Bill to Establish Broadband Grant Program in Montana State Legislature

In Missoula and Bozeman, momentum is building for improved connectivity by way of community network infrastructure. As usual, funding a municipal network is always one of the main challenges, but the state appears uninterested in helping them. State Representative Kelly McCarthy recently dropped HB 14 into the hopper, a bill to create a broadband development fund primarily for private companies.

The bill authorizes $15 million in general obligation bonds for broadband infrastructure projects for middle-mile and last-mile connectivity in rural areas. Unfortunately, projects built and maintained by private entities have priority per the language of section 3(2)(b).

The state legislature would be wise to follow Minnesota's lead and establish a program that is available to all as in the Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program. Private entities are eligible to apply along with public entities and nonprofits, but do not receive special consideration.

If anything, the long history of success from cooperatives and local government approaches in infrastructure is favorable to the history of consolidation and poor services that big monopolies have offered in rural areas.

It never ceases to amaze us that people designing programs to use taxpayer money in expanding essential infrastructurel would earmark it only to subsidize entities that are the least accountable to the communities they are supposed to serve. Ultimately you have to wonder whether these programs are designed to benefit local communities or just the companies that can best afford lobbyists.

Cap Times Weighs In on Mayoral Race, Muni Broadband, and Free Internet: We Need It!

The Madison Cap Times recently ran an editorial focusing on the surprising nature of mayoral races. We were also surprised - pleasantly so - to read the intention of the editorial board (emphasis ours):

The Capital Times will add its proposals to the mix, with a special focus on using emerging technologies to promote high-wage job creation and economic development. In particular, we'll advocate for the establishment of a municipal broadband system that can provide free high-speed Internet access to all Madisonians. 

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Madison is a great city that does plenty of things right. But it faces major challenges, some of its own making, some imposed by reactionary state government, some dictated by our complex times. A mayoral race is the pivot point at which to discuss those challenges and the proper responses to them.

The Cap Times editorial reminds us that local decision making about connectivity is rooted in our choice of local leaders. We encourage Madison voters and all other communities facing the ballot to press candidates to address the issue of fast, affordable, reliable connectivity. If your community doesn't have it, ask your candidates what they intend to do about it.

Madison's mayor Soglin has been a leader on this issue via the U.S. Conference of Mayors, where he wrote and worked to adopt a resolution that called for restoring local decision-making authority to local governments.

Most Municipal Networks Built in Conservative Cities

We've been curious about voting patterns from communities that have built their own networks so we took our community broadband networks map and analyzed some election data. A substantial majority of communities that have built their own networks vote Republican.

We decided to stick with the citywide networks, where a community has taken the greatest risk in building a citywide FTTH or cable network. This gave us more than 100 communities to analyze. We looked at the Presidential elections from 2008 and 2012 as well as the House election from 2012. This was to guard against any anomalies from a single election or type of election.

Municipal network voting patterns

Some 3 out of 4 communities have voted Republican in recent elections, a trend that has become more pronounced across these elections. And as elections in non-presidential years tend to skew more conservative, we would expect the results to show an even greater trend toward voting for Republicans.

With President Obama speaking out in support of community networks, it will be interesting to see how Republicans in the Senate and House react. Some Republicans have taken strong stances to limit local authority in favor of states interfering in local matters like how to ensure businesses have high quality Internet access.

But at the local level, this is an issue of jobs and education, not one of a rigid ideology. We've noted in the past how local Republicans and Democrats have fought side by side on these matters. But last year, National Journal traced the growth of partisanship on municipal networks at the federal level.

In this analysis, we counted each community as one vote. Chattanooga, with its large population counts the same as tiny Windom, Minnesota. We analyzed the data in two different ways to ensure that clusters of municipal networks didn't bias the results. Some districts have multiple municipal networks within them, so we first considered every community to have one vote and then we separately considered just every district that has a network. This means that if a district had 5 municipal networks, in one analysis it would count 5 times and in the other, it would only count once. The results were very similar so we just show the pie charts where every community is included.

Use Social Media to Support Local Choice!

Join us on February 2 as we make the case for local Internet choice - with a few simple clicks, you can join our Thunderclap, where all of our social media accounts will publish a message in favor of local choice.

The Coalition for Local Internet Choice is encouraging people to sign up in advance and to spread the word far and wide.

Please encourage your friends, colleagues, etc., to join in and help us to build momentum after the President spoke out in favor of community networks last week in Cedar Falls!

Ting Delivering FTTH Is Great News for Community Fiber - Community Broadband Bits Episode 134

In recent weeks, we have been excited to see announcements from Ting, a company long known for being a great wireless provider (both Lisa and I are customers), that is now getting into FTTH deployments. The first announcement was from Charlottesville where it acquired another company. Last week they announced a partnership with Westminster, Maryland.

