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Freedom to Connect - Long Term Muni Strategies

If you were not able to attend Freedom to Connect in New York on March 2 - 3, you can now view archived video of presentations from Chris and others.

Now that the FCC has made a determination that may change the landscape of Internet access, it is time to consider the future of municipal networks. In this discussion, Chris discusses passive infrastructure, including dark fiber and open access models as a way to encourage competition on the local level. Chris also looks at financing municipal networks in a fashion that takes into account public benefits created by fiber. He suggests steps elected officials can take now that will contribute to long term ubiquitous access in their communities.

You can also watch videos from other presenters including Joanne Hovis, Hannah Sassaman, and Jim Baller at the F2C: Freedom to Connect 2015 Livestream page.

Chris's presentation is posted here and runs just over 20 minutes:

 

Fiber Forum in Yellow Springs Will Share Info on Munis With Ohio Community

Join Chris and several other experts on municipal networks on April 25th as they address a crowd in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Yellow-Springs.Net, a group of residents who have rallied together to organize a movement to explore broadband as a utility in their community, will host the Fiber Forum. The event is titled "Building a Municipal Fiber Network in Yellow Springs." Chris will be joining via Skype for his presentation.

YSNews described the event:

The forum will provide community members with insights on the advantages of having a municipal broadband network that would translate into high-speed, affordable Internet access in Yellow Springs. Springs-Net posits that, by optimizing Internet access with fiber, the Village would address strategic, economic, communication and municipal service goals.

Yellow Springs, a member of Next Century Cities, has put dig once policies in place and hopes to make use of its electric utility and a local data center to facilitate a fiber network deployment. In addition to bringing fiber to each premise in the village, community leaders hope to use the network for smart grid technology and to bring Wi-Fi to the downtown area.

The Forum is free to the public and speakers will present from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Other speakers include:

  • Deb Socia - Next Century Cities
  • Dana McDaniel - Dublin, OH (Dubnet)
  • Jeremy Pietzold - City of Sandy, Oregon

A roundtable lunch is scheduled for noon. Register online at the Fiber Forum website.

Orlando Sentinel Op-Ed - Local governments should make broadband choices

The Orlando Sentinel published this op-ed about local government action for broadband networks on March 11, 2015. 

Local governments should make broadband choices
By Christopher Mitchell

Community broadband must be a local choice, a guest columnist writes.

When Comcast announced plans last year to invest hundreds of millions in theme parks in Florida and California, its customers may have wondered why the cable giant wasn't using those funds to deliver a faster or more reliable Internet connection. While Comcast's Universal Studios faces competition from Walt Disney World, most people don't have a real choice in high-speed Internet access.

The Federal Communications Commission has just boosted the broadband definition from 4 megabits per second to 25 mbps. At that speed, some 75 percent of Americans have no choice in providers — they are stuck with one or none.

The rest of America is living in the future, often because their local government rolled up its sleeves and got involved. In some of these communities, the local government built its own network and others worked with a trusted partner. Chattanooga's city-owned electric utility built the nation's first citywide gigabit network, which is about 100 times faster than the average connection today.

Google is famously working with some bigger cities, whereas local provider GWI in Maine has partnered with several local governments to expand gigabit access.

However, the big cable and telephone companies have almost always refused to work with local governments. Instead, they've lobbied states to restrict the right of local governments to build or partner in this essential infrastructure.

In Florida, the law puts restrictions on local governments that do not apply to the private sector, such as a strict profitability timetable that can be unrealistic for large capital investments regardless of being privately or publicly owned. Some 20 states have such barriers that limit competition by effectively taking the decision away from communities.

In January, President Obama spoke out in favor of local governments being able to make these investments and partnerships without state interference. He was in Cedar Falls, Iowa, which has one of the oldest municipal broadband networks in the country, but it's the first city in the state with citywide gigabit access. A local business owner, whose business had been able to thrive in its hometown due to the public network and its world-class access, introduced the president.

Both Obama and the FCC are taking actions to remove barriers to local authority, but they are seeing strong opposition from some Republicans in Washington, D.C.

National Republicans may be less likely to support an effort that Obama has now championed. But they can't just oppose the president; they will have to oppose their own base, which tends to believe decisions should be made locally. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance analyzed all citywide municipal networks, over 150 communities, and found more than 70 percent reliably vote Republican.

It may be surprising, but at the local level, there tends to be little partisan divide over whether local governments should get involved in a service so dominated by big monopolies. In the city council, it is a practical matter: Do local businesses have the connections they need to be competitive? If not, how can we make sure they do?

A bipartisan group of mayors has already come together to form Next Century Cities, a collaborative nonpartisan organization that includes a diverse group of cities. Some own and operate their own networks, as in Opelika, Ala. Some are working with partners, as Kansas City does. Some, as in Ammon, Idaho, can be hard to find on a map. And then there are cities like Los Angeles that recognize they need something better also.

