County and State Partner For Local Connectivity in Iowa

In 2010, the Iowa Communications Network received a $16.2 million Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP). The project will connect all 99 counties in the state by upgrading an existing 3,000 mile network (PDF of the project summary). The state plans to bring 10 Gbps capacity points of presence to each county and to provide 1 Gbps service to about 1,000 anchor institutions. The project will be managed by the state's Department of Transportation, which will be using fiber primarily for traffic management.

A recent Ames Tribune article reports that the local community will be partnering with the state to capitalize on the existence of the fiber for connectivity. Story County, located in the very center of the state, will soon be using several strands in the Ames area to create a loop between city and county offices. The 20-year arrangement will cost the county $15,000 and provides ample capacity to support the county's work and support future uses. From the article:

“For us this is a huge windfall,” [Story County Information Technology Director Barbara Steinback] said. “If we were to go on to a project like this on our own, it would cost between $250,000 and $300,000.”

The opportunity comes at a good time for Story County. The sheriff’s office recently began using new mobile laptops that Steinback said have been putting a strain on the network and, along with some other projects, has been resulting in some slowness issues.

“So we do need to take advantage of this opportunity,” she said.

Broadband Communities Magazine Spotlights ILSR's Chanute Report

We are pleased to announce that an excerpt of our report, Chanute's Gig: One Rural Kansas Community's Tradition of Innovation Led to A Gigabit and Ubiquitous Wireless Coverage, is now highlighted in the newest Broadband Communities Magazine. The November/December 2012 issue focuses on economic development.

Editors chose our report because it shows how a community can successfully develop a network to address community needs. The result is greater economic development and a range of increased community benefits. In addition to our report, several other articles focus on economic development and come from authors such as Reed Hundt and Blair Levin, Doug Adams and Michael Curri, Ken Demlow, Craig Settles, and David Moore.

You can access the digital edition online and see the entire issue table of contents at Broadband Communities Magazine Online.

You can still download the full report from the ILSR website and check out some of our other resources including case studies, fact sheets, video and audio.

Susan Crawford, Captive Audience, and How to Kill the Cable Monopoly

Susan Crawford, author of the just-released Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age, is our guest for the 29th episode of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. A former adviser to President Obama, she has been a leading figure in the struggle to preserve an open Internet.

Susan has long been an advocate of communities deciding for themselves if a community owned network is a wise investment and recognizes the benefits of smart government policies to prevent big companies like Comcast from dominating the telecommunications arena.

We talk about her book and reactions to it -- big cable and telephone companies are attacking her under false pretenses by either putting words in her mouth or misrepresenting her main points. But we also discuss the steps concerned people can take to bring force some accountability on the big monopolies.

We have previously noted Susan's words and presentations here and we noted some Captive Audience reviews 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 17 minutes long and can be played below on this page or subscribe via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed. Search for us in iTunes and leave a positive comment!

Listen to previous episodes here.

Thanks to mojo monkeys for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

Princeton, Illinois, Uses Electric Wires to Deliver Low Cost Internet Access

Recently, we covered the city-owned fiber optic network in Princeton, Illinois. The network has been serving city facilities, schools, libraries, and businesses since late 2003. The network contributes to economic development by delivering high capacity telecommunications services at affordable prices to local businesses. The City built and owns the network but services are delivered by a private sector partner.

Princeton is also working to bridge the digital divide in its community. The city offers an inexpensive Broadband Over Power Lines (BPL) service to residents and small businesses, using the municipal electricial grid.

BPL was once touted as a great hope for rural connectivity. The technology allows users to send telecommunications over the electrical lines already in place across the country.  After several deployments revealed problems with radio interference, performance issues, and unreliability, the great hope considerably dimmed. However, the technology still has its place.

BPL lives on in Princeton as a supplement to its fiber network. According to Jason Bird, Director of Utilities, subscribers like being able to access the Internet from any room in their home that has an electric outlet. Capacity is very limited - only 1 Mbps service for residential service - but the price is right for those who do not have a large demand for speed. Residential service is $24.95 per month and commercial service is $99.00 per month.

