Dark Fiber Option Coming to Arlington Businesses

Arlington is finally ready to open up its network to local businesses seeking better connectivity, reports local news WJLA. The county board recently voted unanimously to allow providers to lease dark fiber from approximately 10 miles of the 59-mile network. They hope to spur economic development and entice ISPs to provide better connectivity for residents via the network.

"The dark fiber, in the most simplest terms, is like a super highway. You're the only car on that highway and you can go as fast as the vehicle you've chosen can go," explained Jack Belcher, chief information officer of Arlington County.

We first reported on Arlington's network in 2012, after the community had dedicated about 2 years to the project. They took advantage of investments in the local Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) upgrades, improvements to the emergency communications system, and an electric power upgrade by a local electrical provider to deploy a next generation network.

The original plan was focused on schools, traffic management, and public safety, but last year community leaders chose to investigate expanding the network for economic development. We spoke with Belcher last May in Episode #97 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Below is local coverage:

Reaction to the FCC Decisions, Dissent, and Next Steps - Community Broadband Bits Episode 141

After the FCC decisions to remove barriers to community networks and to reclassify Internet access as a Title II service to enforce network neutrality rules, Lisa and I spend some time discussing the decision and reactions to it.

We also discuss my presentation at Freedom to Connect, where I offer some thoughts on what communities can do in the long term to ensure we end scarcity and the corporate monopoly model of Internet access.

Though we will continue to fight against barriers to local choice and work to ensure every community has the authority to choose the model that best fits it, we plan to spend more time examining how Internet access can be built as infrastructure rather than as for a specific service from a single provider.

Read the transcript from this show here.

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

This show is 16 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."

iTV-3 Increases Speeds for Free on UC2B Network

As the FCC works to update current policy to encourage ubiquitous Internet access and adoption, community networks are also taking an active role. Earlier this month, customers of iTV-3 received a boost in speed with no increase in price. iTV-3, a community minded local provider, chose to make the change in order to ensure all its customers were well within the new broadband speeds as redefined by the FCC in January 2015.

Early last year, UC2B and iTV-3 announced their new partnership. The company, which has provided services to residents and businesses to Illinois communities since 2009, is leasing UC2B infrastructure and equipment and will own any infrastructure it builds as part of expansion. 

iTV-3 increased customers' speeds by 10 Mbps, according to a press release on the change:

20/20 Mbps increased to 30/30 Mbps

40/40 Mbps increased to 50/50 Mbps

50/50 Mbps increased to 60/60 Mbps 

“We are increasing the speed tier of all existing Champaign and Urbana iTV-3 customers by 10 Mbps at no additional charge to ensure that every user will exceed the new FCC definition of broadband speed,” said Dinkla. “New areas will be constructed beginning this Spring, bringing gigabit Internet speeds to businesses and neighborhoods throughout the community.  iTV-3 gigabit Internet is yet another reason for people to be excited to live, work, and do business in Champaign and Urbana.”

UC2B has been lauded by the FCC as a model for public private partnerships. The last-mile project, received American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds to bring fiber connectivity to urban homes in the Urbana Champaign area. It was deployed by the not-for profit corporation aimed at bringing high-speed service to residents in economically disadvantaged areas along with a number of community anchor institutions. Over the past year, iTV-3 has continued to expand and now also offers services in Peoria, in addition to its Dunlap and Tremont markets.

Tennessee Farm Bureau Association Backs State Legislation to End Barriers

The Tennessee Farm Bureau Association recently put its support behind state legislation from Senator Janice Bowling and Rep. Kevin Brooks reports the Times Free Press

The Bureau told the Times Free Press:

"Our members are hungry to have broadband," said Rhedonna Rose, executive vice president of the 600,000-member Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. "We represent a lot of Tennesseans in very rural areas of the state who are frustrated that they don't have high-speed Internet."

SB 1134 and its companion HB 1303 are brief and direct, allowing municipal power distributors the right to extend Internet access beyond current geographic boundaries established by state barriers. Bradley County, one of EPB's neighbors, would like to have EPB expand service to them but state laws, backed by large corporate incumbents not interested in serving Bradley, forbid expansion.

According to a Chattanoogan article, EPB and Bradley County are planning for the expansion which will serve about 1,000 people; about 800 of those people rely on dial-up for Internet access. From the Chattanoogan article:

“We have people who live within half a mile of our service territory … who have nothing but dial-up, and that doesn’t make any sense” [EPB CEO Harold] DePriest said. “In a lot of cases we can get to those areas fairly easily.”

The recent FCC decision changed the landscape in Tennessee and North Carolina for now but policy advocates, telecommunications attorneys, and community leaders are braced for legal challenges. In a Times Free Press article from last week, Tennessee Republican Governor Bill Haslam stated that his office would consider appealing the FCC decision. 

