Community Broadband Media Roundup - March 6, 2015

Outlets are continuing to pick up on the fact that the FCC's Community Broadband decision was a big one for the future of the Internet. 

Community Broadband

The Most Important Decision the FCC Made Last Week Wasn't on Net Neutrality... By David Dayen, The New Republic

…Telecoms have reacted to this wave of community broadband in ways you would expect from politically powerful, deep-pocketed corporations. First they sued the pants off any municipality trying to build their own network. Then they used their clout in state legislatures to restrict their reach. In Tennessee, only municipal electric companies can provide broadband, and only in the markets they serve. In North Carolina, community broadband networks cannot jump county lines. States like Missouri and Texas ban communities from building their own fiber-optic networks.

FCC Tests Its Authority Over States: Agency takes on laws keeping cities from running Internet service... by Drew Fitzgerald, The Wall Street Journal

Why the F.C.C.’s Municipal-Broadband Ruling Matters, Too... by Vauhini Vara, The New Yorker

To those who support the growth of municipal broadband, the decision seemed eminently just. Some of the areas around Chattanooga and Wilson don’t have broadband Internet access at all, or else it exists only at low speeds; parents report driving their children to local churches or to McDonald’s so they can get online and finish homework assignments. Such efforts, proponents argue, demonstrate that, although the Internet may once have been a luxury, these days it’s a form of infrastructure, not dissimilar to water pipes or roads—and that towns lacking reliable access to it risk falling behind. “Why should it be the decision of Comcast or any company that the infrastructure that they happen to own in a community is good enough?” Joanne Hovis, the C.E.O. of the Coalition for Local Internet Choice, a group of businesses, cities, and others, told me. “Why shouldn’t a community be able to say, ‘We will work with another provider or work ourselves to be able to provide better infrastructure’?”

City-run Internet services still in limbo after FCC vote: Cities must wait for FCC ruling and likely court fight before knowing if they can expand public Internet service... by Allan Holmes, Public Integrity

When it comes to broadband, industry and lawmakers work hand in glove... by Amadou Diallo, al jazeera

Despite these statewide attempts to subvert local control, there are more than 400 communities throughout the U.S. with publicly owned broadband networks, said Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative. He added that if private companies want to avoid competition all they really have to do is offer services where residents are asking for them. “I don’t know of a place where [communities] haven’t started off by asking [a private provider] for investment. Local governments already have a lot of responsibilities. They don’t want to add a massive new responsibility if they don’t have to.”

Improving Cities by Investing in Next-Generation Internet: A coalition called Next Century Cities is bringing leaders together to demonstrate the value of Internet infrastructure investments, celebrate member cities’ successful projects, and help other cities do the same... by Denise Linn, Data-smart City Solutions: GovTech

Republicans’ “Internet Freedom Act” would wipe out net neutrality: Internet providers need the freedom to block and throttle Internet traffic... by Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica

Blackburn's legislation would also wipe out the FCC's decision to reclassify broadband as a common carrier service subject to some of the Title II obligations imposed on wireline telephone and mobile voice. But while Internet providers and some Republicans have claimed to support net neutrality rules while opposing Title II reclassification, this bill would not leave any network neutrality rules in place. That's not surprising, given that Blackburn has been trying to get rid of net neutrality rules for years.

The Other FCC Decision... by David Morris, Huffington Post

In this debate about unfair competition, private telecoms would like us to forget about the enormous subsidies gifted to them in the past. In 1991 Vice President Al Gore called for building an Information superhighway by replacing old copper wires with fibers. Telephone companies enthusiastically applauded the Vice President's vision and rushed to request permission of state regulatory commissions to boost prices and increase profits in order to generate the capital needed to rewire the country. Most promised to achieve the rewiring within 20 years. Bruce Kushnick in his Book of Broken Promises notes that in its 1993 Annual Report to the New York Public Service Commission NYNEX vowed, "We're prepared to install between 1.2 million and 2 million fiber optics lines by 1996..." New Jersey Bell promised to rewire about 56 million miles by 2015.

The FCC’s Other decision aims to spur local broadband... by Mike Snider, USA Today

"all possibilities are now on the table, whether through public-private partnerships or municipally-owned broadband networks, to ensure North Carolina's businesses and residents remain competitive in the global economy."

More cities might now consider municipal broadband, said Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa. "I believe that other communities around the country, both those that have deployments and those that are contemplating them, should see this as an opportunity to take action for themselves and petition the FCC to have restrictions that they face lifted."

Deeper Than Net Neutrality: The Other Big FCC Decision This Week... by Robert Schoon, The Latin Post

In a way, even though it was limited to two particular cases, the municipal broadband decision takes a step toward addressing the competition issue, for which Net Neutrality is actually just a band-aid.

As The New York Times' analysis of the FCC Open Internet decision put it, "the new rules will not ensure competition from new entrants... Instead, strong regulation is intended to prevent the dominant broadband suppliers from abusing their market power."

In a way, the big win for Net Neutrality advocates this week was also a recognition that cable companies like Comcast are currently the only viable broadband game in town -- at least throughout large swaths of the country.

Put more directly: Cable already won, and now the FCC is just making sure it won't abuse its customers. And that's how the FCC's lesser-known municipal broadband decision on Thursday is more fundamental than Net Neutrality. It potentially opens up a new avenue of competition that's been tested and proven to work in the real world.

FCC Votes for Net Neutrality, Expanded Local Broadband Choice... by Brian Heaton, Techwire

If Mayors Ruled the World Today, They Would Launch Digital Cities Tomorrow... by John M Eger, Huffington Post

In every study about economic development, the importance of broadband Internet services are mentioned prominently. Given the realignment of power in the world -- from nations to cities to individuals--what the city does or does not do can determine their community's success and survival, or its demise; and as such, will determine the nation's success or failure.

We are not just talking about streaming movies, email, social media or Internet sales. We are talking about regional security, housing, law enforcement, fire, safety, transportation and the "Internet of Everything" ... when everything is connected to everything else.

Regulators approve tougher rules for Internet providers... by Anne Flaherty, Associated Press 

Not just net neutrality: FCC votes in additional broadband measures... by David M. Demar, SMN Weekly

Editor's Note: The Universal Need for Speed... by Tim Marema, Daily Yonder

FCC preempts two state laws that limit the geographic reach of municipal broadband systems... by Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, Robert G. Scott, Jr.

The decision rests on a novel interpretation of FCC authority. Section 253 of the Communications Act bars state or local restrictions on “any person” providing telecommunications services and authorizes the FCC to “preempt” any laws that do so. In 1997, the Commission held that 253 did not give it the authority to preempt a Missouri state law that completely prohibited municipalities from providing telecommunications service. The Supreme Court affirmed that FCC decision in Missouri Municipal League v. Nixon on the ground that a state’s decisions as to municipal powers are fundamental sovereign acts that are not preempted by federal law absent a statutory “clear statement” that Congress intended to interfere with those sovereign decisions. Although Section 253 explicitly allows federal preemption of both state and local laws that prohibit telecommunications competition, the Supreme Court found that the provision does not have the necessary “clear statement” of congressional intent to disrupt state control of local governments’ powers. 

The Road of Municipal Broadband Leads to FCC Broadband Title II... by Doug Mohney

Service providers are more than happy to fill in the gap, so long as they are paid by municipalities to fill the gap – which is where the whole argument about "we don't need regulation" starts to break down in earnest.   Either the service provider chooses to provide high speed Internet or it doesn't. If it doesn't, it should have no problem if the government steps in to fill the gap, especially when it is in a monopolistic position – the only guy in town – in the market.

FCC ruling could mean better Internet... by Michelle Willard, The Daily News Journal

The ruling could mean expanded Internet service offerings in Rutherford County, said Brian Robertson, director, Rutherford County Office of Information Technology and president of Mind2Marketplace.

“… Currently when a citizen complains that there is no broadband availability in their area, the only way local government can help is through our franchising authority, which allows us to require a provider to serve a particular area if at least 25 homes would be served by a one mile extension of that company’s feeder cable,” Robertson said.

But in the rural parts of Rutherford County, the population density makes it economically unfeasible to expand broadband, much less fiber, he said.

“If this ruling facilitates further broadband availability in underserved areas we could see increased economic activity, improved communications, and greater access to educational resources for those residents,” Robertson said.

 

State-by State

Even though the FCC’s ruling was specifically focused on Chattanooga, TN and Wilson, NC’s petitions, cities all over the nation took interest in what the rulings could mean for their own Internet futures. 

