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Reflections on the Internet Governance Forum - Community Broadband Bits Episode 116

This week, Lisa Gonzalez interviews me about my recent trip to the Internet Governance Forum in Istanbul, Turkey. The IGF is an opportunity for anyone concerned with Internet Governance on planet Earth to discuss the perceived problems and possible solutions.

It uses a multi-stakeholder format, which means that governments, businesses, civil society, and academics are all able to come to the table... this means just about anyone who has the means to participate -- including by doing so remotely -- can do so.

I went as part of a delegation with the Media Democracy Fund, along with six other grantees of theirs to get a better sense of how we can contribute and what we might learn from these international discussions.

Lisa and I discuss my impressions, some of the topics we discussed, and why it is important for people in the United States to participate in these global deliberations.

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 17 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 The Bomb Busters for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Good To Be Alone."

The Guardian Visits Chattanooga

The Guardian recently ran an article covering Chattanooga EPB's fiber network. The article tells the story of the birth of the network, the challenges the community faced to get its gigabit service, and how the network has sculpted the community.

Reporter Dominic Rushe, mentioned how the city has faced legal opposition from incumbents that sued to stop the network. They continue to hound the EPB today, most recently by trying to stop the city's FCC petition to expand its services. But even in a fiercely competitive environment, EPB has succeeded. From the article:

The competitive disadvantage they face is clear. EPB now has about 60,000 residential and 4,500 business customers out of a potential 160,000 homes and businesses. Comcast hasn’t upgraded its network but it has gone on the offensive, offering cutthroat introductory offers and gift cards for people who switch back. “They have been worthy competitors,” said [Danna] Bailey,[vice president of EPB]. “They’ve been very aggressive.”

Rushe spoke with Chris:

"In DC there is often an attitude that the only way to solve our problems is to hand them over to big business. Chattanooga is a reminder that the best solutions are often local and work out better than handing over control to Comcast or AT&T to do whatever they want with us,” said Chris Mitchell, director of community broadband networks at advocacy group the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

A key difference between a Comcast or an AT&T and EPB goes beyond the numbers. Rushe described the artistic renaissance happening in Chattanooga with the help of top notch service from EPB:

The city is making sure schools have access to devices for its children to get online. Fancy Rhino, a marketing and film production firm backed by Lamp Post, has been working with The Howard School, an inner-city school, to include them in the city’s renaissance.

...

Bailey said EPB could afford to be more community minded because of its structure. “We don’t have to worry about stockholders, our customers are our stockholders. We don’t have to worry about big salaries, about dividends. We get to wake up everyday and think about what, within business reason, is good for this community,” she said.

“The private sector doesn’t have that same motivation. It’s perfectly fair, they are motivated by profits and stockholders. they have a lot of capital already invested in existing infrastructure. It would be costly to overbuild themselves.”

The local business environment is, naturally, shifting toward a high tech center. Rushe checked in with one of the many incubators, Lamp Post, in the once abandoned downtown district:

“We’re not Silicon Valley. No one will ever replicate that,” says Allan Davis, one of Lamp Post’s partners. “But we don’t need to be and not everyone wants that. The expense, the hassle. You don’t need to be there to create great technology. You can do it here.”

Mayor Andy Berke addressed the community's drive to offer gig service:

Berke said they had no choice. “The Gig wasn’t coming here anytime soon without us doing it,” he said. “It was going to go a lot of places before it came to Chattanooga. For us, like a lot of cities, you either decide to do it yourself or you wait in line. We chose to do it ourselves.”

ILSR Statement on FCC Call for More Competition: A Step In the Right Direction

There is little doubt that our readers are aware of Chairman Wheeler's remarks on September 4th at 1776, a start-up incubator in D.C. His message echoed what policy leaders have repeated countless times - competition is lacking in the world of broadband.

Telecommunications has become a popular topic in the past few months as decision makers are discovering that constituents DO care about online access, economic development, and exessive consolidation. ILSR was pleased to see the Chairman address the issue of lack of competition and released the following statement:

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance applauds FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s Agenda for Broadband Competition. We feel it is a positive step coming from the nation’s top communications official.  