This week we interview Elliot Noss, CEO of Tucows, which is the parent of Ting. Elliot has long been active in preserving and expanding the open Internet.

We discuss many issues from Ting's success in wireless to cities dealing with permitting and access in rights-of-way to Ting's willingness and enthusiasm to operate on municipal fiber open access networks. We finish with some musings on upcoming over the top video technologies like SlingTV from Dish.

Both Elliot and I are presenting at the upcoming Freedom to Connect event in New York City on March 2 and 3rd.

Read the transcript of this episode here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 27 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 Persson for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Blues walk."

New Article on Economic Development and Fiber: "The Killer App for Local Fiber Networks"

Time and again, we share economic development stories from communities that have invested in fiber networks. A new article by Jim Baller, Joanne Hovis, and Ashley Stelfox from the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC) and Masha Zager from Broadband Communities magazine examines the meaning of economic development and the connection to fiber infrastructure.

Economists, advocates, and policymakers grapple with how to scientifically measure the link between the two but:

As Graham Richard, former mayor of Fort Wayne, Ind., observed, “From the point of view of retaining and gaining jobs, I can give you example after example [of the impact of broadband]. … What I don’t have is a long term, double-blind study that says it was just broadband.” But, “as a leader, sometimes you go with your gut.”

In addition to presenting examples from a number of communities such as Chattanooga, Lafayette, and Santa Monica, the article nicely summarizes key information from recent reports on links between broadband and real estate value, household income, and local economic growth.

As the authors note:

Communities increasingly recognize that fiber networks also provide critical benefits for education, public safety, health care, transportation, energy, environmental protection, urban revitalization, government service and much more. But only in revitalizing and modernizing local economies and creating meaningful, well-paying jobs do community leaders, businesses, institutions and residents consistently find common ground. In short, economic development and job creation can fairly be called the “killer app” for local fiber networks.

Worth reading and sharing!

Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority Issues RFP

The Roanoke Valley in Virginia has taken a deliberate pace on the road to improving local connectivity. On December 10th, the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA) released an RFP for proposals for an open access fiber optic network.

The RVBA is seeking a partner to build the network that will remain a publicly owned asset but will be managed by a private partner. According to the RFP, the City of Salem Electric Department has fiber in place that will be integrated into the the network. The RVBA has already invested in design, engineering, and permitting of 42 miles of a fiber network to jumpstart the process. Construction should begin this year.

In November, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported:

The valley is often described as being caught in a “doughnut hole” for broadband service because it’s not a large enough area for the marketplace to drive creation of a truly high-speed network, but it’s too large to qualify for grants available to more rural locales.

The Times-Dispatch reports the estimated cost for the project is $4 million. 

National Press Follows President Obama to Cedar Falls, Iowa

On January 14th, President Obama visited Cedar Falls, Iowa, to share his strategy to expand high-speed connectivity to more Americans, encourage competition, and galvanize economic development. Obama's plan centers around community networks and he announced that the next step will be eliminating barriers in 19 states that usurp local authority to invest in publicly owned infrastructure.

From his remarks [C-SPAN Video below]:

Today, I'm making my administration's position clear on community broadband. I'm saying I'm on the side of competition. And I'm on the side of small business owners... I'm on the side of students and schools. I believe that a community has the right to make its own choice and to provide its own broadband if it wants to. Nobody is going to force you to do it, but if you want to do it, if the community decides this is something that we want to do to give ourselves a competitive edge and to help our young people and our businesses, they should be able to do it.

The Obama Administration, through the Department of Commerce, recently sent a letter [PDF] to Chairman Wheeler to request the FCC use its authority to end state barriers that block local public investment. The Hill noted the letter and the President's speech together put gentle pressure on the FCC to take steps to restore local authority. The Hill also gave space to the cable industry, naturally opposed to restoring local authority after millions of lobbying dollars invested in passing anti-competitive legislation.

InfoWorld also pointed out cable industry opposition to the Obama proposal, noting that they were ready to mount a strong offense and will likely join Congressional Republicans to fight any roll-back of state barriers. A decision from the FCC on whether or not to change state laws in North Carolina and Tennessee is expected in February.

As for the incumbents, there was no love lost between the President and the big players, as Multichannel News reported:

He said in many places big companies are "doing everything they can to keep out new competitors."

…they were at the whim of whatever Internet service provider happened to be around, and and when they had problems they got stuck on hold watching a spinning icon, waiting and waiting and waiting and wondering why rates keep getting "jacked up." Ouch. 

Other national outlets that covered the speech included the New York Times, the Washington Post, Ars Technica, Fierce Telecom, and NexGov. We came across so many stories we stopped counting.