Iowa

Why isn't Des Moines a gigabit city? Blame demand, ISPs say... by Matthew Patane, Des Moines Register

Iowa's road to high-speed gigabit Internet is divided along two routes.

On one, large providers that serve much of the state and major population areas are upgrading their residential networks as demand requires.

"We're going to continue to deploy as our customers desire," said Michael Sadler, a lobbyist for CenturyLink, which rolled out gigabit speeds to 16 cities last year but doesn't offer the residential service in Iowa.

On the other, smaller companies and local utilities have rolled out gigabit networks in rural Iowa in anticipation of future demand.

"By having this product out there, we can adapt, we can change. We can get the customers what they need," said Chuck Deisbeck, CEO of Western Iowa Networks, which has deployed gigabit download speeds in Carroll, Breda and other cities.

Branstad recognizes local community’s efforts on broadband access... by Levi Ismail, KIMT-TV

Louisiana

Lafayette Looks to Expand Community Fiber Network... by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

Minnesota

How broadband develops here: Local goals, state grants... by Mitch LeClair, St. Cloud Times

Information Technology Director Micah Myers said the city of St. Cloud owns and operates about 90 miles of fiber-optic lines that connect the law enforcement center downtown, City Hall and all other government buildings except the airport, which connects to the Internet through T1 lines, a slower, older technology.

Myers said the fiber network, a "co-build with the school district" connects to St. Joseph and Clear Lake. About seven years ago, it prompted a discussion about providing competing Internet service in St. Cloud.

The city "never went anywhere" with the talks, but if more exploration would have occurred in St. Cloud, incumbent providers would have pushed back, Myers said. Entrenched cable television and telephone companies will "make your life a living hell," he said. 

Missouri

FCC ruling forestalls state efforts to block city-owned broadband... by Rudi Keller, Columbia Tribune

“Sen. Kurt Schaefer’s attempt to block the city of Columbia’s entry into the Internet infrastructure business by forestalling its authority to do so has been called into question by a Federal Communications Commission ruling that pre-empts state authority to limit broadband development.

… Columbia is considering whether to lease its city-built fiber-optic network to Internet service providers, who could in turn offer end-users data transmission speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second.”

Carl Junction Approves Community Broadband Service Agreement... by Kate Inman, Four States Homepage

North Carolina

Jackson entrepreneur takes on the last-mile challenge of high-speed Internet in the mountains... by Becky Johnson, Smoky Mountain News

The gap between the haves and have nots in the world of high-speed Internet will get a little smaller this spring thanks to a start-up Internet company that will soon be beaming Internet service from towers in Jackson County.

Travis Lewis, a well-known businessman and entrepreneur with a long family history in Jackson County, has rolled up his sleeves to solve the formidable last-mile challenge in the mountains. Since the dawn of high-speed Internet, actually getting it to the doorsteps of people in remote reaches of Appalachia has been a problem.

The FCC Voted to Preempt State Broadband Laws. Now What? The commission’s order overriding Tennessee and North Carolina state laws will take effect after it’s published. But there’s already opposition in the works... by Nicole Blake Johnson, State Tech Magazine

State attorneys general from Tennessee and North Carolina, broadband carriers and the National Conference of State Legislatures are among the likely candidates to appeal the FCC’s decision, said StateTech must-read IT blogger Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

“At some point in coming days [or] weeks, the decision will be printed in the Federal Register, and, at that point, Wilson and Chattanooga will be able to expand as will other communities in those two states,” Mitchell added. “And we will expect an appeal to be filed shortly thereafter.”

Editorial: Response to broadband ruling smacks of double-speak by Tideland News

FCC ruling shows how Internet has become vital to society... by David Purtell, Salisbury Post

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said Internet access is “too important to let broadband providers be the ones making the rules.”

Think about it this way: Most people have very little choice, if any, when it comes to choosing an Internet provider. In most places it’s one or two or three companies providing Internet access. And as the Internet becomes more intertwined with everyday life, especially as an educational resource, companies shouldn’t be able to use their control over Internet access as a financial weapon — picking winners and losers.

Kent Winrich, Salisbury’s director of Fibrant, has said the Internet will become like water in the future: people will need it to survive and function in society.

That concept is why the city took on the task of building a municipal broadband network. City Council decided that access to high-speed Internet was crucial to the city’s economic and social future. And since private companies wouldn’t build a fiber-optic network for the city, council chose to have the city do it.

Ohio

Local cable, Internet providers unchanged by controversial net neutrality protections... by Loren Genson, Medina Gazette

Oregon

Sandy Shows Support for Broadband... by Garth Guibord, Mountain Times

“It is increasingly clear that ultra-fast, next-generation Internet networks are the key to building and sustaining thriving communities, as essential as good healthcare, great schools, and reliable public safety. Indeed, in the coming decades, the Internet will increasingly become a platform for delivering these and other core services to our citizens, in addition to providing an onramp to the jobs and opportunities of tomorrow. Providing high-quality Internet is inarguably essential to safeguarding the public interest in the years and decades to come.”

Tennessee

Net neutrality is move to keep Internet content equal... by John I. Carney: editor, Shelbeyville Times-Gazette

EPB lays out plans to provide all of Bradley County with High-Speed Internet, TV Service; Cost is up to $60 million

 Now, EPB is waiting on the exact wording of the ruling prior to seeking to work out legal and technical issues.

Marsha Blackburn Rushes To The Defense Of Awful, Protectionist State Broadband Laws: from the stop-pretending-you're-helping dept... by Karl Bode, TechDirt

… Municipal broadband is an organic, community reaction to the telecom market failure they're "enjoying" on a daily basis. 

That's why it's been amusing to see Marsha Blackburn rushing to the defense of the ISPs and these bills, breathlessly trying to argue that she's just terribly, terribly concerned about states' rights. Almost immediately after the FCC's vote to limit the reach of such laws in Tennessee and North Carolina, Blackburn and Senator Thom Tillis introduced the "States' Rights Municipal Broadband Act of 2015 (pdf)," which would amend the Telecommunications Act to strip back FCC authority over states when it comes to timely broadband deployment. 

Tennessee lawmakers: Block FCC ruling on municipal broadband... by Erik Schelzig, Associated Press

Governor Haslam may appeal FCC ruling that allows EPB to expand gig... by Andy Sher, Times Free-Press

TN attorney general: No decision yet on FCC municipal broadband vote... by David Morton, Nooga.com 

Democrats in the state Senate said Slatery's decision on this issue will be a test of the attorney general's independence from Republican lawmakers.

"Anyone who has spent hours on the phone with a service provider to dispute a bill or get proper services knows consumers need more choices when it comes to Internet service," Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris said in a news release. "It is disturbing to see lawmakers act so quickly to limit consumer choice when Tennesseans are demanding more."

Bristol Tenn. City Council OKs $4.2M in new bonds... by Tammy Childress, Bristol Herald Courier

Cities tired of holding back high-speed Internet... by Stephanie Ingersoll, The Leaf-Chronicle

When Frazier Allen moved into his new Sango home with his wife and two children, it didn't occur to him that one of their biggest frustrations would be keeping an Internet signal... 

"We moved into this house just over a year and a half ago," he said. "The last thing I anticipated was not having good Internet access. We realized it just wasn't up to par."

Allen set out to change things and, along with his neighbors, he persuaded his cable company to lay down new lines into Savannah Chase...

He would like to get 50 Mbps high-speed Internet from Clarksville Department of Electricity's broadband division. And Allen and his family, who live only a quarter of a mile outside the city limits, are among thousands of potential customers CDE Lightband would love to serve, if only the Tennessee Legislature would change a 15-year-old law that limits municipal electric broadband providers from providing Internet service beyond their electric service territories.

Net Neutrality

Why Comcast, AT&T and other Internet providers might not sue the FCC after all... by Brian Fung, Washington Post

Verizon and big cable lash out at net neutrality rules – using morse code... by Dominic Rushe, The Guardian 

Telecoms giant uses a faux typewriter and morse code to issue statement expressing frustration at what it calls ‘antiquated’ internet regulations. 

What net neutrality means for Comcast-Time Warner Cable and other mega mergers ... by John McDuling, Quartz

Last week the US Federal Communications formally adopted stricter “net neutrality” rules that essentially will regulate the internet in the country like a public utility. (Here is a good, plain English explainer on what that actually means).

Of course, this ruling could (and probably will) be challenged in the courts by the big broadband companies. But many internet advocates and stock investors are already shifting their focus to looming consolidation in America’s communications markets that could change the way Americans access the internet and consume video.

