Call to Action: Support Stronger Rules for Mobile 911

An increasing number of Americans are abandoning their landlines for the convenience and economy of mobile devices. Unfortunately, doing so also makes it more difficult to locate the caller in an emergency. In order to correct the problem, the FCC has proposed a stronger set of rules that will increase location accuracy for 911 calls.

As can be expected, 911 Dispatchers and First Responders support the proposed rules. Public Knowledge recently wrote about the changes that could save an additional 10,000 lives per year.

Currently, wireless companies are not required to use specific cell tower information to lead emergency medical personnel to an apartment or the floor from which a call originates. They need only to supply specific information if the call is made from outdoors. As more and more people depend on mobile devices, both indoors and out of doors, our rules need updating.

Public Knowledge has posted a call to action to support stronger rules and ensure more successful rescues:

As a result of consumers’ growing reliance on wireless and reported failures in locating callers on time, the FCC has proposed rules that require carriers to give 911 dispatchers callers’ locations within 100 meters after their first connection with a cell phone tower, and 50 meters after the dispatchers search using location accuracy, such as GPS. They have also included a requirement for vertical location, or the ability to find what floor and building callers are located in.

We encourage you to read and sign the petition drafted by Public Knowledge and to let the FCC know that policy needs to keep pace with technology.

Next Century Cities - Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 121

This week, we helped to launch Next Century Cities, a collaborative effort of local governments that are making smart investments and partnerships to ensure their communities have fast, affordable, and reliable Internet access.

Deb Socia is the Executive Director of Next Century Cities, coming to it from a nonprofit organization she developed in Boston called Tech Goes Home that works to increase digital inclusion. Via my capacity at ILSR, I am the policy director for NCC, so I have been working with Deb behind the scenes to launch Next Century Cities. This week, we spend a few minutes talking about this new organization.

Next Century Cities is an exciting collection of 32 founding community partners with incredible diversity. From large cities to small, right-leaning to left-leaning. Some are municipal networks and some have partnered with private companies. If you think your community would like to join, have the Mayor or a public offiical contact NCC.

See the member cities here and watch the full launch event here. Follow Next Century Cities on Twitter - @nextcentcit.

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 10 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?"

Westminster Commences Fiber Deployment

Westminster's open access fiber optic project is now officially in construction, after a groundbreaking ceremony on October 16th at a local deli in the Airport Business Park. Dr. Robert Wack, spearheading the initiative in Maryland, told the Chamber of Commerce:

“The Air Business Park is the ideal location for our groundbreaking since this is our first business location for fiber installation,” says Dr. Robert Wack, President of the Common Council. “This initiative is a key factor in economic development, and we are eager to offer broadband in an effort to bring more new businesses in Westminster.”

According to an article in the Carroll County Times, directional drilling is expected to move along at 500 feet per day to an eventual 60 miles. 

The community originally planned several pilot projects, but enthusiasm grew quickly; even before the start of deployment, businesses expressed intense interest. After examining the need, the possibilities, and the risks, the Common Council approved a budget that included funding for a broader deployment. The project will eventually take advantage of the nearby Carroll County Public Network for a wider reach.

You can listen to Chris interview Dr. Wack on episode 100 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Longmont Schools Save, Increase Bandwidth With Help from LPC

Schools in Longmont recently began working with Longmont Power and Communications (LPC) to increase bandwidth, save money, and begin implementing a new technology plan. As part of the plan, every middle school student in Longmont was assigned an iPad mini this school year.

Jon Rice from the Longmont Compass alerted us to the program that takes advantage of the new 10 Gig wide area network. LPC installed the WAN this summer for the St. Vrain Valley School District. The network has a 20 Gbps ring and each school has an active 10 Gbps link with a second 10 Gbps ring for redundancy. The district's Chief Information Officer, Joe McBreen summed up the situation:

“We really needed to give ourselves some breathing room,” he said. The new LPC  “pipe,” he said, gave St. Vrain 10 times the bandwidth while saving $100,000 a year and allowing teaching and learning to be exponentially improved.

