"Localism Over Consolidation: An Exploration of Public Broadband Options" May 28th at New America Foundation in DC

New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute will host "Localism Over Consolidation: An Exploration of Public Broadband Options" from 9:30 - 11 a.m. on May 28th. Chris will be participating in the discussion; if you can't make it to DC, the event will be live streamed.

Conversation will focus on different approaches to improve connectivity and community strategies to make those approaches successful.

From the event page:

Today, more and more communities are thinking of broadband as a local issue. Even large cities like Baltimore, Seattle and Los Angeles have recently begun public discussions about ways to improve broadband services and what role the local government could play in that improvement. Current technology policy debates about net neutrality and the potential Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger mean it is more important than ever that local governments play a more active role in ensuring their communities do not get left behind in the digital age.

Joining Chris:

Sarah Morris, Senior Policy Counsel at the New America Open Technology Institute will moderate. You can sign up for the event and livestream on the 28th at the event page.

Comcast Named the Worst Company in America, Gets Yummy Cake

Not everyone hates Comcast. Antennas Direct.com, helping cable TV customers cut the cord, recently surprised the corporate behemoth with a congratulatory confection. To our delight, they shared some moments from the experience.

The Consumerist recently named Comcast the 2014 Worst Company in America. Based on customer comments in the video, clearly Comcast deserves this prestigious designation. Do we want this company controlling our most important communications tool? Let them eat cake.

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Westminster Budgets for Open Access Fiber Network

On Monday, May 12, Westminster moved another step closer to deploying its open access citywide fiber network in Maryland. The Common Council approved a FY15 budget that includes $6.3 million for an FTTH network. The Carroll County Times reported that the $64.8 million budget was adopted 5-1. The opposing Council Member voted no on a different issue.

Last summer, the community launched two pilot projects; they installed fiber in a local retirement community and in the Westminster Technology Park. Community leaders decided to expand the pilots to the Air Business Center. They are already seeing results, with a women's fashion distribution center that decided to move from New York City to Westminster for the network.

We touched base with Dr. Robert Wack, Westminster Common Council President and the person spearheading the project. Dr. Wack told us businesses have been clamoring to get fiber service. Connectivity in the area is so bad, "they are desperate."

Community leaders want to connect 9,000 homes and 500 businesses. Dr. Wack told us the community expects to break even in 3 - 5 years; the build out should be complete in 2 years. Westminster expects to release an RFP for construction within the next week. They will release an RFP for a network operator in June.

Another Carroll County Times article described the basic plan for the project:

Westminster’s fiber network will be a “last mile” project, with the city paying to install “dark fiber” to the door of every home and business in the city and connect to the county’s fiber optic backbone, the “middle mile,” according to Wack.

Dark fiber is fiber optic cables which are connected but not in use, or “lit,” he said.

Wack compared the network to roads, explaining that 10 years ago — though fiber technology existed — if Westminster had laid the cables they would have been useless, similar to constructing roads in the city with no connection to the outside world.

Once the infrastructure is in place, a third-party service provider will install the necessary electronics and run the network, according to Wack.

Westminster's pilot project fiber is located near the Carroll County Public Network, allowing an easy connection to a more extensive infrastructure. From the Times article:

“We see the need and we’re ready to spend the money to get it done,” Westminster Common Council President Robert Wack said.

2014 Mountain Connect Rural Broadband Conference: Visit Colorado June 8 - 10

If you can make it to Vail in early June, you can enjoy more than the summer mountains. The Mountain Connect Rural Broadband Conference is scheduled for June 8, 9, and 10 at the Vail Cascade Resort and Spa.

From the conference website:

This year our conference theme is “Progress through Education” and it’s our hope that, through our conference topics and speakers, we explore lessons learned and alternative ideas to successfully implement rural broadband initiatives.  For the first time in our MountainConnect history, we are soliciting voices from around the U.S. to broaden our knowledge base and, in some ways, take us down a path we have yet to travel.

Topics include economic development, fiber and wireless communities, telehealth, education, digital media consumption trends, and legislation.

Speakers include a long list of familiar names from private industry, education, and public policy.

Chris will be moderating a panel on community networks on June 9th at 4 p.m. You can check out the full agenda online to plan your visit. 

Rural Colorado's Cortez Fiber Network Serves Region - Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode #98

Located in rural southwest Colorado, Cortez is just 20 miles from the famous four corners of the US southwest. When incumbents were either unwilling or unable to provide modern services in the region, Cortez stepped up with a plan. This week, Cortez General Services Director Rick Smith joins us to share how they incrementally built an open access fiber network.

Cortez is one of the growing number of local governments with no electric utility that has built its own fiber network - and they didn't just stop with one. They have built both a local loop for a business district and a larger regional loop to connect anchor institutions.

The network was financed in large part with grants from the state that were matched locally. Cortez has plans to continue growing both networks to ensure area businesses and residents have access to the services they need in the modern economy.

We covered Cortez when it first launched back in 2011 - see all our coverage here. Read more about the Cortez Community Network 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 20 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 Valley Lodge for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Sweet Elizabeth."

Fun 30 Minute Mockumentary on Open Internet and Its Enemies

Just a reminder for those who have not seen it yet... it is fun and was just awarded a webby!

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Next City Interviews Christopher on Municipal Networks

Nancy Scola, a reporter with Next City, wanted to know about municipal networks. Naturally, she turned to our own Chris Mitchell. Nancy and Chris discussed some of the most pressing issues swirling around municipal broadband. Nancy begins:

At the moment more eyes than usual are focused on high-speed Internet’s uncertain future in the United States — from “open Internet” rules and municipal-run broadband to worry over Comcast’s pending Time Warner Cable merger.

