Boulder Uses New Found Authority to Offer Free Wi-Fi

Just two months after voters passed ballot measure 2C, the City of Boulder is solidifying plans to offer free Wi-Fi throughout the downtown Civic Area, reports the Boulder Daily Camera.

Boulder was one of several Colorado communities that reclaimed local authority last fall. They had no specific project planned but knew they needed to create an environment rich in opportunity. Colorado's state law is so restrictive, there was little Boulder could do with the fiber resources they already have in place:

"Before, we were technically breaking the law by having wi-fi at the library," [Boulder IT Director Don Ingle] said.

Ingle told the City Council at it's January 26th meeting that the project was estimated to be less than $100,000 and that they hope to have it completed by March, weather permitting.

You can listen to Chris interview Don Ingle about the situation in Boulder in Episode 108 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Community Broadband Media Roundup - February 13, 2015

The FCC’s decision to change the definition of broadband continues to make ripples in the muni broadband world. With the speed increased from 4 Mbps down, 1 Mbps up, to 25 Mbps down, 3 Mbps up, 75% of the country is now classified as having either no service, or no choices for their Internet connection. The change also means more underserved communities may be able to access to grant money to build networks, it also highlights a more realistic view of the importance of Internet speed for economic development:

Shaming Cable Giants, FCC Demands Faster Internet Republicans complain that increasing the definition of "broadband" is meant to justify power grabs, by Brendan Sasso, National Journal.

DSL The New Dialup? by Bernie Arneson, Telecompetitor

Under New Definition, Comcast Claims 56% of All Broadband Users by Karl Bode, DSLReports

Getting up to speed on the Internet: An upcoming change in defining broadband is sparking debate by Julie Sherwood, Webster Post

 

Muni Regulatory Decisions

FCC on verge of killing state laws that harm municipal broadband: Chairman targets laws in Tennessee and North Carolina. 17 more states to go by Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica

FCC may kill state restrictions on municipal broadband, force ISP competition by Joel Hruska, Extreme Tech

FCC to vote on overturning two state laws limiting municipal broadband by Grant Gross, PCWorld

Senate renews plan to ban internet taxes forever by Jeff John Roberts, GigaOm

The Source: FCC Proposal Could Ease Cities’ Efforts For Municipal Broadband by Paul Flahive, Texas Public Radio

FCC's Plans to Extend Availability of Internet Access for K-12 by Navindra Persaud, Education World

Wireless & Cable Industries fight net neutrality with laughably misleading op-eds and video by Chris Morran, Consumerist:

At what point have consumers ever been “at the center of Internet policy”?

• Did consumers pay politicians millions of dollars to urge regulators to keep broadband classified as nothing more than a content delivery system? No, that was the cable and telecom industries.

• Did consumers sue the FCC — and then invest millions in a four-year legal fight — to gut the 2010 net neutrality rules? No, that was Verizon.

• Did consumers demand that Internet Service Providers be allowed to create “fast lanes” so that Verizon, Time Warner Cable and others could charge a premium to large companies for better service? Nope, wasn’t us. Must have been the mammoth telecom and cable companies that can benefit from it.

So when Powell says that “consumers” should be at the center of Internet policy, he actually means “Verizon and other NCTA members.”

Net Neutrality’s Biggest Deal: Proposed FCC Rule Would Keep Internet Open by Matt Wood and Candace Clement, Flagler Live

 

Opinion

More and more editors are coming out in favor of local choice for municipal networks. Here is a rundown of the opinions, editorials, and blog posts in which these networks are featured.

Tying The Fibers Together: Bits, Bandwidth, Georgia, And The FCC by Nathan, Peach Pundit 

Our View: Regulating Internet could ease digital divide by Portland Press Herald Editorial Board: Lower costs could ignite educational and economic access for those now disenfranchised.

OUR OPINION: Need for Internet means its status should be utility: The change would allow FCC to manage broadband providers more effectively, by Central Maine Kennebec Journal Morning Sentinel Editorial Board

Community Fiber Networks: Bringing Competition and World-Class Infrastructure to American Cities by Mitch Shapiro, Quello Center

Dark fiber should fill residential broadband holes: More existing dark fiber should be provisioned for residential use to thwart incumbent ISP service problems and price increases. by Patrick Nelson, NetworkWorld.