The technology was attractive to the city utility because it was economical and quick to install. Prior to the BPL network, most people in town still used dial-up. As we reported in our post on Princeton's fiber network, the city has forged a long relationship with IVNet, an Illinois ISP. The BPL network is another successful joint project that has been helpful to the community. The two shared the cost of constructing the BPL network and profits are shared with IVNet retaining 70% of the profits.

The future of current BPL networks is uncertain with the loss of interest in devloping the technology. For now, however, Princeton customers have the benefit of a locally managed network to keep them online. 

Photo courtesy of ILPlanner, used under Creative Commons License.

Susan Crawford's Captive Audience Book Reviewed

I quickly read the just-released Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age, and came away quite excited by Susan Crawford's new book.

Susan Crawford has been supportive of community owned networks and a loud voice against the poor policies that have allowed a few massive cable and telephone companies to monopolize our telecommunications. Her new book is a good resource for those just getting interested in this issue.

After the book was released last week, Susan Crawford appeared on the Diane Rehm show -- an excellent 50 minute interview that comes highly recommended. Be aware that the cable/telephone industry is engaging in character assassination to prevent Susan's message from reverberating around the country.

The book led to Sam Gustin's article in Time, "Is Broadband Internet Access a Public Utility?"

State and local laws that make it difficult — if not impossible — for new competition to emerge in broadband markets should be reformed, according to Crawford. For example, many states make it very difficult for municipalities to create public wireless networks, thanks to decades of state-level lobbying by the industry giants. In order to help local governments upgrade their communications grids, Crawford is calling for an infrastructure bank to help cities obtain affordable financing to help build high-speed fiber networks for their citizens. Finally, U.S. regulators should apply real oversight to the broadband industry to ensure that these market behemoths abide by open Internet principles and don’t price gouge consumers.

Art Brodsky also reviewed the book on the Huffington Post. He leads with a reminder of the damage done by the NFL's replacement refs, an apt comparison given how poorly the FCC and Congress have protected the public.

Susan will be our guest for the Community Broadband Bits Podcast (episode 29) on Tuesday, Jan 15, and I will be offering periodic thoughts on passages from the book in coming days/weeks.

Cottage Grove, Oregon, Looks to Bring Jobs to Town With Fiber Expansion

Cottage Grove, Oregon, is on the cusp of adding up to 250 new jobs with the aid of its fiber optic network.  A recent Register-Guard.com article by Serena Markstrom details the potential project between the City and First Call Resolution. The company is interested in expanding to a Cottage Grove shopping strip. While the space is the right size and location, it does not have the needed telecommunications connections for a high-capacity call center.

The City is looking into expanding its fiber optic network to accommodate First Call. City leaders will seek a state economic development grant and recently approved funding for an engineer's construction plan to lay the cable to get an accurate cost estimate. Initial estimates are $450,000 for an entire underground installation. Council members have already suggested that the expansion makes sense, regardless of whether or not First Call becomes a tenant. The 7 miles of fiber are primarily located in the southern part of the city while the shopping strip is in the north.

The City Manager Richard Meyers hopes the added infrastructure will bring more than just First Call Resolution to the shopping strip. From the article:

The commercial strip being considered for the call center has much empty space. “The whole plaza needs help,” Meyers said. “We need to do something to see if we can get other things in there.”

If more businesses moved in and started leasing the cable, the city could collect money — just like any utility — from those who tapped into the network and use those funds to continue to expand fiber optic cable around town, Meyers said.

“With our fiber and what we’ve developed, we’re within 4,000 feet of connecting” to the Village Center, he said. “That’s how close we are,” he said. “It’s not a huge distance. We can do it. (It would be a) piece of cake to connect our system to his network and so all of [First Call Resolution's] call centers would be on the same network.”