“These gigabit developments are positive, but they are not yet pervasive,” Wheeler said. “Looking across the broadband landscape, we can only conclude that, while competition has driven broadband deployment, it has not yet done so a way that necessarily provides competitive choices for most Americans.”

Wheeler's recognition that Americans lack a true choice in fast, affordable, and reliable Internet access is an important development. If we want real options for next-generation connectivity, local governments must be free to build then own networks. 

If there is one thing we have learned from the history of essential infrastructure, it is that local governments must have the option of building and owning it themselves. 

Hundreds of communities have already invested in their own fiber networks, keeping money in the local economy and spurring job growth.” says Community Broadband Networks director Chris Mitchell.

Chris Mitchell In Burlington, Vermont on September 19th

Members of the Burlington community are hosting a luncheon on Friday, September 19th, to discuss ways to help keep BT local. Chris, as one of the leading experts on municipal broadband, will be leading the discussion. We have followed BurlingtonTelecom's challenges and victories since 2008.

The event is titled "How Do We Keep Burlington Telecom Local?" and will be at the CCTV Center for Media & Democracy in Burlington. From the announcement:

Many Burlington residents and activists are concerned about the City of Burlington’s plans to sell Burlington Telecom to a private entity by 2017. While the City is committed to BT as a driver for economic and community development, it currently has no specific plans to retain a meaningful ownership stake in the new entity. 

The event is part of a series of community talks aimed at maintaining public input as the City prepares to move forward. 

A free discussion will begin at 11 a.m.; it will be followed by lunch for $15. You can now register online. For those who want to learn more about the network and keep up on the latest developments, CCTV of Vermont has put together a resource page detailing upcoming steps with news coverage, video, and court documents. 

Broadband Communities Economic Development Conference September 16 - 18

Join Chris in Springfield, Massachusetts for the Community Fiber Networks conference in September. The meet-up is part of Broadband Communities Magazine's  Economic Development series; Chris will present at the event. The conference will run September 16 - 18 at the Sheraton Springfield Monarch Place Hotel.

Jim Baller, Conference Chairman and Principal at the Baller Herbst Law Group notes:

During the last fifteen years, thousands of communities across the United States have sought to attract or develop advanced communications networks, recognizing that such networks can provide them and the nation multiple strategic advantages in the increasingly competitive global economy. In virtually every case, fostering robust economic development has ranked at or near the top of the list of considerations motivating these communities.

Broadband Communities chose Springfield because there are multiple projects in the region, including MassBroadband123, Leverettnet, and Holyoke.

You can register online for the event and check out the agenda to plan your weekend.

Transcript: Christopher Mitchell on KGNU's "It's the Economy"

This is a transcript from a 27 minute radio interview I did with Gavin Dahl from KGNU radio's "It's the Economy" show." Listen to the show here. Many thanks to Jeff Hoel for providing the transcript.

http://www.kgnu.org/economy/6/19/2014

00:34:

Gavin Dahl: Tonight, on "It's the Economy," interviews with Professor Jesse Drew, author of the book, "A Social History of Contemporary Democratic Media," and Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative, with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm your host, Gavin Dahl. Stay tuned.

00:50:

[musical interlude -- "Money"]

01:30:

Dahl: For the past five years, Christopher Mitchell has run the fabulous website muninetworks.org, advocating for communities across America who build their own broadband infrastructure, to insure access to reliable, affordable, fast networks. He's the Director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Thanks very much for joining me on "It's the Economy," Christopher.

01:53:

Christopher Mitchell: Thank you for having me.

01:55:

Dahl: So you were in Colorado last week for the rural Mountain Connect gathering.

[Mountain Connect Rural Broadband Conference]
http://www.mountainconnect.org/?page_id=28

Tell us what was significant about these meetings up in Vail?

Mitchell: Sure. It was an exciting time. This is a really great conference, and -- in part because it's a really regional conference. A lot of the time, I go to events -- it's more of a national group, where attendees may not know each other and have the same history; whereas, in Mountain Connect, there's a lot of people who have a sense of -- you know, if someone else in the audience is asking a question, it may be from a different community, but it's from someone who has a similar experience. It's in the Rockies. So, it just had a great vibe to it. It's a lot of people who were there to try and make sure that their community had the connectivity that it needs to really take advantage of the modern technological changes.

