Local Voices Show Support for Local Connectivity Options

Our readers have heard the media murmur around municipal networks steadily grow to a loud hum during the past year. An increasing number of local press outlets have taken the opportunity to express their support for municipal networks in recent months.

In communities across the U.S. letters to the editor or editorial board opinions reflected the hightened awareness that local decisionmaking is the best answer. Support is not defined by political inclination, geography, or urbanization.

Last fall, several Colorado communities asked voters to decide whether or not to reclaim local telecommunications authority hijacked by the state legislature and Qwest (now CenturyLink) lobbyists in 2005. Opinion pieces from local political and business leaders in the Denver Post and the Boulder Daily Camera encouraged voters to support the measures. Downtown Boulder Inc. and the Boulder Chamber wrote:

Clearly a transparent public process is appropriate for identifying the best path to higher-speed infrastructure. One thing is certain. Approving the exemption to State Law 152 is a step in the right direction.

Expensive service, poor quality connections, and limited access often inspire local voices to find their way to the news. Recently, City Council Member Michael Wojcik from Rochester, Minnesota, advocated for a municipal network for local businesses and residents. His letter appeared in the PostBulletin.com:

If we want to control our broadband future, we need to join successful communities such as Chattanooga, Tenn., and Lafayette, La., and create a municipal fiber network. In many cities around the world, residents get 1 gigabyte, bidirectional Internet speeds for less than $40 per month. In Rochester, I get 1 percent of those speeds for $55 per month. I believe if Bucharest, Romania, can figure this out, Rochester can as well.

Last summer, Austin Daily Herald reporter Laura Helle wrote in support of the Minnesota community's proposed Gig Austin project. She acknowledged that there were those in the community who considered their Internet access "fine" but "fine" would not sufficiently encourage growth and economic development.

In May, the Olympian Editorial Board suggested several communities in Washington open up municipal fiber networks for consumer use.

Some editorials or letters we see support specific projects. Connecticut community media outlets are also voicing support for a statewide initiative commenced last fall. Hartford Business published an opinion piece from State Senator Beth Bye and Consumer Counsel Ellin Katz on the need for better connectivity in the state. They then followed up with an editorial supporting the plan:

To be frank, investing in high-speed Internet infrastructure hasn't been an issue high on our priority list, but when you look at the statistics and the economic implications, it is something state policymakers and the business community should look at seriously.

A number of communities have expressed interest in joining the Connecticut effort and journalists and editors in communities like Wallingford have published pieces encouraging their local leaders to participate.

Bill Nemitz, writing for the Portland Press Herald, and Stephen Betts at the Bangor Daily News highlighted the promise of municipal networks in Maine. Nemitz believes Maine should consider a network similar to Massachusetts' WiredWest or take a closer look at Leverett. The Daily News touted Rockport's investment as a locally driven initiative:

As Rockport lights its fiber, many other towns across Maine contemplate the economic and quality of life benefits fiber promises. The network wouldn’t have moved forward without the support of businesses and institutions, as well as local taxpayers, who believed in the value of fiber. Private investment and revenue from the town’s Tax Increment Financing account funded the project.

Reading Newspaper NYC

The Daily News writes fondly of Rockport's local self-reliant approach: "...towns across the state would do well to take notice of Rockport's example."

In communities where projects have been considered, local media has felt compelled to express to their support. In Roanoke County, Virginia, a project has been debated for over a year. In July the Roanoke Times Editorial Board published "Our view: Strike up the broadband" in support of the project.

Recently, we reported on a collaborative project in McHenry County, Illinois involving the county, a nearby community college, a school district, and the city. In December, the Northwest Herald supported the project with an editorial, citing taxpayer savings and potential economic development.

Economic development is often cited as one of the most important reasons local citizens, leaders, and editorial boards support local initiatives. The Editorial Board of AL.com ended 2014 with strong support of a proposed plan to develop a fiber optic network to attract business:

We urge city leaders move ahead with all deliberate speed on our own "Gig City" project, and all the local governments and business support organizations in our region to work in partnership to create a new atmosphere of excitement for entrepreneurism.

Such jobs, created handful by handful in small companies with large potential, will boost our Rocket City to new levels of success.

We also came across an editorial encapsulating the process and the success of local connectivity in The Dalles, Oregon. The network paid off its debt ahead of schedule. The Dalles Chronicle covered the story, highlighting the benefits of the network but also providing a brief history of the tumultuous history behind the decision to invest in a network. Ultimately, the community's success was the realization of their vision which is now their fiber optic network asset, QLife. From the editorial:

Their vision has been validated over and over in the subsequent years.

