Community Broadband Media Roundup - April 12

Community Broadband News Around the Nation:

Colorado

Community and candidates react to Grand Junction election results by Lindsey Pallares, KJCT-TV

“It’s an indication that people really want to see us have better fiber in this city so we'll step back as a city council and see what are next steps to go forward,” says Mayor Phyllis Norris.

Connecticut

Connectict is taking steps to become the nation's first gigabit state. You can also check out our Community Broadband Bits episode 118 for more on how they're doing it.

At Least One State has a (Fiber) Backbone by Susan Crawford, Backchannel

Who’s on track to get citizens high-speed Internet? Hint: it’s the only state with the word “connect” in its name.

How Connecticut set itself up to be the first gigabit state by Colin Neagle, Network World

Georgia

PTC to get into fiber-optic broadband business? by Ben Nelms, The Citizen

Maine

New group forms to support faster Internet in Maine by Darren Fishell, BDN Staff

Dickstein said the group has been organizing for several months in advance of the legislative session that includes about 35 bills dealing with broadband expansion in the state. Learn More: mainebroadbandcoalition.org

Massachusetts

On the Grid: last-mile LeverettNet Connections being made to households by Paul Franz, The Recorder 

The lighting of LeverettNet marks the first “last-mile” network to connect to the Massachusetts Broadband Institute “middle-mile.” The fiber-optic network design provides upload and download speeds of 1 gigabit per second.

Shutesbury, Wendell first Wired West towns to reach subscription threshold for high-speed Internet by Mary Serreze, The Republican 

A Decade Later, Mass. Broadband Coverage Gaps Persist by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

It’s time for western Mass. to get up to broadband speed by B.J. Roche, The Recorder

Webb’s commute is a common ritual — people regularly drive to a library or town hall parking lot for a high-speed Internet connection. At night, you sometimes can see us sitting in the passenger seat side of our cars, uploading a work project or downloading a software update, faces lit by the glow of a warm laptop. It’s not just a question of which movie to stream on Friday night, but whether there’s enough satellite bandwidth left this month to watch it.

Minnesota

‘Rural agenda’ without broadband is rural sham by Aaron Brown, Minnesota Brown

This last year has seen a small but encouraging spurt of state investment into rural broadband on the Iron Range, but it was just the starting bell, not the final buzzer on what needs to happen

... I understand that Republicans don’t trust government. That does not excuse action to eliminate efforts to expand broadband without new ideas to replace them. I wrote earlier today about the perils awaiting places like the Iron Range without broadband and economic diversification. The same is true throughout rural Minnesota. As was true 100 years ago, we need leadership and respect, not promises and exploitation.

US Internet's fiber spreads across south Minneapolis by Adam Belz, Star Tribune

“There are good reasons Comcast should be more afraid of USI,” [Chris] Mitchell said. “Comcast competes with CenturyLink around the country. The cable companies have a history of duopoly — of a soft competition rather than hard competition because they recognize that a rough and tumble competition between the two would hurt each more than each is likely to gain.” 

The cable war is coming to St. Paul by Peter Callaghan, MinnPost

CenturyLink aims to bring more competition to Twin Cities cable-TV market by Shannon Prather, Star Tribune

FCC fines CenturyLink $16M over multistate 911 outage by Riham Feshir, MPR News

New Jersey

Village-wide wifi getting close look by Charles A. Peterson, Newark Advocate

"From the standpoint of a community that basically is a knowledge-based community, it would be nice if we had a little faster Internet service available," Wilken said. "When a community earns its bread through knowledge, it's kind of nice to have that kind of high-speed stuff."

Oregon

Google who? Oregon cities want their own fiber networks by Mike Rogoway, The Oregonian/OregonLive

"We realized we're too small for Google to come to us," said SandyNet general manager Joe Knapp.

Budget plans called for signing up a third of the city initially, growing to 50 percent over several years. But Knapp said well over 50 percent of the homes in the city have already come aboard.

Oregon cities look to bypass Google Fiber by building own 1 Gbps networks by Sean Buckley

"They may be a benign company but they would still be a monopoly," said Lake Oswego city manager Scott Lazenby in an article in The Oregonian. "And monopolies charge what they can."

Vermont

Broadband bills take a number in house commerce by Erin Mansfield, VTDigger

“We’re just a huge, underserved region, but we have a lot of kids who can’t do their homework,” said CJ Stumpf of East Randolph. Stumpf said a child in her town was issued an iPad at school and used it as a paperweight at home because he had no Internet access.

