Georgia Mayor: "I Hate to Think What Our Community Would Be Like Without Our Network"

Recently on Gigabit Nation, host Craig Settles visited with Mayor Max Beverly from Thomasville, Georgia. As our readers know, the Georgia General Assembly is again considering a bill to limit municipal efforts to bring connectivity to local residents and businesses. That bill is currently scheduled to be heard on Tuesday afternoon, 2/26, but many people have already expressed their anger at it in Facebook comments on the bill page.

HB 282 sets a very low bar for what is considered "served" - 1.5 Mbps - and prohibits municipal networks from serving those areas while also imposing a new heavy cost on investing in unserved areas. 

Mayor Beverly discusses how he and other Georgia community leaders are fighting HB 282 through education. Speaking from first-hand experience, he finds that elected officials often turn from support to opposition when they hear about the incredible success of Thomasville. 

Mayor Beverly finds himself sharing the story of Thomasville's victories that are all tied with the network, created in 1999. In Thomasville:

  • direct profits from the telecommunications utility have eliminated city taxes - police, fire, and other city services are funded through the $2 million+ contributed to the general fund
  • over 500,000 people in south Georgia have received state-of-the-art healthcare services which could not have been delivered without the incredible capacity of the network over a multi-county area
  • over 6,000 jobs (including many in the hospital and its clinics) have come to Thomasville through employers that would not have been able to locate there prior to the services offered through the network
  • about 70 schools over a 10 county region receive network services that Mayor Beverly describes as a "game changer" in educational opportunity

Settles and Mayor Beverly also spent time on what makes Thomasville such a success. The Mayor attributes the community's entrepreneurial approach and their unsurpassed customer relationships. The network and its staff are local and accountable to the people it serves so there is no place for anything other than superb customer service.

The business and residents depend on the Thomasville network. Mayor Beverly, like all the other officals we talk to, can't imagine life in their town without the network. While fighting legislation like HB 282, Mayor Beverly has encountered other elected officials from places where community owned networks are being planned or considered. He says that those leaders all have the same message for the legislature: "Our areas are behind now and if you pass this bill we will always be behind."

Listen to the entire interview on Gigabit Nation to learn about Thomasville's incredible network.

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Chattanooga's Network On Knoxville News

We recently came across a news report from Knoxville's WBIR.

The video touches on how the city has gone from a town that used to rely on the choo-choo to a metropolitan wonder that flies over fiber optic cables. Walter Cronkite called Chattanooga the "dirtiest city in America" but the network is transforming it into a technology capitol. Reporter Eleanor Beck focuses on the network's many customers and how they use their connections. Among those customers are an increasing number of businesses who seek the 1 gig service.

Beck spoke with Jack Studer, one of the founders of Lamp Post Group, a downtown incubator. Studer raved about the 1 gig network as a selling point to new businesses. Chattanooga's investment continues to fuel economic development and bring fresh entrepreneurs to town.

The story is a little under four minutes.

OneCommunity Helps More Ohio Towns Take Advantage of Fiber

In Cuyahoga County, OneCommunity is leading the effort of upgrade the County's networking ability. With a special focus on improving pubic safety, the project is estimated to save the county $10 million over the next 5 years. From the OneCommunity blog:

The project provides high-bandwidth connectivity and secure video conferencing to more than 60 county offices and public safety locations; will provide wireless high speed Internet to the Justice Center, Courthouse, and Administration Building; and will equip County employees with mobile wireless access.

In addition, the Cuyahoga Regional Information Services (CRIS) emergency system is now available in public safety vehicles, enabling law enforcement officers to pull up criminal records while out in the community.  Cuyahoga Community College benefits from this public safety broadband connection as emergency personnel can use CRIS to help coordinate response efforts.

In Mayfield Village, a new network is being installed by OneCommunity in a city-owned office and industrial area. Mayfield Village anticipates this new resource and its high capacity will bring new businesses to its facility on Beta Drive.

Mayfield Village Planning Development describes the service:

The Mayfield Village fiber optic network is a new facet of our Beta Drive commercial district. The network is intended by the Village to save our businesses substantial amounts of money on their internet and other IT costs. Mayfield Village not only partnered with regional dark fiber organization OneCommunity to install the fiber, but the Village and OneCommunity have teamed up to offer very competitive internet service prices to companies wishing to connect to the network.

Kentuckians Once Again Fighting to Keep Landlines

Last year, we reported on the failed SB 135, which would have eliminated the "carrier of last resort" requirement in the state. The bill, sponsored by Republican Senator Paul Hornback would have let AT&T decide who could receive basic telephone service and would have limited consumer protections.