QLife isn’t the only benefit that has come from a community-wide vision.

Every community needs visionaries to help shape its future and The Dalles one has reaped benefits from visionaries as it has materially transformed itself over the decades.

But every community also needs hard-headed pragmatists to question the need, analyze the plan and help make sure any vision stands up under public scrutiny.

Only through this crucible of diverging perspectives does truly sound public policy emerge.

QLife is a testiment to effectiveness of that crucible.

Beleve it or not, these are only a few of the letters to the editor and editorials we see on a regular basis in support of local telecommunications authority, specific municipal projects under consideration, or from a public that knows local connectivity needs a boost from the community.

If your community suffers from poor connecivity for residents, business, or public institutions, you should consider the possibilty of a community network initiative. Writing editorials and letters to the editor in local media is a good way to find like minded citizens and bring attention to the issue.

For more on starting a community network initiative in your community, check out our Community Network Toolkit or many of our other resources.

Photo of the newspaper stack courtesy of Globalimmigrantnews through Wikimedia Commons. Photo of the newspaper reader courtesy of c_pichler through Wikimedia Commons

CTgig Effort in Connecticut Now Backed By 46 Communities

Last fall, three Connecticut communities banded together to form what has now become a statewide effort to improve connectivity across the state. The CTgig Project has since blossomed to include 46 municipalities, or 50% of the state's population according to a recent press release.

The initiative began when Stamford, New Haven, and West Hartford issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) [PDF] to open up dialogue with potential private sector partners. The goal was described as an open access gigabit fiber network for residents, businesses, and community anchor institutions.

State officials traveled to various communities to share information on the project in a series of community meetings. We interviewed Connecticut Consumer Counsel Elin Katz and Broadband Policy Coordinator Bill Vallee about the project in Episode 118 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

As an increasing number of Connecticut communities joined the initiative, others followed suit. In part because they recognized the need for better connectivity to improve the quality of life, but also because they recognized their perilous economic position if they chose to remain behind.

Southington's Town Council, debated whether or not to join the collaboration in early December. From a recent MyRecordJournal.com article:

“The way industry and business is moving these days, they all require a high level of Internet speed and access," [Rod] Philips [Southington’s director of planning and community development] said. “If we don’t do something, we’re going to be at a disadvantage.”

Southington voted to participate in the RFQ.

In the press release, Bill Vallee provided more details about what state leaders hoped to see from RFQ responses:

"The RFQ expressly seeks financing to be invested by the potential fiber network builders and Internet service providers expected to respond to the RFQ on January 13, 2015.  Neither the state nor the municipalities will be investing funds in the networks or Internet service provisioning, but the municipalities will contribute in-kind assets and support.”   Vallee stated that “the RFQ seeks to increase competition in the Internet access market to boost the currently low levels of access speeds available in Connecticut and reduce the exceedingly high rates compared to peer states and other nations charged by the incumbents.  That said, incumbent telephone and cable operators are logical respondents since they are already providing Internet service across the state, and they are, of course, encouraged to respond to the RFP.” 

 

Freedom to Connect 2015: March 2 - 3 in NYC

Once again it is Freedom to Connect time! On March 2nd and 3rd, New York City's Civic Hall will light up with people like you who understand, appreciate, and cherish connectivity. You can register now at F2C15.eventbrite.com. For a limited time, special earlybird pricing is available.

This is shaping up to once again be and incredible event. You can see videos from the 2013 event here. From the speakers to the live music, this is not an event to be missed!

Chris will be back to present again as will Susan Crawford, Elliot Noss of Ting, and others. More distinguished speakers are being added to the line up as the event approaches. You can get more updates on the website or on Twitter at #F2C15. 

Here is a brief excerpt from the website:

F2C: Freedom to Connect provides a platform for understanding the social utility of infrastructure, for innovation, for creativity, for expression, for little-d democracy. The Freedom to Connect is about an Internet that supports human freedoms and personal security. These values are dear to many of us whose consciousness has been shaped by the Internet, but they are often at odds with the values of mainstream media, Wall Street and governments around the world.

Ting to Offer Fiber Internet Service in Charlottesville

Comcast may be an ISP Goliath, but a new David will soon move to Charlottesville. Tucows Inc., recently announced that it plans to begin serving as an ISP in the area and will eventually expand to other markets.

In a Motherboard article, CEO Elliot Noss said:

"At the simplest level, we'll be offering a lot more product for the same price, and a much better customer experience. We want to become like a mini Google fiber."