Washington

CenturyLink Apologizes for Misleading Customer About Its Gigabit Internet Service by Ansel Herz , the Stranger

Google Fiber

Google Fiber Is More Important Than You May Think by Jamal Carnette, Motley Fool

Google is forcing big broadband providers to boost speeds by Timothy B. Lee, Vox

Other Broadband News

CLIC Sets Muni Broadband Protection Event: Wheeler to Speak at Broadband Communities Conference by John Eggerton, MultiCHannel 

US broadband providers wake up to the need for speed by David Crow, Financial Times New York

What Does It Mean to Be A Gigabit City? Sharing Positive Outcomes Together (SPOT)

In North Carolina, Wilson’s Greenlight gigabit fiber network is doing everything it can to ensure everyone benefits from this important municipal investment. The city-owned network is a key partner in a digital inclusion program, Sharing Positive Outcomes Together (SPOT), which focuses on the children least likely to have high quality Internet access in their homes.

Though the digital divide remains a serious policy challenge, Wilson Greenlight and SPOT demonstrate s that solutions can be inspiring and fun. 

Training With a 4-Dimensional Approach

SPOT is an after-hours educational program focused on children ages 5 to 18 and attracts youth from all backgrounds, including those who are homeless or fostered to those with professional parents burdened by demanding work schedules. Among other components, its mission is to promote an atmosphere of accountability, confidence, and self-esteem. SPOT invites its children to dream, be “ambitious, inspired, high school graduates,” while “addressing and closing society's darker cracks that way too many young lives fall into.” “Leave it at the door and come grow” is part of its motto.

To reach such lofty goals, SPOT uses a four-dimensional approach called “project-based learning.” This New Tech School method requires that all elements of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, math and the arts) are part of the program and must utilize technology. According to SPOT’s Executive Director, Matt Edwards, “Learning is activity-based. Kids learn by seeing, touching, doing, and  incorporating technology into their program … and everything is interactive and Internet oriented with kids.”  Embodying this approach, SPOT recently won a $53,000 grant from the state of North Carolina to realize its 21st Century Learning Initiative. The initiative  will hinge on access to high capacity bandwidth and wireless access throughout its 30,000 square foot former Tabernacle church building. 

SPOT Kids at computers

The  Kids Are Teaching Us

“Let’s be honest,” explained Edwards, 
“When it comes to technology, the kids are teaching us.” Adults can now be a hurdle  to closing the technology side of the digital divide. “We put our kids in a box and think they can’t learn this because they are kindergarteners. I can tell you now. My kindergarteners and first graders probably know more about computers than my high schoolers.” A first grader or kindergartener will be stumped on a project, and “you’ll have another one go over there and show them how to look something up. You just sit back and watch. I mean, it is awesome.” This means in the computer lab, SPOT only needs an advisor or a volunteer, not a computer teacher. 

Putting the World in their Hands and Guiding Them

SPOT’s Executive Director described how his experience in closing the digital divide is on a whole new level. “The kindergartner today, they are going to be able to look at their computer and say ‘Find me (the game) Roadblocks’  and the computer will find it. You don’t need to teach the kids how to use the computers and the keyboards and the mouse, you just need to get them access and guide them on how to learn and utilize them in different ways...Get them the iPad. Put the protections on it and let them go. Our role is to guide.” With high capacity broadband, the world is in their hands. “We make sure they go to the best part of the world.” 

Overall, for SPOT, closing the digital divide is about teaching critical thinking, team work, and providing the bandwidth to keep up with the speed of their young minds. Wilson’s Greenlight community owned fiber network is part of that process by providing SPOT no-cost, 75 Mbps upstream and downstream broadband speeds. 

“Five years ago my grants would talk about the technology component needed to combat the technology divide. I don’t use that terminology anymore. It has changed to how do you use technology properly for advancement of our students and kids to enhance critical thinking … and teamwork. When you go out into the work place, very seldom are you an individual worker. You are going to have to get along with different people, work in groups, and solve difficult problems.”

SPOT’s activity-based, STEAM dimension locks into that teamwork. So the program’s focus is not as much on obtaining one to one computers, but having the children work in teams on whatever the project is. 

