Commercials from Longmont Astroturf Group

If your community considers building its own broadband network, don't be surprised to see ads like these two from the recent Longmont referendum in Colorado.

When Chattanooga was starting to build its network, Comcast bought 2600 ads, similar in substance to these, to scare people into opposing the project. Fortunately, the tactic backfired due to the Chattanooga utility's excellent reputation in the community.

Here are two of the videos that ran in Longmont as part of the $300,000 campaign of lies run by incumbent groups (leading to this hilarious response after the election).

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Kill Network Neutrality, Get Slower Networks

If you want to predict the future, it helps to understand the incentives that guide action. Unsurprisingly, if a corporation has the option of being more profitable by investing less, it will do so. This is the smart conclusion of Bill Snyder at InfoWorld:

To understand their logic, consider this thought experiment: Imagine that you own a freeway -- say, Highway 101 through Silicon Valley -- and you had the power to pluck a car from a traffic jam with a helicopter and deposit it on a clear stretch of the road. Naturally, drivers who could afford the service would be happy to sign up.

"That highway is like the Internet, and the individual cars are the packets of data. The ISP is essentially the gatekeeper that controls the flow of cars on the highway. If the ISP is allowed to snatch any car from the back of a very long line and put it in front of everybody else when the driver of the car pays a priority delivery fee, would the ISP have an incentive to keep the road congested or to expand the road capacity?" they wrote.

The answer is pretty obvious: If you can make more money by keeping your network congested, why would you invest money to make it less crowded?

He was riffing on a paper, "The Debate on Net Neutrality: A Policy Perspective" by H Kenneth Cheng, Subhajyoti Bandyopadhyay, and Hong Guo.

I think many of us view this as a "well, duh" paper, but it is good to see a rigorous academic paper verifying our gut instincts.

There is a very real danger to letting a few massive corporations control access to the Internet, which is one major reason we see so many communities building their own networks. They want to ensure everyone has fast, reliable, and affordable access to the Open Internet.

LUS Fiber Testimonials and a Radio Ad

Scott Olivier is one of several people originally from Lafayette to return to Lafayette to take advantage of the their incredible community fiber network. He has done a series of short testimonials about LUS Fifber (embedded below).

We have covered similar testimonial from other community broadband networks and I think they are an easy way any community can begin marketing itself. Network supporters must also help out though - embedding the videos, spreading them with social media, and otherwise making sure the videos get distributed.

Below those testimonials is one of LUS Fiber's radio ads. It took me a little bit to understand exactly what they were getting at with the commercial - I think it could use a little more work. Remember, having the best network is not enough, you have to find ways of breaking through to citizens and motivating them to take the time to switch providers -- which is always a hassle.

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Despite Delays, Dunnellon Builds Muni Fiber in Florida

Dunnellon, a small town in Marion County south of Gainesville, decided to invest in a community fiber network to spur growth and diversify its income stream. Though citizens did not want to cut government services, they have not been pleased at property tax increases.

364 days ago, we published a story discussing their financing.

The town itself is quite small, with 1,733 residents but the network will be serving areas in the County as well. Though AT&T and Comcast offer services in the area, they have big gaps in coverage and apparently the cable television packages are antiquated (only 50 channels???).

An article last year noted Dunnellon's Internet connections will range from 10Mbps to 125Mbps. They hope to sign up 1,647 subscribers within 6 months of launch -- the network is named Greenlight (not sure if they were aware that the city of Wilson, NC, already operates a triple-play FTTH network called Greenlight).

They hoped to launch 6 months ago. Bill Thompson's "Dunnellon dreams of a connectied future," offers a comprehensive look at the promise and the challenges Dunnellon faces.

Dunnellon's city manager comes from Valparaiso, which had a city-owned cable network that upgraded to FTTH. Unfortunately, Dunnellon is in the hard position of building a network from scratch.

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Building a new network requires a massive up-front capital investment - in this case the city will have spent $4.4 million to connect the first connection. Good thing they aren't all that expensive!

The article identifies two main sources of the delays: difficulty in getting on the poles owned by Progress Energy and long delays in receiving the fiber-optic cable they ordered (stimulus projects have hogged the supply). Rather than taking 12 weeks, they had to wait 30. Delays cause problems:

The installation delay has put the city in a pinch with its lender, Regions Bank. The city was scheduled in November to pay back about half of the $1.85 million, one-year note it had spent so far.