02:42:

Dahl: And so, the fastest networks in the country are built by local governments. Three Colorado communities are angling for their own locally-controlled broadband networks. What's the latest news from Centennial, Montrose, and Longmont?

02:58:

Mitchell: Yes, exactly. We have -- there's three communities in Colorado that have already passed the ballot. There's others, too, that are thinking about it. And Boulder's already announced that they're going to put it on the referendum. And we'll talk a little bit, I'm sure, about why that's necessary. But I think the most exciting one is Longmont. They're the furthest along. They've already started building their network, and they're going to be connecting everyone with super-fast speeds of gigabit connectivity, which is only available in tens of other communities. Like you said, these networks are typically available where communities have invested in this. Or, also, Google has done it in Kansas City and a couple of other places. And there's some small companies that have done it. But the big cable and telephone companies have really not done it, even though they've probably done more press releases than anyone on it.
They've just been all talk and no investment.

03:49:

Dahl: So, I met some folks at a barbeque a few weeks ago, who live in Chattanooga. And they were gushing about their municipal broadband, which is cheaper than what I pay for slow DSL here in Colorado. And they call their hometown Gig City. So, what's the significance of Chattanoogs's operation? And what are the challenges faced there, in expanding the service to surrounding areas?

04:12:

Mitchell: Chattanooga has a municipal electric department, which means the city itself is the electric company. This is something that over 2,000 towns across the United States still have. But Chattanooga is one of the larger ones. And so, they have been investing in some of these communications connections for their own substations, and
the sort of boring things that most people don't care about. But they decided that they could invest, and make this network do more than just benefit the community through electricity. They could also connect people's homes, and give them an alternative to Comcast for super-fast Internet speeds, cable television, and telephone services -- each of which the city now delivers. And so this is really exciting, because people have a real choice. Most communities don't have a second choice beyond just the cable company and the dish companies.

So, Chattanooga then went further. They basically connected everyone with a gigabit. So, if you wanted to pay extra -- I mean, the starting tier was fast, faster than you can get in most places in the country. But -- not everyone got the gigabit. But then, in this past year, they've lowered the price of the gigabit from $70 a month. Which is pretty common across the U.S., in terms of being a -- it's considered a fairly legitimate price for that super-fast connectivity.

Now, one of the amazing things -- what's happening in Colorado -- Longmont has decided that they'll be doing a gigabit -- which is, to give you an idea, it's about 50 times faster than your average connection, maybe 100 times faster than your DSL connection -- but Longmont's going to be doing it [for] only $50 a month, if you sign up early. So, this community north of Denver is really setting the stage. There's only one or two communities in the entire country where you can get a similar service for less money.

06:03:

Dahl: Yeah, we have a lot of KGNU listener-members in Longmont. So that is definitely big news around here.

You talk about one gigabit. You're talking about a gigabit of data PER SECOND.

06:16:

Mitchell: That's right. And, you know, one of the interesting things is -- not just for download speeds, which is, you know, in some places -- even CenturyLink, if you live in a few areas in Omaha -- you might have access to a similar service. But a lot of times, the big cable and telephone companies, even if you're getting 10 megabits or 100 megabits or 1,000, you're getting that in the downstream, but you're not getting it in the upstream. So if you want to upload a bunch of videos to Facebook, or you want to send a big file if you're working from home, you're going to be much slower than you might anticipate from the connection you're paying for. But if you're getting it from a city like Longmont, or if you're getting it from Chattanooga, then you're getting it -- it's called a "symmetrical" connection -- which means that your upload speeds are just as fast as your download speeds. And that's really revolutionary for small businesses,
for people who are being productive at home, photographers -- for all kinds of people who want to create their own content.

07:10:

Dahl: Well, and it's also exciting thinking about technologies and ideas that we haven't even experienced yet. I mean, I read a recent piece in Al-Jazeera America, where a guy with a 3-D printing business -- which is still, you know, mind-boggling to most of us -- says other companies to what they do, but it can take weeks. For his business, they make precise models of hospital patients' organs, so doctors can plan their surgeries. And he can do it in hours. He said it literally takes his competitors up to weeks.

And so, I mean, while 3-D printing might still seem like science fiction, the gigabit is making huge, huge differences for these small businesses.

