Community Broadband Media Roundup - January 4

Delaware

Council narrowly agrees to municipal broadband study by Karie Simmons, Newark Post Online

Newark to study municipal broadband by Xerxes Wilson, Delaware Online

 

Iowa

 Dubuque enhances broadband access by The Telegraph Herald

 

Massachusetts

Gigabites: Massachusetts Town Proves Gigabit Demand by Mari Silbey, Light Reading

Holyoke Fiber Optic Group hoping for discussion with municipal utility by Mike Plaisance, MassLive

 

Minnesota

Firms are interested in running Monticello’s city-owned broadband network by Tim Hennigar, Monticello Times

 

New Hampshire

Activism needed for local broadband by James A. Rousmaniere Jr., The Keene Sentinel

 

West Virginia

Broadband service remains urgent need in W.Va. by Toril Lavender, Herald Dispatch

 

Wisconsin

Madison eyes public broadband system to compete with private sector by Rick Barrett, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

 

General

Comcast customer discovers huge mistake in company’s data cap meter by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

Towns Start to Realize AT&T's Gigabit Fiber Promises Are Hollow by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

How the FCC Got Its Groove Back in 2015 by Joshua Stager, Slate

Ringing in the New Year, Celebrating a Win for Prison Phone Justice

At MuniNetworks, we often focus on access to the Internet, but the impact of telecommunication policy extends beyond data. In 2016, families might finally see reasonable prices for phone calls to incarcerated loved ones.

Last October, the FCC voted to close loopholes and cap rates for Inmate Calling Service providers in jails and prisons across the nation. While incarcerated, folks couldn’t choose their long-distance service provider, and the prices these Inmate Calling Service providers demanded could reach up to $14 a minute. Although the FCC had some regulations in place, they did little to prevent add-on fees and service charges. 

These charges proved absurdly expensive for low-income people, disproportionately impacting people of color. As if that wasn’t bad enough, people with disabilities found that the Telecommunications Relay Service (which enables people with hearing or speech disabilities to use the phone) was sometimes considered an add-on. The FCC's decision puts a stop to any extra charge for this necessary service. 

We’ve covered the monopoly power that these providers have over incarcerated folks for some time. In Community Broadband Bits Episode 20, Chris spoke about prison phone justice in more detail with Amalia Deloney of the Media Action Grassroots Network and the Center for Media Justice. Deloney explained the many ways Inmate Calling Service providers exploit incarcerated people and the families.

This holiday season, the FCC’s decision allowed all families impacted by incarceration to connect with each other in the new year. Without the efforts of Media Action Grassroots Network, the Center for Media Justice, and the many people who worked on the prison phone justice issue, the FCC may have never reviewed the problem. Change can happen where it is needed most.

'Twas the Night Before Muni Fiber: An Adaptation

Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the team at MuniNetworks.org

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Conduits Lead to Competition - Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 182

As we noted in a preliminary story last week, the city of Lincoln has crafted a collection of conduits allowing greater competition for advanced telecommunications services. As we discuss this week in episode 182 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, they have also crafted a smart policy to continue expanding the conduit system.

To better understand their impressive approach, we interviewed David Young, Fiber Infrastructure and Right of Way Manager; Mike Lang, Economic Development Aide; and Steve Huggenberger, Assistant City Attorney. We think this policy is one that many communities will want to consider and copy.

Lincoln is already seeing the benefits from the conduit system, with multiple providers using it and at least one investing in an FTTH network. Nebraska prohibits local governments and public power systems from building their own networks to connect local businesses and residents, but this approach allows the community to ensure they have a brighter, more fiber-lit future.

The transcript from this episode is available here.

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

This show is 28 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Warm Duck Shuffle."

Another Coop Story: Wiatel Wires Western Iowa

Iowa, known across the country for its agriculture, is known in other circles for its exciting community broadband projects. Earlier this year President Obama visited Cedar Falls to praise its municipal network and to support other efforts to improve rural high-speed Internet access. One of those efforts is Wiatel. This small telecommunications coop is beginning a $25 million project to upgrade its network from copper to fiber throughout its entire service area.

Fiber Connectivity

The cooper network that Wiatel uses now is sufficient for basic phone service, but upgrading to fiber will future-proof the network and provide better Internet speeds. The coop is based out of Lawton, a small town of about 1,000 people, but the coop serves an area of 700 miles. Wiatel hopes to start burying the fiber cables in the summer of 2016. Once the project gets started, officials from the cooperative estimate they will connect all residential and business customers to fiber within 24-30 months.

