Greater Minnesota Partnership Focuses on Non-Metro Need - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 136

Like many states, Minnesota has a major metro area that generally has higher quality Internet access than non-metro communities. The Greater Minnesota Partnership, a coalition of businesses, chambers, nonprofits, and cities from across the state, have made improving Internet access a major priority in their efforts to influence the state legislature.

This week, we talk with Dan Dorman, Executive Director of the Greater Minnesota Partnership. He is also a former Minnesota state Rep and remains a small business owner. We discuss the need to improve access even as major cable lobbyists fight in the capital to preserve the status quo. The Partnership believes state barriers to community networks should be removed.

Dorman offers a unique perspective as a former member of the Minnesota Legislature. He knows what it is like to be lobbied constantly by one side of the issue but rarely hear from the other. Fortunately, the Greater Minnesota Partnership is working to provide that other side as best it can.

We previously discussed the Border-to-Border fund in episode 119.

Read the transcript from this conversation here.

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

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

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."

Supporters Rally Behind Wheeler, Chattanooga, and Wilson: "I Recommend Approval"

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler released a statement yesterday supporting the concept of local authority for community broadband infrastructure. Chattanooga and Wilson filed petitions to scale back state restrictions last summer. In his statement, Wheeler officially recommended the Commission approve the petitions. If approved, the petitions have the potential to liberate local communities from state restrictions. 

Along with a number of other organizations that advocate local authority, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance supports Chairman Wheeler who said:

Communities across the nation know that access to robust broadband is key to their economic future – and the future of their citizens. Many communities have found that existing private-sector broadband deployment or investment fails to meet their needs. They should be able to make their own decisions about building the networks they need to thrive. After looking carefully at petitions by two community broadband providers asking the FCC to pre-empt provisions of state laws preventing expansion of their very successful networks, I recommend approval by the Commission so that these two forward-thinking cities can serve the many citizens clamoring for a better broadband future.

Chris Mitchell, Director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at ILSR.org and the editor of MuniNetworks.org said:

The Chairman's statement is a breath of fresh air. This approach will allow communities with little or no choice in providers to take control of their own connectivity. When local communities have the authority to invest in publicly owned infrastrucuture without state barriers, more businesses and residents have fast, affordable, reliable Internet access. Even just the possibility of a community network can incent large scale providers to improve their services. We are pleased to see Chairman Wheeler both talk the talk and walk the walk of restoring local decision-making authority.

A statement of support quickly followed from the Georgia Municipal Association:

Prohibiting government from providing this economic development infrastructure, or limiting its ability to do so, is counter to the wishes of the community and to the best interest of cities, states and our nation. 

Next Century Cities, the coalition of over 50 communities working to restore local Internet choice, recently delivered a letter [PDF] from 38 member cities to the FCC, urging the Commission to consider local autonomy. Deb Socia, the Executive Director, applauded the statement:

If we want truly next-generation broadband, then cities across the country need to be in the driver’s seat. That’s why they are looking to the FCC to uphold their ability to make the best choices for their communities and residents.

Public Knowledge wrote:

Every community should have the right to determine its broadband needs and the path of its digital future, including the ability to pick competition over monopoly for broadband services. Chairman Wheeler has taken an important first step by advancing these two petitions forward.

The Media Mobilizing Project, involved in efforts to improve connectivity in Philadelphia, stated that it strongly supports Chairman Wheeler's plan to restore local authority:

Philly, every city in PA, and every community nationwide deserves the right to explore high quality competition to our communications monopolies - to drive prices down, quality up, and access to everyone, poor and working people and beyond.  We look forward to Chairman Wheeler's continued leadership on this issue, and expanding options for our communities - who strongly believe that access to high quality communications is a human right.

From Common Cause:

"What a great step approval would be toward bringing broadband to every American,” agreed former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, now serving as special adviser to Common Cause’s Media and Democracy Reform Initiative. “We built this country with federal and community partnerships for vital infrastructure, and what's more vital than broadband for the 21st century?  A big high-five to Chairman Tom Wheeler and the colleagues who have joined him to push this move.”

The Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC) also passed a "big high-five" to the Chairman:

CLIC applauds Chairman Wheeler for his leadership and recognition that local communities play an integral role in ensuring broadband competition for their residents. This is a big step forward and just the beginning — we look forward to working with the Chairman, the rest of the Commission and other stakeholders to remove barriers to better broadband around the country.

For more on the Chattanooga and Wilson petitions, we encourage you to listen to episode #120 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, in which we debunk a series of arguments against restoring local authority. 

Chris also had an informative interview with Harold Feld on section 706 in episode #84. In that interview, published well before the Chattanooga and Wilson petitions were filed, the Senior Vice President of Public Knowledge dissected how the DC Circuit Court came to the conclusion that paved the way for the petitions.

Good stuff!

An Update on Utah's UTOPIA Open Access Network

For the facts on all things UTOPIA, we turn to Jesse Harris at FreeUTOPIA.org. In his latest post, he provides an excellent bullet list of the key factors in Macquarie's Milestone 2 proposal. An excerpt From his post:

  • The final cost per address is estimated at $22.60 per month. Macquarie estimates that re-working the deal to account for five cities bowing out trimmed the cost by $8.57 per month.
  • The revenue split is much more generous than I expected, allowing the cities to keep 75% of wholesale revenue after the first $2M per year. It’s expected to completely cover the debt service by 2021 with just a 24% take rate for premium services.
  • The basic level service has also been improved. Instead of 3M/3M service being included at no extra cost, it’s been bumped to 5M/5M. This matches Google Fiber speeds on the free tier. The data cap stays put at 20GB per month.
  • Almost all of the network revenues are being driven by Veracity, XMission, and SumoFiber. Other ISPs are very small by comparison.
  • The majority of currently connected users are in opt-out cities. This only reinforced that the votes there were “we got ours” selfishness.

Jesse has also managed to obtain a draft copy of the Milestone Two Report and has it posted for your review at his blog.

Recently, the network settled a long running dispute with the Rural Utility Service (RUS), reported the Standard Examiner. UTOPIA was awarded a $10 million settlement in a lawsuit filed in September 2011.

A November Salt Lake Tribune article reported that the RUS encouraged UTOPIA to seek federal loans in 2004 but took 19 months to approve the first payment, generating unanticipated expenses. Later, the agency withdrew promised funding with no formal reason. 

Local Authority Restrictions One of the "Worst Policy Ideas of 2014" According to Wonkblog

We are well into the new year; a look back at 2014 can be instructive if we strive to learn from our mistakes. A December article from the Washington post Wonkblog listed "11 of the worst policy ideas of 2014" and, of course, state barriers restricting local telecommunications authority was on the list:

Fed up with limited choices, high prices and shoddy service, many cities want to turn their back on large Internet providers by building their own municipal broadband service. Standing in their way are state legislatures, lobbyists for the telecom industry and even federal lawmakers who believe states should have control over what projects their cities invest in.

Fortunately, this is something that we can change - let's educate elected officials to ensure there are no new barriers and existing barriers are repealed!

Fourth Annual IAMU Broadband Conference: March 18th - 19th in Des Moines

Spring is the time for the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities (IAMU) Broadband Conference in Des Moines. This year is it scheduled for March 18th and 19th at the Ramada Tropics and Resort Center downtown. Don't forget your swimsuit!

Chris will be presenting again this year. He has been there 2 out of the last 3 years and it is always a good time with lots of great energy. This year they are particularly welcoming people from outside Iowa as well - so put it on your calendar if you are nearby!

The agenda is still being developed but will include a variety of topics including the proliferation of the connected home, legislative and regulatory updates, and marketing for small broadband utilities. You can view a working agenda [PDF] at the IAMU website.

You can register now for special rates. Call 515-278-0271 and ask for the IAMU room block.

Seattle Grassroots Muni Initiative Kicks Off With Campaign Survey

Seattleites tired of waiting for incumbents to provide better services, have decided to launch a campaign to establish Internet access as a public utility. In order to get the campaign off to a strong start, the founding group has launched a survey to choose a name.

