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Lincoln, Illinois, Once Again Looking at Fiber

Lincoln, Illinois, has contemplated investing in a fiber-optic municipal network since 2009 and, while they have not taken steps to deploy yet, the community appears to be ready to dive in. The Lincoln Courier reports that the City Council recently considered investing $100,000 to deploy fiber in the downtown business district.

Lincoln, located right in the center of the state, is home to approximately 14,500 people. At the meeting, City Administrator Clay Johnson described the need as essential for economic development:

"Fiber optics are the sewer and water for economic development; what businesses look for when they want to locate in your area or expand in your are is, ‘do they have access to high speed internet’ and in a lot of areas, no they don’t."

Johnson believes that existing fiber from local Lincoln College could be integrated into a network that would eventually lead to better access to businesses and as backhaul for downtown Wi-Fi. His "extremely preliminary" estimate is $140,000 - $160,000 for a fiber connection from the college down one of the main commercial corridors.

He also suggested that a long-term plan would include connectivity for local schools as a cost-saving measure.

In 2009, former Mayor Keith Snyder's administration embraced the idea of investing in municipal fiber infrastructure as part of a downtown revitalization plan. In 2012 the community received a $600,000 grant of which $16,500 was dedicated to develop an initial plan for a network. City leaders ultimately decided to direct remaining funds toward other projects in 2012 and the City Council is once again taking up the possibility of fiber.

Improving Mid-Atlantic Internet Access - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 146

When we last wrote about the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative, it was a coop focused on open access middle mile connections. Now it has become the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation and is starting to work on some plans to expand open access last mile access.

This week, we speak with MBC President and CEO Tad Deriso to learn more about their history and current approach. We discuss how they got started financially and lessons for other middle mile open access efforts.

We also discuss their plan to expand the model to last mile businesses and homes in Martinsville in southern Virginia. And along the way, we learn how incumbent providers react differently to open access in the middle mile than in the last mile.

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

This show is 22 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."

Tennessee Bill to Strike Anti-Muni Laws Tabled Until Next Session

Senator Janice Bowling and Representative Kevin Brooks have decided to table their legislative efforts to remove state restrictions in Tennessee. While backing for SB 1134 and HB 1303 was growing beyond the walls of the state Capitol, the sponsors decided to shore up stronger legislative support rather than risk derailing the bill entirely. 

Brooks told the Tennessean:

"We have had a lot of good progress, and we don't want to throw it all away," Brooks said. The votes were not there in the Senate, and he and co-sponsor state Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, have asked to roll the bill to the beginning of the 2016 calendar, giving them more time to garner support from their colleagues.

"We have pressed the pause button to keep it alive," Brooks said.

Communities around the state, including Bristol, went on record in support of the bill. The Tennessee Farm Bureau, representing 600,000 members, also backed the legislation

Energized by the recent FCC decision nullifying state laws restricting Chattanooga from expanding, Bowling, Brooks, and other local leaders thought the time was right to once again try to eliminate state barriers. The FCC decision has already been formerly challenged by Tennessee's Attorney General with the support of the Governor. Rather than depend on federal intervention to establish an environment that will encourage connectivity, SB 1134 and/or its companion HB 1303 would have solved the problem on the home front.

Economic development has been stifled by state barriers preventing municipal network expansions in the state but many constituents are plagued by lack of personal access. Incumbents who have spent millions lobbying to keep these restrictions in place during past legislative sessions, do not serve a number of rural areas. Those areas could benefit from municipal network expansions. From a March 6th Tennessean article:

"My district said we need help. We have some folks with little service, some folks with no service," Brooks said. "This is not about government intrusion; this is a bill about service exclusion."

Even though the legislation will not change state law this session, the FCC decision still stands for now. It may take years for the issue to be finally determined but hopefully the momentum will continue and more Tennessee voters will let their elected officials know they want to strike anti-muni laws from state books.

From an EPB Press Release:

“Thanks to a growing number of Tennesseans, who are contacting their representatives to communicate their critical need for broadband services, we made more progress this legislative session than ever before,” Senator Bowling said. “Next year, I hope the needs of the hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans with little or no broadband service will override the vested interests of the legacy carriers who refuse to serve them while lobbying to prevent community-based providers from meeting the needs of the people in our state.” 

WDEF News 12 covered the story:

We simply find it stunning that a majority of legislators in Nashville believe that their state is better off with slower Internet access. That is exactly what this is about - AT&T and Comcast have purchased another year of not having to worry about competition from the Tennessee General Assembly.

Grand Junction Voters: "We Want Local Authority!"

Grand Junction is the latest Colorado community to vote to restore local telecommunications authority.

Much like the eight communities that decided last fall to reclaim that right, and Estes Park in February, Grand Junction voters spoke loudly through the ballot. Seventy-five percent of those casting ballots chose to restore authority.

Grand Junction community leaders have expressed a desire to work with providers to improve poor connectivity but have feared repercussions from state laws put in place a decade ago. They now plan to explore partnerships as well as municipal initiatives reports KKCO 11 News

“It’s an indication that people really want to see us have better fiber in this city so we'll step back as a city council and see what are next steps to go forward,” says Mayor Phyllis Norris.

