Estes Park, Colorado, to Ask Voters to Reclaim Authority in February

The recent Colorado elections in Boulder, San Miguel County, Yuma County, Rio Blanco County, Wray, Yuma, Red Cliff, and Cherry Hills Village have inspired Estes Park. According to a recent Trail Gazette article, the northern town will hold a special election in February to ask voters to reclaim telecommunications authority. Approximately 5,800 people live in Estes Park.

The local Estes Park Economic Development Corporation (EDC) adopted a resolution in August urging the town council to take the issue to the voters reports the Trail Gazette. The council voted unanimously to support that idea.

"This resolution resulted from an extensive investigation into how to achieve a key goal in the Town's 2014 strategic plan: 'to encourage optimal use of the Platte River Power Authority's and Town's fiber optic infrastructure,' " [EDC's David] Batey said.

"We must take back the Town's right to decide the best way to provide competitive broadband," Batey said.

"Like electricity a century ago, broadband is a foundation for economic growth, job creation, global competitiveness and a better way of life," stated the EDC.

The town and the Platte River Power Authority (PRPA) share ownership of a fiber optic network between Estes Park and nearby Loveland. The ring was installed about 10 years ago for operation of the PRPA Transmission and Substation Electric System. Flooding in 2013 eliminated the other telecommunications infrastructure connecting Estes Park to the outside world, so there is no redundancy.

The City leases several of its fibers to Level 3 for a little over $1,600 per month but connectivity in town varies. Some areas rely on dial-up while others have DSL. There are also several smaller Wi-Fi providers working in the area.

Estes Park is well known as a tourist destination and like other rural areas we have reported on, resort areas often do not have access to fast, reliable, affordable networks. As visitors increasingly expect to be connected 24/7, remote and geographically challenging regions need to rely on themselves to bring better connectivity to businesses, guests, and residents.

The community received a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration. The purpose of the grant was to help the flood disaster area develop a economic diversification and industry job retention and recovery strategy. Part of that strategy involves developing better connectivity - a key to expanding beyond tourism as an economic base.

Thusfar, the community has earmarked $80,000 for a broadband study and $50,000 to develop a technology incubator co-working space.

Michigan's First Gigabit Village - Community Broadband Bits Episode 126

The small village of Sebewaing has become the first gigabit village in the state of Michigan. Superintendent of Sebewaing Light and Water utility Melanie McCoy joins us to discuss the project on episode 126 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

With approximately 1,800 people, Sebewaing has cracked the code for a small local government to deliver gigabit services to the community. In the show, we discuss previous telecommunications investments by the village and how they financed the gigabit fiber deployment.

We also discuss how Michigan law, designed to discourage municipal networks, delayed the project and increased the costs as well as the annoyance to many residents who long ago became impatient with how long it took to begin turning on the Internet service.

Read our full coverage of Sebewaing here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 14 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Thanks to Dickey F for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Florida Mama."

North Georgia Town Considering Fiber for Business

The City Council of the city of Commerce is considering using its existing fiber resources to offer connectivity to local businesses. At a November 3rd work session, Council members reviewed the plan and, according to the Main Street News, members voiced support for the idea.

“We’ve been actively working on this for months,” [City Manager Pete] Pyrzenski told the council. “We’ve been counseled on, we’ve talked through the options… this is a pretty viable utility for Commerce.” 

“We are ready to pull the fiber,” Pyrzenski declared. “Our role is to supply the fiber. We’re not going to get into cable TV, not going to get into telephone, just high-speed Internet.”

“Businesses have been looking for an alternative,” noted Mayor Clark Hill.

Windstream now serves the community of 6,500 but there have been significant complaints and there are no other options in this north Georgia town.

The city will need to invest $70,000 for equipment and legal fees. The network plan will use an existing line and will run additional fiber to expand the reach to more commercial customers. At this point, the city estimates a 5 - 10 year payback but that period may be reduced if local businesses respond positively. The city will fund the deployment with an interdepartmental loan from their municipal electric utility. Commerce also owns a municipal gas utility.

Community Broadband Media Roundup - November 21, 2014

Tennessee officials are raising the “Gig City” rally cry. Last week, public and private sector leaders gathered in Chattanooga to make sure the FCC knows where they stand on removing restrictions to community broadband in the state. GovTech’s Brian Heaton covered the rally.