Seattle has significant fiber resources in place, an electric utility, and strong grassroots support. Unfortunately, incumbent Comcast has been trying to curry favor within City Hall. But given that Seattle has joined Next Century Cities, the City seems focused on exploring all of its options.

When Chris presented in Seattle, he strongly encouraged them to organize a grassroots effort to support a community network. Now, a group of community organizers, artists, tech workers, and students are taking the next step forward because:

A 2014 report by the city found that "nearly 20% of Seattle residents do not have any Internet access.” Entire neighborhoods still lack access to Internet speeds necessary to take part in the modern economy. Without access, residents may not be able to apply for jobs, utilize city websites, finish their homework, operate a small business, display art, shop online, or video chat with a doctor from the comfort of their homes.    

Even those with home access to Internet have too few options. The same city report showed that 45% of residents wanted better prices, and 33% wanted higher speeds than currently offered by the two dominant Internet providers: Comcast and CenturyLink.  

Some of the names they suggest are "Seattle for Homegrown Internet," "Connecting Seattle," and "Seattle's Own Internet." They also offer the chance for participants to offer their own ideas.

Seattleites, we encourage you to share your opinion by taking the survey. In addition to naming the campaign, your participation will help organizers gauge the level of interest. You can also connect with the group and let them know you are willing to volunteer.

According to a Brown Paper Tickets Blog post, the new campaign name will be revealed on February 13th at the launch day for new Puget Sound radio stations and World Radio Day.

Local channel 5 also covered the story:

 

Missoula Maps Local Fiber Assets, Encourages New Installation

Last August, we wrote and podcasted about the results of a broadband feasibility study for the City of Missoula, which recommended developing an open access network with approximately 60 miles of underground fiber through a public private partnership. The study also demonstrated a significant need for improved connectivity in the central business district, with almost 40% of businesses saying their connections were insufficient for their needs. The study also recommended a variety of fairly small policy changes to encourage the spread of fiber optics, such as a “dig once” conduit policy. 

Early in December, the Missoula City Council acted on at at least one of those recommendations by lowering the fee the city charges for excavating and installing new fiber optic lines in the public right-of-way by 75 percent. City Councilwoman Caitlin Copple, who has spearheaded the efforts for better connectivity in Missoula and appeared on our Broadband Bits podcast in August, described lowering the fee this way to the Missoulian newspaper

“It’s a gesture of good will to the service providers that we want to work with them,” said Copple, who chairs the city’s Economic Development Subcommittee. “It was a unanimous vote, and it shows Missoula is serious about business.”

The city also released a map, compiled by a third party, that shows all the privately-owned fiber assets in Missoula’s central business district. It is purposely unclear which company owns which segments of fiber, as the providers would only participate if their information was anonymized to protect their competitive edge. While certainly not present on every street, the map shows that there is a significant amount of fiber already in the ground. From the Missoulian:

“What this map shows is that we don’t need to build an entirely new network,” said Copple. “We need to piece together what’s there and solve the ‘last mile,’ or 100-foot problem in an open-access way.”

Connecting to the network can be expensive for Main Street businesses. When construction fees are considered, tapping into the network can run as high as $20,000, experts said, and monthly service fees can run as high as $1,500.

Having fiber in the ground is nice, but ultimately unhelpful if it is owned by private providers who do not make connections available and affordable. The director of the Bitter Root Economic Development District (one of the parnership entities overseeing the network planning process) said that an RFP will be issued this summer soliciting plans for addressing the problem. 

“We’ve continuously heard from the providers that there’s a lot of fiber in the ground in Missoula,” said Marcy Allen, director of BREDD. “The big obstacle here is that it’s not being utilized. We want to reduce the costs and incentivize the private sector to deploy that to their customers.”

Boston Globe the Latest to Support Local Authority

Yet another major news outlet has endorsed the President's position in support of local telecommunications authority. On January 26th, the Boston Globe went on record to endorse the concept, urging the FCC and Congress to work together to ensure local communities have the right to make their own connecitvity decisions.

The Globe suggested that, rather than allowing the FCC to take the lead with the Wilson and Chattanooga petition decisions, federal lawmakers take action:

A better approach would be for Congress to settle the issue itself, by preventing states from interfering with cities and towns that want to start their own Internet services.