The approval of Measure 2A reverses the effects of Senate Bill 152 that have been in effect for more than 10 years.

City and county leaders now have the power to negotiate with internet companies and explore options of how to share their broadband with citizens.

Rather than wait for the domino effect to make its way across the state, requiring millions to be spent on local elections, Colorado should simply repeal SB 152 and restore local authority to every community. Right now, the only beneficiaries of this barrier to local choice are the incumbent providers, who at the very least are able to delay needed investments in Internet infrastructure.

Grand Junction Will Vote to Reclaim Municipal Telecommunications Authority

Grand Junction will join a number of other Colorado communities who asked voters for an exemption to SB 152 reports KKCO 11 News. Ballot measure 2A, asking voters to approve the city's right to provide Internet access and cable TV service will be decided in the April 7th election. 

Measure 2A asks for a yes or no on the following question:

RESTORING AUTHORITY TO THE CITY TO PROVIDE EITHER DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY WITH PUBLIC OR PRIVATE SECTOR PARTNERSHIPS HIGH-SPEED INTERNET AND CABLE TELEVISION SERVICE SHALL THE CITY OF GRAND JUNCTION, WITHOUT INCREASING TAXES BY THIS MEASURE, BE AUTHORIZED TO PROVIDE, EITHER DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY WITH PUBLIC OR PRIVATE SECTOR PARTNER(S),  HIGH-SPEED INTERNET SERVICES (ADVANCED SERVICE), TELECOMMUNICATIONS SERVICES AND/OR CABLE TELEVISION SERVICES AS DEFINED BY §§29-27-101 TO 304 OF THE COLORADO REVISED STATUTES, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO ANY NEW AND IMPROVED HIGH BANDWIDTH SERVICE(S) BASED ON FUTURE TECHNOLOGIES, TO RESIDENTS, BUSINESSES, SCHOOLS, LIBRARIES, NONPROFIT ENTITIES AND OTHER USERS OF SUCH SERVICES, WITHOUT LIMITING ITS HOME RULE AUTHORITY?

Grand Junction, located on the western edge of the state, is home to approximately 147,000 people. Their interest in the SB 152 opt out generates from the need to be economically competitive with Longmont, Montrose, and the other Colorado towns that have already passed similar ballot measures.

The Daily Sentinel covered the region's broadband problems in a recent article:

“Broadband is not a selling point. It’s an expectation,” said Kelly Flenniken, director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership. The group works on behalf of local entities to lure companies and increase business opportunities in the Grand Valley.

“It’s a modern day utility. It’s sort of like saying our roads are paved, too,” she said. “I really think from an economic development standpoint, it’s about maintaining a competitive position. If we’re trying to grow solo entrepreneurs, they’re going to want to live here. We want to make it so they can work here.”

Flenniken, whose office is located in downtown Grand Junction, said she tested upload speeds of her Internet recently and it showed a speed of less than 1 Mbps.

“The download speed was OK, but it could be way better,” she said. “When companies have to put documents on a flash drive or a CD-ROM and send it (in the mail), it’s not a sales pitch.”

Two years ago, The Business Incubator, a shared space for startups and other enitites, decided it was critical to bring high-speed Internet to the building. Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Energy also uses space on the campus and was willing to share in the $250,000 cost to install the infrastructure. Clients have access to 60 Mbps symmetrical for $65 per month from CenturyLink via that infrastructure.

Other businesses don't have the same options:

Seth Schaeffer of Hoptocopter Films runs his business out of a residential-based, but ultra-modern, building in the Grand Junction core near North Avenue.

Schaeffer said it’s not that the Internet speeds are terribly slow, but that the upload speeds don’t live up to the advertised speeds his company is paying for. And, service can be inconsistent. Sometimes it’s just more reliable to send something out on a cellphone.

“Right now, 4G on my cellphone is fast and that’s the workaround that everybody is using,” he said.

Schaeffer said his company has upgraded to Charter’s 60 Mbps service, but upgrading again to having 20 Mbps for both upload and download speed would work better. That would cost about $1,000 a month, he said.

“That’s a lot to swallow,” Schaeffer said. “It’s a ridiculous amount of money to have to spend. If we could get 5 Mbps up consistently and solid, we’d be OK.”

Obviously, it's time for changes in Grand Junction.

Local coverage on measure 2A:

Bozeman City Commission Approves Master Plan: "It's A No-Brainer"

Bozeman elected officials voted unanimously on January 26th to approve a recently completed master plan and take the next step to deploying publicly owned open access infrastructure. We discussed the Bozeman approach in a recent podcast with city staff and a local business.

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports that local business leaders attended the City Commission meeting to speak in favor of the initiative, including the local Chamber of Commerce president, representatives from local tech companies, and the director of the Downtown Bozeman business coalition.