Greenlight Logo

And Then, of course, There’s Video

Closing the digital divide also means incorporating video, because “theirs is a world of daily Youtubes.” SPOT gives its children access to Kindle HDs where they can push a button, step back and do a video recording. “We teach them how to do it and work with the teenagers to control the uploading...They love watching themselves run in sports...dancing to music...discussing topics, like elections.”  

According to Jeff Fox, volunteer and IT Director, SPOT’s new 21st century classroom will allow students to beam images from their smart phones and tablets spontaneously to flat screens circling the room. The old divide between teachers and students dissolves. With the devices and the speed, everyone becomes a teacher. “It’s such an opportunity,” said Fox. “I’m hooked.” 

But video, especially uploading, requires much more bandwidth and, according to Edwards, “a third-grader’s mind goes very fast.”

“Greenlight’s symmetrical speeds keep up... most of the time,”  he laughs.  “I mean, [on the old system] there was a time when you could walk away, have lunch, and it would still be loading when you returned. Because Greenlight’s signal is strong, it makes the program stronger in all its facets.” 

This all makes sense to the General Manager of Greenlight, Will Aycock, who notes that enhancing the quality of life in Wilson is part of their mission. “Here is yet another example, where our community-owned network, is SPOT on. We give back to the community to benefit future generations, because we are the community.”

Comcast's Contradictory Conundrum: Title II Tightrope

Comcast must continue to prove growth is a breeze to satisfy stockholders while simultaneously arguing that, gadzooks FCC! how do you expect us to grow under Title II?! As DSL Reports points out, contradicting itself just doesn't work:

At the time [of the FCC's proposal to implement Title II regulations], Comcast CFO Michael Angelakis proclaimed the switch to Title II introduced "higher uncertainty" into the company's broadband investment strategy. Meanwhile, top lobbyist David Cohen was quick to insist in a blog post that we'd see an immediate investment hit should the FCC proceed with its plans:

quote:

"To attempt to impose a full-blown Title II regime now, when the classification of cable broadband has always been as an information service, would reverse nearly a decade of precedent, including findings by the Supreme Court that this classification was proper. This would be a radical reversal that would harm investment and innovation, as today's immediate stock market reaction demonstrates."

DSL Reports points out that the change has not slowed down Comcast's desire to invest or innovate:

So what are we to make of Comcast's announcement that it's making a major investment to push 2 gigabit fiber to 18 million homes before the end of the year, followed by a major DOCSIS 3.1 push in 2016? While more speed to more people is a welcome announcement by any measure, Comcast's pretty clearly interested in charming the regulators currently considering the company's $45 billion acquisition play for Time Warner Cable. 

Comcast must perform a tightrope act to rival the Flying Wallendas to keep everybody happy and achieve its goal of world domination.

Oddly enough, we believe Comcast is lying about both things! Its supposed upgrade to 2 Gbps is smoke and mirrors AND there continues to be no evidence that outlawing paid prioritization will reduce investment beyond the status quo. 

Minnesota House Proposal to Kill Broadband is the Wrong Move for Economic Development

Representative Pat Garofalo’s (R-53B) proposal to cut funding for broadband grants is the wrong move for Minnesota. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) is absolutely opposed to any suggestion Minnesota should have two-tiered Internet access - a fast standard in urban areas and slower, less reliable access in Greater Minnesota.

Wireless technology and satellite Internet are not sufficient for homes and businesses in the modern economy. They certainly won’t lead to the kind of job creation or retention that Greater Minnesota needs. Modern jobs require modern connections.

ILSR has long fought the notion, often advanced by the cable monopoly lobbyists in Saint Paul, that wireless is good enough for people that don't live in the metro. Nearly 100 years ago, the United States wisely pursued policies to electrify farms and the boosts to the economy were staggering. Given the significant budget surplus, now is the not the time for the Legislature to turn its back on Greater Minnesota.

“It’s outrageous to us that a lawmaker who is supposedly in favor of needed job creation for our communities would turn around and slash the very thing that could support it,” says Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR). “Rural Minnesotans should not be constantly moved to the back of the line for 21st century connectivity. We can’t wait any longer for the kinds of investments that will carry our schools and businesses across the digital divide.”

In Windom, Minnesota, for instance, the community has seen strong job growth, including at the Toro Manufacturing plant, because it could get better Internet access from the small city's utility than it could get at Twin City locations. Those jobs would not exist if local employers relied only on wireless or satellite technologies.

