streamed if you can’t attend in person.

The event is a discussion of the future of the web. From the Summit website:

The World Wide Web is fragile. Links break and website content can disappear forever. The Web is not universally accessible. It is too easy for outside entities to censor connections, controlling what people can and cannot view on the Web. The Web is also not very private, exposing users to mass surveillance by corporations and governments. A Decentralized Web can address all of these problems by building in privacy, security and preservation by default, ensuring that websites are easily accessible to all as long as at least one person somewhere in the world is hosting a copy.

Keynote speakers will be Vint Cerf, considered one of the “Fathers of the Internet” and Chief Internet Evangelist for Google; Cory Doctorow, Special Advisor at the Electronic Frontier Foundation; and Brewster Kahle, Founder and Digital Librarian of the Internet Archive.

The list of presenters includes a number of innovators, tech leaders, and journalists. Panel discussions cover a range of relevant topics, including innovation, privacy, and security. There will also be workshops and Q & A to address your specific concerns.

You can check out the schedule, register to attend online, and learn more about the decentralized web by reviewing some of the resources the team has made available. The event is sponsored by the Internet Archive, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Ford Foundation, Google, and Mozilla.

Digital Northwest: What's Working?

Next Century Cities recently hosted "Digital Northwest," a summit for regional broadband leaders. Leaders from member cities all over the country gathered together to learn from one another and discuss digital inclusion, models for success, partnerships, and much more. 

Chris led a panel of mayors and city council leaders from cities with well-known municipal networks in a discussion of their networks and how their communities have benefitted. 

The panel featured: 

  • Mayor Jill Boudreau, Mt. Vernon, WA
  • Mayor Wade Troxell, Fort Collins, CO
  • City Council President Jeremy Pietzold, , Sandy OR
  • Councilmember David Terrazas, Santa Cruz, CA


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

Moderator:

Catharine Rice – Project Director, CLIC

Speakers:

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, BroadbandBreakfast.com


Bloomington, Indiana May Bloom with an RFI

“The Gateway to Scenic Southern Indiana” could soon be the gateway to high-speed Internet access in Indiana.  The city of Bloomington, Indiana, has undertaken several projects and events in order to empower the community to find solutions to its connectivity problems.

The city of Bloomington issued a Request For Information (RFI) for a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network on March 31, 2016. City leaders have taken this next step in order to make high-speed Internet access affordable and available to all of the city’s 80,000 people.

A Bull’s Eye: The RFI

Unlike the often-mentioned Request For Proposal (RFP), an RFI does not establish a plan of action. Instead, the RFI creates a procedure for Internet service providers (ISPs), contractors, and other companies to provide information on how they would create a network to best meet the needs of the city. The city's deadline to answer any questions from interested firms is April 28th and RFI responses are due on May 12th.

Rick Dietz spoke with us the day after the city released the RFI. Dietz is the Director of ITS for the city of Bloomington. He described how the city had come to its decision to pursue a community network. The mayor and city council hired a consultant and held a symposium on high-speed networks, before releasing the RFI.

Dietz repeated the three key components that are integral to the RFI:

  • Community-wide connectivity, to enable everyone to use the network.
  • Community-control, to ensure the network meets the community’s needs.
  • Financial sustainability to the community in the future.

Without these principles, a new network will likely not be right for Bloomington. The RFI calls for any incumbent providers, local providers, or others to describe their ideas to achieve these goals, whether through a private public partnership or not. The City has taken a number of steps to enable this process to go smoothly.

The February Symposium

In February, the city held a symposium on next-generation networks. It brought together local and national experts in fiber networks. A recording of the entire event is available on YouTube at “Bloomington Symposium on Next-Generation High Speed Networks.” Speakers included Blair Levin from Gig.U, Erin Deacon from KC Digital Drive, and several others who described how Bloomington would benefit from a fiber network.

