"DIY Tools and Strategies for Communities Google Fiber is NOT Calling" Webinar from Blandin May 8th, 3 - 4 p.m.

The Blandin Foundation is hosting another informative webinar on May 8th from 3-4 p.m. central. This free webinar will focus on some of the most common issues facing communities that want to move forward with broadband initiatives. Ron Corriveau of COS Systems will offer his expertise. The webinar is titled “DIY Tools and Strategies for Communities Google Fiber is NOT calling.”

From the Blandin webinar announcement:

When community broadband advocates gather around the table to launch broadband initiatives with the ultimate goal of FTTH network deployment, many questions quickly emerge.  Important considerations of cost, consumer demand, network design rise to the top of the discussion.  Unfortunately, in most community initiatives, there is a shortage of engineers, marketing analysts and utility construction expertise serving on local task forces.  How can a community get an initial understanding of the deployment and business opportunities without hiring a full slate of consultants?  How can a community deal on more equal footing with prospective network provider partners?  COS Systems has technology that can help communities through these initial stages and provide ongoing value through the stages of project development. Learn more about best practices in broadband project planning and design process.

Registration is easy. See you then!

"To the Point" Talks With Christopher on Munis and Net Neutrality

Public radio KCRW in Santa Monica recently interviewed Chris Mitchell as part of a panel on "To the Point." Host Barbara Bogaev spoke with Chris, U.S. Representative Anna Eshoo, Christopher Ali from the University of Virginia, and Gautham Nagesh from the Wall Street Journal.

Federal regulators are unveiling a plan that would create fast and slow lanes for content on the Internet. Guest host Barbara Bogaev examines how a "pay to play" broadband system would affect innovation, consumers, and the philosophy that everyone has a right to equal access to the flow of information on the web?

Chris comes into the discussion at 33:30 and brings his expertise on local issues to the conversation. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's recent comments included the announcement that he planned to use the FCC's power to remove preemptive state laws that have revoked local authority to decide whether a network is a wise investment.

The network neutrality conversation starts around 8:20 into the broadcast; the entire show runs just over 51 minutes.

Resort Town In Utah Seeks Partner to Expand Economic Base with FTTH

Park City wants to be one of the first resort communities to employ an FTTH gigabit network. Currently, over 22 million visitors come to the northern ski town each year bringing approximately $500 million in tourist spending. The community of 7,600 permanent residents seeks to diversify its economic base. According to a recent Park City News article, community leaders see broadband as an essential tool. 

Utah, one of the states that impose barriers to community networks, imposes de facto wholesale-only requirements on municipal networks. Park City's April Request for Proposals [PDF] clearly states that they seek a private partner to own, operate, and manage a network across the city. Proposals are due May 16.

Park City has smaller segments of fiber in place now for internal operations. The company securing the project will have access to that fiber for the network. The City also plans to allow access to existing conduit, rights-of-way, and city-owned poles as part of the new network. Park City does not operate its own electric utility.

Four years ago, Park City competed to attract Google Fiber, which eventually went to Kansas City. In the spring of 2013, city leaders developed a broadband roadmap. At the time, community leaders began contemplating the economic development benefits associated with better connectivity. From a May 2013 Park City News article:

Leaders want to create a diversified economy stretching beyond the sectors tied to the resort industry. Doing so, they say, would make the economy less susceptible to warm, dry winters that do not attract skiers in large numbers.

Technology upgrades, they say, are important as officials attempt to attract new businesses to Park City not tied to the resort industry.

Wheeler Tells Cable Industry He Intends to Remove Anti-Competitive State Laws

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is prepared to roll back restrictions that prevent local governments from deciding if a municipal network would be a wise investment. At the Cable Show Industry conference in Los Angeles, Wheeler told cable industry leaders the FCC will wield its powers to reduce state barriers on municipal networks.

Wheeler spoke before the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) on April 30. These words perked up our ears and those of community networks advocates across the U.S. From a transcript of Wheeler's speech

"One place where it may be possible is municipally owned or authorized broadband systems. I understand that the experience with community broadband is mixed, that there have been both successes and failures. But if municipal governments—the same ones that granted cable franchises—want to pursue it, they shouldn’t be inhibited by state laws. I have said before, that I believe the FCC has the power – and I intend to exercise that power – to preempt state laws that ban competition from community broadband."

As our readers remember, a January DC Circuit Court of Appeals decision opened the path for the FCC to take the action Wheeler proposes. Since then, communities have expressed their desire for local authority with resolutions and letters of support. Communities in Michigan and Louisiana, Georgia and Idaho, Illinois, Maryland and Kansas, have shared their resolutions with us. A number of other communities have issued letters of support encouraging action under section 706.