Last Week Was A Victory, But The Fight For The Open Internet Is Nowhere Close To Being Done: from the lots-of-pitfalls-ahead dept... by Mike Masonic, TechDirt

The details: Yes, as you may have heard, the fully detailed rules are not yet public. This is ridiculous and stupid, but it's the way the FCC operates. If it had released the detailed rules prior to the vote, it would have delayed the entire process. And, while dissenting commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O'Rielly have been screaming about the travesty that the rules haven't yet been released publicly, what they conveniently leave out is that currentlythey are the sole reason for the delay. The FCC can't publish the final rules until the FCC has incorporated their dissents, and neither Pai nor O'Rielly have handed in their dissents.

 

Frontier Communications

Frontier Communications CEO Maggie “6Mbps is Plenty” Wilderotter is Out; Dan McCarthy Takes Over in April... by Phillip Dampier

Co-Mo Cooperative: Bringing Some of the Fastest Speeds in the Nation to Rural Missouri

Co-Mo Cooperative and the Co-Mo Connect Board of Directors recently voted to proceed with the final phases of its gigabit FTTH project. The decision assures the plan to bring to triple-play to all Co-Mo members by the end of 2016.

We checked in on Co-Mo about a year ago, when the cooperative announced it would increase speeds without increasing prices for both residential and business members. Residential fiber Internet service ranges from $39.95 per month for 5 Mbps to $99.95 per month for gigabit service; all speeds are symmetrical.

Triple-play service extends beyond the electric service territory. During the first phase of the project, the city of California (pop. 4,200) opened up city poles for Co-Mo in space that was previously used by a cable company that no longer operated in the area. The project then expanded to Tipton (pop. 3,200) and Versailles (pop. 2,500). In a story on the expansion on the Co-Mo website, General Manager Randy Klindt said:

“We’re creating this wide swath of the most advanced communications network in the country right here in rural Missouri. Part of the cooperative’s mission statement is to improve our communities, and these city projects definitely qualify. It is important the everyone in our region has access to broadband because the economic health of our cooperative members and our local towns are intertwined.”  

...

“Despite what other telecommunication companies say, it’s not only doable, but it’s happened. The broadband speeds we deliver are 100 times what the FCC now determines to be broadband in rural areas,” Klindt said.

Ookla recognized Tipton as the community with the fastest Internet speeds in Missouri in 2014 with and average of 88.86 Mbps for those who ran speed tests on the network reported Lake Expo.com. Co-Mo Connect was also ranked 18th in the U.S. of fastest ISPs with at least 100 speed tests run from subscribers.

“Our little piece of rural America is 18th fastest in the entire nation,” said Randy Klindt, general manager for Co-Mo Connect. “Just stop and think about that for a second.”

This past December Co-Mo Connect enabled a Watch TV Everywhere feature, which allows member to use devices other than TV sets to watch programming. The cooperative does not charge for the feature, but warns subscribers to be mindful of cellphone carrier's data caps and roaming charges.

Co-Mo has also recently launched a new tool using the network to help members monitor and reduce their energy consumption. SmartHub was developed by Co-Mo's technology partner, the National Information Solutions Cooperative (NISC). In addition to paying their bill, members can report outages and view a consumption history. The cooperative has posted a series of SmartHub instructional videos on YouTube.

The remaining phases of the project will allow Co-Mo Cooperative to bring better connectivity to a greater number of households and businesses in central Missouri. The plan will also ensure the financial success of the investment. From the Lake Expo.com article:

“What we’re trying to prevent from happening is the reverse of what happened when investor-owned electricity providers came through in the early 1900s and cherry-picked the profitable cities and left the rural areas without electricity,” said Ken Johnson, Co-Mo Connect’s president the CEO/general of Co-Mo Electric Cooperative. “We didn’t want to see all the outlying areas with this amazing communications network but have holes in the middle with the cities that got left behind.”

The city projects also are providing an additional revenue stream that wasn’t expected when the business plan was developed. That revenue comes with comparably less expense because of the larger number of potential subscribers per mile of fiber.

“That revenue is going to make the entire project more likely to succeed, all the way to the very end of Co-Mo Electric’s lines where there are very few potential subscribers per mile,” Klindt said.

So far, customers have had nothing but rave reviews:

“I love that I am saving money, first of all, and then really loving that we don't lose our signal, whether it be the TV or the Internet, when it rains,” said subscriber Diana Davis.

Added Peggy Liebi: “I love it. I’ve never had HD or a DVR before. I didn't lose signal during the really bad storms, not even once.”

We interviewed Klindt for the Community Broadband Bits podcast. At the time, he estimated members were saving over $1.5 million per year; he has since revisited the calculations and discovered members are saving even more. With 16,000 subscribers saving approximately $20 per month, members are saving around $4 million annually. The service has proved so popular, other cooperatives have approached Co-Mo for information on their decision to invest in the fiber network.

Co-Mo Cooperative has produced a number of creative videos and posted them on their YouTube channel. Below is their video, the Road to Rural Broadband:

Missouri Senate Committee Hears Anti-Muni Bill; Private Companies and Groups Ask For No Vote

As the Senate version of Missouri's latest anti-muni bill, SB 266 [PDF], moved forward recently, a group of private sector companies and interested organizations appealed to state lawmakers [PDF] urging them to stop it in its tracks.

In January we reported on HB 437, introduced by House Member Rocky Miller. Its Senate companion, which establishes an identical slash and burn strategy to discourage municipal broadband investment, appears to be gathering interest.

The Senate Jobs, Economic Development and Local Government Committee heard the bill on February 18th but chose not to vote on it, reports the Columbia Tribune. Members of the committee received a copy of the correspondence.

Readers will recall that Columbia is one of the many communities that have been actively investigating the possibility of municipal open access network investment. Last fall, Columbia received the results of a feasibility study that recommended the town make better use of its existing fiber assets for economic development purposes.

The letter, sent to Senator Eric Schmitt, Chairman of the Missouri Senate Committee on Jobs, Economic Development, and Local Government, stressed the importance of public private partnerships in the modern economy. SB 266 and HB 437, with their onerous barriers, would certainly discourage private investment in Missouri. From the letter:

In particular, these bills will hurt the private sector by derailing or unnecessarily complicating and delaying public-partnerships, by interfering with the ability of private companies to make timely sales of equipment and services to public broadband providers, by denying private companies timely access to advanced networks over which they can offer business and residential customers an endless array of modern products and services, and by impairing economic and educational opportunities that contribute to a skilled workforce from which businesses across the state will benefit.

As the letter suggests, restrictions such as those placed on local communities by these bills, do nothing but limit competition. The companies and organizations signing on to this letter understand that when local communities have the ability to make their own choices, consumers and businesses benefit:

Communities in Missouri and across America are eager to work with willing established carriers, enter into public-private partnerships with new entrants, develop their own networks, if necessary, or create other innovative means of acquiring affordable access to advanced communications capabilities. These are fundamentally local decisions that should be made by the communities themselves, through the processes that their duly elected and accountable local officials ordinarily use for making comparable decisions.

Signing the letter:

  • Alcatel-Lucent
  • American Public Power Association
  • Atlantic Engineering Group
  • Connecting for Good
  • CTC Technology & Energy
  • Fiber to the Home Council
  • Google
  • National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors
  • Netflix
  • OnTrac
  • Telecommunications Industry Association 
  • Utilities Telecom Council

Schaefer, who has collected generous contributions from CenturyLink and others in the telecom industry, tried to describe the bill as a tool to rein in local government. Nevertheless, his backers from CenturyLink sent their lobbyist to bemoan municipal networks a "unfair competition." As usual, the lobbyist simultaneously tried to convince lawmakers that CenturyLink was there purely in the public's interest, to protect the taxpayers from one of the "many dismal municipal failures" (head shake, eye roll).

Thankfully, the voice of reason had sent at least a few people to the hearing to debunk the typical misinformation. From the Tribune article:

In Missouri, [Ewell] Lawson, [of the Missouri Association of Municipal Utilities] said, 17 cities are offering Internet infrastructure or direct services. “There are no examples of failure in Missouri,” Lawson said. “A vote often politicizes the situation when it is not necessary.”

If you live in Missouri and hope to one day see more competition in the Internet industry, we encourage you to call your state elected officials and express your distaste for HB 437 and SB 266. Let them know that you consider these bills hostile toward meaningful competition and consider them economic development killers.

We also encourage you to arm yourself with our economic development fact sheet, that can help you provide some examples to help you prove your point. 

Remember, the political process is only yours if you own it.

Remembering David Carr, and His Writing on Monopoly Power

Stacy Mitchell, Co-Director of ILSR and Director of the Community-Scaled Economy Initiative, took a few moments to look back over the work of David Carr. Carr's work included investigating monopolies in the telecommunications space. Stacy's story, re-posted here, originally ran on ILSR.org.