07:51:

Mitchell: Absolutely. We're seeing that, as well, with a lot of diagnostic imaging, in medical fields, where a doctor may be able to do these incredibly intense -- like hundreds of megabytes of data, or even gigabytes of data. And they can scan it and watch it -- and they can actually read the scan in their home. And that's a really big deal, when minutes matter, in terms of being able to get a response from a doctor.

There's all kinds of things that are developing. And the thing is that we're seeing, local governments -- communities -- have to get involved if they want to be in on the leading edge of this. In another ten years, we'll probably see, then, a lot of big companies finally starting to deliver that. But at that point, you'd just be treading water. You'll have to have a minimum of those sort of speeds just have any businesses that want to locate there. Whereas, cities like Longmont, Montrose, Centennial, maybe Boulder very soon -- these are cities that are going to figure out how to be ahead of the curve, and make sure that the economy -- the businesses of tomorrow -- are locating in their towns. Compared to other big cable companies, Comcast actually runs a pretty decent network. But the issue is: you're never going to be better than a "C" student when you're on Comcast. They're always just going to keep you in the middle of the pack. So
it's something to keep in mind when you're trying to figure out what kind of profile you want your community to have.

09:14:

Dahl: We're talking to Christopher Mitchell. He's the director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

Back to Colorado. And you mentioned that Centennial, Montrose, and Longmont have already jumped through the initial hoops, in terms of starting their own broadband. And then you mentioned that Boulder will be putting an issue on the ballot as well. So what's the background here in Colorado? SB-152 set out that municipalities in Colorado have to hold a referendum before providing cable, telecom, or broadband service, with some exceptions. So, what's the background on that bill here?

09:49:

Mitchell: Sure. You know, it goes back to about ten years ago, when the big cable and telephone companies were worried that they'd face competition from local governments. And so they went out and they started going to legislatures and working with the American Legislative Exchange Council, properly known as "ALEC," to basically limit local authority, so that local governments would not be allowed to invest in these networks. And one of the reasons local governments invest in these networks is because the private sector alone will not result in competition.

Let's talk a little bit about the economics of it. Which is, if you and I wanted to build a really great fiber network in Denver, we'd probably have to go out and find ourselves hundreds of millions of dollars. As soon as we did that, Comcast would lower its prices temporarily. You and I would not be able to get enough subscribers to pay or debts, and we'd go out of business. Now, for a municipality, you can structure that with long-term debt. And you can basically take longer to break even. So you don't have to make a profit in the first two or three years. Which changes the numbers. That means, if you want competition in your community, almost the only way to do it is with local government involvement.

Recognizing that, in 2005, Qwest went and tried to buy a law that would have stopped local communities from doing this. And there was a bit of a compromise. And so, as a result, communities can have a referendum and opt out of that law. But right now, Boulder, even though it has over 100 miles of fiber optic cables for internal purposes, it cannot use those to try and attract local businesses and that sort of thing. Which is what Montrose, Centennial, and Longmont have already done, is to pass a referendum that basically says we're going to restore our local authority.

Like you said, there's 19 0r 20 other states that limit local authority. And each has their own fairly unique approach to it. The fact that Colorado allows municipalities to recover their right is better than most. But it's still problematic, and it's really limited investment in Colorado, from local companies as well as local governments.

11:48:

Dahl: About ten years ago, it was Qwest that was really the power player in this. That company is now known as CenturyLink, for those of you who don't know that connection. And I want to ask you about the latest battles for community broadband. The state legislation pushed in Utah and Kansas that was up for consideration in 2014. How did those two states fare?

12:10:

Mitchell: Well, Kansas is really weird, because, basically, these cable lobbyists, they wrote a bill that -- you know, they claimed it wasn't as overreaching as many of us read it to be. Which tells me one of two things. One is, they don't actually know how to write legislation -- which is possible. But the second is, they thought that they'd be able to sneak it through. And what they tried to do is basically make it illegal in Kansas for local governments to either build networks or to even lease their infrastructure or work with a private partner to deliver Internet services. That would have stopped Google Fiber from expanding -- one of the most exciting projects in all of Kansas. And when word got out about this, the switchboard of the legislature in Wichita melted, basically. They had so much opposition so quickly.

