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?"

Another Gig in Tennessee: Jackson Energy Authority Announces Network Upgrade

One of the earliest and largest community fiber-to-the-home networks in the nation is about to get an upgrade. Jackson Energy Authority (JEA), a public utility in Western Tennessee, has announced that all 18,000 of its subscribers will be able to receive symmetrical gigabit services within three years, with the first upgraded connections expected to come online in early 2015. The pricing for a gigabit connection is not yet finalized, but will be under $100 per month according to Senior VP of Telecommunications Ben Lovin. 

JEA built out its FTTH network way back in 2003, when DSL was still considered fast and iPods and cellphones were just beginning to find their way into most people’s pockets. At a cost of $54 million, the network was funded mostly through revenue bonds. It has offered triple play services (voice, internet, and television) for ten years, achieving take rates of up to 70%

Because of the age of its equipment, to enable the gigabit upgrade JEA will have to replace the optical network terminal (ONT) at each premises - the point where the network fiber connects to the actual house or building. JEA will also have to replace some of the network equipment in its central offices. The total cost is expected to fall between $8-10 million. Unlike the original network build out in 2003, however, the upgrade will be funded through regular cash flow and will not require borrowing. 

JEA provides all utility services under one umbrella in the city of Jackson: water, heat, electricity, and telecommunications. Its investment in ubiquitous fiber has allowed it to implement smart grid technology, managing outages and power flows more securely and efficiently. 

Jackson, Tennessee is also a member of Next Century Cities, the collaborative effort between communities and elected leaders across the country to share informational resources and promote fast, affordable, and reliable Internet access.

Christopher to Present at "Maximizing Fibre Infrastructure Investment in Europe" Seminar on Nov. 19

Christopher is visiting Brussels, Belgium this week to present at a conference organized by the Swedish Association of Local Authorities (SALAR) and Stokab (The City of Stockholm IT infrastructure company). The seminar, "Maximizing Fibre Infrastructure Investment in Europe," is scheduled for Wednesday from 2 - 6 p.m. local time - that's 8 a.m. - noon EST in the U.S. 

The event will be livestreamed on the Bambuser channel and we will also make a link available to the archive after the event. 

According to the seminar announcement, main discussion will focus on:

How should the telecom market be structured in order to encourage service-based competition and innovation?

How can municipalities and regions engage in fibre deployment without risking to harm competition and making private companies less willing to invest?

Does the interest for investments in broadband and OTT services increase if it is possible to get access to fibre by municipalities and regions, not providing services themselves?

Chris will lecture on fiber rollouts in the U.S. He will be joined by a list of industry and research leaders, including:

  • Benoit Felton: Chief Research Officer, Diffraction Analysis
  • Jonas Malmlund: Partner, Consulting, Deloitte AB
  • Crister Mattsson: Senior Advisor, Acreo Swedish ACT
  • Anthony Whelan: Director, Electronic Communications, Networks and Services, DG Connect, European Commission
  • Gunnar Hokmark: Vice President EPP, European Parliament

The event will be at the Radisson Blu EU Hotel in Brussels.

For more about the event and details on each presentation, take a moment to view the announcement below.

Community Broadband Media Roundup - November 14, 2014

Communities all over the country have nearby examples of successful broadband networks at their fingertips, and this week more communities are moving ahead with plans to take back their authority to build them.

Rockford, Illinois city leaders announced a proposal that would tap in to 900 miles of existing fiber optic cable. Kelsie Passolt with NBC13 in Rockford reported on the city’s steps to connect its community.    

Ansel Herz with The Stranger in Seattle expresses frustration with the city’s pace of progress. He interviewed a former broadband task force member, Bill Covington for context surrounding the city’s decision to move forward on another study. 

"I want to see if the Murray administration will say, 'Let's put the money on the table, and take the heat, and we will follow the Chattanooga or Tacoma Click! model. Chattanooga's model, with the city's public utility taking the lead and overcoming lawsuits from the likes of Comcast, has been a rousing success.

Put a pin in Berkshire County in Western Massachusetts. The state’s broadband institute is discussing strategies for high speed Internet. Tony Dobrowolski with the Berkshire Eagle reports that “If officials are interested, Holahan said the MBI is willing to help town governments with the cost of connecting residents and businesses.”

And your nugget of joy for this week is a gem from Opelika Power in Opelika, Alabama. Their clever advertisement makes us smile, we hope you enjoy as well!

The New York Times’ Edward Wyatt dug deep to reveal that even sweet potatoes have a connection to community broadband. His story highlights what happens when state laws get in the way of Internet competition.  

“…A three-year-old state law prohibits the city of Wilson’s utility from expanding its broadband network outside its home territory.