The company began in the 1990s and is known for registering and selling premium domain names and hosting corporate emails accounts. Two years ago they ventured into wireless cell service and were immediately praised for their top notch customer service and no-frills billing. Tucows promises to fill the customer service gap left by incumbent Comcast, one of the most hated companies in America.

Tucows will operate its Internet service under its cellular brand, Ting. It will take over existing fiber infrastructure owned by Blue Ridge InternetWorks and will begin serving customers as early as the first quarter of 2015. Ting hopes to be able to charge less than $100 per month for gigabit fiber service. Comcast charges $90 per month for 50 Mbps and CenturyLink charges $40 per month for 10 Mbps in Charlottesville.

As far as "fast lanes" go? From the Motherboard article:

Noss said that the company is dedicated to net neutrality as a "sensible business practice" and said "it's our responsibility to make sure content like Netflix is fast on our network. We're not looking for content providers to pay us in a double-sided fashion."

Ting reaffirms that philosophy on the Ting Blog:

Tucows believes very strongly in the open Internet. Up until now, there wasn’t a whole lot we could do but educate, agitate and contribute. Getting into fixed access, owning our own pipe, is an opportunity for us to practice what we preach when it comes to the open Internet and net neutrality.

Noss told Motherboard the company is looking beyond Charlottesville and taking input from an interested public at their website. They will first look at partnering, buying infrastructure, and leasing fiber from local governments. From the article:

"The one thing we won't do is spend a lot of time convincing people of the need for a fiber network,” he said. “We think that's a waste of time, and I think people already see the value.”

Public or Private Ownership? Community Broadband Bits Episode 132

Ever since the last time I spoke with Blair Levin on Episode 37, I have wanted to have him back for a friendly discussion about public or private ownership of next generation networks.

Though Blair and I entirely agree that local governments should be free to decide locally whether a community broadband network investment is a wise choice, he tends to see more promise in partnerships or other private approaches whereas we at ILSR tend to be concerned about the long term implications of private ownership of essential infrastructure.

In what may be the longest interview we have done, Blair and I discuss where we agree and how we differ. We weren't looking to prove the other wrong so much as illustrate our different points of view so listeners can evaluate our sides. Ultimately, we both believe in a United States where communities can choose between both models -- and some may even seek solutions that incorporate both.

Blair Levin was the FCC Chief of Staff when Reed Hundt was Chair and was instrumental in forming Gig.U. In between, he did a lot of things, including being Executive Director for the FCC's National Broadband Plan. He is currently with the Metropolitan Project at Brookings.

Read the transcript of our discussion here.

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

This show is 37 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 Dickey F for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Florida Mama."

"Getting Started on Broadband" Webinar from Blandin on January 7th

The Blandin Foundation will be holding another informative webinar on Wednesday, January 7th. The event is titled "Getting Started on Community Broadband" and runs from 2 - 3 p.m. CST. You can register online for the free event.

However, we think it might better be called "Broadband in the Community" or something else because the focus is not on "community broadband" as that term is used in the vast majority of situations. This will likely be a good webinar for people new to broadband but will almost certainly not be focused on community networks.

Blandin Foundation consultant Bill Coleman and his guests will touch on comparisons between wired and wireless technologies, provide information on resources and tools for community broadband initiatives, and explore options to improve connectivity in your community.

From the Blandin on Broadband blog webinar announcement:

Two important trends are driving more communities to consider community engagement in broadband availability for the first time. First is the fact that broadband as a necessary element of everyday life is not a theoretical discussion anymore.  Almost everyone wants broadband so that they can participate fully in 21st Century life.  What might have been hyperbole ten years ago is now undeniably true.  Lack of broadband lowers property values and impacts quality of life.  No doubt about it.  Second, the availability of state and federal fund to address rural broadband issues seems to be growing.  Unprepared communities will soon see the funds flowing to their better prepared neighbors, thus motivating communities to get busy and play catch up.

This event is part of the Blandin Community Broadband Program (BCBP) Webinar Series and will be archived with past webinars. The series focuses on providing resources for rural community leaders where adequate connectivity is often lacking. In addition to community broadband initiatives, webinar topics also cover issues such as adoption, legislative changes, and access to grants. From the BCBP website:

BCBP webinars are designed to provide rural Minnesota leaders with information they can use to help transform their communities into tech savvy places to live, work and visit. Communities serious about attracting tourists, new businesses, entrepreneurs and young people must consider technology and Internet access as an essential amenity for community economic growth and vibrancy.