Last year's bill did not become law, but a progeny, SB 88, has already passed in the Kentucky Senate and was received in the House on February 15th. (We'd like to report what committee will hear it first but the Kentucky Legislative web has not yet published that information.) Senator Hornback is again the chief author of the bill, crafted by AT&T and its ALEC pals.

The Kentucky Resources Council (KRC) provides an analysis of SB 88 and a prognosis on how it would affect Kentuckians. KRC must be feeling deja vu, as are many organizations looking out for rural dwellers who depend on their landlines. These bills continue to be introduced year after year as large telecommunications companies spend millions of lobbying dollars, also year after year.

WMMT, Mountain Community Radio in Whitesburg, Kentucky, recently reported on the legislation. Sylvia Ryerson spoke with Tom Fitzgerald from KRC, who discussed the analysis. From KRC's report on the legislation:

At potential risk is the opportunity for existing and new customers, to obtain stand-along basic telephone services from the incumbent telephone utility, or “Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS)” as it is called. Those most adversely affected by this loss of access to basic, stand-alone, telephone service are those least able to obtain affordable and reliable alternatives – those who live in rural, lower density areas, and the poor in dense, urbanized areas who have no affordable alternative priced as low as POTS.

Kentucky Resources Council

The main concerns with the bill include:

Removal of power from the Public Service Commission to hear and resolve complaints about local exchange service. This would affect voice service, operator assistance, directory assistance, and accurate 911 assistance. Restoring lost service is often a waiting game for rural customers served by AT&T. With no where to go, customers can lose their connection to family and the outside world for even longer periods. As with many other provisions of this bill, the elderly are the biggest casualty. Healthcare matters are  often handled over the phone, including my dad's pacemaker monitoring.

In areas where there are more than 5,000 households, offering basic stand-alone service would be at the provider's discretion. Service could be terminated without prior regulatory approval if there are any other voice services offered to the customer, even if that service was from an affiliate. This lack of competition would likely lead to cost increases for people who cannot afford them. Another scenario would be the company's requirement for customers to bundle services, forcing those least able to afford it to purchase services they do not need or want just to get telephone service.

In communities where there are fewer than 5,000 households, the current providers (AT&T, Windstream, or Cincinnati Bell) could cease to offer stand alone landline service of there was available voice wireless service, even if that service was less effective for 911 purposes. Again, the "forced bundle" would be an issue.

They could also petition to be relieved of the obligation to provide basic telephone service if they meet certain criteria regarding the availability of voice services from other providers in the area. For example, if there is a broadband provider "capable" of providing voice services (contrasted with one that actually "does provide" voice services) the provider could be relieved of the obligation. Again, that "capable" provider does not have to offer the service as a stand alone, but may require bundling.

Providers can use any technology they wish if they decide to continue the "provider of last resort" obligation, which will make that obligation completely deregulated. This tactic is the backbone of the private sector's efforts to deregulate. For more on this strategy, we encourage you to listen to our conversation with Harold Feld on the 23rd episode of the Broadband Bits Podcast.

Telephone

For more detail on the bill, and all its shortcomings, take a few moments to review the detailed analysis by KRC. The full text of the bill, its amendments, and the status, are available on the Kentucky General Assembly website.

So what could be gained for Kentuckians by passage of such a bill?

From a Courier-Journal report by Joseph Gerth:

Proponents of Senate Bill 88 say the bill would allow companies like AT&T, Cincinnati Bell and Windstream to sink more money into expanding wireless broadband communications rather than costly old, outmoded land lines.

History shows us, however, that promises made by regulated companies today often end up as foggy memories tomorrow. We have seen time and time again how dergulation given in exchange for promises results in a breach of the social contract. This is known as Kushnick's Law:

"A regulated company will always renege on promises to provide public benefits tomorrow in exchange for regulatory and financial benefits today."

Rather than wait to be taken advantage of again, we encourge you to call the toll-free legislative message line 1-800-372-7181 and leave a message that will be delivered to all legislators. This is especially critical if you live in Kentucky, but legislation like this will march across all states if it passes here or elsewhere. 

New to Internet Policy? Listen to Vint Cerf

This is a good resource for those still trying to wrap their heads around Internet policy. Vint Cerf of Decoding DC.

In Georgia, Thomasville Combines Tradition and Technology for Downtown Success

In 2011, MSNBC reported on Thomasville, Georgia. The small community beat the odds to nourish a vibrant downtown. At the time, local independent businesses in the U.S. disappeared as quaint main streets lost mom and pop ventures to the economy.