“The technology is right there across the county line,” Mr. Bissette said on a recent afternoon, after plowing up a field of sweet potatoes for harvest. “If we could get the service, we could make sure the temperature is right, that air is circulating. It would make life a whole lot simpler.”

It’s not new that there’s big money in telecommunications legislation, but just how much is going into elected official's coffers? Sarah Zhang with Gizmodo breaks down the numbers, collecting the campaign contributions to politicians from Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon, AT&T, and their trade group the National Cable and Telecommunications Association. See where your legislator ranks on the list. 

 

Net Neutrality

President Obama's call for reclassification of Internet access caused a stir this week. Fortune's Peter Sucio explained what that would mean for consumers.

“Comcast and Verizon want to scare the public and Congress by calling Title II ‘regulation of the Internet,’” says Evan Greer, campaign director of the advocacy group Fight for the Future. “Title II is about preventing a select few companies from regulating what people can and can see and do on the Internet.”

But Brian Heaton wrote in GovTech this week that it's definitely much more complex than President Obama's public statement led many to believe. 

Christopher Mitchell, director of the Telecommunications as Commons Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, and an advocate for improved Internet access, wasn’t sure how Obama’s words will impact the commission’s decision. But he felt the president should be taking a stronger lead on the issue.

“I think the president is trying to provide cover for the FCC to take the necessary steps to protect the open Internet despite incredibly strong opposition from the cable/telephone companies and their proxies,” Mitchell said. 

Mitchell also provided insight on a number of other news reports on the issue this week. OPB's "Think Out Loud", MPR's "Daily Circuit", and KCRW's "To the Point" were among them. 

Rachel Swan with San Francisco Weekly wrote that her city might not be waiting for the FCC to decide what happens to the Internet. It’s a message we hope other communities hear loud and clear:

“There's a glimmering possibility that the agency might not rule in favor of an open Internet. And even if it does side with Obama, consumers are still left with the fundamental problem of a small group of companies controlling a critical resource. 

"We have to realize that net neutrality is not a silver bullet, when it comes to giving consumers freedom," Electronic Frontier Foundation activist April Glaser says.

Community Broadband Media Roundup - November 10, 2014

Several communities in Colorado are the community broadband champions of the week. Jon Brodkin covered the decision by voters in the state to consider building their own networks.  

Voters in five cities and three counties voted to restore local authority for municipal networks. It’s significant for several reasons, including the large margin by which the measures passed

The success of the measures in these communities can give other communities hope, writes Sean Buckley. 

“This is a big blow to the state's largest telcos and cable MSOs like CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL) and Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA), two of the largest opponents to the municipal broadband movement.”

FindLaw’s Technologist weighed in on the votes as well. Mark Wilson, Esq. analyzes some of the bogus reports that are frequently used by interest groups to discredit muni networks. 

“It's hard to imagine why you wouldn't want municipal broadband, but Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and their lobby groups insist that public broadband and wireless networks are a waste of taxpayer money and are anti-competitive. That's according to a 2005 report from The New Millennium Research Council, a lobby group which was created by Issue Dynamics, a P.R. firm utilized by telephone and communications companies.”

Several news publications came out in favor of the measures days before the election. Erica Meltzer with the Daily Camera, Timothy E. Wirth and Ken Fellman of the Denver Post were among them, along with KUNC in Denver.

Stephanie Paige Ogburn continued the coverage after the election. 

Many Colorado towns have struggled to get affordable high-speed Internet, a service which has become a necessity almost akin to electricity or water, particularly for rural areas seeking to attract businesses in the service economy.

'There's so many stories of, I would love to move to Red Cliff, but you don't have a good internet connection. And so it is hampering our ability to grow as a town,' said Red Cliff mayor Scott Burgess, who is working to provide better broadband in his rural town."

Chris Welch of The Verge writes that the steps these communities made this week are not the end of the road.

“The successful vote doesn't require or guarantee the projects to get off the ground, but Colorado is sitting on "miles" of unused fiber, so the technology and resources are at least partially there.”

And Jason Meyers of Light Reading ties it all together:

"The Colorado developments are a win for proponents of municipal broadband, and for the overall development of Gigabit Cities, but the local measures in these communities are only the beginning. Now begins the task of evaluating business models for potentially building out fiber-to-the-home networks -- which could hinge on the facilities of municipal utilities, or involve public/private partnerships with commercial providers -- and the probable onslaught of responses from irate competitive providers."

In other words, here comes the fun part.

Other reporters were interested in what the Colorado votes could mean nationally

“'Cities and towns across the U.S. have already begun to make these changes and hundreds more are evaluating similar actions to provide better Internet service for their residents,' Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance Director Christopher Mitchell said.