But with no customers, the city will not be able to do so on time, Algiere said.

She expects the bank to agree to restructure the loan and grant a one-year delay, at the end of which the city will pay the full amount.

The other two loans were to be paid off in five years and 15 years, respectively.

They network will connect schools and muni buildings first -- other subscribers should be able to sign up before the end of the year.

Like so many other communities, many in Dunnellon appear to be looking at Lafayette for inspiration. I certainly hope Dunnellon can get a similar level of citizen engagement, but few have been able to duplicate the impressive work of Lafayette in that regard.

Burlington Telecom Partners to Increase Digital Inclusion

On its facebook page, Burlington Telecom has announced a partnership with ReSOURCE, a local nonprofit, that will make refurbished computers available to qualified Burlington families.  

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Longmont Astroturf Opposition Gone in Puff of Smoke

Any hint that the Comcast-funded effort in Longmont to oppose authorizing the City to provide broadband services was anything but an astroturf campaign of lies has evaporated in the wake of its overwhelming defeat.

If there had been a shred of local legitimacy among the "Look Before We Leap" group that was run by Denver-based strategists, it probably would have kept its website up for longer than a few days after the election. If I were them, I would want to keep a record for the future.

But they don't. Because they were just a bunch of paid public relations people working a job. They didn't oppose Longmont's initiative, they didn't know anything about it. They were collecting a paycheck. And this is what they left behind:

Look Before We Leap, disappeared

The Times-Call has a hopeful reflection about the broadband battle (somewhat classier than the hilarious Neener Neener Neener poke at Comcast).

This time, lobbyists for the telecommunications industry spent even more than they did last time -- about $300,000 -- in trying to convince residents that the city having control over its own property was somehow "risky." Obviously, the lobbyists, including the euphemistically monikered Americans for Prosperity, were only concerned about the welfare of Longmont residents and the health of the local economy. They spent so much money to show just how concerned they were.

But the majority of the voters weren't buying what they were selling. People had the audacity to think for themselves and make up their own minds.

Personally, I would thank the anti-2A folks for pouring so much money into the local economy, except most of its spending was elsewhere. They did pop for a few ads in this newspaper, though, so for that they have my gratitude.

The author, Tony Kindelspire, goes on to note just how amazing it was to see everyone unified on an issue.

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Many people who you would typically expect to find defending corporate rights above all else, and criticizing the inefficiency of government, were quite vocal in support of 2A.

As they should have been. Ask a local businessperson how Longmont having its own electric utility is working out for them. We have some of the cheapest rates in the country.

It takes leadership to stand up against big business lobbyists to act on behalf of what you think is right, not what's going to raise you the most amount of campaign cash the next time around. How very, very refreshing it was to see, and I hope it's a lesson that spreads far and wide.

I hate quoting so liberally from an article, but I want to make sure these important words are remembered. I hope the City takes seriously its responsibility to continue involving the public in important decisions about the digital future as it moves forward with the freedom to invest in infrastructure that every community should have regardless of how much money incumbent lobbyists pour into legislatures around the nation.

And I cannot help but remind my readers that this referendum would have failed by Minnesota standards, which requires a 65% supermajority. That is an incredibly tough ask when a major player like Comcast can get 40% of the population to vote for its position by spending a mere $300,000 while having zero support in the community.

AT&T Group's Lawsuit in Wisconsin Fails

Yet another court has ruled against an incumbent telephone or cable company that filed a lawsuit to block any threat to their continued monopoly in America's communities. Access Wisconsin, an AT&T dominated trade group, has been trying to stop communities in Wisconsin from building their own next-generation networks to serve schools and libraries that AT&T has long neglected with slow, overpriced, broadband connections.

A local judge has dismissed this blatantly anti-competitive attempt to stop communities from building the networks they need.

Wisconsin Independent Telecommunications Systems, operating as Access Wisconsin, sued the UW Board of Regents in July in an effort to stop a $32.3 million fiber optic network to Platteville, Wausau, Superior and the Chippewa Valley region. The lawsuit also named WiscNet, CCI Systems Inc. and the state Department of Transportation.