According to McBreen, bandwidth demands used to take up 80 - 90 percent of the district's bandwidth, but now only requires 5 percent on a typical day, even with the new devices.

Not long ago, LPC announced a new $49.95 per month gigabit service for residents and businesses. If customers sign up early, LPC guarantees the price for an extended period. The price remains the same at that residence, regardless of who owns the home. LPC expects to finish its current expansion work in 2017. 

In the short video below, School Board Member Paula Peairs notes that the district's savings on connectivity costs allows them to direct more funds to devices, staff training, and classes for students.

"The fact that the City has established that and built us the infrastructure to apply it is enormous. We have a community that supports that and really puts us in a unique position."

Matt Scheppers, Electrical Operations Manager at LPC, said of the utility's new service to the school:

"We are really excited to see what they do with it and we are going to accommodate them in the future; if they need more speed we will be able to provide that too. We're real excited about that opportunity." 

Video: 
See video

California Law Offers New Way to Finance Broadband Projects

On September 29th, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill that may make building community networks in his state just a bit easier. The memorably-named “Assembly Bill No. 2292” allows broadband projects to be included among the types of public works that can be financed using Infrastructure Financing Districts (IFDs).

IFDs are entities formed by regional coalitions of city, county, or other governmental units. They are designed to provide upfront funding for infrastructure projects that have broad regional benefits (highways, water systems, etc.), and are paid for by earmarking the increased property or other tax revenue the projects are expected to generate over a specified future period (usually decades). 

The idea behind IFDs - capturing future value to provide upfront funding to the projects that will create that value - is much like Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts in other states. We have seen communities in other states turn to TIFs for broadband networks build outs, perhaps most notably throughout Indiana

The text of the bill is all of three lines long, and simply amends the existing authorizing law for IFDs to explicitly allow infrastructure financing districts to be used for “public capital facilities or projects that include broadband.” While the old wording of the statute did not explicitly reject using IFDs for broadband projects, it did not explicitly allow it either.

Removing the uncertainty around the issue should help encourage local governments to consider network investments, especially since one of the major unpredictable costs is incumbent lawsuits. This change will slightly reduce the opportunity for incumbents to slow a municipal network with a lawsuit.

The bill was written and sponsored by Representative Rob Bonta, who represents parts of both Oakland and San Leandro in the Bay Area. It is no coincidence that San Leandro is a city seeing the benefits of robust fiber optic infrastructure, and San Leandro mayor reportedly pushed the idea to Rep. Bonta, who made the case for the bill as an economic development driver:

Broadband provides cities and counties with an opportunity to stimulate the economic climate by providing businesses with the competitive advantage of being connected to high speed fiber optic networks. AB 2292 will help boost local economies, create local jobs and increase access for schools, libraries and other public facilities to state of the art telecommunications networks. 

While AB 2292 shows a growing awareness of the need for more public investment in broadband, it is far from a silver bullet. The political process necessary to create an IFD is cumbersome and challenging:

IFDs have to be approved by all the local agencies that would be contributing tax revenue, local property owners have to be consulted and then it goes through a series of public votes, including two – to form the IFD and then to issue bonds – that require a two-thirds majority to pass.

These are huge hurdles to clear for any major public project, and the California legislature recognized this by creating a new category of Enhanced Infrastructure Financing Districts (EIFDs) in this year’s session that are more flexible and lower the bar to a single public vote and 55 percent approval. Unfortunately, the bill creating EIFDs (SB 628) does not explicitly include or exclude broadband projects, falling into the same murky middle ground that the old IFD legislation did.

The end result of the California legislative session is a partial win for community broadband networks. They get new access to an existing financing tool, but only a taste of the new and improved system. The goal for the future should be clear: get next generation broadband projects definitively included in the Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District statute, so more local communities can start to enjoy the benefits of fiber the way San Leandro and Santa Monica do today.    

Crawfordsville Municipal Network Purchased by Metronet in Indiana

Our Community Broadband Map documents over 400 communities where publicly owned infrastructure serves residents, business, or government facilities. We rarely hear of publicly owned systems sold to private providers, but it does happen once in a blue moon.