Now, we fear that next year, that bill will come back, and it won't implicate Google. It will be written just to stop municipal networks like the small community in rural -- Chanute -- southeastern Kansas. That will be really upsetting, because it may be harder to stop a bill like that, that stops a really smart community, that's not getting any private investment, from moving forward.

13:20:

Dahl: The legislature knows that Google Fiber is really popular. So, of course, when that was threatened, people got upset. But there isn't the same widespread awareness of the benefits, for example, like you said, in a small town, doing the same thing.

13:35:

Mitchell: That's exactly right. The only way a town like Chanute is going to have this kind of service is by either investing in itself or by investing in itself and then partnering with an independent company -- both of which would have been made illegal under this strategy. Because the businesses in Chanute have been begging for this for more than a decade -- for the cable and telephone companies that operate there to invest. These are both big national companies. And they've refused. You know, it's one of those things where you gotta put up or shut up. If you want to invest in these towns, go ahead. But if you're not going to invest, you can't stop them from doing it.

14:08:

Dahl. Get out of the way.

14:10:

Mitchell: Exactly. So, in Utah, just briefly, there's another network. And this is a network that's really fallen on hard times. They've made a number of mistakes, and they've faced some opposition over the years. It's called UTOPIA. And they have a new plan, with an Australian firm that's going to invest in them, and help them to achieve their original vision. CenturyLink, working through the lobbying, has used the Utah legislature to try and sabotage that. When that failed, then the Utah -- these folks in Utah from CenturyLink -- they started a website and another campaign, that they're now pushing, that they're pretending is a grassroots-type campaign, in order to tray and get people to vote against this new deal, which they'll be voting on this summer.

You know, to some extent, I'm sure your listeners have heard the term before for "astroturf." But we don't see it a lot in this way. But in Utah, it actually has shown up quite a bit.

15:00:

Dahl: My guest is Christopher Mitchell, from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. We know that fake grassroots groups have spoken out against open Internet principles. You know, it's not unexpected. But we haven't seen a lot of astroturf efforts affecting the municipal broadband fight specifically. So this Utah story is one to watch.

Can you talk a little bit about municipal broadband in the context of open Internet principles? I mean, we've heard, for example, Verizon claimed that net neutrality is bad for the blind and deaf. You know, I mean, pretty offensive moves by the industry. But not unexpected. What do you think of these fake grassroots groups' impact in the media policy debates?

15:38:

Mitchell: Well, I think they do have a big impact. I mean, the reality is, whether we're talking about municipal broadband or we're talking about issues of network neutrality -- which are separate issues that overlap in some occasional ways -- the industry always wants to pretend that it's a big group that opposes good government policies. So, you know, they go and they lobby. But they don't want just have Comcast lobbying, or CenturyLink and AT&T lobbying. They want to say it's the Cattle Growers of America. So they create these groups, and they pretend that there's this wide constituency, when, in fact, you know, the only people who want to violate network neutrality are the big carriers. It's not even all ISPs. It's only a fraction of them, that have the most power.

You know, if you look at Google, or Sonic, or a lot of ISPs that are really investing, they DON'T want to violate network neutrality. They don't think it's necessary to get the kind of investment that they're making. They're just happy with the way the Internet has always run. So these astroturf groups are really necessary. Because if we all basically said, hey, should we just change the way the Internet works, to try and help Comcast and AT&T make more money, I think most people would say, no, that's ridiculous. But if we say, oh, the Cattlemen of America -- and I'm just picking a group that sounds like one that they would use, I don't actually know if that's one of their groups. Groups that represent minorities. Historically marginalized communities. You know, where the telecom companies will be giving these groups money that they absolutely need to achieve important ends. And in some cases, then, they adopt positions that I think may
not be consistent with the best of that community.

17:14:

Dahl: But I want to talk specifically here for a minute about merger mania, and what ownership consolidation means for localism. Especially when it comes to how we access the Internet. I mean, for example, I think that most people in our listening audience are not big-time tech geeks like you, Christopher. And I mean that with all due respect.

17:32:

Mitchell: Thank you.