Sitting in the middle of the debate is Christopher Mitchell, the director of the Telecommunications as Commons Initiative of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. He has long advocated for city-run broadband networks such as those found in Lafayette, Louisiana, Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Bristol, Virginia.

Nancy: What’s the elevator pitch for municipal broadband?

Chris: That it’s a network responsive to local needs. Rather than decisions being made in a corporate boardroom on Wall Street, they’re being made by someone in town based on what’s going to benefit the community the most. And that’s going to be faster speeds, lower prices, better reliability, better customer service, those sorts of things.

Nancy and Chris also touch on issues such as municipal Wi-Fi, myths propagated by cable and telephone company lobbyists, and broadband as a utility. 

Tim Danahey and Chris Mitchell Talk Muni's

Tim Danahey recently brought Chris Mitchell on his show to talk about municipal networks and their role in preserving network neutrality. Tim is a fan of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and our work.

Tim is a great interviewer because he is up on the issue and politically savvy. From the show website:

If President Obama or the FCC don’t stand up for the people, the open internet will soon end. If you want to get your internet voice out to the world, you may have to pay for the priority. Furthermore, you may have to out-bid well-funded corporate internet users. The President shows no sign of upholding his 2007 promise to sustain net neutrality and his appointee to head the FCC is a communication industry insider. What can the people do? First, try to get the President to keep his promise. If he won’t, then many communities in the United States are setting-up community-owned broadband service that is up to 40 times faster than corporate-owned internet service provides. It’s also less expensive and it is becoming a powerful economic development tool for communities that have already implemented it. In fact, it’s so good that Koch-funded ALEC is trying to shut it down. But we can do it. Here’s how.

 

Network Neutrality Update

The FCC is hearing the massive public outcry over its plan that would allow the big cable and telephone companies to create fast and slow lanes on the wires most of us depend on to access the Internet. Chairman Wheeler has made some bold claims that he would not allow commercially unreasonable deals but many doubt the FCC has the authority to enforce his tough talk.

Now we see that FCC Commissioner Rosenworcel wants to slow down the rulemaking for "at least a month" given the outcry.

Resistance to the plan does seem to be building with the emergence of over 100 Internet-dependent companies decrying the possibility of fast and slow lanes. Full letter here [pdf].

Mozilla has developed an alternative approach to reclassification that some are saying just might work, but as a naturally conservative person, I will want to see it vetted by trusted experts like Harold Feld. The main problem with reclassification seems to be that Republicans would demagogue it as Obama attempting to take over the Internet - a problem for Democrats already facing an uphill battle in November.

However, Barbara van Schewick - one of the most knowledgeable people on this matter - makes a strong case for the FCC rebooting the whole process, gathering more input, and ultimately reclassifying Internet access as Title II while forebearing many of the Title II powers that would allow the FCC to wield too much control over access to the Internet.

Much like the FCC has long overseen telephone access without censoring the content of our speech, it would be possible for the FCC to reclassify Internet access without getting involved in content.

However, the larger problem remains - the market power of the massive firms like Comcast and AT&T. As long as they continue to wield the power they do (which will grow if consolidation continues), they will buy support in Congress and use the FCC's revolving door to their advantage; no amount of regulation will ultimately contain them.

To preserve the open Internet over the long haul, we have to reduce the overwhelming power of those companies. We can do that with an "all hands on deck" approach to expanding Internet access - ensuring local governments are free to build their own networks as they choose or partner with trusted entities. On this matter, Chairman Wheeler has said he will use FCC power to remove state barriers to communities make those decisions, a tremendous step forward for preserving the open Internet.

This is a very important moment. We need the FCC to preserve the open Internet by continuing to prevent paid prioritization schemes and we need to create alternative networks to end the cable monopoly and reduce their power in DC and state houses.

Below is an excellent video on this subject that explains the problem and what can be done. As we noted in our podcast with Scott Bradner, the way this video presents the key question of who should pay who represents a break with the past traditions, but it may be time to reconsider who should pay when faced with a cable monopoly for Internet access.

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Multiple Minnesota Projects Submit "Expressions of Interest" to FCC

We reported in February that the FCC sought "expressions of interest" from entities that want a share of Connect America funds. The agency sought feedback on the need and desire for projects across the country from entities that have not traditionally received universal service funds. The FCC received over 1,000 expressions of interest.

Minnesota leads the U.S. in proposed projects. According to a recent MPR News Ground Level article, 62 expressions of interests come from Minnesota. Projects vary in size; some focus on a small number of homes while others plan to bring services to many people.

All of the proposed projects address gaps in rural broadband service. MPR noted that several of the expressions of interest describe community experience with CenturyLink, Frontier, and Mediacom. The RS Fiber cooperative wrote:

“The communities have approached all three providers [CenturyLink, Windstream, and MediaCom] and asked them to work with the communities to build the fiber network. They all refused. Then the communities offered to put up the money to construct the network and the providers could operate and eventually own the network. None of them were interested.”

The MPR article reports the FCC will likely offer approximately $86 million to the three incumbents to bring broadband to unserved and underserved areas. If they refuse, a long line of interested parties are waiting.

Minnesota's desire for broadband caught the attention of state lawmakers. A bill to earmark funds for rural broadband was introduced earlier this session and has received bipartisan support. From the MPR article:

Even if the Minnesota projects go nowhere with the FCC, they already may have had an impact here in the state.

For the first time, lawmakers here are considering whether to spend money on broadband infrastructure, and the idea has backing from Gov. Mark Dayton. But “there was concern from the governor and others there might not be enough interest,” said Christopher Mitchell, analyst with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “This answers that.”