Accelplus, the fiber optic FTTH network deployed by Crawfordsville Electric Light & Power (CEL&P) in Indiana was sold earlier this year to private provider Metronet.

According to a July Journal Review article, the transition for customers began this summer with completion expected by the end of 2014. Metronet invested approximately $2 million in upgrades. Metronet will also offer voice services via the network; Accelplus offered only Internet and video.

In the past, we have found that networks that offer triple-play can attract more customers, increasing revenues. In states where munis cannot offer triple-play or administrative requirements are so onerous they discourage it, municipalities that would like to deploy fiber networks sometimes decide to abandon their vision due to the added risk. 

A November 2013 Journal Review article reported that the network, launched in 2005, faced an expensive lawsuit commenced by US Bank. Apparently the network could not keep up with the repayment schedule for Certificates of Participation, backed by network revenue, that financed the investment.

Metronet purchased Accelplus and its assets for $5.2 million. The City also provided some economic development incentives. When all is said and done, investors are settling for a total of $5.6 million and the City avoids a $19.6 million lawsuit.

A February Journal Review article reported:

Metronet will receive a 10-year, $24,000 per year lease from CEL&P on property currently used by Accelplus. Metronet can purchase that property for $1 after the lease expires. Accelplus manager John Douglas has segregated those areas and provided AutoCAD drawings to Metronet.

Furthermore, CEL&P will lease 72 strands of fiber to Metronet at the rate of $24,000 per year for 10 years as part of an indefeasible right to use agreement.

A 99-year lease agreement will also allow Metronet to have equipment on CEL&P utility poles. Metronet will monitor and maintain CEL&P equipment as part of the agreement.

Metronet, established in 2005, serves 14 communities in Indiana. They will acquire approximately 2,600 customers in Crawfordsville. When the transaction was approved by the City Council in November 2013, the Journal Review quoted Metronet leadsership:

“We think Crawfordsville is a great fit for us,” Metronet representative Steve Biggerstaff said. “This is a great day of celebration for us, as well. We commend you on your vision and we look forward to continuing providing a top-notch fiber network.”

Local Accelplus customer Roger Thacker, expressed dismay in his letter to the Journal Review. It seems his experience with a local, accountable, responsive publicly owned network raised the bar. Based on all the reports we have seen (and our own experience with Comcast), we emathize with Roger:

I like Accelplus over Comcast. When there is a problem I can call the local office and the problem is fixed that day, and you get a live person on the other end. Unlike Comcast you call a toll-free number and your call goes to another state or to Canada. Then it takes them a week to fix their Internet or cable. With Accelplus you call a local number and they are there. In my opinion Accelplus is successful. It is sad to see them sell out to an outsider. I just hope we get the same service as we did with Accelplus.

Rural Cooperative Launches Educational Network in Northern Georgia

There was some good news at the end of August in Georgia, just in time for the new school year: a fiber optic network spanning 3,600 miles and potentially tying together up to 330 schools with 10 gigabit connections was announced. Dubbed the “Education Exchange,” the network is the product of an agreement between the rural cooperative North Georgia Network (NGN), private cable provider ETC Communications, and a private fiber optic ISP and infrastructure company called Parker Fibernet. Each of these three carriers’ existing fiber optic assets will provide a piece of the network, and all are connected to each other and to the broader internet in Atlanta.

While formed through a partnership of cooperative and private providers, the network will be governed by the schools themselves, which are spread throughout 30 different counties and reach across the northern third of the state, from the western border with Alabama to the eastern border with South Carolina. Both public and private schools will be able to connect. 

The new network should allow schools to realize some significant cost savings from replacing phone lines with VOIP and dropping slower leased data connections. More interesting, however, are the educational and administrative applications of such fast direct connections: video conferencing for teachers and administrators between and within school districts; accessing bandwidth-intensive online educational materials; expanding access to wi-fi devices throughout schools; and pooling purchasing power of many districts to get discounts and expanded digital course content.