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The grant — made available through federal stimulus funds — will build high-speed Internet fiber to anchor institutions such as libraries, schools and government, health care and public safety buildings.

A press release from the UW-Extension office that organized the Building Community Capacity through Broadband program, funded by the broadband stimulus program, notes:

“This work by the University of Wisconsin-Extension and our many community partners is vital to the future of the Wisconsin economy,” said Ray Cross, chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Extension and University of Wisconsin Colleges. “I hope that now government, the university, private businesses and communities in every corner of the state will be able to work together to assure Wisconsin is connected to the global economy.”

Remember that these lawsuits are rarely intended to be won. They are intended to intimidate communities, to scare them away from making the necessary investments in their community to ensure the incumbents can preserve their customer base without investing in modern connections.

But AT&T and friends have continued to whine that it just isn't fair, much like a coalition of landlords (where Donald Trump plays the role of AT&T) suing home owners because people should have to rent their homes forever. Or a coalition of dirt road owners who use every legal trick in the book to make sure some communities are not touched by interstates.

Until the Wisconsin state government recognizes the inherent authority of communities to invest in the essential infrastructure they need, we will see more attempts by AT&T to be the sole provider of telecommunications services, which allows them to overcharge at will and increase profits even while refusing to invest in better connections.

Fortunately, the Building Community Capacity through Broadband is documenting the taxpayer savings from their projects. Community networks create real gains for local businesses and make local government more efficient - but we have to make sure we can show these real savings to elected officials to counter the unparalleled lobbying effort of massive cable and phone companies.

How the FCC Killed Broadband Competition

Dane Jasper, the CEO of Sonic.net, one of the few ISPs to survive the death of broadband competition over the past ten years, wrote about "America's Intentional Broadband Duopoly."  It is a short history of how the FCC's flawed analysis (helped along by incredible amounts of lobbying dollars, no doubt).

He starts by asking when the last time anyone offered to sell you broadband over power lines (BPL).  The FCC decided that cable and telephone companies shouldn't have to share their wires (which are a natural monopoly) with competitors (creating an actual marketplace for services) because BPL, satellite, and wireless would put so much competitive pressure on DSL and cable.  FAIL.

Then, in the Brand X decision, they ruled that Cable would not be required to allow competitors to lease their lines either. The FCC did this by reclassifying broadband Internet access as an “information service”, rather than a “telecommunications service”. As a result, common carriage rules could be set aside, allowing for an incumbent Cable monopoly. This decision was challenged all the way to the supreme court, who ruled in 2005 that the FCC had the jurisdiction to make this decision.

To close out Powell’s near-complete dismantling of competitive services in the U.S., the FCC took up the issue of ISPs resale of DSL using the incumbent’s equipment, also known as wholesale “bitstream” access. If Cable is an information service under Brand X, why shouldn’t Telco have the same “regulatory relief”? The result: the FCC granted forbearance (in other words, declined to enforce its rules) from the common carriage requirements for telco DSL services.

For those who are thinking that wireless is finally competitive with cable and DSL, don't forget that while 4G appears much faster (because so few people are using it presently), it still comes with a 2GB monthly cap. So if you want to do something with your connection aside from watching one movie a month, 4G is not competitive with a landline connection.

Senate to Vote on Giving Internet Governance to Comcast, AT&T

Update: The Senate voted against turning the Internet over to Comcast, AT&T, and other major carriers. How did your Senators vote?

The US Senate began debating network neutrality yesterday - the historic governing principle of the Internet that ISPs should not be allowed to tell their users where they may or may not go and should not prioritize some connections over others merely because it generates more revenue for the ISP.

As Al Franken has said several times, this is the 1st amendment for the Internet - protecting everyone's speech. It prevents a few massive companies (or even local governments where they offer access to the Internet) from exerting too much influence over what subscribers are able to do on the Internet.

Unfortunately, many Senators are campaigning against this principle, in part because they have been misinformed as to what it means and in part because they are getting a ton of campaign cash from corporations that recognize how much more profitable they would be if they could charge users extra to go to YouTube.

