Westminster's Fiber Project Drawing Business from New York City to Maryland

Westminster's FTTP pilot project continues to blossom. We recently heard from Dr. Robert Wack, one of the local leaders of the project.

Engineering, the first phase, is almost completed with bids for construction soon to be solicited. 

Even before any fiber is in the ground, Westminster is feeling the positive economic development effects from the network. According to Dr. Wack, Carlisle Etcetera, a women's fashion clothing  company, will be relocating from New York City to Westminster. Carlisle will bring its distribution and data centers because it will have access to the next generation fiber network.

The local Industrial Development Authority is an official supporter of the project and will contribute local funds for capital costs.

How Ammon, Idaho, Builds Digital Roads - Community Broadband Bits Episode 86

Ammon, a town of 14,000 in southeast Idaho, has been incrementally building an open access, fiber optic network that has connected community anchor institutions and is starting to become available to local businesses. Ammon Technology Director Bruce Patterson joins us to explain how the community has moved forward with its model for improving Internet access.

They first sought some stimulus support for the network but were not selected. But in the process, they had set aside the match funding and found that it would be less expensive to link municipal buildings across town with their own fiber rather than leasing from an existing firm.

It is worth emphasizing that Ammon has no municipal electric utility, but the water utility has been a key participant in the network. In fact, much of Ammon's success has to be attributed to the willingness of multiple departments to work together, supportive and thoughtful city council members, and a Technology Director willing to think outside the limits of how things had traditionally been done.

We've been covering Ammon for a few years, those stories are available here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 25 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 Fit and the Conniptions for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

Chattanooga's Fiber Network Praised for Great Customer Service

One of the main differentiator's of community owned networks compared to the big cable and telephone companies is customer service. Being rooted in the community, vested in its success, and employing local residents just means better, more prompt service. A prominent Chattanoogan recently explained

My last shout-out is to EPB Fiber Optics.  This is not a paid commercial, just an opportunity for me to brag on some people who know what they’re doing.  I am the first to go on social media and complain about whatever store or business is guilty of subpar service.  It’s human nature, and it often makes for a good story.  I started using EPB for my cable, internet and phone service about a month ago.  I have encountered three problems during that time, none of them major, but all beyond my level of expertise.  Each time, I called their help line.  Each time, I spoke to local people who did not put me on hold for extended periods, nor did they force me to learn a new language.  They always solved my problem within five minutes.  My blood pressure thanks you, EPB.  This is how it’s done.

We hear these stories frequently with community owned fiber networks. It is hard to do a national study that quantifies the benefits of better customer service, but if we could, we have no doubt the locally owned networks would bury the national cable and telephone companies.

Susan Crawford on National Public Radio

"Unless somebody in the system has industrial policy in mind, a long-term picture of where the United States needs to be and has the political power to act on it, we'll be a Third World country when it comes to communications."

Susan Crawford recently spoke with Dave Davies on NPR's FreshAir. During the conversation Crawford touches on a variety of interrelated topics that affect telecommunications in the U.S. The interview is worth a listen; Crawford and Davies discuss her book, Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age, and get into U.S. telecommunications policy.

Crawford discusses the recent U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit decision on network neutrality. Davies and Crawford also tackle the inteplay between the court decision and role of government in bringing access to more people:

I think the problem is actually much more profound than mere discrimination by a few cable actors when it comes to high-speed Internet access. We seem to currently assume that communications access it a luxury, something that should be left entirely to the private market, unconstrained by any form of oversight.

The problem is, that's just not true in the modern era. You can't get a job, you can't get access to adequate healthcare, you can't educate your children, we can't keep up with other countries in the developed world without having very high capacity, very high-speed access for everybody in the country. And the only way you get there is through government involvement in this market.

That's how we did it for the telephone. That's how we did it for the federal highway system. And we seem to have forgotten that when it comes to these utility basic services, we can't create a level playing field for all Americans or indeed compete on the world stage without having some form of government involvement.

You can listen to the 38 minute interview and read the transcript at the NPR website.

Vidalia's Broadband Initiative Moves Forward as Free Wi-Fi Comes to Town

Vidalia's plans to offer free Wi-Fi are becoming reality. The Natchez Democrat recently reported that the City launched its free Wi-Fi in its new municipal complex.

Vidalia received a $30,000 grant from the Telecommunications Development Fund (TDF) Foundation to invest in a wireless network to cover the complex. Apparently, visitors to the complex were often surprised to learn that there was no Wi-Fi available. From the article:

[Mayor Hyram] Copeland said the project came about after multiple teams coming to participate in tournaments at the recreation complex asked about Wi-Fi access.

“I was embarrassed to say, ‘No,’ but now I can say we do,” Copeland said. “But the end result of all this is that we will have moved this community forward.”

The next step will be free Wi-Fi along the City's riverfront.

Even though federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds to Louisiana were pulled back, Vidalia decided to press on with its broadband plans. The City has since cultivated several grant sources and is piecing together the funds needed to proceed with its estimated $9 million fiber network. Vidalia wants to develop a smart-grid and potentially provide fiber to every premise.