17:33:

Dahl: Ah... So, for example, the difference between -- in Boulder -- going with Comcast or CenturyLink, or actually spending a little bit more money to support a local Internet service provider, like Indra's Net.... I mean, didn't our Internet access originally route through thousands of local ISPs?

17:54:

Mitchell: Yes, it did. And that's an important point on so many different issues. From, basically, whether money is staying in the community or leaving the community to a provider like Comcast. It's also important for issues of surveillance, which is how easy is it for the government to basically vacuum up our data, and to know everything that we're doing. If there's thousands of ISPs, it's harder to monitor than if it's just ten. It's important in terms of making sure that when you and I have a new idea for how the web should work, that we don't have to basically sell our idea to Comcast, as the only way to make it available. Which is what happens in cable television or on the radio today. We want to make sure the Internet doesn't go down that path.

And so it's incredibly important that we stop the ongoing consolidation of Internet service providers that we've seen -- particularly in the cable and the AT&T -- you know, with AT&T and DirecTV -- and the DSL market as well. Consolidation is just incredibly bad news for any impact on the media, I think.

18:58:

Dahl: So, some people are either getting their Internet through the cable system, like Comcast, through the phone system, digital subscriber line -- DSL -- most of which -- most of those connections have not been upgraded to fiber. That would be CenturyLink in our case here. And occasionally people get their Internet through a satellite provider. But, of course, we're also seeing huge growth in the wireless area, where some people now are only accessing the Internet through their mobile device.

19:26:

Mitchell: Yes, that's right. And to some extent, there's a little bit of a difference between wireless and wireline, because there can be more scarcity with the wireless, because of how we've managed spectrum -- some might say mismanaged spectrum, frankly. But, basically, it's not inevitable that we would have given this incredibly valuable space to just Verizon and AT&T, basically, to monopolize. There's some people who are claiming we don't need more competition on the wireline side, because you could also go with a wireless carrier, because wireless speeds have gotten faster. And while it's true that wireless speeds have gotten faster, the prices have gone up dramatically. So the situation is: if you want to try and use your wireless connections in the same way that you would use your wireline -- your DSL or your cable -- connection, it's going to cost you several hundred dollars a month, because of the bandwidth caps and overage charges.

20:20:

Dahl: So, let me get you on the record here, Christopher Mitchell, on the Comcast-Time Warner Cable proposed merger. What's your specific concern there?

20:29:

Mitchell: The specific concern is that Comcast already has so much power in Washington, DC, and in the state legislatures. You're going to make it basically a much bigger, more powerful company, with more money, more ability to throw its weight around in DC, and to change the policy of the country. And it fundamentally changes the way the Internet works moving forward, because of its scale. That is not something that we should accept. Even if we thought that Comcast and Time Warner Cable, merged, would lower prices for consumers, which is not something that anyone things, that's the only possible justification that one might have for it. And even that is not happening.

There is not good reason to allow this to happen. All of the outcomes for us, whether it's economics, or our ability to have a democratic society, all of them run opposite to letting Comcast and Time Warner Cable merge.

21:22:

Dahl: So, there's already a lot of controversy at the Federal Communications Commission. These five commissioners have a great deal of power, even though they're appointed and not elected. And we've talked a little bit about the ownership consolidation issue. The FCC will have a chance to review the proposed Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger. We've also talked a little bit about the proposed open Internet principles, and this issue of net neutrality, which comedian John Oliver says, the only other two words more boring are, "Featuring Sting." And Michael Copps, former FCC Commissioner, says, don't say "net neutrality." It is not something to be neutral about.

There's another issue that has come up as one of the most controversial things happening in DC with telecom. And that is that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler wrote last week, in an official FCC blog post -- I'm going to quote here:
http://www.fcc.gov/blog/removing-barriers-competitive-community-broadband

"If the people, acting through their elected local governments, want to pursue competitive community broadband, they shouldn’t be stopped by state laws promoted by cable and telephone companies that don’t want that competition.

"I believe that it is in the best interests of consumers and competition that the FCC exercises its power to preempt state laws that ban or restrict competition from community broadband. Given the opportunity, we will do so....

"Removing restrictions on community broadband can expand high-speed Internet access in underserved areas, spurring economic growth and improvements in government services, while enhancing competition. Giving the citizens of Chattanooga and leaders like Mayor Berke the power to make these decisions for themselves is not only the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do."