How each district and each school use the network will be up to them, but the possibilities are considerable. Some of the early schools that beta tested the network have already experimented by hosting real time virtual music collaborations between schools. Paul Belk, NGN’s CEO, described the motivations driving his cooperative to establish the network: 

“The strength of our communities, our economy, and workforce all starts in our schools...as a community-owned company, it’s our job to give back and use our resources to better the next generation.”

NGN has been connecting business parks, hospitals, government buildings and other anchor institutions in northern Georgia since it’s inception in 2007. It received a large boost in 2009 when it was chosen for a Broadband Technology Opportunities Program grant as part of the federal stimulus effort. With $33.5 million in federal funding, supplemented by nearly $10 million in additional state and local funding, NGN built out an 1,100 mile network in the hilly country north of Atlanta, bringing high speed connections to areas previously only reached by slow and unreliable DSL

Responding to Crazy Talk: Arguments Against FCC Restoring Local Authority - Community Broadband Bits Episode 120

Lisa Gonzalez and I have been wading though all kinds of crazy talk since the cities of Wilson and Chattanooga filed petitions with the FCC to strike down state laws that prevent them from offering Internet access to their neighbors.

In our first episode of Crazy Talk since way back in episode 72, we deal with claims that municipal networks often fail, whether the FCC has authority to restore local authority, and whether the state barriers in question are actually barriers at all.

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 16 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?"

Correcting Community Fiber Fallacies: Attacks on LUS Fiber

In just the last year the Lafayette Utility System (LUS) gigabit network has attracted 1300 high-tech jobsChairman Wheeler praises the network for doing what many communities hope to do, but cannot because of state laws limiting municipal broadband networks. Critics are desperate to discredit the network, using false statements and misinformation.

The Reason Foundation released a paper by Steven Titch in November, 2013, to discredit LUS Fiber. Here we offer a point-by-point rebuttal of the report. Titch makes numerous claims that he does not support with any evidence. Much of the evidence he uses in support of other claims is out of context or erroneous. And even then, his worst criticism is that the network may struggle in the future but is not currently failing.

Our critical response to Reason Foundation's report (called Lessons in Municipal Broadband from Lafayette, Louisiana) should be helpful to any community considering its own municipal network investment. This document is the first in a series of critical works that we are calling the "Correcting Community Fiber Fallacies" series.

The official page for Correcting Community Fiber Fallacies: LUS Fiber is here, but you can get the pdf directly if you prefer.

Don't forget that you can sign up for our weekly newsletter here - so you won't miss these important stories.

Community Broadband Networks is committed to helping policy makers understand the reality and challenges of community fiber. Correcting Community Fiber Fallacies (CCFF) is designed to correct myths surrounding municipal fiber, and provide the information needed to counter erroneous claims.

Steven Titch's original report can be found at reason.org.

Community Broadband Media Roundup - October 10

If the 3 million public comments, the backing of the FCC Chairman, and the support of big tech companies all over the United States wasn't enough, this week we heard more positive rumblings about Network Neutrality, this time from President Obama.

"My appointee, [FCC Chairman] Tom Wheeler, knows my position. I can't now, that he's there, I can't just call him up and tell him exactly what to do. But what I've been clear about, what the White House has been clear about is that we expect whatever final rules to emerge to make sure that we're not creating two or three or four tiers of Internet. 

Of course, whatever the FCC decides, someone will be taking the commission to court. Edward Wyatt of the New York Times sat through 24 hours of discussions this week and concluded, along with other scholars: "Litigation is probably inevitable."

Muni Networks

This week, our own Chris Mitchell traveled to Washington's Mount Vernon for an event highlighting how their municipal fiber network has improved the business climate [pdf]. While in the area, he spoke at two forums in Seattle about municipal fiber networks. The Stranger’s Ansel Herz is skeptical of the city’s glacial pace for change in terms of connectivity. He and Taylor Soper with GeekWire were among those covering the community events:

Seattle may never see better, more affordable connection speeds unless some serious changes happen.