What will we do without David Carr, the brilliant media columnist at the New York Times who died last week? At ILSR, we will especially miss his writing on monopoly power, Amazon, and the book business. Below we’ve excerpted and linked to a few of his best recent pieces on those subjects.

In Modern Media Realm, Big Mergers Are a Bulwark Against Rivals — July 16, 2014

Comcast’s bold strategy of acquisition kicked off a wave of defensive consolidation, fueled by a combination of fear and abundant capital in the media realm.

I talked to the head of one company that creates television and movies, who expressed a common sentiment. “When Comcast decided to get bigger,” he said, “we all had to ask ourselves, Are we big enough? We all have to think about getting bigger.”

And why not? No one is stopping them.

With big data, a Big Brother government and now big media, size creates its own prerogatives. When Amazon used its market dominance to limit access to Hachette books over a price dispute, regulators yawned. When AT&T and DirecTV propose a tie-up in response to Comcast, the market issues are just another deal point. Cable companies slowed down content from clients (which are also competitors) like Netflix, and it was treated as a business dispute.

For the most part, the current government has passed on regulating potential monopolies, and as citizens, we have become inured to the consequences of bigness.


Amazon Absorbing Price Fight Punches — June 1, 2014

Someone forgot to tell the book business that it was dead. Last Thursday afternoon, I walked over to the Javits Center in Manhattan, where a throng of people had gathered for BookExpo America, the industry’s annual campfire — so many people that I wondered if there was a free whiskey concession…

The immense space was brimming with a surprising amount of optimism: After years of downward spiral, the industry seems to have found some kind of equilibrium.

It has also watched with a mix of giddiness and anxiety as the Hachette Book Group, one of the big Manhattan publishers, has taken on Amazon in a bitter dispute over pricing. Hachette is suffering big losses because Amazon is delaying delivery of Hachette titles while also eliminating discounts. (Its authors are getting clobbered in the process.) Amazon is taking a reputational hit for not putting its customers first, which has long been its guiding philosophy.

Hachette is the first big publisher to enter talks with Amazon since the last round of negotiations, and book people have rejoiced watching the bully get sand — a heap of negative press — kicked in his face.

Amazon, beloved by Wall Street (until recently) and its customers for putting growth and low prices ahead of profits, is getting a bit of an image makeover right now, and the results have not been pretty.

On one level, this is just one corporate giant fighting with another — Hachette is owned by Lagardère of France — over the share of e-book profits. So why the fuss? The answer is that books are different from the thousands of other products Amazon sells.

As the uproar grows, Amazon is learning that while it may own the publishing industry with a 40 percent market share of all new books sold, according to Publishers Weekly, it doesn’t own the debate….

 

Growling by Comcast May Bring Tighter Leash — Sept. 28, 2014

Comcast has a long corporate tradition of smiling and wearing beige no matter what kind of criticisms are hurled at it. That public posture is in keeping with the low-key approach favored by Brian L. Roberts, the company’s chief executive, as he seeks to take over the world. It’s worked very well so far.

But in a filing submitted to the Federal Communications Commission last week in defense of its proposed merger with Time Warner Cable, the company lashed out uncharacteristically at its critics. And David L. Cohen, Comcast’s chief lobbyist, continued the salvo in comments to reporters and in his written remarks.

Watching Comcast’s ballistic response to opponents of its $45 billion takeover bid was a bit like watching a campaign debate go off the rails. The front-runner, ahead by 20 points, is besieged by ankle-biters who suggest he is a lout and a bully. He finally loses it and goes off on his opponents in a fury, generally acting like, well, a bully.

 

Questions for Comcast as It Looks to Grow — April 6, 2014

It is hard to say how rugged the questions will be when Comcast goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday to defend its proposed megamerger with Time Warner Cable.

We do know that Comcast is feeling pretty confident about its chances. In a recent interview with C-Span, David Cohen, an executive vice president at Comcast and the man who will represent the company, said, “ I have been struck by the absence of rational, knowledgeable voices in this space coming out in opposition or even raising serious questions about the transaction.”

Really? How can the largest cable company in the country bid to buy the second-largest and gain control over 19 of the country’s top 20 markets — corralling a 30 percent market share in cable and a 40 percent share in broadband — and there be no serious questions?

 

Why Barnes & Noble Is Good for Amazon — July 14, 2013

Having a bookstore in your neighborhood, as opposed to one that is bookmarked on your browser, is an invitation. Not long ago, I was walking by an airport bookstore and thought, “What if this was the only place to buy books?” Similar to Hollywood, only the blockbusters would get shelf space…

Bookstores offer discoverability, not just the latest Dan Brown or Carl Hiaasen book on the front table, but sometimes treasures deep in the stacks, a long tail of midlist authors and specialty books. Even as the book business consolidates, the physical object displayed in an actual place will continue to be an important part of the ecosystem.

Let’s hope it survives.

 

Telecom’s Big Players Hold Back the Future — May 19, 2013

Ms. Crawford argues that the airwaves, the cable systems and even access to the Internet have been overtaken by monopolists who resist innovation and chronically overcharge consumers.

The 1996 Telecommunications Act, which was meant to lay down track to foster competition in a new age, allowed cable companies and telecoms to simply divide markets and merge their way to monopoly. If you are looking for the answer to why much of the developed world has cheap, reliable connections to the Internet while America seems just one step ahead of the dial-up era, her office — or her book — would be a good place to find out.

 

Navigating a Tightrope With Amazon — April 29, 2012

Mr. Bissinger, who has built a franchise on journalistic excellence and rhetorical intemperance — see his Twitter account — managed to choose his words carefully when talking about how his e-book ended up as a bug on the windshield of Amazon’s relentlessness on pricing.

That may have a little something to do with the fact that he has a great big book, “Father’s Day,” being released by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in just two weeks. It would be a bad time to stick his finger in the eye of a company that sells more books — including his — than any other company in the world.

“It’s a shame that the e-book was not on sale at Amazon,” he said. “Amazon is a crucial outlet for any author, and when you lose them, it’s terrifying. It’s a killer for ‘After Friday Night Lights’ because it was just gaining momentum and books have a very small window of opportunity.”

Like Wal-Mart, Amazon is big enough to set prices in certain categories. Suppliers are left to scramble to meet those objectives or pass up the opportunity to work with the largest retailers in the world. Amazon’s might when it comes to pricing will only grow as the impact of the Justice Department’s lawsuit begins to emerge. But sometimes the company’s tactical aggression lands hard on the people who supply it.

 

Book Publishing’s Real Nemesis - April 16, 2012

The Justice Department finally took aim at the monopolistic monolith that threatened to dominate the book industry. So imagine the shock when the bullet aimed at threats to competition went whizzing by Amazon — which not long ago had a 90 percent stranglehold on e-books — and instead, struck five of the six biggest publishers and Apple, a minor player in the realm of books.

That’s the modern equivalent of taking on Standard Oil but breaking up Ed’s Gas ’N’ Groceries on Route 19 instead…

But pull back a few thousand feet and take a broader look at the interests of consumers. From the very beginning and with increasingly regularity, Amazon has used its market power to bully and dictate. It leaned on the Independent Publishers Group in recent months for better terms and when those negotiations didn’t work out, Amazon simply removed the company’s almost 5,000 e-books from its virtual shelves. The Seattle Times just published a series with examples of how Amazon uses its scale not only to keep its prices low, but also to keep its competitors at bay…

After a week of watching the Justice Department and Amazon team up, I’ve learned that low prices come with a big cost. Maybe I’ll order it at my local bookstore instead.

 

Photo of David Carr by Ian Linkletter.

Lafayette Congratulates Wilson; Offers Support After FCC Ruling

When the FCC announced its intention last week to neutralize the negative impacts of Tennessee and North Carolina anti-muni laws, celebrating reached far beyond Chattanooga and Wilson. In Lafayette, home to LUS Fiber, City-Parish President Joey Durel took time to write a supportive letter to Wilson's Mayor Bruce Rose.

We reproduce the text of that letter below. As Durel points out, the two communities have strong similarities and the victory in Wilson has also reached Lafayette. Durel notes that a community's decision to better its connectivity should always be a local choice, that partisanship is not a natural part of the equation, and he encouraged Rose to "stay strong."

Dear Mayor Rose:

As Mayor of Lafayette, LA, a city that proudly provides electric and communications services to our businesses and residents, I want to congratulate you, your colleagues, and your constituents on your achievement in delivering world-class Internet services to the residents and businesses of Wilson - and on the strong endorsement you received last week from the Federal Communications Commission.