Such was not the case with Thomasville. MSNBC's report, a little over 2 minutes and embedded below, looked at how Thomasville had managed to created a thriving downtown economy filled with independent businesses. Thomasville leaders partnered with the private sector, concentrated on preserving its historic identity, and built a next generation fiber optic network. Thomasville's ability to merge yesterday and today worked.

Thomasville began construction of its own fiber optic network in 1995 to serve schools, libraries, businesses, and hospitals. At the time, the private sector was not interested in serving the area. Several other communities in the region began similar projects and, in 1997, those communities joined together to form the South Georgia Governmental Services Authority (SGGSA). In 1998, Cairo, Camilla, Moultrie and Thomasville created Community Network Services (CNS) through the Authority in order to offer services to residents. Since then, the collaboration has expanded from telecommunications services only to also providing high-speed Internet and television.

As Georgia mulls over HB282, this video shows how a next generation network is vital in similar communities. The legislation will strip local authorities of the ability to build their own next-generation networks as long as the private sector is providing some below-basic level of service. If the bill passes, many Georgia communities that need the benefits of a local network will never get the opportunity. From the CNS website:

The best part about CNS is that it is funded locally, by the cities which it serves. This means if you are a CNS customer, you are investing in your own communities, not a corporation headquartered across the country.

Video: 
See video

FCC Chairman Issues Statement Opposing State Muni Broadband Limitations

Last Friday, FCC Chairman Genachowski issued a statement discouraging states from creating (or maintaining) barriers to community owned networks. This statement came just days after Georgia began considering a bill to limit local authority in deciding whether a network were a wise decision.

As we’ve recognized in law and policy for many years, public-private partnerships are also essential for driving broadband deployment. Public-private partnerships like the Connect America Fund, which drives universal broadband deployment, and municipal and public -private projects like those in Chattanooga, Tennessee and San Leandro, California are also vital components of our national broadband strategy. Our Gigabit City Challenge and the important work of Gig.U to drive ultra -fast broadband centers for innovation can also benefit from innovative local approaches to broadband infrastructure. That’s why the National Broadband Plan stated that, when private investment isn’t a feasible option for broadband deployment, local governments ‘have the right to move forward and build networks that serve their constituents as they deem appropriate.’

If a community can’t gain access to broadband services that meet its needs, then it should be able to serve its own residents directly. Proposals that would tie the hands of innovative communities that want to build their own high-speed networks will slow progress to our nation’s broadband goals and will hurt economic development and job creation in those areas. I urge state and local leaders to focus instead on proposals that incentivize investment in broadband infrastructure, remove barriers to broadband build-out, and ensure widespread access to high-speed networks.”

This is a welome development as the FCC has long opposed such barriers (thank you Commissioner Clyburn as well for long speaking out on this issue) but the Chairman himself has not been as direct as this.

The Chairman regularly uses Chattanooga as an example of a tremendously successful network and again noted that community in this statement. This provides some explanation for what it means when private investment isn't a feasible option -- as Chattanooga already had DSL and cable Internet access from its incumbent providers.

Georgia's leaders need to pay attention to this fact because the ultimate question is not whether a community has DSL, cable, or wireless but whether its telecommunications services are meeting the needs of local businesses and residents.

That is the real test and can only be evaluated on a case-by-case basis by the community itself.

Dewayne Hendricks Explains the Forgotton National Information Infrastructure - Community Broadband Bits #34

Have you heard of the National Information Infrastructure, or the NII? Most of us either haven't, or have forgotten we once knew what it could be. Dewayne Hendricks joins us to remind us what it was and why we should care. It's "kind of a big thing." Since we conducted this interview, unlicensed spectrum issues became a hot topic; listen below to get a better sense of just how important this issue is.

In our discussion, Dewayne walks us through the original vision, one that now seems fanciful: a world of mobile devices that interconnect with each other on the wireless networks that surround us. While we do have wireless networks in most places, they are often controlled by a few companies, like Verizon and AT&T, that restrict how we can use them and how our devices can talk to each other.

But the NII was to be more decentralized, creating much more space for entreprenuers and innovators to create new business models. A few massive corporations were able to change that vision, creating a lucrative role for themselves as gatekeepers along the way.

Dewayne started this conversation by recommending a 1995 filing by Apple [pdf]. Whether you read it before or after our conversation, it is worth taking a look.

Dewayne has previously joined us to discuss wireless generally and then later to talk about the wired vs. wireless debate. A previous interview with Bruce Kushnick is also referenced over the course of this interview.

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 30 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. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

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

Susan Crawford and Bill Moyers Discuss Internet Access in America

Susan Crawford sat down with Bill Moyers to talk about Internet access in America. The two touch on net neutrality, the digital divide, and how access is now a critical component to our economic development.