That was the message from Chris MItchell, the Director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative, who spoke on Wednesday evening at City Hall to a group of 50 that came to hear how Seattle could offer more Internet options — including a publicly-funded municipal broadband service, similar to what’s already available in Washington cities like Tacoma and Mount Vernon.

Another Tennessee Republican is questioning the Sen. Marsha Blackburn’s ten+ million dollar elephant-in-the-room. William Neilson Jr. targets Blackburn’s recent Op-Ed this week.

She wants the government to stay out of her state while she (part of the terrible government) tries putting into place her own rules which do nothing other than eliminate parts of the state from competitive broadband.

Here is an idea: If you want the government to stay out of your business, stop allowing businesses to bribe politicians which in turn gets state/local governments to put in place rules that only help a select few, rather than the public. You can’t hate government involvement yet want that same government involvement to help your side thanks to a few thousand dollars in donations.

Meantime, the FCC has a lot of reading to do, and that’s just of the 230+ comments filed in the proceedings that would allow Chattanooga’s EPB to expand its Gig Network outside its current service area. 

And for this week’s Good Question (take note, WCCO’s Heather Brown!) How Come My ISP Won’t Increase Internet Speed and Lower My Bill, Like they Do in Sweden?” asks Motley Fool’s Anders Bylund. 

This last-mile infrastructure and the connecting fiber loops are accessible to a variety of telecoms, cable service providers, and Internet specialists. All of them have equal access to the consumer-facing and core networks, on "equal and non-discriminatory terms… The American model is powered by private, for-profit organizations. On the next level down, consumers are facing a Balkanized patchwork of cable, fiber, and DSL services with minimal competition and zero infrastructure sharing. Flooding or overriding this system with government support would be politically impossible, so we're stuck with this framework. That means focusing on profits over service quality, and there is no incentive at all to lower the cost to consumers.

I mean, it’s no “Why do trees change different colors in the fall.” but it certainly strikes us as a question the media should pursue. 

Astroturf

This week, the Boy Genius Report found a video from “NetCompetition,” a non-profit that claims to promote competition for Internet services, but is actually a front for the telco and cable companies.

“People think that you can compete with the government?” Cleland asks incredulously. “You can’t beat City Hall!”

Cleland asks us to simultaneously believe that these municipal networks are total failures and that City Hall is so all-powerful that it will run cable and telephone companies (that are orders of magnitude larger) out of business. BGR offers a smarter take:

If some municipal broadband projects are successes and some of them are failures, doesn’t it make more sense to study them all to see what works and what doesn’t before writing the entire concept off all together? And even if some municipalities do waste a lot of money on broadband projects that go nowhere, isn’t that their right? Aren’t state and local governments the real “laboratories of democracy,” as some like to say?

Cleland has also argued that the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger is pro-competitive. 

Another so-called citizen group is trying rather unsuccessfully to rally their troops against net neutrality this week. Jason Koebler of Motherboard and Joan McCarter with the Daily Kos say “American Commitment” a group run by conservative strategist Phil Kerpen, found 808,363 people in the US to support paid prioritization of the Internet. And all he had to do was lie to them!

Email blasts were sent to hundreds of thousands of people with subject lines that had nothing to do with net neutrality, such as "Only Days to Stop Obama's Takeover."

In the emails themselves, Kerpen called net neutrality "marxist," suggested that maintaining net neutrality would "erase your internet freedoms, upend your right to privacy, censor the content you view on Internet, seize control of e-commerce, keep records of the sites you visit and when, track what you read and for how long and so much more!" 

And, let’s not forget Americans for Prosperity. Kuper Jones chimed in with a few scare tactics of his own on The Hill this week. 

“..municipal networks across the country have had an abysmal track record at best. They’ve left citizens with tremendous amounts of debt and greater tax burdens. Taxpayers in Lafayette, Louisiana as well as eleven cities in Utah can attest to this as they’ve been saddled with $160 million and $500 million in debt, respectively, thanks to broadband boondoggles.”

We would hardly call 1,300 well-paying positions, better connectivity, and competitive pricing a boondoggle, but again, maybe there are multiple definitions of the word out there somewhere we're not aware of.