Bowling and Brooks are more interested in solving the broadband problem for their constituents than in asserting rights as state legislators. They know untangling the impending court cases could slow the current momentum to bring better connectivity to Tennessee. Rather than wait for a decision, Bowling and Brooks are taking action as policy makers.

Bowling, who serves Tullahoma and its gigabit community, is a long-time supporter of local choice. She told the Times Free Press:

"Tennessee can take care of business for Tennessee," Bowling said. "We don't need the federal regulation so much; we just need the freedom to expand high-speed broadband in small-town Tennessee."

Last fall we introduced readers to some of the people from the small towns in Bradley County who desperately need help from EPB. Joyce Coltrin, a local business owner, told us that her business must rely on expensive mobile broadband even though she is less than 1/2 mile from EPB's service area. Joyce is leading a group of persistent residents who support SB 1134 and HB 1303. Joyce spoke with the Times Free Press:

Joyce Coltrin, a member of the group “Citizens Striving to be Part of the 21st Century, said, “I am hearing many legislators today talking about states’ rights and saying that the Federal Communications Commission has no right to go around state laws concerning the internet. I suggest that the logical extension of that thought would be that a state has no right to go around its commitment to the betterment of its citizens by denying access to the internet.”

March 13th Webinar on Historic FCC Decision: Net Neutrality and Muni Broadband

In light of the recent FCC decision to restore some local telecommunications authority in Tennessee and North Carolina, it is time to examine the details. Join leading telecom attorneys Jim Baller and Marty Stern as they host a live BroadbandUS.TV webcast on March 13th to discuss Title II, network neutrality, and new possibilities for munis.

The event begins at 1 p.m. ET and is titled FCC Takes Charge - Net Neutrality and Muni Broadband: New Title II Rules for Broadband Access and Preempting State Limits on Municipal Networks. Registration is available at the BroadbandUS.TV website. More info about the event:

In this special edition of Broadband US TV we examine two historic decisions from the FCC: The decision to classify broadband access as a Title II service, and the preemption of state laws in North Carolina and Tennessee that placed limits on municipal broadband networks.  We’ll dive into these issues with two panels of prominent players and experts on both sides of these white hot issues.  Hear details about the rulings, predictions on implementation and court challenges, and what these rulings are likely to portend for broadband in America over the next year and beyond.  On the muni broadband panel, our own Jim Baller, lead counsel to Chattanooga and Wilson before the FCC, will go from host to panelist and mix it up with our other guests.  We’ll be sure not to cut him any slack.

Guests will be:

Title II and Broadband  -- Pipedream or New Reality                                     

  • Craig Aaron, President, Free Press 
  • Chris Lewis, VP, Government Affairs, Public Knowledge
  • Sarah Morris, Senior Policy Counsel, New America Foundation, Open Technology Initiative 
  • Hank Hultquist, VP, Federal Regulatory, AT&T
  • Barbara Esbin, Outside Counsel, American Cable Association
  • Jonathan Banks, Senior VP, Law and Policy, US Telecom Association 

 

Muni Broadband -- Striking Down State Limits 

  • Jim Baller, Senior Principal, Baller Herbst Stokes & Lide 
  • Joanne Hovis, CEO, Coalition for Local Internet Choice 
  • Christopher Mitchell, Director, Community Broadband Network Initiative, ILSR
  • Scott Cleland, President, Precursor Group 
  • Jeff Lanning, VP, Federal Regulatory Affairs, CenturyLink
  • Lawrence Spiwak, President, Phoenix Center

Participants will have the opportunity to send in their questions during panel discussion, so have your questions ready!

Dakota County Considering Expanding to Open Access for Businesses, Residents

In a recent meeting of the Dakota County Administration, Finance and Policy Committee, Dakota County's Network Collaboration Engineer David Asp provided an update to Commissioners on the status of their broadband plan. Dakota has saved millions of dollars with their network through collaborative efforts, innovative dig-once approaches, and specially deveoped software.

As part of its long term strategy, the county is now considering ways to offer connectivity to local businesses and residents via open access infrastructure. Blandin on Broadband's Ann Treacy attended the February 3rd meeting and, thanks to Asp, posted the PPT from his presentation.


We spoke with David Asp in Episode #117 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. In 2011, Dakota County was named one of the Intelligent Community Forum's 21 Smart Communities. 

We learned while developing our case study on Dakota County that their efforts to coordinate excavation, including specialized software they developed themselves, has reduced the cost of installing fiber by more than 90 percent. We estimated the County has saved over $10 million in fiber and conduit deployment costs.

For more on this network, download a copy of our case study that includes the stories of Dakota County and eleven other Minnesota communities: All Hands on Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber internet Access.

Thank you, Ann, for attending the meeting and sharing your videos:

Video: 
See video
See video

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.