In the words of Bill Moyers, "This is pretty strong stuff." Bill and Susan also talk about how we have come to this point through lack of competition advanced by telecommunications companies' lobbying and legislative ennui.

They spend some time looking at Lafayette, Louisiana, one of the cities that we covered in our 2012 case study, Broadband At the Speed of Light: How Three Communities Built Next-Generation Networks.  The two also dig into ways policy change can improve access and efforts we can all make to heighten awareness of the issue. This is a great dicussion for any one, regardless of their place on the Internet access learning curve.

Video: 

Hey FCC: Time to Expand Unlicensed Spectrum!

Remember that Washington Post story about bigger, free Wi-Fi networks? It went hugely viral with all manner of outlets picking the story up, unintentionally distorting it, and amplifying it.

Some good has come of it. For one thing, I was reminded that Ars Technica does a really good job of tech reporting, better than anyone else in my estimation. Cecilia Kang offered a follow-up story to clarify the original that should help more people to understand what is at stake.

But more importantly, we saw a lot of media coverage about something really important, whether we allocate future spectrum for everyone to use (much like Wi-Fi) or will we reserve it just for AT&T, Verizon, or another big corporation?

Harold Feld has a strong opinion on the matter:

This past week, we’ve had quite the discussion around Cecilia Kang’s WashPo piece describing a plan by the FCC to create a national WiFi network by making the right decisions about how to allocate spectrum between licenses for auction and what to leave available for the unlicensed TV white spaces (“TVWS” aka “Super WiFi” aka “Wifi on steroids”). As Kang describes, the FCC’s opening of sufficient spectrum for TVWS could lead to “super WiFi networks (emphasis added) around the nation so powerful and broad in reach that consumers could use them to make calls or surf the Internet without paying a cellphone bill every month.”

Needless to say, the article faced much pushback, despite a subsequent Washpo clarification to indicate the FCC was not, actually, planing to build a network. Amidst the various critics, there were some general defenders of the concept. My colleagues at EFF noted that increasing the availability of open spectrum for WiFi-type uses , and my friends at Free Press argued that such a free public wifi network (or, more accurately, series of networks) is in fact possible if the FCC makes enough good quality spectrum, suitable for broadband and usable out doors, available on an unlicensed basis.

I will now go a step further than any of my colleagues. I will boldly state that, if the FCC produces a solid 20 MHz of contiguous empty space for TV White spaces in the Incentive Auction proceeding, or even two 10 MHz guard channels that could nationally produce two decent sized LTE-for unlicensed channels, then we will have exactly the kind of free publicly available wifi Kang describes in her article. Or, “Yes Cecilia, there really is free national public wifi. Don’t let the haters and know-it-alls tell you otherwise.” ...

MAG-Net Logo

I wrote a much shorter, far less impressive piece for the Media Action Grassroots Network that embraces a similar argument:

You know how you can buy a simple little device for as little as $30 now to set up your own Wi-Fi network that creates an easy in-home network? Imagine if your neighborhood could do that too!

Wi-Fi works in your home because the federal government, which manages how the public airwaves are divided for various uses, decreed that a small slice of spectrum would be unlicensed - sitting there for anyone to use however they wanted. But that spectrum is not suited for a neighborhood-wide network. ...

And we have seen others take notice as well, including the Baltimore Sun Editorial Staff:

The companies who oppose the FCC's plan argue that the agency's mission to serve the public interest would best be achieved through the revenues from an auction of the airwaves. The last such auction, in 2008, generated nearly $20 billion for the government. That's a substantial amount of money, to be sure, but the relatively small portion of the spectrum that the commission now proposes to leave open to unlicensed use would be worth only a fraction of that — a pittance compared to the economic activity that could be generated through the creation of new products and services to take advantage of the unlicensed spectrum.

FCC Logo

Therein lies the danger. The big wireless lobbyists are pushing Congress and the FCC hard to ensure that they get the licenses. Republicans in particular are arguing that we need the billions (perhaps 3-5?) of dollars that an auction would fetch for the treasury. This would be a terrible tradeoff.

I doubt that anyone has a handle on the value of Wi-Fi, but it is orders of magnitude higher than a onetime infusion of a few billion dollars. How much would you pay any given day to use Wi-Fi? Multiply that by over 200 million people. And this new spectrum could allow bigger networks than Wi-Fi supports -- an even greater potential value!

Verizon and AT&T know this, of course. They will gladly spend billions to ensure that we are stuck paying far more for services from them than we can build for ourselves if only we are allowed to use our spectrum to do so.

Write your elected representatives to support increased unlicensed spectrum.