Mitchell believes thousands of towns understand the goals, and while they are not yet committed to the push for faster Internet at affordable prices, they are thinking about joining the national effort."

Arielle Pardes of Vice took some time to chat with Chris this week about why her Internet is “so damn slow.”  

Robert Cooper wrote for US News this week, citing three ways the rules need to be changed, and unsurprisingly, he finds that the FCC’s role is crucial in promoting Net Neutrality, removing roadblocks to community networks, and stopping the mergers of mega telecom corporations. 

“The FCC finds itself in a rare position. Circumstances have placed before it the opportunity to ensure that the Internet continues to thrive as an engine for innovation and economic growth. To seize this opportunity, the commission need not impose a heavy-handed regulatory regime, nor become the 'Internet cop' that opponents of any action hyperbolically prognosticate. All it needs to do is exercise its authority in a smart and targeted way to ensure that content providers and consumers will be able to access one another without being subject to the unchecked whims of broadband ISP networks.”

Opelika FTTH Serving Residents, Businesses; New Marketing Videos

Opelika Power Services (OPS) began offering FTTH services to the community in mid-October, reports the Opelika-Auburn News, and demand is intense. Anticipation has been high since construction began in 2010. Dave Horton, OPS Director, told the News:

“We had a line of customers waiting at 7 a.m., and we don’t open until 8.”

“The calendar is full,” [Communications Manager June] Owens said. “We’re booked through November and into December. ... We’re trying to do about 20 (installations) a day.”

At this time, OPS serves most single-family properties. There are a few apartment complexes and mobile homes that were built after fiber was planted that also have service.

Regular readers will recall that Charter launched an astroturf campaign in Opelika when it announced it was interested in a network for smart-grid and connectivity purposeds. Fortunately, the voters in Opelika were savvy and interested in taking ownership of a fiber network.

At this early stage, the network already connects approximately 30 small businesses, reports Area Development Online. OPS has extended the network to the Northeast Opelika Industrial Park and the Fox Run Business Park.

In addition to spearheading the project, Mayor Gary Fuller is starring in OPS' newest funny video, "The Ball Pit":

OPS has also developed other testimonial videos from residential and business customers, each focusing on a different element of the service.



This video stresses local control and community ownership:



This testimonial comes from a residential customer; he describes the value to his family and how OPS is an improvement over his past provider:


In this video, a technical professional describes how his employer, a Methodist church, uses the superior services they get from OPS:

Cortez To Expand Open Access Network

A recent vote by the Cortez city council cleared the way for a major expansion in the city’s open access network. By committing $1 million in local funds, the city unlocked a matching $1 million grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, which disperses revenues from federal mineral leases in the form of a variety of economic development grants around the state.

This $2 million infusion will enable Phase II of the city’s network plan to go forward next year, making connections newly available to 400 businesses along two major highways. This builds on the existing Phase I network, which is capable of offering connections to about 650 businesses along Main Street. About 250 businesses have already signed on in Phase I, good for nearly a 40% take rate. The city plans to add 27 miles of fiber in 2015. 

The $1 million in local matching funds that enabled the Department of Local Affairs grant are pledged from a combination of sources. The network's own reserve fund will contribute $250,000, while the remainder will come in the form of interdepartmental loans from the city's general fund ($250,000) and equipment fund ($500,000). 

The city does not offer its own services over its fiber, favoring an open access model that lets independent service providers compete using its infrastructure. The network currently has seven mostly local ISPs competing for customers. The long term plan, as described by City General Services Manager Rick Smith in a Broadband Bits podcast back in May, is to build a fiber to the home network throughout the city. Smith sounds pretty determined to make that happen:

“Just because we live here in rural Cortez, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have access to affordable broadband. It’s a necessity in today’s digital age.” 

“It would probably take more than $10 million to finish out the entire city,” Smith said. “That could take at least five years, but we have a roadmap. We have a plan.”

Cortez has taken a gradual approach towards developing its fiber infrastructure, beginning with an I-Net for local anchor institutions in 1999. Over time, the town of less than 9,000 residents has become a regional fiber optic hub, thanks to several grants from the state, partnerships with neighboring governments, and smart local investments. Cortez serves as the nexus for the western half of the Southwest Colorado Access Network (SCAN), which connects public institutions in a five county region to backbone fiber. 

Cortez has also benefitted from good timing: it began leasing extra capacity on a few of its fiber optic lines to a handful of private companies in 2005. This allowed Cortez to be grandfathered in as an exemption to SB 152 which passed later that same year, meaning that unlike nearly all other Colorado municipalities, Cortez did not have to pass a referendum to use its fiber optic infrastructure to offer retail services.