Now, when I first read that, I thought, has Christopher Mitchell taken over Tom Wheeler's account for the FCC blog? But no, Wheeler wrote that. And Harold Feld, Senior Vice President of consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge, in DC, said Wheeler will probably NOT launch a broad initiative to attack state laws around the country. Instead, the FCC chief will probably wait for groups or individuals to file complaints about specific state laws. That's the prediction from Harold Feld. Again, Wheeler said, "Given the opportunity, we will do so." He didn't say, I'm coming for the state laws. He just said, if we have the opportunity, this is my opinion of what we should do.

So, Thursday last week, a bunch of Republican members of Congress sent a letter to Tom Wheeler at the FCC, saying his agency better not meddle with state law. Now, I want to ask you, Christopher Mitchell, from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, is there anyone in media policy debates who takes the arguments of these congresscritters seriously? I mean, isn't it obvious that the 20 states that made community be illegal or more difficult to establish were simply doing the bidding of corporate overlords? I feel like any member of Congress who signed onto this letter last week is basically walking around like a NASCAR driver, with corporate logos on their suit.

24:11:

Mitchell: I think that you make a compelling point. And I would go one further, by saying, look at the reasoning that they used to justify saying the FCC should not take action on this. They said the FCC is located too far away from the people, and that states are a better judge of what the people want them to do. And I would say that, actually, at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we would agree with that. And that's why we support the ability of local decisions being made locally. And don't think that these decisions should be made at the state level. They should be made at the local level. It's really quite amazing for these elected officials who signed this -- eleven senators and sixty representatives -- all Republicans, in this case -- that have signed it, and basically said, look, we need to trust the people, but not too much -- you know, we can't trust them too much. It's almost as if they're saying, we just want the
decisions to be made at the level of government where our lobbyists are the most effective....

25:09:

Dahl: Yup.

25:09:

Mitchell: And it's very disappointing, frankly. We're not ones to go around and say that the federal government should be telling states what to do, frankiy. I mean, my organization is one that believes very much in local democracy. But we see this are removing preemption, not encouraging preemption.

25:25:

Dahl: Exactly. Well, so let's talk about the Coalition for Local Internet Choice. It's a new venture you've launched with some very "not-astroturf" partners.

25:35:

Mitchell: Right. Yeah. And these are people who have been working with communities for a long time. Jim Baller, an attorney in DC that's -- he's been working in this space longer than anyone, in terms of helping communities navigate these waters. And Joanne Hovis, who -- her company, CTC, has been working with local businesses AND communities to invest in this sort of infrastructure, for a long time. And then Catharine Rice, as well, who was very involved in the 2011 battles in North Carolina. So the four of us have basically been launching this coalition, which -- we're looking for as many people to join -- you know, especially businesses, trade groups, local government entities. We have a website at localnetchoice.org. We have a very simple statement of principles. It's basically that we think these decisions should be made locally. States should not get in the way. And, as well, federal government shouldn't get in the way
either, although we're not anticipating that with this current administration.

26:30:

Dahl: So, you're not going so far as to call Internet access a public utility. But you're basically saying i's an essential 21st-century infrastructure.

26:40:

Mitchell: Yes, I think that's right. And I think -- it's problematic to say it's a utility. A utility can mean lots of different things. We treat water utilities differently from electricity utilities, different from, you know, the utility of roads, and that sort of thing. So, we really focus on just the idea that communities themselves have different challenges. They have different assets. And they're best poised to figure out whether a municipal network might make sense, if some form of partnership with a local company might make sense, or if it makes sense for them to just DO NOTHING, and let the private sector -- you know, the existing incumbents -- do what they please. That's also an acceptable outcome. But it should be up to the community.

27:17:

Dahl: So, give us the URL one more time, for the Coalition for Local Internet Choice.

27:22:

Mitchell: localnetchoice.org.

27:25:

Dahl: My first guest tonight has been Christopher Mitchell, from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. It's online at ilsr.org. And for folks who'd like to track updates on the battles for municipal broadband around the country, check out muninetworks.org. That's m-u-n-i-networks. Thanks so much for joining me, Christopher Mitchell.

27:42:

Mitchell: Thank you. Take care.