“What needs to [happen] is removing the restriction of the electronic footprint, so anybody who wants to provide accessible, high-speed broadband will not be encumbered by unnecessary regulations,” [Tennessee Sen. Janice] Bowling (R) said.

Public officials again stressed the need to increase connectivity beyond the city’s borders in order to develop the area’s economic future.

Longmont, Colorado is one of this week's darlings of community broadband. Trevor Hughes reported on USA Today about the city connecting residents to its fiber optic network. The public network highlights the problems communities face when private networks fail to provide service as promised.

“Longmont knows all about the failings of the private marketplace. Twice the city partnered with private companies to provide high-speed Internet to residents over the past 15 years, and twice the private companies failed. Now city workers are picking up where those private ventures failed, using low-cost government loans to help pay workers to bring the service from the network that "last mile" to peoples' homes.

"It was the private sector that failed here," Roiniotis said. "We tried. We reached out to the private sector to build this network. "If we had waited long enough, there's a chance a cable company would have eventually done this. We decided, no we don't want to wait."

In Madison, city leaders are recognizing the necessity of Internet access in helping to close the digital divide. The city is looking into expanding connections from city government centers to low income areas and the city's public schools.

“We are working in the 21st century with 21st century learners,” says Cindy Green , the district’s executive director of curriculum and instruction. That requires access to and ability to navigate technology with ease.

“The instruction drives every decision that we make and the technology is a tool that gives students and teachers access to things they could not access in the classroom,” says Beth Clarke, director of instruction technology and media services.

And, high speed broadband received a major “go ahead” in Princeton, Massachusetts this week as well. The Local News Telegram reported about the 442-to-51 vote in favor of getting the city ready for its own network.

Net Neutrality

Adi Robertson with The Verge covered Sen. Ted Cruz’s ridiculous headline-grabbing “Obamacare for the Internet” talking point. When Cruz argued that public utilities are not “bold, innovative, and fair” he missed the point, as Robertson explains: 

“The problem is that "bold, innovative, and fair" aren't words that come to mind when you think of today's unregulated ISPs. In fact, Ted Cruz's nightmare scenario doesn't seem like a radical departure from what we've got right now. If its merger with Time Warner Cable goes through, Comcast will run over half the wired broadband market, and the "innovation" that net neutrality would prevent has so far involved blocking the BitTorrent protocol and giving its Xfinity video app a boost on the Xbox. Real competition — from Google Fiber or even municipal broadband projects — is what's actually led to, well, competition.” 

However, the best response to Ted Cruz may be from the occasionally crude but generally quite hilarious, The Oatmeal. And in this case, a good reminder of how campaign finance corruption leads to these kinds of crazy statements.

Vidalia Moves Ahead With New Technology Center, Big Pipe Across the Mississippi

When we last checked in with Vidalia, the Louisiana town of 4,300 had implemented free Wi-Fi in its new municipal complex. In October, the community began constructing the Vidalia Technology Center (VTC), as reported by MyArkLaMiss.com

The VTC will be at the site of former city hall office. The new facility will serve as entrepreneur incubation space in addition to housing infrastructure for the city's future fiber network. With Senator Mary Landrieu's help, Vidalia secured a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to build the VTC. The City is providing 35% matching funds.

The current key to better connectivity in Vidalia is a connection across the Mississippi River. The Natchez Democrat reports that the City obtained a permit to run a fiber backbone across the U.S. 84 Mississippi River bridge. Apparently, the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) does not normally allow the installation of utilities on bridges it controls. 

The City has been working on obtaining permission for almost two years. Another Natchez Democrat article reports:

According to minutes from the Mississippi Transportation’s Oct. 28 meeting, “the … rules require the city to provide justification of a hardship in writing and explain why alternative routes are not viable, which the City of Vidalia has done."

A connection across the Mississippi has been a significant obstacle for Vidalia as it planned its municipal network. While connecting facilities within the community may not have been a problem, without a connection to the outside world, the municipal network was not nearly as valuable.