Wiatel is part of a long-growing movement as rural coops build fiber networks or upgrade to fiber to improve services for members. Just check out the Triangle Communications coop in Montana, the Paul Bunyan Communications coop in Minnesota, or Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative in Alabama. They’re providing next-generation connectivity at reasonable prices to rural communities often ignored by the large incumbent telephone and cable companies.

Coops: An Alternative

Without an immediate return on investment, large corporate providers have little incentive to build in sparsely populated areas. Traditional corporate providers must answer to shareholders seeking short term profits. Cooperatives are owned by the people they serve, giving their shareholders a practical, real, tangible interest in the success of the endeavor and the community it serves.

High-speed Internet can prove a great benefit to rural communities. Many of these rural areas lack access to the healthcare resources available in urban areas but local clinics with high-speed connectivity can bridge that gap. Rural schools need faster, more affordable, more reliable connections. High-speed Internet is becoming essential for farming, which has become a high-tech industry over the past few decades. 

Being overlooked by large profit-oriented companies is nothing new for rural communities. One need only look at the history of the telephone or electricity. Large private sector telephone and electric providers thought that rural areas could not offer the density for a solid customer base, and residents’ need for cutting-edge technology went unrecognized. To serve their own needs, neighbors banded together, obtained grants and loans from the federal government’s Rural Electrification Administration, and built the infrastructure that guaranteed the survival and growth of their rural communities.

“…for many, many years to come”

The coops now moving toward fiber technology are considering the long-term prospects of the community. As the Wiatel General Manager Heath Mallory explained:

“Once we get the fiber in the ground, I really think this network will probably serve our customers for many, many years to come.” 

The community is definitely excited for the new fiber. On the local news, reporter Elisa Raffa explains the positive impact the network will have on local businesses and residents:

Pioneer Press Op-Ed: Competition and Community Savings

The Pioneer Press published this op-ed about Minnesota high speed Internet access and availability on December 3, 2015. 

Christopher Mitchell: Competition and community savings

Minnesota has just one more month to achieve its goal of high speed Internet access available to every resident and local business. In 2010, the Legislature set a 2015 goal for universal Internet access at speeds just under the current federal broadband definition. But the state never really committed to anything more than a token effort and will fall far short.

Even for those of us living in metro areas that have comparatively high speed access, we don't have a real choice in providers and most of us lack access to next-generation gigabit speeds.

The big cable and telephone companies excel at restricting competition by manipulating markets, state and federal government policy, and other means. This is why so many local governments across the nation are themselves expanding Internet infrastructure: to ensure local businesses and residents can access affordable next-generation services and create a real choice. We should be encouraging these local approaches.

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance is tracking more than 450 communities where local governments are expanding choices with direct investments in networks. Just this month, some 50 communities in Colorado and two in Iowa voted to move forward with plans for their own networks or partnerships.

Here in Minnesota, we have seen a variety of successful approaches. Eagan's modest network attracted a data center.

Dakota County has saved itself millions of dollars by placing conduit for fiber in the ground at very low cost as part of other projects. Now it can use that to help local companies to compete with the big cable and telephone companies.

Scott County's fiber network has helped create more than 1,000 jobs and tremendously improved access in area schools. In Sibley County and part of Renville, cities and townships joined together to help launch a new cooperative, RS Fiber, which shows tremendous promise. Cooperatives, which are effectively community-owned as well, offer some of the best connectivity in rural regions of the state.

Some municipal networks have been accused as being failures. For years, cable and telephone companies claimed Windom in southeast Minnesota was a disaster. WindomNet is one of the most advanced networks in the state and has been expanded to serve nearby towns that had been ignored by the big telephone companies.

In our 2014 study All Hands on Deck, we identified more than $400,000 in regional savings from WindomNet every year. In addition, the network helped keep 47 jobs in the community from one employer alone that previously couldn't get the service it needed from the national telephone company serving it. This is a threat to cable and telephone monopolies, not local taxpayers.

With Windom's success, the cable and telephone companies now attack Monticello's municipal FiberNet for not having yet broken even financially. However, that is the not the only metric by which it should be judged.

Ten years ago, Internet access in Monticello was dismal, harming local businesses. They demanded the city take action and the city asked the telephone and cable company to improve their services -- but those companies insisted everything was fine. So Monticello voted by 74 percent to build its own network.

The telephone company sued, costing Monticello millions in lost time despite its prevailing easily in court.

During the case, the telephone company improved its services, and, after Monticello built its own network, the cable company dropped its rates dramatically. The same package that residents in Rochester and Duluth pay $145 per month for was offered for $60 per month guaranteed for two years. Prices in Monticello from all providers are a fraction of what we pay in the metro.