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Throughout the event, city leaders and community members learned much about the opportunities for high-speed Internet access in Bloomington. Mayor John Hamilton, a long-time advocate for better connectivity in Bloomington, ended the symposium by announcing the plans to release the RFI:

“Today is a beginning not an ending. We have a lot of work ahead -- my head is buzzing and swimming in a good way. There has been a great deal of information and energy and activity a lot depends on our doing this hard-work together.”

The RFI makes reference to several key assets, such as Bloomington Digital Underground (BDU), that the city could use as they develop the project. BDU is a system of existing city-owned conduits and fiber that could facilitate the creation of a new municipal network. 

New Century, New Approach

Back in 1999, the City Council and the Mayor’s Office began to create a comprehensive plan to install fiber-optic cable and conduit throughout the city’s rights-of-way. Whenever the city begins a construction project, such as improving roads or sewers, they add extra conduit for future fiber-optic cables.

BDU also led to the construction of a fiber-optic ring around the center of Bloomington. It connects the main city buildings as well as some schools. In fact, the city installed more fiber than then needed in order to make extra capacity available to private entities or for future projects, such as the one envisioned in the RFI.

Confidence and Optimism

With the RFI finally released, the idea as suggested by the BDU project, now moves one step closer to reality. As Mayor Hamilton reminded the audience at the beginning of the symposium in February:

“We do not have the digital network we need right now, and we certainly don't have the network we will need in 10 years. For 200 years, we've faced the future with confidence and optimism, and we should do the same now.”

2016 Municipal Technology Conference May 5, in Augusta, ME

The 2016 Municipal Technology Conference is coming up on Thursday, May 5th, 2016 at the Augusta Civic Center in the state capital. The conference is sponsored by the Maine Municipal Association (MMA) and the Maine GIS UserGroup (MEGUG) in cooperation with Maine’s ConnectME Authority

The conference title - “Ready. Set. Grow!” - captures one of the major themes of the conference, where several panel sessions will focus on the topic of municipal networks. Several Maine communities, including Rockport, Sanford, Orono and Old Town, and Bar Harbor, have made progress in the past couple of years toward creating locally-grown fiber networks. 

Some notable people appearing as panelists and presenters at the conference include:

Jeff Letourneau - As the Executive Director of Networkmaine, Mr. Letourneau oversees the University of Maine’s cyber-infrastructure. He has been involved in numerous network initiatives in Maine including the first Internet connection project in Maine in the 1980s, the first K-12 school and public library network (MSLN) in the US in the 1990s, and he co-authored a federal Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) grant that led to a $25 million loan for Maine’s middle-mile network, the Three Ring Binder. Letourneau is also a member of the ConnectMaine Authority Advisory Board and a former member of the Maine State Legislature’s Broadband Strategy Council.

Sue Inches -  As a Senior Consultant for Tilson Technology Company, a Maine-based network construction and consulting company, Sue Inches has helped communities to successfully navigate the political waters of planning for municipal network projects for more than 20 years. She has also served in various other private and governmental positions, including a post as Deputy Director of the State Planning Office, a state agency that performs policy analysis and research for municipal projects.

Representatives from several Maine communities in various stages of developing municipally-owned networks will also appear at the conference, including:

  • Steven Buck - City Manager for the City of Sanford
  • Steve Cornell - Technical Systems Administrator for the Town of Bar Harbor
  • Belle Ryder - Assistant Manager for the Town of Orono

Appearing as a presenter will be Brian Lippold, the Director Broadband/Telecom Consulting for the James W. Sewall Company, an engineering company that has been working with the Maine Town of Fort Fairfield on a fiber network feasibility study.