Ars Technica contacted the FCC for more information on Chairman Wheeler's statements. Ars reported:

An FCC spokesperson contacted by Ars said that Wheeler "is not trying to make a distinction between 'ban' or 'limit.' The point is to look at the effect of the law."

The spokesperson said, "We will be taking up this issue in the technology transitions proceedings, and there should be an announcement about this in the next few weeks." It's too early to say "how [Wheeler] will address existing state laws."

As the big companies like Comcast consolidate, enforce bandwidth caps and continuously raise prices, municipal networks are more important than ever. Community owned networks are accountable to the people who use them and put the public good ahead of profit. Community networks are managed in your neighborhood, not in a corner office thousands of miles away.

The content of Wheeler's statement and his choice of venue inspires advocates for publicly owned networks. In order to keep a strong momentum rolling, we encourage you to express your support. The cable and telecommunications lobbyists are already working to prevent the FCC from taking action. When the FCC begins to act, we will want to demonstrate support.

Join our one-email-per-week newsletter to stay in the loop on these developments! If you are excited to demonstrate local support via a resolution or similar effort, let us know.

Ian Masters Interviews Christopher Mitchell on Background Briefing from Los Angeles

Christopher Mitchell recently spoke with Ian Masters on the Background Briefing show from KPFK-FM in Los Angeles. Masters connected with Chris to discuss the increasing importance of community networks in light of recent court decisions: Network Neutrality and the court's interpretation of section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

From the Background Briefing website:

Then finally we speak with Christopher Mitchell, the Director of the Telecommunications as Commons Initiative at the Institute for Local Self Reliance about the more than 400 towns and cities across America who have installed or a planning to install fiber broadband municipal networks as an alternative to the telecom and cable monopolies who appear to have captured Obama’s FCC which is poised to end the government’s commitment to net neutrality. We discuss the need to both support municipalities who are building networks to circumvent cable monopolies with high speed broadband that other advanced nations enjoy, at the same time, holding the FCC’s feet to the fire so they don’t sell out the public and abandon net neutrality.

The conversation runs about 20 minutes.

Chris Mitchell to Speak at American Independent Business Alliance Conference, May 8 - 11

The American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA) brings the 2014 Go Local, Grow Local Conference to downtown Minneapolis May 8 - 11. Christopher Mitchell will speak at the conference on Friday, May 9, at 3:45 central. Chris will speak on creating local environments that help entrepreneurs thrive, including community networks. 

AMIBA began in 1997 in Boulder, Colorado. The nonprofit helps communities create and manage "buy independent, buy local" campaigns across the country. Local businesses increasingly rely on Internet commerce and on the ability to engage in business through telecommunications networks. Community networks, accountable to local business and residential customers, are more important that ever before. 

AMIBA's conference will aim to provide strategies to develop well-considered local indepenedent business programs and find momentum to support them. Prepare to get your hands dirty:

Sure, the Go Local, Grow Local conference will provide you with new insights, ideas and inspiration. But what really sets this event apart is practicality. Every session is designed to offer you specific actions that will yield tangible results for your organization, community or business. Presentations are brief and provide practical guidance while setting the stage for dialogue and action. You'll be a participant, not just an attendee.

Stacy Mitchell, Program Director of the Community-Scaled Economies initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, has worked with AMIBA for years; she is currently a member of the Advisory Board. Stacy has been a keynote speaker at many AMIBA conferences, authored several books on independent business, and delivered the popular TEDx talk, "Why We Can't Shop Our Way to a Better Economy."

We are looking forward to welcoming AMIBA to the Twin Cities! View the full agenda, find information about presenters, and register on the AMIBA website.

Michael Powell said What?? Why Everyone Should Ignore the Cable Lobby

Stop and think for a second. Would you regard the electricity grid and water system as an abysmal failure or success? If you are lobbying for cable companies in DC, you apparently think they are monumental failures.

Michael Powell, former Chairman of the FCC must be dizzy after his trip through the revolving door on his way to heading the national cable lobbying association. From his remarks at their cable show [pdf]:

It is the Internet’s essential nature that fuels a very heated policy debate that the network cannot be left in private hands and should instead be regulated as a public utility, following the example of the interstate highway system, the electric grid and drinking water. The intuitive appeal of this argument is understandable, but the potholes visible through your windshield, the shiver you feel in a cold house after a snowstorm knocks out the power, and the water main breaks along your commute should restrain one from embracing the illusory virtues of public utility regulation.