Athens, Ohio Learns from Neighbors and Considers Fiber Investments

Recently, we ran a story on the Columbus suburb of Dublin, which has a growing fiber optic network that has paid huge dividends in public savings, economic development, and facilitating technology research with the Ohio State University. Apparently others are taking notice of Dublin as well: Athens, a city 90 miles to the Southeast, has its city council discussing how to get fiber in the ground and the possibility of a public WiFi network. 

After meeting representatives of Dublin’s economic development department at a conference in November, Athens mayor Paul Wiehl came away impressed enough to start a discussion with the city council about how the Dublin model of extensive conduit networks and fiber access for businesses and public buildings might be adapted to Athens.  Athens is a college town, home of Ohio University, which may mean that like Dublin (which is only a few miles from the Ohio State University) it could be well positioned for research partnerships using fiber optics.

While specific plans have not yet been worked out, 

[Mayor] Wiehl said that the city's public works director, Andy Stone, recently has been looking at ways to incorporate fiber-optic line capacity into city infrastructure projects. The lines likely would be maintained by the city, and probably would run only to local businesses, who would pay the city for use of the Internet service.

Unfortunately, Athens’ city leaders may be overly enamored with the idea of citywide Wi-Fi. DubLINK launched a citywide WiFi network several years ago, but like nearly every other citywide WiFi system in the country it has not been able to deliver reliable high speed connections blanketing the entire city due to technological limitations. WiFi can still provide considerable value if deployed intelligently in specific public spaces as a supplement to other forms of access. But if Athens officials are expecting a cheap and easy answer to providing robust home access over a wide area, they are likely to be disappointed. 

Still, Athens offers an encouraging example of how good connectivity policy ideas can spread from one community to another. Dublin’s example has helped to put fiber investments on the agenda and in the minds of city leaders in Athens. Where the discussion goes from there will be up to the locals. 

Rock Falls to Expand Business Fiber Network

The community of Rock Falls, Illinois, recently decided to move ahead with a project to develop a municipal broadband utility, reports SaukValley.com. At a City Council meeting in early December, members unanimously voted to accept the findings of a feasibility study and move on to develop a formal business plan and preliminary engineering design. From the article:

Alderman Glen Kuhlemier said the table has been set for this project, and it would be foolish not to take advantage of what has already been done.

"To go backward is untenable after the foresight of the past," Kuhlemier said.

Rock Falls has an advantage because it already has substantial fiber resources in place. In the 1990s, the municipal electric utility installed fiber to connect substations. Thinking of the future, the electric utility installed ample fiber, which will significantly reduce the cost and burden to establish a network for business connectivity.

Rock Falls is no stranger to improving local connectivity. In the past, they used excess capacity to connect the city's schools and municipal facilities, reported American Public Power Magazine in 2010. The electric utility partnered with Essex Telecom, an ISP located in nearby Sterling, leasing some of their excess capacity to Essex so they could serve commercial customers.

The plan proposed by consultants would expand the network to connect half of the 350 businesses in the community. The consultanting firm estimates the deployment would cost $700,000 and the city would break even in 7 years.

Rock Falls, population approximately 9,200, is located on the Rock River in the northwest corner of the state; Sterling is immediately across the river. The community's municipal electric utility uses the river to generate hydroelectric power and customers pay rates 10-30% lower than those offered by neighboring investor-owned and cooperative utilities.

In recent years, the population has started to decline. Community leaders intend to jumpstart economic development with the added investment in fiber infrastructure.

SpringNet Sells Underground Colocation Facility

SpringNet has spurred economic development in Springfield, serving small businesses but also providing high-speed data to big employers such as Expedia. The network has steadily increased revenue over the years, even though it serves only commercial and public sector customers.

Demand for services has lead to the need to expand so SpringNet is opting to go lean. In 2002, the utility developed SpringNet Underground, a secure data and colocation center. The venture has been successful, says General Manager Scott Miller, but SpringNet sees investing the fiber network paramount and recently sold the facility. Bluebird Network purchased the facility for $8.4 million and will continue to serve the existing customers.

OzarksFirst recently ran the story:

Year in Review, Expectations for 2015 - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 131

For our final Community Broadband Bits episode of 2014, we review some of the notable events and news we covered and we discuss some predictions for 2015.

Lisa Gonzalez and Rebecca Toews join me in this discussion.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Let us know if we should try something like this again next year or for the 4th of July... or if we should stick to our knitting! Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 26 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 Dickey F for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Florida Mama."