 

Muni Letter

Dozens of municipal networks came forward this week to sign a petition opposing Title II reclassification on the advice of cable lobbyists from the American Cable Association (represents smaller cable companies). Some media picked up on the story, saying that the muni world is fractured and weakened. Matt Hamblen’s article in Computer World does an excellent job of laying out the story. 

Muni broadband providers clash over Title II net neutrality reforms by Matt Hamblen, Computer World 

43 Muni-Broadband Communities Say They Oppose Title II by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

 

States and Cities:

There are about as many different ways to bring local choice to communities as there are communities themselves. Because each town or city can learn so much from successful approaches, we like to feature what different cities are doing, and where they are in their path toward fast, reliable, affordable Internet service.

Alabama:

Alabama Expanse Gets Upgraded to a Gig by Jason Myers, Light Reading  

Colorado:

Grand Junction to vote on broadband improvement by Lindsey Pallares, KKCONews

Louisiana:

Lafayette, La. to join FCC's anti-municipal broadband fight by Sean Buckley, FierceTelecom

Lafayette May Petition FCC For Muni-Broadband Help by Karl Bode, DSLReports

LUS gets another shot at Lafayette school system Internet contract: The school system is now reopening its call for proposals for an Internet provider. by Marsha Sills, The Advocate

Maine

Maine’s headline this week was all about a luxury trip paid in full by Time Warner Cable. Pine Tree Watchdog’s Naomi Schalit and Blake Davis first broke the story.

Time Warner Cable's lavish plan to stop city-run Internet in Maine By Eric Gelle, Daily Dot

Feckless thug alert: Time Warner Cable’s lavish plan to stop city-run Internet in Maine by UK Progressive

Maryland:

How an Internet Startup with Registrar Roots Plans to Take On Municipal Broadband by Nicole Henderson, Whir

Minnesota:

City council agrees to broadband Internet study by Edie Grossfield, Rochester Post-Bulletin

Mississippi:

Cable One increasing rates, shifting focus to broadband by Lauren Walck, Sun Herald 

New York:

Move over, Google Fiber. Hello, Brooklyn Fiber by Matthew Flamm, Crain’s New York Business 

New Jersey:

Tech for All: Senator Booker’s Plan to Increase Tech Engagement and Access for People of Color by Charlyn Stanberry, Politic365

North Carolina:

FCC could knock down state law, open door for Fibrant’s expansion by David Purtell, Salisbury Post

Wilson had fiber while the rest of N.C. was waiting for its page to load by Billy Ball, IndyWeek

Newspaper: FCC chair supports municipal broadband plan by WNCN Staff

FCC Chair Supports Wilson's Petition: Vote set for Feb. 26 as national precedent looms by Jon Jimison, Wilson Times

Ohio:

City of Fairlawn Issues Request for Proposals for FairlawnGig by Business Wire

Oregon:

Google Fiber or not, Hillsboro to study building a municipal fiber network by Luke Hammill, The Oregonian

 

Comcast Is Who We Thought They Were

 Comcast calls customer an ‘A–hole’ on cable bill by Post Staff, New York Post 

A customer was shocked after the cable giant called her husband an “a- -hole” on their cable bill, apparently in retaliation for canceling service. A Spokane, Wash., resident named Lisa Brown said after she called Comcast to cut her bill, her husband’s name was changed from Ricardo Brown to “A- -hole Brown.”

Want FTTH? Move to North Dakota, Reports USDA

A recent USDA report reveals that fossil fuels are not the only thing booming in North Dakota. The state ranked 47 for population is ranked number 1 as having the highest percentage of people with access to FTTH

According to a Telecompetitor article, their status can be attributed to an abundance of rural cooperatives and small telecom companies. These local providers have made it their business to fill the gaps left behind by large corporate ISPs that cannot justify investing in rural deployment. Given that most of North Dakota is rural, approximately 96% of the state is served by these smaller providers. The State Broadband map shows a total of 41 providers, including 17 cooperatives and 24 privately owned providers of varying size.

Another advantage to rural status? These cooperatives and small providers have qualified for USDA programs aimed at improving connectivity in sparsely populated regions. The report notes that the USDA has invested $338 million in grants and loans in North Dakota through its various telecommunications programs. 

The report also profiles the importance of the Dakota Carrier Network (DCN), a collaboration among many of the rural providers that criss-crosses the state with 1,460 miles of fiber backbone. The full report is available for download [PDF].