As in Wilson, the Lafayette community has been united in our support for high-capacity broadband connectivity to the Internet as an essential tool of economic development and as a means of securing our community's economic future. While some will use any means possible to distract you from achieving your goals for your community, our deeply conservative electorate has consistently supported our electric utility's great achievement in building a future-proof broadband Internet infrastructure, and this support has been consistently bi-partisan. My Democrat colleagues have joined me and my fellow Republicans in insisting that we in Lafayette should have the right to choose our broadband Internet future. We here in Lafayette will determine how our community engages this essential economic development tool, and we will not have our economic future dictated to us by others.

As you in Wilson have, we have seen the increased politicization of the local Internet choice issue in Washington, and we regret that it has. At the local level, in our community, this is not a partisan issue and we have resisted letting it become one. Like you, we do not believe this issue is about politics or partisanship or electoral politics or the public versus the private sector. Rather, it is about strengthening America, local self-reliance and the opportunity of our citizens to live in a community with all the same opportunities - for jobs, education, health care, public safety, and much more. Wilson, like Lafayette, has built a network that ensures that your community will be second to none in these respects. Congratulations to you for taking this important step, you are obviously interested in doing the right thing for your citizens, so stay strong. And, please feel free to contact me anytime, I've been in your shoes.

Sincerely,

L.J. "Joey" Durel, Jr.

City-Parish President

Lafayette Consolidated Government

Rural Electric Co-Mo Coop Goes Gig - Community Broadband Bits Episode 140

As high quality Internet has become more essential for business and quality of life, those who realized that the existing telecom providers had no intention to invest in better connections in their rural Missouri communities began to ask their electric cooperative - Co-Mo - to step up and do it.

This week, we talk with Randy Klindt, General Manager of Co-Mo Connect, which is building a gigabit fiber network out to its members despite having not been chosen to receive any stimulus funds.

We discuss how they have structured the network, why they felt compelled to get into the business, and some of the results from their approach.

Read the transcript from our discussion here.

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

This show is 20 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."

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 137

Thanks Jeff Hoel for providing the transcript for the episode 137 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast with Jeff Gavlinski on the Mountain Connect Internet conference in Colorado. Listen to this episode here

 

00:08:

Jeff Gavlinski:  We'll never lose our focus, as a base, in terms of talking about how do we fix our rural infrastructure issues.  But we need to also be cognizant of the fact that we have broadband issues in our metro areas as well.

00:23:

Lisa Gonzalez:  Hello.  This is the Community Broadband Bits Podcast, from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.  I'm Lisa Gonzalez.

If you've been paying attention to community broadband lately, you know that Colorado is one of the busiest places for municipal networks, and one of the places where local communities are taking the necessary steps to regain local authority.  Colorado is also home to Mountain Connect, a broadband conference that draws people from all over Colorado, and even from surrounding states.  Chris has presented at the conference, and describes it as one of his favorite events.  This week, he speaks with co-chair, Jeff Gavlinski, who shares the story how the event has grown to include topics beyond the original focus, which was rural connectivity.  Jeff provides information on the upcoming conference, which is scheduled for June 7th-9th in Vail.  Jeff also gives us an in-the-trenches perspective on Colorado's existing state barriers.  Currently, local governments face too much uncertainty to take any steps, even in creating partnerships with private entities.

We bring you the Community Broadband Bits Podcast ad-free each week.  But we need your support.  Please consider contributing to our work.  It's easy.  Go to ilsr.org and click on the orange "donate" button.  Every little bit helps.

Now, here's Chris and Jeff Gavlinski from Mountain Connect.

01:51:

Chris Mitchell:  Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast.  I'm Chris Mitchell.  Today, I'm speaking with Jeff Gavlinski, the co-chair of Mountain Connect, a wonderful conference that will be coming up in Colorado in June.  Welcome to the show, Jeff.

02:07:

Jeff Gavlinski:  Thank you, Christopher.  Thanks for having me.

02:10:

Chris:  Absolutely.  I've known about Mountain Connect for a while.  And last year was my first year attending it.  And if I could go back in time, I would definitely get to some of those earlier shows.  You know, I -- Let's just jump right in, with a description of what Mountain Connect is like.

02:27:

Jeff:  Well, let's talk about the history.  You know, the conference originally was started as a community-based effort, to talk about -- you know, back in 2009, with the ARRA fund and grant, the state of Colorado was awarded $100.4 million, and that award went to EAGLE-Net.  And so, Mountain Connect really started based on conversations about how infrastructure should be built, based on how the grant was written.  And so, you know, in the early days of Mountain Connect -- we're celebrating our fifth year this year but -- So, over the past five years, the conference has grown quite a bit.  You know, originally, the conference was set up as a two-day conference, to get everybody in one room and talk about where infrastructure needed to be put in our rural communities.  And then last year, myself and my partner, Audrey Danner, we changed the constructs around so that it would look and feel like a traditional conference.  And then broaden the voice as well.  So we reached out across the country.  And I think this year, we're going to have more of a national exposure to our conference.

03:41:

Chris:  One of the things that I definitely noticed was a real emphasis on more rural communities.  This was not a gathering of people just from Boulder and Denver and Colorado Springs or something like that.  It was a lot of mountain towns.  And the people that came in from areas were from places like Bozeman, where it's fairly small compared to other metro areas.  So, is there something that you're doing to try and attract more of these areas that have been left behind?

04:11:

Jeff:  Yeah.  So, historically, you know, the conference -- originally, the tag line to the conference was, "Rural Broadband Development Conference."  And you'll notice, in 2015, we've removed the word "Rural."  And I'll get to why we did that, this year, in a second.  But, you know, again, originally, going back to how the conversation started, it was really going to be the impact to our rural communities.  And what do we need to do, in places like, you know, in Durango and Steamboat, and even places like Marvel, where they have no infrastructure.  So this year, we've removed the word "Rural" -- and I'm pretty excited about this, actually, because I think we do spend an awful lot of time -- It's very important to talk about rural issues.  But we also need to bring light to the fact that we have a digital divide even in places like Denver.  So we have disadvantaged communities, where they're surrounded by great infrastructure, but don't have access to it.  So we have students who -- they may have good connectivity in their -- in the schools they attend.  But once they get home, they're unable to do research, or are unable to get online.  And so, we need to address this issue.  So I felt it was important to be inclusive of the entire state.

And I think -- you know, the other thing that is very important is -- as we started out focusing on our rural issues, we've caught some attention from neighboring states.  So, as you mentioned, Bozeman -- we have -- we will have folks this year coming from New Mexico and Wyoming and the surrounding states, to see what we're doing.

We'll never lose our focus, as a base, in terms of talking about how do we fix our rural infrastructure issues.  But we need to also be cognizant of the fact that we have broadband issues in our metro areas as well.

06:09:

Chris:  One of the things that we like to preach is the "all hands on deck" approach.  You know, and our listeners know, that we're strongly supportive of community networks.  But we've never suggested that that's the only path, and that alone could, you know, solve the problems that we need to solve.  And so, one of the things I've enjoyed about Community Connect is that there's a lot of different approaches represented.  You've got the muni, you've got co-ops.  And then you've got multiple private-sector approaches.  You know, you have some of the big companies.  But you also have WISPs that have been coming -- the wireless Internet service providers.  And so, I'm curious, has that been a big motivation, to make sure that everyone felt welcome at Mountain Connect?

06:49:

Jeff:  So, we -- Yes, very much so.  I think, in the past -- you know, the first three years -- there was a lot of discussion around municipal infrastructure.  And we were very careful last year to be very agnostic in our approach to infrastructure, in terms of the technology delivering broadband.  And we will continue to do that, so that -- you know, I feel it's very important for us -- myself and Audrey -- as we're putting on this conference to bring everyone to the table.  Which would include carriers, which would include WISPs, satellite companies, etc.  To bring them all to the table, to start the discussion.  I mean, that's, I think, our responsibility to citizens.

07:39:

Chris:  I think that approach actually fits well in Colorado, in particular, where, you know, not only are you very clearly a purple state, but you also have the Department of Local Affairs [DOLA], a state agency that I think of as a bit of a model, in terms of the state looking for how it can help local and regional approaches without stepping all over them and telling them what to do.  And I -- you know, you live there; you have a better sense of what's happening.  Would you say that that's the approach that we've seen out of the Department of Local Affairs?