Fortunately, Florida's law has slowed but not stopped smart local approaches. Martin County built a fiber network that has saved millions of dollars in connections for public facilities and is used by health-care facilities. The city of Palm Coast's FiberNET has saved hundreds of thousands of dollars for the community, while dramatically improving connections for the Flagler County School District and other entities.

Building a modern fiber-optic network is no theme-park ride, but hundreds of local governments have already demonstrated it is well within their capacity. And given that they have to live with the consequences of action or inaction, shouldn't it be their decision?

Christopher Mitchell is the director of Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minneapolis.

Occupy Radio Interviews Chris: Community Broadband is the Next Internet Battle

Ready ... set ... get local net!

Chris recently spoke to OEMG Occupy Radio about the hundreds of community broadband networks providing some of the best Internet service in the country. He encouraged citizens to look at municipal ownership, cooperative ownership, or non-profit models. 

Listen to the conversation below. Chris's segment begins at 11:55. Enjoy!

Occupyeugenemedia.org describes itself as a non-violent, non-partisan, social-political movement for accountability and responsibility in government:

"We stand in solidarity with Occupy Movements around the globe and all people who will no longer sit back and watch corporate and special interests run their Government, and spoil the living Earth."

 

Reaction to the FCC Decisions, Dissent, and Next Steps - Community Broadband Bits Episode 141

After the FCC decisions to remove barriers to community networks and to reclassify Internet access as a Title II service to enforce network neutrality rules, Lisa and I spend some time discussing the decision and reactions to it.

We also discuss my presentation at Freedom to Connect, where I offer some thoughts on what communities can do in the long term to ensure we end scarcity and the corporate monopoly model of Internet access.

Though we will continue to fight against barriers to local choice and work to ensure every community has the authority to choose the model that best fits it, we plan to spend more time examining how Internet access can be built as infrastructure rather than as for a specific service from a single provider.

Read the transcript from this show here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 16 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 Persson for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Blues walk."

Mitchell to Speak in Syracuse on March 4th

Chris will travel to Syracuse, New York to speak on March 4th as part of Syracuse MetroNet's Broadband Speaker Series. If you are in the area and interested in attending, the lecture will be at 7 p.m. at Grewen Auditorium at the Le Moyne College campus. A PDF of the press release is available online.

Syracuse MetroNet serves fifteen community anchor institutions, including hospitals, educational institutions, government agencies, and community organizations. Unfortunately, the connectivity situation for businesses and residents needs a better solution.

Last fall, Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner expressed interest in developing a municipal network to improve connectivity in this community of 147,000. Residents now depend on Time Warner Cable for service and do not treasure the idea of dealing with an even bigger behemoth, should the merger with Comcast come to pass.

Cable Companies Lose Big at FCC, Barriers to Community Broadband Struck Down

For Immediate Release: February 26, 2015

Contact: Christina DiPasquale, 202.716.1953, Christina@fitzgibbonmedia.com

BREAKING: Cable Companies Lose Big at FCC, Barriers to Community Broadband Struck Down

Two southern cities today persuaded the Federal Communications Commission to recognize their right to build their own publicly owned Internet networks where existing providers had refused to invest in modern connections. The 3-2 FCC vote removes barriers for municipal networks in Chattanooga, Tennessee and Wilson, North Carolina, to extend their high-quality Internet service to nearby areas.  

Said Christopher Mitchell, Director of Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance:

“Cable companies lost their bet that millions spent on lobbying to stifle competition was a wiser investment than extending high-quality Internet to our nation’s entrepreneurs, students and rural families. 

“Preventing big Internet Service Providers from unfairly discriminating against content online is a victory, but allowing communities to be the owners and stewards of their own broadband networks is a watershed moment that will serve as a check against the worst abuses of the cable monopoly for decades to come.”

The FCC decision sets an historic precedent for towns working to offer municipal broadband networks in twenty states that have enacted limits or bans on local governments building, owning, or even partnering to give local businesses and residents a choice in high speed Internet access. Three-quarters of Americans currently have either no broadband or no choice of their Internet provider. 

Christopher Mitchell, the Director of Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, has traveled to over 20 states and spoken with over 100 community groups looking to provide high-quality Internet for their residents. He has also advised members of the FCC on related telecommunications issues in the lead-up to the decision.

For interviews around the FCC decision, please contact Christina DiPasquale at 202.716.1953 or at christina@fitzgibbonmedia.com. To view a map tracking local government investments in wired telecommunications networks and state laws that discourage such approaches, please visit: http://www.muninetworks.org/communitymap.