In 2012, we shared the story of the extensive network deployed by Dickey Rural Network (DRN) and Dakota Central Telecommuncations (DCT) cooperatives. DCT has produced a video about the benefits of the collaboration:

Video: 
See video

38 Next Century Cities Leaders Sign Letter to FCC Supporting Local Authority

President Obama suggested restoring local telecommunications authority while visiting Cedar Falls in January and a number of local elected officials were ready to back him up. Leaders from 38 members of Next Century Cities recently submitted a public letter to the FCC urging commissioners to consider local autonomy as they consider the Chattanooga and Wilson, North Carolina, petitions.

Last summer, both communities filed with the FCC seeking relief from restrictive state laws that prevent their broadband utilities from serving surrounding communities. FCC Chairman Wheeler has spoken in support of local authority more than once. Next Century Cities, a coalition of communities that was formed specifically to advance better connectivity, writes:

We write only to urge that, as you consider these petitions, you take proper account of the importance of local choice and autonomy. The benefits of high-quality broadband are now beyond dispute: these projects have stimulated local innovation and economic development, enhanced education, improved government services, and opened new worlds of opportunity to communities and citizens. It is our hope that federal policy will support the realization of these outcomes in our communities and in towns and cities across the country, by empowering every community to meet the needs of their residents.

You can read the full letter [PDF] online to see if your elected officials signed on.

The FCC's decision on the petitions is expected in February.

Time Warner Cable Successfully Blocks Funds for Community Network in Maine; Project to Continue

Time Warner Cable recently fought to prevent a collaborative project in Maine from receiving $125,000 in state broadband funding, reported the Bangor Daily News

We reported in December that Old Town, Orono, the University of Maine, and GWI had been awarded ConnectME funds. The collaborators earmarked the funding for a stretch of about 4 miles of fiber which could serve about 320 subscribers and would ultimately be integrated into a much larger network for businesses and residents. The network would connect to Maine's Three Ring Binder network.

Old Town and Orono want to establish gigabit connectivity to a nearby industrial area to transform it into a technology park for economic development purposes. Several businesses, including a health clinic that, have expressed interest in setting up shop in the planned development.

Old Town and Orono formed OTO Fiber, an independent entity to have authority to design, install, maintain, and manage an open access network. In typical fashion, TWC took action prevent local citizens and businesses from ever capitalizing on a gigabit, rather than work with the municipalities to deliver TWC services over the publicly owned infrastructure.

The ConnectME Authority voted in TWC's favor, based on the arguments as presented in an earlier Daily News article:

The company argues that the agency only has the ability to give grants in areas it deems “underserved” or “unserved,” and that projects getting grants should overlap with less than 20 percent of the customers of an existing provider.

The towns, which formed the company OTO Fiber to develop the project, argue that the service does not duplicate existing services and that other Internet service providers would be able to contract with the company to use the open network that would be built by Networkmaine, a unit of the University of Maine System.

TWC's behavior is by no means surprising. Nevertheless, the project will proceed:

Belle Ryder, assistant town manager for Orono, told the board Thursday that the project still would move ahead, but with municipal funds that, with the grant, would have gone toward other municipal uses.Ryder told the Bangor Daily News on Thursday that the town has money from a tax-increment financing district that could be used for the purpose.

Minnesota Border to Border Broadband Awards Announced

The Minnesota Office of Broadband Development recently announced the recipients of the Border to Border Broadband grants, funding established by the state legislature in 2014 to facilitate rural broadband projects. Seventeen public and private entities will share a total of $19.4 million in Greater Minnesota.

According the the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) press release, the projects will help bring better connectivity to 6,095 households, 83 community institutions, and 150 businesses in areas of the state considered unserved or underserved. This funding pays for up to 50 percent of the cost of each project. 

The need in rural areas of the state is intense; 40 projects submitted applications for a total of $44.2 million in requests. Among the recipients are some familiar projects.

RS Fiber Cooperative is awarded $1 million for its FTTH project in Renville County and and parts of Sibley County. We wrote a case study on the RS Fiber project in our report All Hands on Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access. According to the press release:

Total project costs are $3.32 million; the remaining $2.32 million (70 percent local match) will be provided by a line of credit that R-S Fiber Telcom has committed and partner equity. This project is part of a larger cooperative project estimated at $38.46 million that will upgrade broadband services to several thousand locations in the region. Hiawatha Broadband Communications will provide operational capacity. 