We estimated the aggregate savings in the community at $10 million over the past five years in All Hands on Deck.

Rather than allowing communities to decide locally on the best strategies to improve Internet access, Minnesota discourages them by requiring a supermajority vote before a community can offer telephone service. This requirement particularly harms Greater Minnesota, where mobile phones are far less reliable and telephone service plays a more important public safety role.

We need an "All Hands on Deck" approach to improving Internet access. The state should be lessening barriers to investment, not maintaining them at the behest of large cable and telephone companies. Local government strategies will play an important role in ensuring our communities can thrive in the digital age.

Christopher Mitchell, St. Paul, is director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. He is on Twitter @communitynets

Wilson Moves to Expand Greenlight Network to Neighboring Town

Thanks to a new interlocal agreement, the City of Wilson, North Carolina will soon expand its Greenlight community broadband network to the nearby Town of Pinetops. Officials expect to complete the expansion of the gigabit fiber network by April 2016. Pinetops, a town of 1,300, is less than 20 miles from Wilson, population 50,000.

We’re Waiting...

For Brenda Harrell, Pinetops Interim Town Manager, the agreement has been a long time coming after years of frustration over their limited broadband access options.

“Current providers haven’t made significant upgrades to our broadband service through the years,” “They haven’t found us worth the investment. Through this partnership with Greenlight and our neighbors in Wilson, we are able to meet a critical need for our residents.”

As far back as 2010, city leaders in Wilson were in negotiations with Pinetops officials on a proposal to expand the Greenlight network to reach Pinetops. But those negotiations reached an impasse in 2011 when the State of North Carolina passed H129. Since then, officials in Wilson and in surrounding communities have been waiting for a time when Wilson could extend their the Greenlight network footprint.

The new agreement became possible in the wake of the FCC decision in February to overturn North Carolina’s anti-muni HB 129, allowing North Carolina communities to start considering the option to build their own broadband networks or expand on existing networks. While the state has appealed that decision in hopes of preserving the law, this agreement indicates Wilson officials are looking confidently ahead with the expectation that the state’s appeal will fail.

Looking Back, and to the Future

Last November, when the New York Times wrote about the fight in communities around the nation for the right to build and expand community broadband networks, they talked to Gregory Bethea, the now retired town manager of Pinetops, North Carolina:

“If you want to have economic development in a town like this, you’ve got to have fiber,” Bethea told them.

And that’s what this agreement is about: giving Pinetops the local authority necessary to create their own economic opportunities.

In that article the Times also quoted Will Aycock, the General Manager of Wilson’s Greenlight network. At the time, Aycock was already looking beyond the state’s anti-muni law to future expansion:

“We would probably be building tomorrow if the law changed today,” Mr. Aycock said. “We’re not saying that we’re going to build out all of eastern Carolina or even all of our service territory tomorrow. But there are areas where we’d like to go now.”

With this new agreement in place, Aycock is now able to see those plans for expansion come to fruition. Upon reaching the agreement, he said:

“Our commitment to improving the delivery of City services through our smart grid initiatives has made broadband service to Pinetops possible, as the same fiber that supports the smart grid system will be leveraged to deliver next generation broadband.” 

Conduit Brings Connectivity in Lincoln, Nebraska

Lincoln, Nebraska, population 269,000, is making the most of a tough situation to improve connectivity and increase telecommunications competition; the city is doing it with conduit.

The state has severe restrictions that ban communities and public power companies from offering telecommunications services. Local businesses, government facilities, and citizens must rely on the private sector to keep them connected. Faced with that limitation, Lincoln city leaders are enticing private providers with an extensive, publicly owned conduit network.

Using Tubes to Draw in Partners

In 2012, the city invested $700,000 to install a conduit system that has since grown to over 300 miles across the city. Over the past three years, Lincoln has leased conduit space to multiple providers, including Level 3 and NebraskaLink, which offer a range of services to businesses and anchor institutions. NebraskaLink provides backhaul for Lincoln's free Wi-Fi, launched in 2014.

Mayor Chris Beutler recently announced that Lincoln will be partnering with provider number six, ALLO Communications. This local company plans to be the first provider to use the conduit to build its gigabit fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network to every home and business in Lincoln. The network is scheduled for completion in 2019. ALLO is based in Lincoln and offers telephone, Internet, and video to residents and businesses.

Smart Conduit Choices for Long Term Vision

Installing conduit is a major expense when constructing an underground fiber network. Communities which take advantage of opportunities to install conduit during excavation projects, traffic signal upgrades, and development projects, will save in the future if or when those communities decide to move ahead with fiber installation. In addition to reducing deployment costs, existing conduit reduces the number of disruptions that occur when multiple providers want to bring services to a given area.