The community, with some of the highest unemployment rates in the country, sees the presence of better broadband as critical to economic survival. From the article:

“Broadband is such a routine infrastructure for companies nowadays that they almost assume you have it, and us not having it could have hurt us in the long run,” [Concordia Parish Economic Development Director Heather] Malone said. “Now, we’ll be able to use this as a tool to recruit new businesses and offer it to our existing businesses.”

In Fear of Comcast Warner Cable

It is hard to say just how bad of an idea it is for us to allow Comcast to buy Time Warner Cable. This is not just about consumers having to pay more, which they do every time we allow massive consolidation, but about access to information.

I can't help but think back to our conversation with Barry Lynn on monopoly a few weeks ago. People get so focused on consumer prices and a narrow view of competition that they miss important impacts of consolidation.

One impact is moving Comcast from the seventh biggest DC lobbyist to the fourth.

This consolidation is a recognition that the private sector simply will not provide meaningful competition for Internet access. Communities need to recognize what a do-nothing approach means: relying on a distant cable monopoly for the most important services of the 21st century.

If I had to guess what will happen - Comcast will buy Time Warner Cable but have to sell off some pieces to get approval. Comcast will grow larger and more powerful, making future mergers even more difficult to stop despite more and more evidence that these firms are strangling our economy. We can stop it - but will we? Specifically, will we force our representatives in DC to stop it?

Stay tuned to the organizations that are covering it well - Free Press, Karl Bode, Public Knowledge, Common Cause, and many others.

National Rural Assembly Webinar: Expressions of Interest for Connect America Funds

On January 30, the FCC announced it will begin a process that makes Connect America funds available for pilot projects aimed at expanding broadband in rural areas. Details about the process are still forthcoming, but the FCC asks interested parties to submit "expressions of interest" by March 7th. In order to assist possible applicants, the National Rural Assembly's Broadband Working Group will hold a webinar today, February 13th, at 1:30 EST.

From the webinar announcement:

The National Rural Assembly's Rural Broadband and Policy Group invites all rural stakeholders, to participate in a national webinar in cooperation with the Federal Communications Commission that will explain how to participate in the FCC's new experiment, the Rural Broadband Trials - a program that will fund projects to bring broadband to rural areas.

Participation in this first phase is not mandatory but encouraged. The results from the expressions of interest process will help the FCC determine how much funding will be needed.

You can register online for the free webinar.

Video: 

EPB Offering Services Local Businesses Need

EPB in Chattanooga offers a service to business clients that offers a good reminder that local service providers have to be able to offer a variety of business services because different businesses have vastly different wants and needs. In 2012, the publicly owned utility began offering telephone service with cloud characteristics.

The service saves money by limiting the need of small businesses to commit to capital investment and personnel costs while offering the capabilities that larger firms with larger IT staffs have. A TimesFreePress article on the service from 2012 reported:

"We looked at an average business that had nine sets and eight lines, and it comes to about $320 per month, instead of thousands of dollars in up-front costs," [Katie] Espeseth [EPB's head of product development] said.

When businesses install them on their own, the systems and devices require employees to maintain, at a time when many companies are looking to streamline their IT departments.

"It really takes the burden of installing and maintaining your telephone equipment off your own employees and puts it with our company," said Espeseth. "In Chattanooga, if a small business can take the capital they were going to spend on a new phone system and invest it in their business, it makes sense to spread that cost out over time."

EPB did their homework and now provides a service that small businesses need at affordable rates. Understanding the needs of local businesses and offering a range of options is key to the success of local providers.

Fork in the Road For UTOPIA: Forward or Backward? Community Broadband Bits Episode #85

The Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency, which we have written about many times, is at a crossroads. An Australian corporation specializing in infrastructure is prepared to infuse $300 million into the project but the Utah Legislature may prohibit it from expanding and even from using existing connections outside member cities.

We asked Jesse Harris of Free UTOPIA and Pete Ashdown of XMission to join us for Community Broadband Bits Episode #85 to sort out the stories.

Jesse explains the potential Macquarie investment and how the bill HB60 could hurt both that deal and more broadly, connectivity in the area. Pete Ashdown discusses how he learned of the bill and what it would mean to his business if the network were able to be expanded.

We previously spoke with Pete Ashdown and Todd Marriott about UTOPIA in Episode 3 of this podcast.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 15 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 Fit and the Conniptions for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

Chris Mitchell to Speak at Fiber Event in Stockholm Feb. 21

On Friday, February 21, 2014, Christopher Mitchell will be speaking in Stockholm at the Stockholm Waterfront Congress Center. The event, titled Fibre: The key to creating world-class IT regions, will begin at 8:30 a.m. in Sweden (1:30 a.m. CST for viewers in the U.S.) and will be livestreamed.

Chris will be providing an update on fiber efforts in the U.S. He will join a distinguished line-up of speakers including Benoit Felton. Felton joined us for Broadband Bits podast episode 21 to talk about his work in Stokab.

From the announcement:

The 21st century has presented a major shift into the digital age and enabled us to make fundamental progress in areas such as connectivity and sustainability. Access to the digital age is to a great extent made possible thanks to high-speed connectivity through fibre infrastructure.

Experience and international rankings show that fibre roll-outs and open networks are crucial in order to fully exploit the possibilities a connected society offers – stronger regional development, increased growth and sustainability. We can also see that when public and private sectors cooperate competitive, affordable and sustainable infrastructures have been accomplished.