Federated Telephone, sister cooperative to Farmers Mutual Cooperative will also receive an award for a project in Big Stone County:

Federated Telephone Cooperative, Big Stone County. Awarded $3.92 million to construct broadband infrastructure that will make service available to 1,072 unserved premises. The full project cost is $7.92 million; the remaining $4 million (51 percent) in matching funds will be raised through tax abatement bonds, with the county loaning the bond proceeds to Federated. This project will cover the north half of Big Stone County, as well as the western tract that runs from south to north surrounding the city of Ortonville. The area will include the communities of Barry, Beardsley and Johnson along with the rural parts of western and northern Big Stone County.

Farmers Mutual Cooperative worked in partnership with Lac Qui Parle County to bring FTTH to the rural western community and turn it into one of the best connected regions of the state. The Farmers Mutual/Lac Qui Parle partnership is also detailed in the All Hands On Deck report.

Other cooperatives around the state that will use Border to Border awards to improve rural connectivity include Consolidated Telephone Cooperative, Alliance Communications Cooperative, and Interstate Telecommunications Cooperative.

There were a number of smaller, local telephone companies that are deploying or expanding in rural areas including Sjoberg Cable in Roseau, Otter Tail Telecom in Fergus Falls, and Dunnell Telephone Company in Dunnell. DEED also posted a map [PDF] that shows the locations of the funded projects.

CenturyLink, Frontier, and Mediacom, who have poo-pooed public investment in publicly-owned infrastructure, labeling it as "unfair," also applied to receive public funds. They will receive approximately $2.5 million collectively. The private sector cleaned up, as is usual when it comes to collecting taxpayer dollars.

Last fall, we interviewed Minnesota's Senator Matt Schmit and Representative Erik Simonson, authors of the bill establishing the fund, and Danna Mackenzie, Director of the State Office of Broadband Development. Listen to their conversation with Chris in episode #119 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

These seventeen projects demonstrate a need that is just the tip of the iceberg. While $20 million is only a fraction of what it will take to bring fast, reliable, affordable connectivity to all Minnesotans, these projects will help lay the groundwork for future planning. We encourage the Minnesota Legislature to get serious about expanding Internet access across the state and in particular, focus on investing in coops and munis that will keep the money in the community.

Rural Colorado Internet Access and Mountain Connect - Community Broadband Bits Episode 137

Last year was the first year I attended Mountain Connect, an event in the Rockies west of Denver that discusses approaches to improving Internet access. Historically, they focused on rural communities but as co-chair of the event Jeff Gavlinski notes in our discussion this week, they are expanding it to include more urban issues as well.

Mountain Connect is growing in many ways and I am excited to return to it in early June.
As Jeff and I discuss, it is focused on all solutions to expanding access - whether private sector, coop, muni, partnership, etc.

Colorado has a lot of activity from munis and especially munis that are looking to partner, but also has a state law that requires a time-and-energy consuming referendum before the community can really do any planning or take action to improve its situation.

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

This show is 18 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."

Comcast Ghostwrites Letters From Elected Officials to FCC

It is common knowledge that Comcast and a number of political leaders enjoy special relationships. Nevertheless, it was still a bit shocking to see the level at which Comcast's army has infiltrated the political process as uncovered in a recent Verge article.

Comcast, Time Warner Cable, AT&T, and CenturyLink lawyers and lobbyists often write legislation for lawmakers to introduce. This past summer, the puppetry went one step further when Comcast crafted letters supporting the Comcast/Time Warner Cable merger. Those letters were then submitted to the FCC from the offices of a number of politicians known to receive support from the cable giant. We applaud both Comcast and their pet lawmakers for their efficiency!

The Verge was also able to obtain email threads that document how lobbyists drafted letters of support and sent them on to local elected officials, who then made insignificant changes in the signature line or transferred the exact language on to official stationery before sending it on to the FCC.

We have taken the liberty of presenting some of the letters below. You can see a few email exchanges that detail the conversation between Comcast lobbyists and political staff.

The Verge spoke with Michal Copps, former FCC Chairman, who now advises at Common Cause:

"When a mayor of a town or a town councilman or a legislator writes in — we look at that, and if someone is of a mind already to approve something like this they might say: ‘ah-ha, see!’" says Copps, who is now an advisor at Common Cause and opposes the merger. "These letters can be consequential, there’s no question about that."