08:10:

Jeff:  I live in a region of Colorado that benefited from DOLA.  We have a network down here called the SCAN Network, which is the Southwest Colorado Access Network.  And three years ago, DOLA provided $3 million in grant funds to our region.  And we, on our end, had a multi-community $1 million match.  And so we built a network down here to connect all of our community anchor institutions, as well as, as best we could, interconnect our communities, so that we could 1), obviously, provide state-of-the-art broadband services to our community anchor institutions, but also, at some point in the future -- and this is something we're seeing right now -- is, we're able to service sharing among communities.  And so it's had a huge impact.

Now, I was just at a meeting in Denver on Wednesday, where this very same topic was brought up, and what DOLA is going to be doing this year, for example, is providing money for strategic infrastructure planning, which is, obviously, a very important first step in any infrastructure project.  And, second of all, going to be providing for middle mile projects.  So -- which is a huge benefit.  Because one of the things we lack in Colorado, especially in the rural parts of the state, is redundant and affordable middle mile, which is critical to success for any community.  To have both of those things.

09:51:

Chris:  And when you mentioned, a little bit earlier, the sharing of services among communities, do you mean, like, sharing contracts and procurement-type stuff?  What did you have in mind there, as to how SCAN has benefited the local governments?

10:05:

Jeff:  Well, I'll give you an example: juvenile court proceedings.  If you have a juvenile that needs to be transported to, say, a court in Cortez, before, you'd have to -- they would have to be transported, you know, obviously, via a police car.  Today, all of that can be facilitated through video conferencing.  So, through this project, that's one of the benefits.  So if you think about it, we're saving -- there's safety measures being taken there as well as cost of transportation.  So, not only that but virtual desktops, you know.  And any sort of cloud-based municipal services can benefit from this network.

10:51:

Chris:  All right, Jeff.  Let's turn to the big elephant in the room in Colorado.  You -- In Colorado, the sort of "movement" we've seen behind the community broadband networks.  You know, just eight recent election -- in the most recent election, you had eight local governments voting in favor of restoring their authority.  You've got a state law that's written, that's pretty murky, that cities basically have to -- or, I should say, local governments and rural areas as well -- they have to pass a referendum before they can really do anything.  Ah, you know, are we going to see any changes to that, in this coming session?

11:28:

Jeff:  As I understand it, there might be something introduced later in the session to overturn or rewrite some of the language in Senate Bill 05-152.  As it stands today, if -- I'll give you an example of why this is very difficult.  So, if you have a municipality that owns conduit -- that is, you know, obviously, spent money to put conduit up and down their main street, right now, Senate Bill 152 is written in such a way that there's no standard for them to say that we can make a certain percentage of that conduit commercially available.  There's absolutely no minimum threshold.  So, most municipalities who have not opted out of Senate Bill 152 through a vote are not willing to challenge the language, despite the fact that it's very nebulous in terms of how it's written.

12:26:

Chris:  For people who might be a little confused, the -- Senate Bill 152 is what's referred to as the "Qwest Law."  It was a law that was passed back in 2005.  So even though we still refer to it by its bill number, it is in fact law, and is obstructing the ability of many communities to either partner with others or to use their own infrastructure for the ways that might best benefit their community.

12:50:

Jeff:  I believe the bill needs to be rewritten, so it's, at a very minimum, very clear in its intent.  Right now, it's not very clear, and I think that's where, you know, we get into the issues where municipalities are unwilling to venture into public-private partnerships, because of that -- the way the bill is written.

13:12:

Chris:  Mountain Connect is going to be June 7th through the 9th.  Can I just assume that we'll be talking about a lot of these issues?

13:18:

Jeff:  Our legislative session ends in May.  So, you know, because our conference is the first week of June, it's a perfect time to have a discussion, and hopefully we'll have some clarity in terms of what happened during our legislative session.  And, ironically, our conference theme this year is "Success Through Collaboration."  So we hope to be in a better position for our communities to collaborate in a public-private construct.

13:46:

Chris:  Excellent!  Is there anything else you'd like to share with us, before we end the show?

13:50:

Jeff:  Sure.  I'd like to at least give you an idea of what we're going to focus on this year at Mountain Connect.  Like last year, our core competencies -- or, topics we discuss -- are economic development, education, telehealth, fiber/wireless communities.  Those are sort of our core topics.  And then -- so, this year, we're doing -- so many things we're going to bring to the conference.  One thing we're going to do is, we're providing a Broadband 101 class for our elected officials.  And the intent there is to provide a good foundation for them.  It'll happen the Sunday before the conference starts.  But it will get -- it should give them a good foundation to enter the conference, to engage in better dialog, and hopefully ask better questions.  We're also going to videotape this class, which will be a four-hour session, facilitated by Dr. David Reed, from the city of Boulder.  And what we'll go after the conference is make it available, in its full version as well as the 40-minute condensed version.  So, I'm pretty excited about that.

14:53:

Chris:  Wow!  That's a really good idea.

14:54:

Jeff:  Oh, thank you.  This year, you know, there's a lot of new, additional funds in E-Rate.  So Colorado, for the next five years, wanted access to $93 million.  So that's going to be a focus of discussion.  I also believe firmly that one of things that's coming our way that we're not talking about a lot is the Internet of Things, and its impact to our strategic planning.  So, you'll see that being discussed at the conference as well.  And I spoke earlier about our digital literacy issues, and metro areas like Denver.  You'll see that being brought to the surface.  And then the other one I'm real excited about, too, is -- we will have all of our federal acronyms well represented at the conference, you know, in terms of federal funding.  But one of the things you don't typically see -- or I have not seen at a broadband conference -- is private equity, or private capital.  So, I'm working to bring private capital to the discussion as well.  So, angel investors, you know, VC -- venture capital firms -- as well as some of the large banks, as you know, like CoBank.  So, we're trying to make sure that we're covering all bases for our constituents here.

16:13:

Chris:  Excellent!  Well, I hope we'll see a number of people signing up, and meeting us out there.

16:19:

Jeff:  Yeah.  We're expecting 400 participants this year, and to sell out our exhibitor space.  We're very much ahead of schedule from last year.  So, I look forward to having you come out.

16:30:

Chris:  And thank you so much for all your and Audrey Danner's work in organizing the event.  I know it's a ton of work.  But I think it's a very interesting event.  And it's not your typical kind of conference.  There's some very interesting conversations that I had there, that I had not had anywhere else.  So, thank you.

16:47:

Jeff:  Oh, thank you for that.  Thank you.  You know, I really enjoy putting this conference on.  It's a labor of love in a lot of ways.  And, as I said earlier, I'm always looking for ways to sort of reinvent this conference wheel, if you will.  And think outside the box.  And, you know, add some different components to it that you don't typically see at other broadband conferences.

17:11:

Lisa:  We have more information about the conference on the website, so be sure to check it out.  Send us your ideas for the show.  E-mail us at podcast@muninetworks.org .  Follow us on Twitter.  Our handle is @communitynets .

Please take a few moments to donate to ilsr.org, to help us continue this valuable service.

We want to thank Persson for the song, "Blues walk," licensed through Creative Commons.  And we want to thank you again for listening to the Community Broadband Bits Podcast.

 

Blackburn and Tillis Introduce Bill Aimed to Undo FCC Decision to Restore Local Authority

Last week, the FCC made history when it chose to restore local telecommunications authority by nullifying state barriers in Tennessee and North Carolina. Waiting in the wings were Rep. Marsha Blackburn and Senator Thom Tillis from Tennessee and North Carolina respectively, with their legislation to cut off the FCC at the knees. [A PDF of the draft legislation is available online.]

Readers will remember Blackburn from last year. She introduced a similar measure in the form of an amendment to an appropriations bill. Blackburn has repeatedly attributed her attempts to block local authority to her mission to preserve the rights of states. A Broadcasting and Cable article quoted her:

“The FCC’s decision to grant the petitions of Chattanooga, Tennessee and Wilson, North Carolina is a troubling power grab,” Blackburn said. “States are sovereign entities that have Constitutional rights, which should be respected rather than trampled upon. They know best how to manage their limited taxpayer dollars and financial ventures."

Thom Tillis, the other half of this Dystopian Duo, released a statement just hours after the FCC decision:

“Representative Blackburn and I recognize the need for Congress to step in and take action to keep unelected bureaucrats from acting contrary to the expressed will of the American people through their state legislatures.”

Considering that networks in Chattanooga and Wilson are incredibly popular and an increasing number of communities across the country are approving municipal network initatives through the ballot, it is obvious that Tillis is rather confused about the expressed will of the American people. He needs to sign up for our once weekly newsletter!

No doubt the decision will be tied up in court proceedings for some time to come as state lawmakers attempt to control what municipalities do with their own connectivity decisions.