The city network also offers a Wi-Fi network throughout 80% of the city. Rates vary, ranging from 10 free hours each month at 128 Kbps to 7 Mbps unlimited with tech support for $50 per month. According to the CGWiFi website:

Wireless icon

CGWiFi is a service provided by the City of Cottage Grove.  The City of Cottage Grove developed CGWiFi after many years of efforts to improve the availability of broadband services within the community.  The City of Cottage Grove fiber optic and WiFi System were developed to primarily create infrastructure capacity, provide connectivity and enhance technology available for South Lane School District and Lane Community College and to improve broadband service for Public Safety and government operations.  CGWiFi was created using excess capacity on the system to provide the public access to broadband services.  The fees for public broadband services cover the operation and  bandwidth requirements for the public use.

City Hall, the South Lane schools and district office within city limits, and the Creswell school district and schools are now connected with fiber. Plans are in the works to also connect the Cottage Grove Hospital to the fiber system. The city is working with the Regional Fiber Consortium.

As we learn more, we will bring any new developments from Cottage Grove. Like many of the other communities that use their networks for economic development, we anticipate positive results.

Verizon Begs Regulators for Protection While Demanding Deregulation

From the "A Pox on Both Your Houses" files, Verizon is squaring off against greedy landlords in New York City as it tries to fix lines damaged by Superstorm Sandy.

In short, Verizon needs access to the common areas of the multi-dwelling units (MDU or industry-speak for apartments) to fix or upgrade the lines. Verizon is using these repairs as an opportunity to transition connections from copper to its fiber optic FiOS system.

AT&T and Verizon have been arguing that once a household transitions from a copper connection to FiOS (in the case of Verizon) or U-Verse (in the case of AT&T, which actually hasn't even changed the copper connection), they are using a fundamentally different, less regulated service. My conversation with Bruce Kushnick delved into some of these claims.

Verizon's copper to fiber upgrade could actually therefore be an accountability downgrade if regulators agree that households deserve fewer protections on connections over fiber than over copper. This appears to be a major fight brewing -- how to regulate the same services over different types of connections.

And this is where it gets interesting. Verizon, AT&T, and the other big cable/telcos are constantly arguing for deregulation, saying that the market is so competitive that the government should just get lost.

But then Sandy rips through and landlords (that I have ZERO sympathy for) see an opportunity to shakedown Verizon. After all, Verizon is going to use the new connections to increase revenues from these households by selling more services (triple play over fiber). This seems a perfectly reasonable deregulated market showdown.

Crying Verizon

But Verizon immediately goes crying to the state regulators: "The landlords aren't playing nice, force them to let us into their buildings!"

Anyone who still believes competitive or free markets are synonymous with unregulated markets is fooling themselves. Big firms use deregulation or regulation in their attempts to corner and monopolize markets. They only favor less regulation when they perceive an immediate benefit to the bottom line.

We need a government that is sufficiently wise to decide when more regulation or less regulation will create the best outcomes for all of us. In some cases, regulation is essential to preserve a competitive market and in others, some deregulation may be in order. Unfortunately, we have a government that tends to act based on what is best for those employing the best lobbyists and making the most campaign contributions.

To be clear, I don't think landlords should be able to hold tenants hostage until they get paid off. However, that is in large part because I view access to the Internet as an essential infrastructure that requires accountability. Being a natural monopoly, the market will not provide those protections, which is why the government has long protected the public interest in telecommunications with regulations.

Exciting Upcoming Events!

If we want to protect the open Internet and expand access to fast, affordable, and reliable connections, we need to organize. There are few better ways to organize or get inspired than in-person events with great speakers and time to chat with others.

I will be at both Freedom to Connect and the National Conference for Media Reform and strongly encourage you to sign up with the early bird rates now available.

The first is Freedom to Connect (F2C) just outside Washington, DC, at the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, Maryland.

F2C: Freedom to Connect is designed to bring under-represented people and issues into the Washington, DC based federal policy discussion. F2C: Freedom to Connect revolves around three central topics.

The first is an open infrastructure owned or controlled by and responsive to the community it serves and whose resources it depends upon. The second is a publicly specified set of Internet protocols open to all who meet its specifications. The third is the use of the Internet to promote government of, by and for the people, and to counteract autocratic government power.