More information:

ILSR published All Hands on Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access, a detailed report on how local communities across the state can improve Internet access for government, businesses, and residents. One of our policy recommendations from studying these 12 communities in depth was expanded, rather than reduced, state support for these efforts.

Tennessee Bill to Strike Anti-Muni Laws Tabled Until Next Session

Senator Janice Bowling and Representative Kevin Brooks have decided to table their legislative efforts to remove state restrictions in Tennessee. While backing for SB 1134 and HB 1303 was growing beyond the walls of the state Capitol, the sponsors decided to shore up stronger legislative support rather than risk derailing the bill entirely. 

Brooks told the Tennessean:

"We have had a lot of good progress, and we don't want to throw it all away," Brooks said. The votes were not there in the Senate, and he and co-sponsor state Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, have asked to roll the bill to the beginning of the 2016 calendar, giving them more time to garner support from their colleagues.

"We have pressed the pause button to keep it alive," Brooks said.

Communities around the state, including Bristol, went on record in support of the bill. The Tennessee Farm Bureau, representing 600,000 members, also backed the legislation

Energized by the recent FCC decision nullifying state laws restricting Chattanooga from expanding, Bowling, Brooks, and other local leaders thought the time was right to once again try to eliminate state barriers. The FCC decision has already been formerly challenged by Tennessee's Attorney General with the support of the Governor. Rather than depend on federal intervention to establish an environment that will encourage connectivity, SB 1134 and/or its companion HB 1303 would have solved the problem on the home front.

Economic development has been stifled by state barriers preventing municipal network expansions in the state but many constituents are plagued by lack of personal access. Incumbents who have spent millions lobbying to keep these restrictions in place during past legislative sessions, do not serve a number of rural areas. Those areas could benefit from municipal network expansions. From a March 6th Tennessean article:

"My district said we need help. We have some folks with little service, some folks with no service," Brooks said. "This is not about government intrusion; this is a bill about service exclusion."

Even though the legislation will not change state law this session, the FCC decision still stands for now. It may take years for the issue to be finally determined but hopefully the momentum will continue and more Tennessee voters will let their elected officials know they want to strike anti-muni laws from state books.

From an EPB Press Release:

“Thanks to a growing number of Tennesseans, who are contacting their representatives to communicate their critical need for broadband services, we made more progress this legislative session than ever before,” Senator Bowling said. “Next year, I hope the needs of the hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans with little or no broadband service will override the vested interests of the legacy carriers who refuse to serve them while lobbying to prevent community-based providers from meeting the needs of the people in our state.” 

WDEF News 12 covered the story:

We simply find it stunning that a majority of legislators in Nashville believe that their state is better off with slower Internet access. That is exactly what this is about - AT&T and Comcast have purchased another year of not having to worry about competition from the Tennessee General Assembly.

Seeking Internet Policy Intern at ILSR

Municipal network news and policy are hot topics; we need help spreading the word. The Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance is hiring an Internet Policy Intern.

Here is our official job posting, which is also on Idealist.org:

Interested in Internet policy issues? Want to work in an exciting field to build more resilient economies and encourage more vibrant democracy? Want to have fun doing meaningful work?

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance seeks a part-time or full-time paid intern for its Community Broadband Networks program.

Our Ideal Intern

  • Is enthusiastic about technology policy and believes in the public interest
  • Writes compelling, well-researched and concise articles on a short deadline
  • Can juggle multiple tasks
  • Works independently
  • Is creative – graphics, videos, audio, whatever. Multimedia is wonderful.
  • Is confident calling people to interview them over the phone
  • Is self-directed
  • Has some background knowledge of economics and public policy

The Kinds of Things We Do

  • We run MuniNetworks.org – the hub of the community networks movement
  • Create fact sheets, reports, videos, and the occasional comic. The White House relied on our research for its own report on broadband networks
  • Advise communities on how to improve Internet access for businesses and residents
  • Educate the media and policymakers on Internet policy

Benefits

  • Flexible hours
  • Experience in the fast paced high tech public policy world
  • Pay based on qualifications and time commitment.

Open until filled. If you are incredible, we may create another position. Never hurts to try.

How to apply

  • Send an email to broadband@muninetworks.org with Subject Line: ILSR INTERNet Application
  • Explain in 3 paragraphs why you are the ideal intern.
  • Attach a resume and writing sample (or relevant creative work)
  • Please do not call

Please feel free to share this job description to help us find the next member of the team.