Local coverage of Lincoln's new partnership:

 

Hudson Adds Velocity to Help Local Businesses - Community Broadband Bits Episode 181

When Hudson, Ohio, businesses couldn't get the connectivity they needed from the incumbent cable and telephone companies, the local government stepped up to provide what it calls a "service" rather than a "utility." Hudson City Manager Jane Howington joins me this week to explain their approach in Episode 181 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Hudson has a municipal electric utility already and is now investing in a fiber optic network to connect local businesses. Branded "Velocity," and launched earlier this year, the network is exceeding expectations thus far in terms of local business interest.

City Manager Howington and I discuss how they decided to build a network, their incremental approach, and how they will know if they are successful in coming years.

The transcript from this episode is available here. Read our full coverage of Hudson here.

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

This show is 22 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Warm Duck Shuffle."

Community Broadband Media Roundup - December 18

California 

Santa Cruz forges 'homegrown' fiber optic Internet partnership by Jessica A. York, Santa Cruz Sentinel

Santa Cruz, Ca unleashes innovative public-private broadband partnership by The Coalition for Local Internet Choice

 

Canada

Town's only ISP shuts down, leaving residents unserved by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

 

Maryland

Westminster, Md., tackles gigabit broadband by Colin Wood, GovTech

Council narrowly agrees to municipal broadband study by Karie Simmons, Newark Post Online

 

Massachusetts

Mass Broadband and WiredWest have a 'good meeting' in Boston after public conflict by Mary Serreze, Mass Live

Mass. Broadband on July 30 issued a policy that individual towns must retain title to their own broadband infrastructure. WiredWest then apparently continued to advance its plan for collective ownership, as reflected in its business plan and operating agreement released in October and November.

..."Ownership of the network does remain the biggest sticking point," he said. "But the good news is that the board of Mass. Broadband agreed to take another look at the ownership issue. That's big."

Gigabit Internet prices in this small town may one day beat Google Fiber by Clinton Nguyen, Motherboard

Massachusetts town builds iteself 2 Gigabit fiber for $75 a month by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

 

Michigan

Gigabit service in small rural towns by Joe Ross & Jessica Steely, Broadband Communities Magazine

 

Minnesota

Op-Ed: Competition and community savings by Christopher Mitchell, St. Paul Pioneer Press

Even for those of us living in metro areas that have comparatively high speed access, we don't have a real choice in providers and most of us lack access to next-generation gigabit speeds.

The big cable and telephone companies excel at restricting competition by manipulating markets, state and federal government policy, and other means. This is why so many local governments across the nation are themselves expanding Internet infrastructure: to ensure local businesses and residents can access affordable next-generation services and create a real choice. We should be encouraging these local approaches.

 

New York

Attorney General says new website can measure Internet speed by Al Vaughters, WIVB-TV

Schneiderman’s office suggests, if you find you are getting cheated by your Internet Service Provider, take the test, get a screen shot of it, and forward the screen shot to his Consumer Frauds Bureau, or call the Consumer Hotline at 1-800-771-7755.

 

Tennessee

The techie mayor who may be Tennessee's next governor by Nick Fouriezos, Ozy

 

Utah

Op-Ed: Spanish Fork' success shows municipal Internet networks work by Christopher Mitchell, The Salt Lake Tribune

 

General

The more bits you use, the more you pay: Comcast CEO justifies data caps by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

Comcast itself acknowledges that monthly data caps are not driven by any technical needs. Leaked customer service documents say Comcast's data caps are not related to congestion management, and a Comcast VP recently said that setting the monthly data limit at 300GB is a "business policy" rather than a technical necessity.

Big cable's sledgehammer is coming down by Susan Crawford, Medium

Don’t be fooled. The usage-based billing playbook was developed by the mobile wireless industry, which itself is nothing more than a duopoly (Verizon Wireless and AT&T) with a fringe of a few other firms with similar business models. I’ve been predicting for years that usage-based billing will be used as a sledgehammer by other internet access providers like Comcast. Unfortunately, it looks like I’ve been proven right.

The best way to stop Comcast's data caps from ruining the Internet by Brad Reed, BGR

AT&T fools entire media with giant gigabit fiber bluff by Karl bode, DSL Reports

Broadband funding: If you build a vision, it will come by Craig Settles, American City & County

City officials push for greater broadband access but note challenges by Phil Goldstein, State Tech Magazine

Presidential hopeful Marco Rubio defends AT&T's right to write bad state broadband law by Karl Bode, TechDirt