Pause for a second and think of the last time your water rate went up. Think of what you were paying 10 years ago for water and what you pay now. Compare that to anything you get from a cable company.

His point seems to be that because more regulated utilities like water and electricity are not PERFECT, regulation has failed and we should just let the private sector handle that. Well, some communities have privatized their water systems and the results have been disastrous - see a company called American Water in David Cay Johnston's book The Fine Print and also explored here.

Let's imagine if electricity was not tightly regulated and the market set the rates. How much would you pay for illumination at night? A refrigerator? Probably 10 times what you do now if that was your only option. Maybe 100 times after a few Minnesota winter nights. Market-based pricing for electricity would at least encourage conservation and efficiency, I'll give it that.

Public utility regulation is far from perfect but the alternative is far scarier. There is no "market" for these services over the long term. There is monopoly. And unregulated monopoly means Wall Street sucking the resources out of Main Street - and using some of them to employ former regulators as chief lobbyists who argue that regulation doesn't work.

I'm not convinced that Tom Wheeler is the disaster that some are now claiming he is, but it is long past time that top regulators are chosen from among major donors and fund raisers from the winning presidential candidate. Frankly, Wheeler is a helluva lot better than the last guy and we could have done a lot worse.

We need to change the system, but in the meantime, no one should be listening to any fool that claims our electrical or water systems would be better off with less regulation. After all, it isn't that long since we tried it. Enron, remember?

Communities that wisely don't want to put their trust either in DC regulators or a few massive corporations that care only to meet Wall Streeet's desires should choose to be locally self-reliant. Build your own network and take charge of your future.

MAG-Net Hosts Community Networks Discussion With Christopher

The Media Action Grassroots Network (MAG-Net) recently hosted a Community Cohort Call titled Tech In The City: A Conversation About Community Broadband Access. Chris Mitchell, Andrea Figueroa Martinez, John St. Julien from Lafayette, and other community broadband advocates discuss the current state of U.S. broadband infrastructure.

Chris offers perspective on monopolistic behavior from current mega providers and how they find ways to limit our options. What can we do to counteract the powerful cable and telecommunications lobbies to preserve an open and free Internet? How can we guarantee affordable access? This panel discussion looks at long-term strategies and actions we can take now. 

Peering: Then and Now on Community Broadband Bits Podcast #96

This week we are welcoming Scott Bradner, a long time doer, writer, and thinker on Internet matters. Thanks to a listener request, we had already recorded an interview last week discussing peering before the news broke that the FCC would be allowing paid prioritization peering arrangements, which many have said represents the end of network neutrality. We talked prior to the announcement of the FCC's upcoming rules so we do not discuss them directly.

We explain what "peering" is and why it is essential to the Internet. It gets a little technical but we try to bring it back with simple examples.

Our take on the Comcast-Netflix deal may surprise some listeners because the arrangement is not as far from the tradition of paid interconnection arrangement as some strong supporters of network neutrality maintain. However, we are explicit in noting that monopoly providers like Comcast may abuse their market power to shake down companies like Netflix. That is worrisome but may best be dealt with using other means aside from changing the way peering has historically worked.

We end the show discussing the consolidation of ISPs and the role of symmetry in peering.

Scott recommended these two columns and I strongly encourage readers/listeners to read Barbara van Schewick's post on the subject.

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."

No Scale Advantage in Netflix Speed Ranking

Netflix has continued to publish monthly rankings of ISPs average speed in delivering Netflix video content to subscribers. Though they first published data about the largest, national ISPs like Comcast, AT&T, and the link, they have an expanded list with many more ISPs.

I recognize two municipal networks on the expanded list of 60 ISPs. For March 2014, the Chattanooga EPB network is ranked 4th and CDE Lightband of Clarksville, Tennessee, is ranked 7th.

With the exception of Google Fiber and Cablevision, the top 10 are regional or somewhat smaller ISPs. Combined with the significant spread across the rankings of the biggest ISP, we see no empirical evidence for any kind of benefits to subscribers from scale. That is to say, Netflix data shows that bigger ISPs do not deliver better customer experience.

We do see more evidence that fiber networks deliver faster speeds on average, with cable following, and DSL trailing distantly. This is why DSL networks are losing customers where people have a choice and cable is gaining (most often where there is no fiber option).

Any claims by Comcast that allowing it to merge with Time Warner Cable would result in better service should be subject to extreme skepticism. Many much smaller networks deliver faster connections and raise rates far less often that Comcast, which is at the high end of frequency in rate hikes.

The problem with the biggest companies is that they focus on generating the highest returns for Wall Street, not delivering the best experience to Main Street.