In keeping with the drama of the recent days, I have to say, "The lady doth protest too much, methinks." If Blackburn and Tillis are so convinced the FCC is overstepping, why not let the matter be decided in the courts? They know the law is not on their side, that's why.

We encourage you to contact your elected officials, and let them know that you think about the Blackburn/Tillis bill: "that dog won't hunt," in the words of Chairman Wheeler. The victory of February 26th was a significant first step in a long road to ensuring fast, affordable, reliable Internet for every one. Let's keep the momentum rolling.

Jim Baller is the Senior Principal of Baller Herbst Stokes & Lide, the lead counsel to Wilson and the Chattanooga EPB. You can read Jim's full statement at the firm's website:

“This is an important moment for communities in North Carolina, Tennessee, and other states that have barriers to local investments in advanced communications networks,” said Jim Baller, senior principal of Baller Herbst Stokes & Lide. “Not only has the Commission confirmed that it has authority to remove such barriers, but it has also compiled a massive record documenting the critical role that local Internet choice can play in fostering strong, vibrant communities and in ensuring that the United States will remain a leading nation in the emerging knowledge-based global economy.”

Mitchell to Speak in Syracuse on March 4th

Chris will travel to Syracuse, New York to speak on March 4th as part of Syracuse MetroNet's Broadband Speaker Series. If you are in the area and interested in attending, the lecture will be at 7 p.m. at Grewen Auditorium at the Le Moyne College campus. A PDF of the press release is available online.

Syracuse MetroNet serves fifteen community anchor institutions, including hospitals, educational institutions, government agencies, and community organizations. Unfortunately, the connectivity situation for businesses and residents needs a better solution.

Last fall, Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner expressed interest in developing a municipal network to improve connectivity in this community of 147,000. Residents now depend on Time Warner Cable for service and do not treasure the idea of dealing with an even bigger behemoth, should the merger with Comcast come to pass.

Community Broadband Media Roundup - February 27

This week, the FCC made an historic decision in favor of municipal networks in Chattanooga, TN and Wilson, NC. Chris was in Washington, DC to witness the vote, hear the testimony, and celebrate the hard work of several organizations.

As Brendan Sasso with the National Journal reported, "The issue is one of the most controversial that the FCC will vote on this year. But it was largely overshadowed Thursday by the even more explosive debate over net-neutrality regulations." We have full coverage of both decisions this week. 

Municipal Broadband Decision

Feds Nullify State Laws on City Internet: Net neutrality may get more attention, but the FCC is also making a major push for community Internet service—a priority for Obama. This by Brendan Sasso, National Journal

"The bottom line of these matters is that some states have created thickets of red tape to limit competition," Wheeler said Thursday. "What we're doing today is cutting away that red tape, consistent with Congress's instruction to 'encourage the development of broadband' and to 'promote competition.'"

By granting the petitions, the FCC struck down the laws in those two states, but other state restrictions remain in effect. Other cities looking to build or expand their own Internet projects may soon file petitions with the commission.

FCC Grants Petitions to Preempt State Laws Restricting Community Broadband in North Carolina & Tennessee

By Jim Baller, of Baller, Herbst, Stokes, & Lide, who deserves tremendous accolades for this result. Jim has worked for decades toward this goal. It is not possible to imagine these decisions without him. Thank you Jim.

"This is an important moment for communities in North Carolina, Tennessee, and other states that have barriers to local investments in advanced communications networks.  Not only has the Commission confirmed that it has authority to remove such barriers, but it has also compiled a massive record documenting the critical role that local Internet choice can play in fostering strong, vibrant communities and in ensuring that the United States will remain a leading nation in the emerging knowledge-based global economy."

FCC Votes To Allow Cities To Expand Broadband Networks

By Kate Cox, The Consumerist

Speakers at the meeting all referred several times to the FCC’s Congressional mandate to encourage the deployment of advanced telecommunications nationwide on a reasonable and timely basis — a mandate that, the FCC concluded earlier this year, is not currently being met. Several speakers also made references to chairman Wheeler’s stated goal to protect, encourage, create, and promote broadband expansion and competition.

FCC Votes to Allow Municipal Broadband, Overruling Two States’ Laws: Commission’s move sets a precedent for consideration of similar petitions in future

By Thomas Gryta, Wall Street Journal

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and President Barack Obama have said towns need to be free to build their own networks if they decide it makes sense. Towns that explore the option generally do so because they believe private sector development of broadband hasn’t kept pace with their needs.

FCC Gives Municipal Broadband Providers (and Internet Competition) a Boost

By Joshua Romero, Ieee Networks

“The competitive landscape is pretty bleak,” says Vishal Misra, an associate professor of computer science at Columbia University. He points out that at “true broadband speeds,” some Americans have two broadband providers to choose from, but most have only one (or zero).

When the FCC redefined broadband last month, it did so largely to highlight the lack of consumer choice at higher bandwidths. In general, ISPs prefer to invest in areas where they’ll be the sole provider, as it’s expensive to try to poach customers from an existing provider.

FCC Weighs Overriding state laws to expand broadband access

By Emery Dalesio, Associate Press

For Richard and Brenda Thornton, the FCC decision could mean a big savings. They live less than a mile from the service area for Chattanooga's Electric Power Board, which provides one gigabit-per-second Internet speeds. The Thorntons now pay $316 for landline phone service, Internet and television from wireless hot spots that two telephone companies offered. Their current connection is a fraction of the speed the Thorntons could get for $133 a month for the same bundle from Chattanooga.

The local cable company has refused to extend broadband service to their home, said Brenda Thornton, who likes to trade securities and commodities futures but can't do it because of the slow wireless speed.

"People don't realize how bad it is if you don't have a good Internet. Those people that have it, they don't even realize there's people like us that exist," she said.

FCC overrules state laws to help cities build out municipal broadband: 3-2 vote gives local broadband an important victory

By Chris Welch, The Verge

The FCC's 3-2 vote will serve as a landmark moment that other communities will point to as they try to compete against commercial ISPs and knock down those deeply restrictive state laws… Unsurprisingly, the cable establishment and entrenched ISPs have lobbied against this becoming a trend, with the opposition (and dissenting commissioners) trying to frame it as an aggressive overreach of the FCC's authority.

"We don’t take lightly the matter of preempting state laws," admitted Wheeler. But the chairman made clear this was a situation in which the FCC saw no other choice but to act. "The human faces of those who are condemned to second-rate broadband are a message to all of us.

This FCC Rule Will Matter More Than Net Neutrality Will

By Brian Bergstein, Technology Review

The decision in favor of municipal broadband networks does more than “open Internet” rules ever could to increase competition in a broken market.

FCC trumps state laws on local broadband limits: A 3-2 vote is the first step in allowing municipalities all over the country to offer their own Internet service in the name of competition.

by Marguerite Reardon, Cnet

The reason this regulation is needed, the FCC has argued, is because competition is largely lacking in the broadband market.

The competitive picture looks worse since the FCC earlier this year redefined broadband as a service that delivers download speeds of 25 megabits per second. 

Broadband Laws: Republicans Strongly Dissent From Decision

By: John Eggerton, Multichannel

Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who enthusiastically supported the decision, likened municipal service to a broadband barn raising, an analogy that pleased FCC chairman Tom Wheeler. Commissioner Mignon Clyburn was also strongly supportive. 

FCC overturns state laws limiting municipal broadband

by Grant Gross, PC World

City praises FCC vote to overrule state laws regulating municipal broadband

by David Purtell, Associated Press

FCC Proposal Passes In Landmark Decision; Net Neutrality And Municipal Broadband Win, ISPs Lose

by Michael Justin Allen Sexton, Tom's Hardware

Speaking in support of the proposal, FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn said that "Millions are trapped in digital darkness." Current laws restrict the growth of broadband Internet service, and the lack of competition often results in service fees being much higher than is acceptable. "Break down barriers to infrastructure investment so that no American where they live, no matter their economic status, will be stuck in digital darkness," said Clyburn.

FCC votes to support town of Wilson on municipal broadband expansion

by Lauren K. Ohnesorge, Triangle Business Journal

Mignon Clyburn, commissioner of the FCC, says current regulations have some stuck in a "digital desert," and that communities like Wilson should not be "denied the ability to respond to the infrastructure needs of their communities, particularly when the private sector has opted not to do so."

Some communities "literally beg" private companies to bring broadband. "Sadly, opportunities are being closed far too often, leaving citizens without broadband and leaders with few meaningful ways to address their needs," she says, calling on the FCC to level the playing field.