KGNU From Boulder Interviews Chris for Independent Colorado Radio

KGNU from Boulder recently interviewed Chris on It's the Economy. This 27 minute interview is a crash course in all the intertwined topics that have the telecom policy crowd buzzing.

Host Gavin Dahl asked Chris about SB 152, the 2005 Colorado statute that constricted local authority and has prevented communities in that state from investing in telecommunications infrastructure. As many of our readers know, the Colorado communities of Longmont, Montrose, and Centennial, have held elections to reclaim that authority under that statute's exepmtion. The two also discussed legislative activities in Kansas and Utah inspired by big cable and telecommunications lobbyists. 

The conversation also delved into gigabit networks, network neutrality, the Comcast/Time Warner mergers, legislative influence, the Coalition for Local Internet Choice, and FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's recent statement about local authority.

In short, this interview packs a tall amount of information into a short amount of time - highly recommended! 

You could also read a transcript of the interview here.

New York Media's MetroFocus Talks With Chris About City Wi-Fi

In an effort to bring better connectivity to New Yorkers, the City is transforming old pay phones into free Wi-Fi hotspots. Rick Karr, reporter for MetroFocus from New York Public Media, reached out to ILSR's Chris Mitchell to discuss the project.

Chris and Karr discuss the challenges faced by lower income people in our digital age, many of whom depend on mobile devices for Internet access. From the video:

“Low income people and especially minority populations really depend on mobile devices. So having WiFi that they can use when they’re on the go is going to be a good way of keeping their costs down. But you’re not going to see kids writing term papers on mobile devices,” said Mitchell.

Mitchell said that low-income people need better and more affordable options. “Possibly, something run by the city so that it can ensure that low-income people have access in their homes and they don’t have to go outside in order to use their devices.”

According to the New York City Information Technology & Telecommunications website, over 20 locations already offer free municipal Wi-Fi. The City intends to expand the current program and has called for proposals from potential private partners due by the end of June.

Mayor de Blasio has stated that his administration will make free Wi-Fi a priority in order to help reduce the City's income inequality. Maya Wiley, de Blasio's chief counsel told the New York Daily News:

“High-speed Internet access is now as fundamental as water, as fundamental as the railroads were in the 18th century,” Wiley said in an interview with the Daily News.

“If you are low-income and you want to find a job, increasingly, you need high-speed broadband to do it,” Wiley said.

 

"Localism Over Consolidation" Discussion Streaming from New America Foundation

If you missed Chris in D.C. at the New America Foundation on May 28th, you can still catch the action via the archived presentation.

Chris joined Joanne Hovis, Will Aycock, and Catharine Rice to discuss "Localism Over Consolidation: An Exploration of Public Broadband Options." New America Foundation writes:

Today, more and more communities are thinking of broadband as a local issue. Even large cities like Baltimore, Seattle and New York 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.

New America’s Open Technology Institute presented a discussion of various approaches to local investment in broadband. The panel featured a diverse set of experts on public broadband networks and projects, including the manager of a municipal fiber network in Wilson, NC. Panelists discussed different approaches communities have taken so far and share thoughts on what steps other local governments can take going forward to support access to affordable and high-speed broadband.

The discussion runs just under 90 minutes.

Video: 
See video

You Are Cordially Invited: June 17th Discussion on Cable Companies, Monopolies, and Community Networks

On Tuesday June 17th, Chris will be participating in a conversation hosted by the Media Consortium as part of its Media Policy Reporting and Education Program (MPREP). You are invited to sit in on what is sure to be a spirited discussion on community networks and the lack of competition in the cable industry.

What: Community Fiber Networks: A Realistic Solution to Cable Monopoly?

When: Tuesday, June 17, 3pm ET/ 12 PT

Who: Joining Chris will be:

Ryan Radia, Associate Director for Technology Studies at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. He is critical of government-run or regulated projects in general, and specifically critical of community networks. 

Wayne Pyle, City Manager and CEO of West Valley City, Utah's second largest municipality, and also  chair of the board of UTOPIA, the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency, a community network serving 11 cities.

This is the first of several monthly briefings hosted by MPREP to discuss media policy issues. Everyone is welcome to participate. Register online for this discussion.