Local coverage included stories from the Sioux City Journal, the Quad City Times, the Gazette, and the Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier. Mayor Jon Crews told the Courier:

“This is good for attracting companies that have higher wages for technical positions,” Crews said. “Obviously to be recognized by Google and the president of the United States in two months time is pretty awesome.”

As the President noted in his speech, Google named Cedar Falls the best city in Iowa for e-commerce due to its municipal fiber optic network.

Marc Reifenrath, local business owner of a web design, development and digital strategy agency called Spinutech introduced the President:

In our early years it would have been easy to move our headquarters to another city, really anywhere. Thanks in part to its high speed internet, Cedar Falls has always made it easy for us to grow our business. Today, Spinutech has clients in all 50 states and eight countries. In talking with these clients, time and again it is proven just how fortunate we are.

Whether or not local authority is restored in the 19 states in question, it is important that local communities remember the role of vision, which the President pointed out in his speech:

Now, in Cedar Falls, things are different. About 20 years ago, in a visionary move ahead of its time, this city voted to add another option to the market and invest in a community broadband network. Really smart thing you guys did. It was a really smart thing you guys did. And you've managed it right here at Cedar Falls Utilities. And then a few years ago, you realized that customers were demanding more and more speed. All the movies, all the increased data, Instagram -- all this stuff suddenly is just being loaded up, and basically, you guys were like the captain in Jaws, where he said, “We're going to need a bigger boat.” 

 

A Transcript of the script is available at the C-SPAN video page in the transcript box below the video window.

SandyNet Now Offering Gigabit FTTH in Oregon

Back in September, SandyNet announced that its FTTH gigabit network was officially up and running. The utility will continue to expand and eventually bring the network to all 4,000 households. Light Reading recently spoke with Joe Knapp, Sandy's IT Director and general manager of the broadband utility about the new offering. With a population of 10,000, Sandy is in Oregon between Portland and Mount Hood.

The network is completely underground. Sandy is one of many communities that have developed smart conduit policies, reducing the cost and preparing the environment for deployment over a period of years.

You can listen to our discussion with Knapp on Sandy's conduit policy in Episode 17 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. We also spoke with City Manager Scott Lazenby about Sandy's conduit policies during Episode 48.

Like many other communities we study, Sandy invested in connectivity out of necessity. Knapp told Light Reading:

"We started out because we couldn't get a DSL line at city hall," says Joe Knapp, IT director for the City of Sandy and general manager of SandyNet. The utility first built a 900MHz wireless network, then WiFi, then a wireless mesh network to connect residents to broadband, he says. "That became so popular that we took about 40% of the market with wireless, but that was a hard thing to sustain."

The journey to FTTH was not an easy one:

"We started to realize that a lot of communities are doing this," Knapp says. "It took three years of beating my head against the wall to finally get it to happen."

Gigabit speeds are something to boast about, but Knapp says SandyNet will not go to extremes to push them:

"As a muni network, we view this as trying to benefit the community. I tell them to try the 100-Meg service first -- we're actually not pushing the gig that hard."

Pricing for gigabit service is $59.95 per month; 100 Mbps service is $39.95 per month. All speeds are symmetrical and there are no caps or contracts.

President Obama Speaks Against Barriers to Community Networks

When we started to hear rumors that the White House was investigating community owned networks, we were excited but not sure what to expect. I have to admit that seeing President Obama - the President of the United States - saying that Cedar Falls was smart to invest in themselves was much more powerful than I ever expected (see the video below).'

President Obama will visit Cedar Falls on Wednesday to address his plans to increase access to affordable, high-speed broadband across the country. Tune in at 3:40 Eastern to the White House Briefing Room to watch the live event.

The efforts of so many people to legitimize community networks are now paying off. Belittled by the big cable companies and their paid experts, we certainly were not destined to reach this point. But we are here - and everyone now recognizes that local governments can play an important role in ensuring we all have great Internet access.

The White House has released a fact sheet with some information on what the Executive Branch will do to increase competition and restore local authority.

Laws in 19 states — some specifically written by special interests trying to stifle new competitors — have held back broadband access and, with it, economic opportunity. Today, President Obama is announcing a new effort to support local choice in broadband, formally opposing measures that limit the range of options available to communities to spur expanded local broadband infrastructure, including ownership of networks. As a first step, the Administration is filing a letter with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) urging it to join this effort by addressing barriers inhibiting local communities from responding to the broadband needs of their citizens.

And the National Economic Council and Council of Economic Advisers have released a report discussing the important contributions of community owned networks [PDF]. You might see some familiar references in the report - we are excited to see our work contributing to national policy.

This is a great moment for everyone that has worked on these networks - from local government employees and elected officials to the activists and local business owners that have volunteered their time to make it happen in their community. This is a great moment for the principle of local self-reliance.

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