The Globe Editors note that rural areas are the hardest hit by large corporate provider indifference, that it is those same parties that drive the state barrier bills, and that, "This status quo is bad for customers everywhere."

Globe Editors get behind a bill recently introduced by Cory Booker, Claire McCaskill, and Ed Markey that wipes out state barriers in the 19 states where they exist and prevents state lawmakers from enacting new ones. The Globe acknowledges that the support is lopsided today...:

But this shouldn’t be a partisan issue, and it isn’t one on the local level. Red states like Georgia, Kentucky, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Utah all have successful municipal Internet programs. Politicians tempted by campaign contributions from the telecommunications lobby, or skeptical of any proposal backed by President Obama, should remember that consumer protection is an issue that voters of all stripes support.

OneCommunity's Middle Way - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 135

OneCommunity is a nonprofit organization in northeastern Ohio that has connected thousands of community anchor institutions with high capacity connections. Created as OneCleveland before expanding, it has remained a rather unique approach to expanding high quality Internet access. This week, CEO Lev Gonick joins us to talk about OneCommunity and its contributions to the region.

As neither a private company nor a local government, Lev believes that OneCommunity offers a third way, something they often call a "community-driven" approach. We discuss how a big city like Cleveland needs to think about solving the problem of expanding Internet access broadly.

OneCommunity has just announced the recipients of its Big Gig Challenge and Lev shares some of the lessons they learned in evaluating proposals and working with the communities that competed for the prize.

Lev and I will be on a panel together again with some other great folks in Austin for Broadband Communities in the middle of April. Great deal to attend here.

Read the transcript of this show here.

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

This show is 23 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."

OneCommunity Announces "Big Gig Challenge" Award Recipients

Last fall, nonprofit ISP OneCommunity  created the "Big Gig Challenge" to jump start expansion and promote gigabit applications in northeast Ohio. The organization recently announced the winners and provided some information about their projects.

The West 25th Corridor project, running through Ohio City, Tremont, Clark-Fulton, Brooklyn Centre, and Old Brooklyn is a four mile stretch that will affect small business, the Cleveland Clinic, two MetroHealth Systems campuses, and several other large employers. This project also reaches 14 sites that could be developed and over 900 properties. It is a collaborative project that includes four Cleveland Wards.

The Village of Greenwillow plans to expand its existing network and work with private sector business owners and land developers. Likewise, Lorain County Community College will build off its existing network connections to create a community fiber road map. From a press release on the award, as printed in BBC Mag:

In response to receiving the grant, Dr. Roy Church, president of Lorain County Community College said, “We are honored to be selected as a grant recipient. This award will enable our community to dramatically increase access to the existing fiber network, positioning us to become a more globally competitive region. The funds will be used to engage stakeholders from government, healthcare, higher education and local businesses to create an implementation plan to increase high-speed connections and foster greater efficiencies.”

South Euclid, currently utilizing the OneCommunity network, received a grant to expand to to the city's municipal facilities and build out to its industrial area.

The Big Gig Challenge offered funds to cover up to 25% of the projects costs up to $2 million.

In addition to the Challenge launched last fall, OneCommunity launched a new collaborative effort with the City of Cleveland in November. A new fiber pipe, capable of 100 Gbps speeds, will be deployed along Cleveland's Health-Tech Corridor (HTC) connecting downtown to University Circle.

The $1.02 million project is funded by a $700,000 Economic Development Administration (EDA) grant, funding from the City, and a contribution from OneCommunity. Construction is expected to start early this year. It will be available for local businesses, many of which have already expressed an interest. From a Cleveland City Hall Press Release:

“We are extremely enthusiastic about our partnership with the City of Cleveland and excited to be at the forefront of a project that is destined to become the new “Gold Standard” for broadband connectivity. Consistent with our mission, we embrace 100 gigabit as a job creation engine for the City. Offering the first 100 gigabit capability, specifically in the Health-Tech Corridor, incentivizes local and national fast-growing companies to locate and remain here,” says OneCommunity CEO Lev Gonick.

We just spoke with Lev Gonick from OneCommunity on Community Broadband Bits.