Those interested in attending the conference can register and find additional details online. The cost of attending the conference is: 

  • $70 for MMA Member Municipalities/Patrons/Non-Profits/State Agencies, MEGUG Members, or ConnectME Authority Affiliates
  • $140 for Non Member Municipalities
  • $100 for Business Representatives

Connecticut Focuses on Local Leadership

At the end of March, city leaders across the state of Connecticut converged on a conference to discuss the deficiencies of Internet access and ways to move forward such as a regional network, municipal networks, and public private partnerships. Over the past year, the communities of New Haven, Hartford, and Manchester, have explored several of these possibilities. What pathway they choose depends in part on the outcome of the conference.

The Conference: A Long Time Coming

The conference High-Speed Broadband Infrastructure: A Toolbox for Municipalities took place the state capital Hartford, Connecticut, on March 23, 2016. The presenters, featuring the mayors of New Haven and Hartford, addressed the diverse needs of Connecticut’s communities.

And those needs are many. The Office of Consumer Counsel just released two reports on Connecticut’s connectivity. The first report describes the deficiencies of Internet access in Connecticut. It narrates many of the struggles small, local institutions face in trying to receive adequate Internet service from incumbent providers. The second report recommends a matching grant program for pilot projects based on lessons learned from other states’ programs. 

The conference and reports came out of an initiative called the CT Gig Project. Based out of the Offices of the Consumer Counsel and the Comptroller, the CT Gig Project encouraged communities to coordinate Requests for Qualifications (RFQ) to generate information from private providers about building a statewide, open access, gigabit network. (Chris spoke about the details of the CT Gig Project with Connecticut’s Consumer Counsel Elin Katz and the State Broadband Policy Coordinator Bill Vallee in Community Broadband Bits Episode #118.) In 2014, more than 40 communities joined the initiative that New Haven and Hartford spearheaded. The process ultimately brought the towns together, setting the stage for the conference, but it would not have taken off without the previous work of Manchester over ten years ago.

Manchester’s Old Fight Empowers Communities Today

In the mid-1990s, Manchester became one of the first cities in New England to create citywide fiber network. City leaders utilized a key component of right-of-way (ROW) regulation, the Municipal Gain Law, to quickly deploy fiber throughout the city on the existing utility poles.

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The Municipal Gain Law provides the municipality a position (gain) on each utility pole that is standing in the municipal ROW.

Manchester connected public buildings to one another for internal communication via the “FiberNet”, but still purchased their Internet access through the incumbent provider, SNET (later bought by Frontier Communications). SNET brought the town to court over the Municipal Gain Law. After a fierce legal fight, the case came to a successful resolution in the early 2000s. Now, with the push to improve connectivity for the rest of the state, Manchester is well situated to revisit the possibilities of its “FiberNet.”

According to Chief Information Officer Jack McCoy, Manchester has over 20,000 properties, so a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) project would prove expensive. If Manchester built the network on its own, the economic development potential might make up for the costs. FiberNet already runs throughout the town; bringing fiber to businesses and homes could provide new vitality to the local economy. McCoy suggested the city would consider leveraging FiberNet assets to partner with a private provider. Mayor Jay Moran old us, "All options are on the table."

Hartford: Slow and Steady Wins the Race

While Manchester has been taking its time investigating options, Hartford pushed forward. The state capital and one of most populous cities in Connecticut with 125,000 people, Hartford immediately jumped at the opportunity presented by the CT Gig Project. According to the Office of Consumer Counsel's first report, many in Hartford do not have ready access to affordable high-speed Internet for their homes or businesses even though Hartford is a hub of economic and political activity.

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Incumbent providers have deployed fiber throughout the city but several small businesses have been quoted tens of thousands of dollars for fiber installation. These small businesses have had to get creative to manage. For instance, an incubator space in the Conference of Churches constructed a wireless connection from a State building a half-mile away to receive somewhat adequate speeds. 

Although one of the first to join the CT Gig Project, Hartford maintains realistic timetable expectations. Efforts to get high-quality Internet access into Hartford have slowed as the city administration enters the budgeting season. Chief Information Officer Sabina Sitaru in the consolidated IT department of the city and school system of Hartford explained that, although momentum for the CT Gig project has slowed, the demand for better Internet access still exists. Grassroots efforts are trying to keep up the energy, and the conference bolsters that support.