To learn who will address each topic, visit F2C. Below is a short video with some of the fun moments of this conference in 2012. (You can see the presentations and panels from 2012 here.)

Register by Jan 18 to get the early bird discount: $195. Don't forget, this event always has world-class music between sessions -- always a great experience.

NCMR Logo

One month after F2C, Free Press is holding the National Conference for Media Reform (NCMR) in Denver on April 5-7.

I spoke at the last NCMR and will be on at least one, possibly several panels in Denver to discuss community owned broadband networks and Internet policy. This event attracts great people and the conversations in the halls around presentations never fail to inspire me.

Want to delve into the most pressing issues facing technology and the future of the Internet? Then check out the National Conference for Media Reform in Denver on April 5–7, 2013. Our conference is a three-day whirlwind that brings together the nation's leading thinkers and innovators to discuss policies and politics and how technology is shaping the world. Early-bird registration rates are available through Jan. 30, 2013, so sign up today.

There are big questions facing us in 2013. Will innovation and creativity flourish online, or will corporations lock the Internet down? Will communities have access to the technologies they need to solve the problems they face? How can we take on big companies and corrupted policymakers — and win?

Join many great speakers, including Susan Crawford, in Denver for NCMR. Register now for the early bird rate of $170. That rate expires at the end of January.

Community Broadband Bits 28 - Bruce Kushnick

If you think the United States cannot afford to take a fiber optic cable to just about every home in the country, you might be surprised to find out that we have already paid for it. We just haven't received it. Our first podcast guest in 2013, Bruce Kushnick of the New Networks Institute, explains the $300 billion ripoff.

Bruce and I discuss how the big telephone companies promised to build a fiber optic Internet in return for being allowed to increase their prices. This brings us to Kushnick's Law: "A regulated company will always renege on promises to provide public benefits tomorrow in exchange for regulatory and financial benefits today."

The telephone companies raised their prices, but decided to give the proceeds out to shareholders rather than invest in the promised networks. We got higher prices and DSL rather than the fiber optic networks we were promised. Our regulators largely failed us, in part because the only people who pay attention to Public Utility Commissions are the industries regulated by them and the occasional underfunded consumer advocate.

This is a very good introduction to why we all pay far too much for services that are too slow and insufficiently reliable.

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 26 minutes long and can be played below on this page or subscribe via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed. Search for us in iTunes and leave a positive comment!

Listen to previous episodes here.

Thanks to mojo monkeys for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

After Buying NC Legislation, AT&T Kills NC Jobs

When the North Carolina General Assembly passed a bill written by the cable and telephone industry (with help from ALEC), they probably didn't expect AT&T to turn around and slash its local workforce.

And yet, that is what AT&T has done: "Hey North Carolina, thanks for that monopoly, hope you don't mind if we move a bunch of jobs down to Alabama."

We had just published our report on how Time Warner Cable and AT&T bought anti-competition legislation in North Carolina when we heard the layoff news.

Unfortunately, there is no real surprise there -- the big telecom firms are much better at slashing jobs than creating them. The increased profits from the consolidation that creates such big firms arise specifically from eliminating jobs. To AT&T, the workers in Greensboro are inefficient. After all, AT&T is a global company -- those call service jobs could be done in Birmingham or India.

If the networks serving Greensboro and surrounding communities were locally owned, particularly if owned by the communities themselves, the support jobs would almost certainly be local. That may strike AT&T as inefficient, but perfect efficiency by that definition leaves most of us unemployed.

The question for North Carolina is when it will recognize that its own best interests lie far from the best interests of Time Warner Cable, AT&T, and CenturyLink. If North Carolina wants to be a leader in the digital age, it has to let its communities decide for themselves if slow DSL and cable connections cut it or whether they would prefer to build their own blazing-fast, low cost networks like Wilson's Fiber Optic Greenlight.

Take a minute help us spread our graphic on Facebook today, about North Carolina's dumb decision. If you want to stay in the loop when these companies threaten states with restrictive laws, sign up on DecideLocally.com to get occasional alerts.