FCC votes to enforce net neutrality by regulating ISPs, unleashes municipal broadband

by Sam Oliver, Apple Insider

 

City News: by State

Cities that want to move forward with their own networks have several successful models to look at. Lancaster News in Pennsylvania published this update, and below are stories of several communities testing the municipal broadband waters:

Municipal broadband networks: A short history of plans in 4 cities

 

Arizona:

Vandalism shows internet vulnerability

By Felicia Fonseca, Associated Press

New York:

NYC Will Continue to Lag in Broadband

by Brady Dale, Commercial Observer

While it’s true that New York City’s size makes building a better Internet here vastly more expensive than it is for a Chattanooga or even a Kansas City, it also has economies of scale in its favor. This Thursday, the FCC will consider preempting state laws that forbid municipally owned networks. In other words, there may be many more Chattanoogas moving ahead of Gotham soon.

North Carolina

Wilson, North Carolina And Community Broadband Win With FCC Vote

by Leoneda Inge, WUNC

The City of Wilson floated $35 million in bonds, a move approved by the state, in order to build its community broadband service. Wilson City Manager Grant Goings says they wanted a private partner to help, like Time Warner or Embarq, but those companies said “no.”

“We never set out to be first. Our motivating factor was not to be the first community in North Carolina or one of the first in the southeast to have this fiber to the home infrastructure. Our concern was not being last," said Goings.

FCC should topple NC limits on public Internet networks

by News Observer

Maine:

Why government is trying to boost Maine’s worst-in-the-nation Internet speeds

by Darren Fishell, Bangor Daily News Staff

Proponents say the upside isn’t just attracting businesses. It would allow seniors to age in place using “telemedicine,” meet expectations and needs of people considering moving to Maine, and give a leg up to people and companies already in the state.

The Governor’s Broadband Capacity Building Task Force issued its report in December 2013 making the case for why and how the state should invest in new broadband capacity.

Islesboro voters to consider $3 million for broadband

by Tom Groening, Working Waterfront

Voters will be asked at their May 9 annual town meeting to authorize borrowing $3 million to build a broadband Internet network for the island.

In a front-page opinion piece in the January/February edition of the Islesboro Island News, Arch Gillies, chairman of the board of selectmen, argued in favor of the proposal, asserting that such an investment "is today's equivalent to earlier town decisions to bring the telephone, electricity and cars to Islesboro."

Minnesota:

Mpls. faces tricky questions over cable TV, Internet competition

Minnesota Public Radio 

The question of whether to allow a second cable TV provider into Minneapolis is setting off a contentious debate. Minnesota Public Radio interviewed Chris to find out more. 

Pennsylvania:

Q & A: Lancaster's municipal broadband network

The city expects to save nearly $110,000 a year by no longer having to pay for Internet access, VOIP phone service and air cards for municipal government. Officials also say the new network will allow them to read water meters remotely, which be more efficient than taking manual readings.

Tennessee:

FCC allows EPB service expansion: Gig Internet could expand beyond Chattanooga area

by Mitra Malek, Times Free Press

Broadband battle: FCC, Legislature square off over EPB bid to expand Gig territory

by Dave Flessner and Mitra Malek, Times Free Press

State Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, and state Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, are pushing a legislative proposal again this year to give Tennessee municipalities the freedom to expand high-speed Internet services outside of their electric service area, if local governments request the service.

"We cannot afford to wait with the need as critical as it is today for high-speed broadband service," Bowling said. "We're already behind the curve in many rural areas. Let us come out of the 20th century as small towns and join our sisters that are already in the 21st century with modern-day broadband service."

Muni electric services want restrictions lifted on broadband

J.R. Lind, Nashville Post

"The 21st century version of electrification is high speed broadband, providing the same benefits in both eras: access to modern utilities for more people across the state decided at a local level," TMEPA Executive Director Mike Vinson said. "Just as local electric systems did then, municipal electric broadband helps to spur job creation, encourages innovation, and is a driver for economic growth, all by bringing modern services to their communities."

Currently, eight municipal electrical services — those in Bristol, Chattanooga, Clarksville, Jackson, Morristown, Pulaski, Columbia and Tullahoma — offer broadband service, with Erwin starting service soon.

Tennessee’s Municipal Electric Systems Asking Legislature To Remove Broadband Restrictions

by The Chattanoogan

TMEPA consists of the state’s 60 municipal systems which serve 2.1 million homes and businesses, or 70 percent of Tennessee’s electric customers.  TMEPA is supporting legislation (SB1134 / HB1303) that removes the current limitation on municipal electric broadband providers that restricts broadband service to just its electric service territory.  This change in the law would allow municipal electric broadband to expand to more areas where it is needed if those communities want it, the group said…

“High-speed broadband is the next utility of the 21st century, and municipal electric broadband should be allowed to be an option for more communities across Tennessee,” said Jeremy Elrod, director of government relations for TMEPA.  

He said, "Today’s world has made high-speed broadband vital infrastructure that drives local economies, promotes economic development, increases educational opportunities and outcomes, increases regional and global competitiveness, and allows more opportunities for telemedicine, telework, and a better quality of life.  Communities with fast internet service become attractive for private investment, and communities without it are unable to provide the modern services that businesses and consumers need and want.

Net Neutrality Decision

What Happens Now With Net Neutrality? 

 by Michael Weinberg, Public Knowledge

The rules voted on today will define the debate around an Open Internet for the foreseeable future and establish a strong precedent in favor of robust net neutrality protections going forward. However, for better or worse, they do not bring that debate to an end. While it is unclear exactly what the next step will be, this post is an attempt to briefly outline the possibilities.

Before the Vote:

Several outlets were on top of the decision this week, and if you need background, or to help friends and family understand the issues, we include these articles posted before the decisions came down. 

NYC mayor Bill de Blasio pushes for net neutrality on eve of critical vote

By Jacob Kastrenakes, The Verge

"Major media companies shouldn't be gatekeeping our internet access — speeding up some content, blocking other — simply because they're able to pay for it," de Blasio writes. "The FCC must not allow mega firms to stifle innovation, competition, and public goods through exorbitant price points for the speeds that drive the 21st century economy."

Net neutrality: FCC to vote on tougher rules for Internet service providersSyracuse.com

No fast or slow lanes for Internet?Enid News

FCC net neutrality vote: Why there’s a flurry of eleventh-hour lobbying 

by Jeff Ward-Bailey, CS Monitor

The Federal Communications Commission is expected to vote on Thursday morning to reclassify broadband Internet providers as "common carriers." That would give the FCC the authority to enforce "net neutrality" principles by requiring those providers to treat Internet traffic equally.

FCC set to vote on municipal broadband rules, ‘net neutrality’ by Wesley Brown, Talk Business & Politics

What You Need To Know About Tomorrow’s Votes On Net Neutrality And Municipal Broadband by Kate Cox, Consumerist

How Proposed Net Neutrality Law Could Affect You by Christina Lavingia, Daily Finance

FCC net neutrality Vote Feb 26: Why you should care by Hannah Chenoweth, The Daily Athenaeum: West Virginia University

An open Internet is something that deserves strong advocacy from us all unless we would like to promote unfair practices and give away our freedom to corporations. Internet companies have been adversely affected by monopolistic ISPs for years; protection for these companies is far overdue. With net neutrality, our freedom to access websites and services stays intact.

 

Steve Wozniak declares FCC’s net neutrality ruling a ‘victory for the people’

by Alex Heath, Cult of Mac

“To me, more than anything else, this is a victory for the people, the consumers, the average Joes, against the suppliers who have all of the power and the wealth and make decisions for them and they feel hopeless and helpless,” Wozniak told Bloomberg. “And here 4 million of us signed petitions. It’s an indication that the people can sometimes win. We’ve had a lot of defeats over the years, but once in a while we get a win.”

Comcast-Time Warner:

Now it's Time Warner Cable's turn to insult a customer by Chris Isidore, CNN Money

"We are truly sorry for the disgraceful treatment of Ms. Martinez, and we apologized to her directly. Our investigation showed that this was done by an employee at a third-party vendor. We have terminated our agreement with this vendor and are changing our processes to prevent this from happening again," said spokeswoman Susan Leepson."

Comcast, Time Warner Cable hit with $20 billion racial bias lawsuit Fortune

Comcast Still Sees Time Warner Cable Deal Closing as Planned by Scott Moritz and Kelly Gilblom, Bloomberg

Net Fix: 8 burning questions about Net neutrality by Marguerite Reardon, Cnet

With the FCC set to vote this week on new rules governing the Internet, CNET breaks down everything you need to know about complicated, but critical, issue.