Community leaders plan to eventually bring gigabit fiber service to every premise in Vidalia, a place where reliable connectivity for residents, businesses, and anchor institutions is lacking. The network will also encompass smart-grid technology. They also see the critical nature of economic development possibilities. From the MyArkLaMiss.com story:

The mayor says the center is necessary to bring modern technology, as well as more business and more industry to Vidalia.

Mayor Copeland says they were losing young entrepreneurs who couldn't operate their businesses without the right connectivity.

"Young entrepreneurs now can come to Vidalia and connect to the world  with the high speed internet system that we're going to have in Vidalia," he said.

...

"We will be able to tell the industries coming to Vidalia, we will be able to furnish you and connect you to the world," he said.

You can watch the MyArkLaMiss.com story here:

IP Transition Discussion on WAMU Kojo Nnamdi Radio Show

Discussion over the "IP transition" has taken a back seat in the media lately as news outlets focus on the question of local authority over the right to invest in fiber network infrastructure. The IP transition is the gradual change from older analog mostly copper networks to packet-switched IP approaches that may use any medium (copper, fiber, wireless, etc). Some big carriers, like AT&T, are pushing to change the traditional rules applied to telephony and telecommunications as part of this technological change.

In October, Kojo Nnamdi interviewed Jodie Griffin from Public Knowledge, Technology Reporter Brian Fung, and Rick Boucher, a lobbyist from the Sidney Austin law firm. The show, The Future of Phone Service, is archived and available for you to hear.

As technology creates options for how we speak with each other, rules, regulations, and policies must also stay current. In this interview, Nnamdi and his guests touch on some of the basic concerns we face moving forward. From the WAMU show description:

American phone companies began laying the nation’s vast copper wire telecom network in the 1800s. But today less than one-third of the country uses the old copper lines, and a mere 5 percent rely on them exclusively. The advent of fiber optic cable and wireless phone service makes the copper network obsolete. We explore the fate of landline phone service and concerns about pricing, safety and access as the nation transitions to an all-digital phone future.

If you are interested in learning more about the pros and cons in the IP transition debate, we encourage you to visit Public Knowledge's IP Transition issue page. They provide legal, anecdotal, and statistical data. PK also provides an advocacy toolkit to help you understand the transition and give you the info you need to defend your rights.

Chris Joins Sarah Morris on Oregon Radio to Discuss Cost of Connectivity

This is the third year the Open Technology Institute (OTI) at New America Foundation studied the cost and quality of connectivity in the U.S. Once again, the results indicate we trail behind peer countries. On November 11th, Chris joined Sarah Morris, one of the report authors, to discuss the report's findings, municipal networks, and how Title II reclassification may change the landscape. They joined Dave Miller for the Think Out Loud program on Oregon Public Broadcasting. 

In addition to detailed data analysis on where the best speeds and prices are,  The Cost of Connectivity 2014 provides reviews of several other papers from sources such as Akamai, the FCC, and the American Enterprise Institute.

Some notable findings from the report:

  • The average cost of plans in nearly every speed tier studied for the report was higher in the U.S. than in Europe.
  • Cities considered speed leaders have consistently increased speed offerings on an annual basis. In places where the speed was not increased, as in Lafayette, rates decreased. Almost half of the speed leaders cities offer gigabit speeds. 

OTI made special note of the success of municipal networks in places where traditional providers are not willing to invest:

Although there are many examples of successful locally-owned networks, we focus on Chattanooga, TN; Bristol, VA; and Lafayette, LA, which now offer some of the fastest and most affordable high-speed residential products available in the country despite the fact that they have some of the lowest population densities among the cities we survey.

All three cities offer gigabit speeds that place them on par with Hong Kong, Seoul, Tokyo, and Zürich in our speed leaders rankings, although the prices vary from city to city, and are ahead of the major incumbent ISPs in the U.S. In fact, the only other provider that offers gigabit speeds in the cities we surveyed is Google Fiber, which sells 1 Gbps service in Kansas City, KS, and Kansas City, MO, for the same price as EPB in Chattanooga, TN. By contrast, Verizon’s top tier is a 500 Mbps symmetrical connection that is available to some residents of New York, NY; Washington, DC; and Los Angeles, CA for about $300/month, which is significantly more than the cost of a gigabit in Chattanooga, TN (around $70/month) or Lafayette, LA (around $110/month) and comparable to the price of the gigabit package in Bristol, VA (around $320/month) but only half the speed.