The comment process has been tainted because Comcast has also used gentle nudging to obtain support from organizations benefitting from its charitable foundation. Columbia Professor Tim Wu has studied the potential merger:

"I think they have failed to meet their burden of persuasion that this will make life better for the average American consumer…What does the average American consumer care about? They care about prices being too high. Comcast could have said this merger will lower prices and committed itself to lower prices but it has made no sign that it will do this." 

Wu, who reviewed the documents obtained by The Verge, said that the new information "confirms the impression that evidence that the merger is in the ‘public interest’ is simply being manufactured."

"It’s sort of become an amusement park where the fake stuff outnumbers the real stuff," Wu says. "The fact is a lot of telecom issues are pretty obscure, they often don’t get the public very excited. So what do you do? You buy it."

Apparently, these elected officials did not expect their constituents to notice that they supported one of the most unpopular proposed mergers in history. In order to set the record straight, we encourage constituents to contact them and let them know that you do not support the merger, as they claim you do.

We also suggest that you let them know that you do not cotton to the idea that they let lobbyists put words in their mouths, regardless of the issue.

Most importantly, remember this incident the next time you enter the voting booth.

Community Networks Map 2015 Fact Sheet

As of January 2015, more communities than ever before have realized the value of publicly owned broadband infrastructure.

In order to introduce our updated Community Networks Map to advocates of better broadband, policy makers, and community leaders, we created the Community Networks Map fact sheet.

This is a great resource for policy makers, advocates, and community leaders who want a visul tool to share the truth – that a large number of successful community broadband networks are spread across the country, serving constituents, encouraging economic development, and saving public dollars.

Download the PDF to learn more and visit the online interactive map to obtain detailed information and links to specific community stories on the map.

Local Communities Still Committed to RS Fiber Cooperative

Green Isle and nine other communities have reaffirmed their commitment to the RS Fiber Cooperative, reports the Belle Plain Herald. The project began in 2010 as a collaboration between a number of local county and municipal government entities in south central Minnesota. Local residents rallied behind the project, which was designed to connect both towns and surrounding farms. 

Unfortunately, the project faced difficulties due to incumbent intimidation and the high cost of deployment in such a large geographic area. Sibley County officials chose to back out of the project, requiring a business plan reboot. Locals, recognizing the critical need for better connectivity chose to instead form the RS Fiber Cooperative.

The Herald reports that in its first 2015 City Council meeting, Green Isle voted 3 - 1 in favor of a resolution stating continued support to the project. Similar resolutions have passed in Winthrop, Gibbon, Fairfax, Lafayette, Gaylord, Stewart, New Auburn and Brownton. 

Henderson and Arlington, located in Sibley County, have opted to not participate in the coop. 

Coop Directors endorsed an updated business plan in November, reported Prairie Business Magazine. The project will bring better connectivity options to approximately 6,200 customers in Sibley County, parts of Renville County, and portions of Nicollet and McLeod Counties. The revised business plan, scaled back from the original plan to bring fiber to every property in Sibley and Renville Counties, reduces project costs by more than 30 percent.

Participating communities will collectively issue $13.7 million in general obligation bonds. Local investors, bank loans, and other financing will provide the remaining $42 million. The project is scheduled for completion in 2018.

Phil Keithahn, RS Fiber Coop financial planner, told KEYC Mankato that the network will have triple-play capabilities, bringing Internet, phone, and video to remote rural areas. Community leaders are motivated by the need to improve connectivity for agriculture, tele-medicine, and education.:

"It levels the playing field for people who live and work in rural America with people who are in the twin cities. So it's an economic development tool for south central Minnesota."

Readers who have followed this project will recall that south central Renville and Sibley counties, largely farming communities, have faced many challenges since the project inception. The rural nature of the region increased the cost of deployment but the community wanted to include every one. Incumbent Frontier negatively impacted the project by injecting fear into several local leaders, which complicated the ability to fund the project. Nevertheless, the intense interest and community involvement has kept this project moving forward.

For a detailed look at the RS Fiber Cooperative story, read our case study in All Hands on Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access. 

You can also listen to our May 2014 podcast interview with Mark Erickson, Winthrop Town Manager, and Cindy Gerholz, RS Fiber Coop Vice-Chair. We also spoke with Linda Kramer from the group's Marketing Committee back in 2012.