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.”

Connecting Arlington, From Anchors to Businesses - Community Broadband Bits Podcast #97

Located just outside Washington DC, Arlington is the dense, high tech county that houses the Pentagon. This week's Community Broadband Bits podcast features Arlington County CIO Jack Belcher. Having already built a top-notch fiber network to connect community anchor institutions, the County is now preparing to improve connectivity for local businesses.

We discuss a range of topics from how local governments can take advantage of all kinds of capital projects to expand conduit and fiber assets to how Arlington County responded to 9/11 as it happened.

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 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."

Open Technology Institute Report Offers Overview of Public Broadband Options

Publication Date: 
May 6, 2014
Author(s): 
Ben Lennett, Open Technology Institute
Author(s): 
Patrick Lucey, Open Technology Institute
Author(s): 
Joanne Hovis, CTC Technology and Energy

The Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation, along with ctc Technology and Energy, have released an overview of options for local governments that want to improve Internet access. The report is titled, "The Art of the Possible: An Overview of Public Broadband Options."

The paper has been released at an opportune time, more communities are now considering what investments they can make at the local level than ever. The Art of the Possible offers different models, from muni ownership and partnerships to coops. The paper examines different business models and assesses the risk of various approaches.

It also includes a technical section for the non-technical to explain the differences between different types of broadband technology.

From the introduction:

The one thing communities cannot do is sit on the sidelines. Even the process of evaluating whether a public network is appropriate can be beneficial to community leaders as a means to better understand the communications needs of their residents, businesses, and institutions and whether existing services and networks are keeping pace.

The purpose of this report is to enable communities to begin the evaluation of their broadband options. The report begins with an overview of different network ownership and governance models, followed by an overview of broadband technologies to help potential stakeholders understand the advantages and disadvantages of each technology. It then provides a brief summary of several different business models for publicly owned networks. The final two chapters focus on the potential larger local benefits and the risks of a publicly funded broadband project.

Bill Moyers on Network Neutrality and Threat from Comcast

Bill Moyers has returned to again discuss Network Neutrality with guests Susan Crawford and David Carr from the New York Times. The show is embedded below and well worth watching, especially toward the end as Bill reveals the revolving-door between the top levels of the Federal Communication Commission and industry lobbyists.

During the show, they also discuss the importance of ensuring communities are able to build their own networks as an alternative to the massive cable monopolies.

Finally, a post from John Nicols on BillMoyers.com outlines what action you can take to ensure the FCC protects the open Internet. Scroll about halfway down for the specific steps.

Video: 

"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.