There will be a vote today on a resolution of disapproval for the mild network neutrality rules proposed by the FCC last December (which the FCC Chairman chose to water down in part because he thought it would be less controversial -- FAIL).

We would like to recognize some of those who have stood up to protect the open Internet, starting with Free Press.

The American Sustainable Business Council authored an op-ed:

The truth is that if we want to make sure small businesses can grow with the assistance of broadband, the Internet must remain open. We must, as the FCC says, “ensure the Internet remains an open platform—one characterized by free markets and free speech—that enables consumer choice, end-user control, competition through low barriers to entry and freedom to innovate without permission.”

Senator Kerry made an impassioned plea for not turning the Internet over to Comcast and AT&T:

So they're trying to say to the American people that they want to liberate the Internet when, in fact, what they want to do is imprison the Internet within the hands of the most powerful communications entities today to act as the gatekeepers who will control the ability of the Internet to do the very kind of development that brought us here.

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But the reason we have a Google today, the reason we've had this incredible development of Internet retail business, of all of these web sites, of Facebook and so many more is because of the open architecture of access to that Internet. Which, I would remind everybody in America, was created by government money in government research.

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Everything that goes over the Internet today goes either through your telephone at home or television or whatever, through cable, out of your house or the airwaves. But if we're not having an open architecture on the Internet, then the people who control those access points can start discriminating about who gets access at what speed. And if you control who gets access at what speed and begin to charge more for that, you begin to have a profound impact on the ability of any business to develop and a profound impact on the access that consumers have come to anticipate with respect to the Internet.

Minnesota's own Senator Al Franken gave a great speech in addition to publishing an article about the importance of net neutrality:

This isn't a radical concept - it's what each and every one of us experiences every time we use the Internet. Right now, an e-mail from a friend arrives in your inbox just as quickly and reliably as an advertisement from Amazon.com. Consumers can go online and make a reservation at a small fishing lodge in Ely, Minnesota just as quickly as they can at the Hilton.

But many Republicans want to change that so that the large corporations they represent can increase their profit margins at the expense of small businesses and consumers.

To illustrate why net neutrality is so critical to innovation on the web, I like to tell the story of a small online startup that launched in 2005 above a pizzeria in San Francisco. It had a product that now seems simple: it allowed people to upload videos so others could stream them. It was called YouTube - you may have heard of it.

At the time, Google had a similar product - Google Video - but it wasn't as easy to use, so consumers took their business to YouTube. The site took off and, less than two years after it launched, YouTube was purchased by Google for $1.6 billion. Not a bad payday.

But it wouldn't have been possible without net neutrality. If Google had been able to pay Comcast and other large Internet service providers to prioritize its data - and make YouTube's videos load more slowly - YouTube wouldn't have stood a chance. Google's inferior product would have won.

And some have made the connection between Network Neutrality and Occupy Wall Street:

At Occupy Chicago, communications volunteers count more than 33,000 Facebook "likes," 20,000 Twitter followers, and several thousand website hits every day.

So, some are asking, what would happen if the corporate entities that are the targets of protests were able to limit Internet traffic? That was tried at one point by the Egyptian government during the Arab Spring protests, and Betty Yu with the Center for Media Justice says it's a legitimate concern.

The NY Times editorialized on it:

The resolution would render void the modest rules adopted by the F.C.C. in December 2010. Stripped of authority, the commission would have a very difficult time protecting the Internet from those who clamp down on content for ideological reasons or profit. Repealing the rules would free service providers like phone and cable companies to block or slow down their competitors’ content — be it movies, songs or messages — when it is flowing through their broadband pipes.

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The Republican approach goes back to 2002, when the F.C.C., under the Bush administration, made the bizarre decision that broadband Internet communications were not, in fact, telecommunication services under the law. Last year, the F.C.C. had the opportunity to redefine broadband as a telecommunications service, which would allow greater regulatory oversight. Regrettably, it chose not to, and instead passed a limited set of rules that did not ban the practice of paying to move content faster and largely exempted wireless broadband services.

Someone in Longmont Kicks Comcast While Down

Shortly after Longmont voters chose self-reliance despite Comcast's $300,000 campaign of lies to sway the referendum, some anonymous citizen placed the following ad in the local paper.  Cheeky.

Neener neener neener