In general, our research shows that these locally-owned networks tend to deliver better value to their customers when compared on a price-per-megabit basis to competing cable and telecom providers in their own cities.

The show runs just under 30 minutes.

After Local Communities Reclaim Authority, Comcast Turns Up Speed In Colorado

On November 4th, voters in several Colorado communities decided to reclaim local authority to provide telecommunications services. As Coloradans celebrated their steps toward self-reliance, Comcast felt a little quiver in its cowboy boots. KMGH in Denver is now reporting that Comcast plans to double Internet speeds at no extra charge for some Colorado customers. Customers now signed up for download speeds of 25 Mbps or 50 Mbps will see their speeds double at no extra charge by the end of the year.

KMGH reporter Ryan Tronier also notes that the recent election may have played a part in Comcast's decision to turn up the speed:

While the doubling of internet speeds is great news for Comcast customers, the move may not be as benevolent as it seems.

Comcast's announcement comes on the heels of seven Colorado cities and counties deregulating restrictive internet laws during the midterm elections. 

As many of our readers know, SB152 was passed in 2005 and prevents local governments from establishing telecommunications utilities unless voters approve an exemption. Exemptions passing in Boulder, Wray, Yuma, Cherry Hills Village, Red Cliff, Yuma County, San Miguel County, and Rio Blanco County appear to have been inspired by similar ballot measures years prior in Centennial, Montrose, and Longmont. Longmont is well into deploying its FTTH network.

With President Obama's recent support for reclassification to Title II as part of a free and open Internet plan, and Comcast's ongoing bid to merge with Time Warner Cable, a number of factors are still unsettled. Comcast is inclined to strategically present tidbits like this as a way to sweeten public perception when they want something of value.

Internet Essentials, Comcast's program for low income families was unveiled at a time when the cable behemoth wanted approval for its NBC acquisition. CEO David Cohen has admitted that it was used as a bargaining chip and it has since proved itself to be as much an obstacle as a tool. Unfortunately, Internet Essentials customers will not be included in this speed increase. In a place like Colorado where local communities are asserting their independence from one of the most hated companies in America, turning up the speed for free is the least Comcast can do.

Nevertheless, this is the latest example of how municipal networks, or the possibility of them, can inspire positive behavior from incumbents. In Columbia, Missouri, the local business community could not get adequate services from CenturyLink.  After announcing its intention to explore municipal fiber resources for commercial uses, CenturyLink decided it would offer gigabit service to a limited number of properties.

Colorado Comcast customers can expect their free speed increases by the end of 2014. While the increases are great news for existing customers, they do nothing for competition or for rural folks who are not served by the cable giant. Comcast customers who live in Denver can thank voters in Boulder, Wray, Yuma, Cherry Hills Village, Red Cliff, Yuma County, San Miguel County, and Rio Blanco County for their faster Internet speeds.

Chris in Mount Vernon, Washington: Video Now Available

Over the past few months, Chris has been globe trotting to communities giving presentations and learning more about municipal networks across the country. After spending some time in Seattle, he headed to Mount Vernon, Washington to present at the Connect with the World conference on October 9th.

The event took place at Skagit College and included other speakers such as Craig Settles, Susannah Malarkey, and Mark Anderson. The video of his presentation is now archived and available to view.

Mount Vernon has operated its open access fiber network since 1995, serving public facilities and local businesses. We spoke with Kim Kleppe, Information Systems Director, and Jana Hansen, Community & Economic Development Director, in episode 38 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

For Chris's presentation, watch the video below.

Video: 
See video

Susan Crawford on the Responsive City - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 125

Susan Crawford, author of Captive Audience and now co-author of The Responsive City: Engaging Communities Through Data-Smart Governance joins us for Community Broadband Bits #125. We discuss the idea of a Responsive City.

Susan contrasts her visions of a Responsive City with more traditional notions of a "smart" city and notes that having fiber throughout a community is a necessary base.

We discuss a few of the examples from the book that discuss how local governments are being transformed and how we would like to see them continue to transform in coming decades.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 15 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Thanks to Jessie Evans for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Is it Fire?"