Municipal broadband networks (munis):

  • Create thousands of new private sector jobsA collaborative muni effort in Georgia between five towns, is credited with bringing over 6,000 new jobs to the region by building and sustaining their network. The muni in Springfield, MO convinced online travel company Expedia to move to the town and has 900 local jobs because their network allowed the company to stay and expand.
  • Protect consumers by offering competitive pricing. During the period of 2007-08, Time Warner Cable increased rates up to 40 percent in some of the areas in Raleigh, NC, while not increasing rates in nearby Wilson—which has a strong muni. Chattanooga’s muni grew from a basic connection of 15 Mbps, when it was first founded, to 100 Mbps today–without raising prices once. The slowest connection available in Chattanooga from the utility is 10 times faster than the average American connection.
  • Provide higher speed Internet that allows for increased business activity. The largest employers in Wilson, NC rely on the municipal broadband network for their transactions. The muni in Springfield, MO, attracted John Deere Remanufactured and the McLane Company to the area. 
  • Do not rely on taxpayer financing, like large private telephone companies. Most municipal networks are financed through methods that do not involve raising taxes: revenue bonds, interdepartmental loans and savings created by ending expensive leased services. Dakota County in MN has saved $10 million over 10-15 years by building their own network and ending leases. Over $2 million in revenues from the Thomasville, GA network contributed to the town’s ability to eliminate its local fire tax.
  • Receive broad support from voters, regardless of party affiliation. Roughly 3 out of 4 cities with citywide munis reliably vote Republican and polling shows that 2 out of 3 Republicans, Independents, and Democrats prefer that decisions about how to best expand their Internet access be made by local governments.
  • Foster the strength of local businesses. Politically conservative communities in Chanute, KS, and Lafayette, LA, have munis that are working on the deployment of fiber networks to encourage economic development by allowing businesses to market themselves and compete online in the global marketplace. Lafayette has added over 1,000 tech jobs in 2014 alone.
  • Expand educational opportunities. The muni in Longmont, CO, is now providing 10 times the bandwidth that their school district previously received from a private provider at an annual savings of $100,000. Munis in Carroll County, MD, and Chanute, KS, have both allowed schools they service to offer new distance learning classes in multiple locations via video streaming. The city of Rockport, ME, partnered with a nonprofit college to bring students upload speeds 200 times faster than Time Warner Cable’s package for the area.

Join Christopher on Reddit: Ask Him Anything Feb. 26th, 6 - 7 p.m. EST

This event was cancelled when Reddit chose not to list it on the calendar. We will be happy to do an AMA if there is sufficient interest in the future.

On February 26th, from 6 - 7 p.m. EST, join Chris on Reddit for an Ask Me Anything forum. We encourage you to chat in with your questions. He is ready to answer all your inquiries about municipal networks, community broadband, and the FCC action expected that day.

As our readers know, the FCC anticipates rendering a vote on Docket 14-28, Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet. First on the agenda, however, will be the Chattanooga and Wilson petitions. If the Commission decides in favor of allowing these cities to expand despite Tennessee and North Carolina barriers, as Chairman Tom Wheeler has advocated, state barriers prohibiting or discouraging local telecommunications authority may be on the way out.

Chris will have front row seat at the FCC proceedings, so get your questions ready! We will update this post with the link to our AMA when it is ready. In the meantime, start thinking up questions!

Christopher Mitchell on KSTX, Texas Public Radio

Chris Mitchell spoke on TPR’s “The Source” about FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s support of Title II reclassification and future prospects for networks like The San Antonio Area Broadband Network (SAABN). 

Guests discussed how TV and Cable Lobbyists were able to create barriers to networks, whether the FCC has the power to preempt rules that limit competition, and why telecom giants like Comcast should not be able to make certain deals or degrade Internet speeds based on whether content providers pay extra money.

San Antonio was one of the founding members of Next Century Cities and has been working to link major institutions and the city’s medical center through CPS Energy’s existing fiber.

Listen to the interview:

Chris responds to President Obama’s endorsement of community networks on MPR's "Daily Circuit"

Minnesota Public Radio’s Daily Circuit (MPR) interviewed Chris about President Obama’s recent endorsment to end restrictions on states that limit local broadband authority. Chris and Danna Mackenzie, executive director of the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development, answered questions about what Obama’s announcement means for faster, cheaper, more reliable Internet for consumers. 

Chris explained that it’s great to see federal government “getting it right” and championing the rights of local governments. He also discredits the argument about public money for Internet networks, and addresses why municipal approaches offer some of the wisest and most efficient use of taxpayer dollars.

You can listen to a 3-minute clip in the audio player below, or click the link to hear the entire interview: http://www.mprnews.org/story/2014/11/13/daily-circuit-net-neutrality