Gilberts Voters Say No to Tax Increase for Muni

On April 7th, voters in Glberts, Illinois, chose not to raise taxes to deploy a municipal fiber network, reports the Daily Herald. According to the article, 81 percent of ballots cast voted against the proposal. Voter turnout was low, with only 682 ballots cast out of 4,002 registered voters in town.

As we reported last month, local developer Troy Mertz plans to deploy fiber to each structure in a new housing development, The Conservancy. His fiber company will also install fiber to nearby municipal and public safety buildings and the Gilberts Elementary School. The plan was to issue General Obligation (GO) bonds to finance a publicly owned network throughout the rest of the community. The proposal would have raised taxes approximately 1.8 percent or $150 per year on properties with a market value of $250,000.

For the developer the plan will remain the same:

Mertz still plans to go ahead and connect The Conservancy's planned fiber optic network to municipal and public safety buildings plus Gilberts Elementary School, saying it was built into his development plans.

"The goal of village was always to getting fiber to our industrial areas," said Gilberts Village President Rick Zirk. "As a community, we asked the rest of the village, 'Do you want the same service and the same options that the new part of town and the industrial park?' And it seems that they don't want to pay for it."

There is a definite lesson here for any other communities considering a similar plan - educate the voters and make sure they are excited about it! From what we can tell, there was little effort to make people aware of the plan and the turnout for the vote suggests that no one was particularly excited to make it happen.

Grand Junction Voters: "We Want Local Authority!"

Grand Junction is the latest Colorado community to vote to restore local telecommunications authority.

Much like the eight communities that decided last fall to reclaim that right, and Estes Park in February, Grand Junction voters spoke loudly through the ballot. Seventy-five percent of those casting ballots chose to restore authority.

Grand Junction community leaders have expressed a desire to work with providers to improve poor connectivity but have feared repercussions from state laws put in place a decade ago. They now plan to explore partnerships as well as municipal initiatives reports KKCO 11 News

“It’s an indication that people really want to see us have better fiber in this city so we'll step back as a city council and see what are next steps to go forward,” says Mayor Phyllis Norris.

The approval of Measure 2A reverses the effects of Senate Bill 152 that have been in effect for more than 10 years.

City and county leaders now have the power to negotiate with internet companies and explore options of how to share their broadband with citizens.

Rather than wait for the domino effect to make its way across the state, requiring millions to be spent on local elections, Colorado should simply repeal SB 152 and restore local authority to every community. Right now, the only beneficiaries of this barrier to local choice are the incumbent providers, who at the very least are able to delay needed investments in Internet infrastructure.

Longmonters Loving NextLight in Colorado

Longmont's NextLight municipal broadband service is surpassing projected take rates, reports the Longmont Compass. The business plan called for 34 percent but as LPC builds out the FTTH network, the first phase of the project has achieved 45 percent.

In response to the positive response, LPC will speed up completion of the project. From the Compass:

“Our schedule was already aggressive, but we’ve heard repeatedly that our community is eager to receive high-quality, high-speed broadband,” LPC general manager Tom Roiniotis said. “So we’re accelerating the deployment.”

LPC now plans to “close the circle” from two directions at once as it completes its citywide buildout, rather than move around Longmont in one counterclockwise sweep. That means the final phase of the build is now scheduled to start in the first quarter of 2016 instead of the first quarter of 2017.

As we reported last fall, gigabit symmetrical service for $50 is available for customers who sign up within three months of service availability in their area. That rate follows customers who move within Longmont and transferable to to the next home owner.

Muni Networks, Digital Liberty, and Surveillance - Community Broadband Bits Episode 145

As more communities become service providers in order to provide a needed service to local businesses and residents, they are taking on an important responsibility to safeguard the data and privacy of subscribers. Unlike big providers like AT&T or big cable companies, municipal providers tend not to engage in data mining or violating their users' expectation of privacy.

But given that issues of privacy and surveillance are becoming so important, we wanted to talk with Corynne McSherry, Legal Director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization that champions liberty on the Internet.

In our conversation, we discuss what motivates EFF, why they support municipal networks, and what advice they have for local governments that have become ISPs. Perhaps most important, Corynne repeatedly advises local governments to be transparent with subscribers regarding their policies and encourages municipal ISPs to call EFF if they have questions about their responsibilities under the law to protect subscriber data.

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 19 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."