In New Haven, Ideas and Plans Abound

Much like Hartford, New Haven moved quickly ahead. The city signed onto the CT Gig Project, and the Mayor Toni Harp spoke favorably of an open access network in a 2015 WNHH Community Radio Interview. In fact, by late summer 2015, the New Haven Board of Alders had passed a resolution to explore a feasibility study for a regional network. Community leaders supported the plan, but before the community could commission a feasibility study, an offer to partner with the incumbent got the attention of New Haven's leadership.

In late August 2015, Frontier pitched a public-private partnership through its subsidiary SNET. Frontier had previously purchased the incumbent company SNET in 2014 and had moved the regional headquarters into the city of New Haven. The introduction of the idea of a municipal network, however, changed the conversation around Frontier’s role in the city. This partnership offer, however, did not grow into a viable plan.

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Considering Frontier's horrible reputation with customers, including snaillike speeds and frustrating customer service, New Haven is better off without Frontier as a partner. They have toyed with communities in the past, alluding to partnerships only to eventually back out. In 2007 - 08, Frontier continued to string along Lac qui Parle County as it looked for a partner to develop a County wide fiber optic network. Finally, after a formal request for a partnership from the County went ignored by Frontier, the County decided to work with local cooperative, Farmers Mutual Telephone Company. As customers abandoned Frontier for better connections on the new network, Frontier tried to bully them with steep early termination fees. Read more about it in our 2014 report, All Hands On Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models For Expanding Fiber Internet Access.

There are still many opportunities to close the digital divide and build economic potential, explained New Haven City Controller Daryl Jones. The city is considering offering free Wi-Fi on the green during concerts and may sell advertising to local businesses that will run over the Wi-Fi, possibly as splash pages. A local company in New Haven has been involved in improving Internet access in public housing in New York City -- New Haven may work with them. 

“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

Jones repeated that age-old proverb in describing the situation. The problem of slow, unaffordable Internet access does not have a quick and easy fix, but Connecticut won’t stop trying. The two new reports and the conference are just a few more new bites out of this elephantine problem. 

Sixth Annual SHLB Conference April 27 - 29 at Crystal City, VA

The Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition (SHLB) is hosting its sixth annual conference from April 27 - 29 at the Hyatt Regency in Crystal City, VA (near Reagan National Airport in Washington DC).

From the SHLB website:

Every year SHLB's Annual Conference attracts 200-300 people from across the country to discuss key broadband policy issues that are important to anchor institutions and their communities. This year's sixth Annual Conference will focus on E-rate Compliance, Lifeline Reform, Telehealth, and Fiber Build Out, as well as other policies and funding programs that will impact broadband deployment for anchor institutions and communities.

The conference officially kicks off at 12 p.m. noon on Wednesday, April 27th.

Notable plenary speakers at the conference will include US Senator Angus King (I-Maine) and Valerie Truesdale, the Chief Technology, Personalized Learning & Engagement Officer for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina. In addition, representatives from the Broadband Opportunities Council (BOC) will also participate on a lunch panel on the last day of the conference.

Senator King has been a strong proponent of universal broadband access and municipal broadband initiatives. Valerie Truesdale is an advocate for using improved access to broadband and other technologies to transform learning in schools. The Broadband Opportunities Council, established by President Obama, works to understand how the Executive Branch can support communities around the nation seeking to invest in local broadband networks.

The full list of conference speakers includes a link to information about each speaker. The complete conference agenda also provides information about the different sessions and workshops to be held throughout the three day conference.

You can register for the conference online at this link until April 25, 2016. Onsite conference registration will also be available beginning at 12:00pm on Wednesday April 27.

Prices for attending the conference vary depending on your registration type. The cost of registration onsite is an additional $100 for every registration type.