Commissioners heard comments from supporters, CenturyLink, and local provider Montana Opticom. Even though Jim Dolan from Montana Optimcom expressed some concerns about some engineering issues, the local ISP rep still said, "It’s a great initiative and it really will help the valley.” The Chronicle reports commissioners questioned supporters for about an hour before voting to move forward.

The project plan will use tax increment funding (TIF) in the Downtown and North 7th Avenue designated TIF Districts to facilitate funding for the first phase of the project. Phases two and three will bring fiber to the public schools and close up the proposed fiber rings by expanding to more business districts. You can reivew the Bozeman Fiber Master Plan and Feasibility Study and a summary of the project in the Commission Memorandum online.

The vote echoed a recent editorial in the Chronicle promoting the project and describing the decision to move forward as a "no-brainer":

On Monday, the Bozeman City Commission will consider a proposal to direct money from the North Seventh Avenue and downtown tax increment finance districts into a project to install a broadband, fiber-optic network around the city.

That’s a long and complicated sentence that describes what would be a not-too-monumental action on the part of the commissioners. But it could be the catalyst for a major economic boom to the city and the region, and commissioners should not hesitate to sign on to the plan. This system will provide sorely needed ultra high-speed Internet access to businesses and institutions.

There’s really no reason not to get involved in this reasonably priced project that has the potential to produce tremendous economic benefits.

Bar Harbor, Maine, Studies Muni Fiber to Replace Time Warner Cable Franchise

For the past several months, Maine communities have been a hotbed of broadband activity. Bar Harbor, located midway along the state's Atlantic coast, is another community looking at fiber as a necessary investment. 

According to a February article in the Mount Desert Islander, the town of 5,200 has decided to move forward with a feasibility study. The town received Internet access at no additional cost as part of its previous franchise agreement with Time Warner Cable. That agreement expired about a year ago and, as we have seen in other communities, the cable giant now appears to be holding out in order to charge for the same service. From the article:

“The guidance that we’ve received from the lawyers helping us … is that the cable company really doesn’t want to give us anything, and may in fact want to start charging us for the fiber network that we get today as part of that franchise agreement,” said Brian Booher. He is a member of the communications technology task force, which has studied the issue of broadband availability in Bar Harbor.

A similar situation in Martin County, Florida, inspired that community to build its own network. It is now saving millions, with no need to contend with typical Time Warner Cable hassles, price hikes, and poor service. Read more in our case study on Martin County [PDF].

Bar Harbor seems to be adopting the same attitude as the rest of the state. They see that economic development success rests on connectivity and that entities like Time Warner Cable are not in business to boost local economic development. Booher went on:

“If the only way to get there is to do it ourselves, that’s the Maine mentality right there. So, my attitude is, let’s look at this and see what it would take.”

Amherst, Massachusetts Exploring Fiber for Economic Development Downtown

The Amherst Business Improvement District (BID) recently hired a firm to prepare an engineering study aimed at bringing fiber connectivity to its downtown reports MassLive. 

In 2007, the community began offering free Wi-Fi downtown after receiving a grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) to build a wireless mesh network. The city worked with UMass Amherst, DARPA, and NSF to deploy the system. In 2013, the city invested in upgrades which increased speeds and extended the network's geographic coverage area.

Community leaders feel Amherst needs fiber to boost economic development now and in the future. Sean Hannon, Amherst Information Technology director, told MassLive:

"Fiber is needed because it's the only medium that can support those speeds at the distance we need.  It also should support new network equipment 20 to 30 years from now."

The study will examine optimal routes, methods, and cost estimates for deployment.

The Amherst BID is a nonprofit economic development organization whose members include local property owners, business owners, and residents. Their focus, as defined by the community's 2011 Improvement Plan, is to improve the downtown area through economic development, events, marketing, beautification, and special projects.

Center for Public Integrity and Reveal Radio Get Into the Trenches of Local Choice

The Center for Public Integrity has followed the local choice debate closely. Their team has travelled to Tennessee and North Carolina to talk to lawmakers, visited communities seeking high-speed networks, and dug deep into the source of influential campaign funds. Allan Holmes and his team have assembled a collection of articles and audio that offers the right amount of history, backstory, and anecdotes to properly understand these issues.

Holmes published an article last August that took a deep look at telecommunications laws at the state level. Along the way, he spoke with State Senator Janice Bowling from Tullahoma. MuniNetworks.org readers know that the community is known for LightTUBe, the fiber network offering an oasis of high quality connectivity in an otherwise broadband desert. At the time, the Wilson and Chattanooga petitions were still fresh but Tennessee communities had long dealt with the problem of poor connectivity from incumbents. From the August article:

“We don’t quarrel with the fact that AT&T has shareholders that it has to answer to,” Bowling said with a drawl while sitting in the spacious wood-paneled den of her log-cabin-style home. “That’s fine, and I believe in capitalism and the free market. But when they won’t come in, then Tennesseans have an obligation to do it themselves.”

Holmes wrote about economic development in Tullahoma, a factor that seems directly tied to the presence of its municipal network:

Employment in Tullahoma lagged statewide job growth before theLightTUBe was turned on. Since the recession ended in 2009, two years after the city began offering broadband, the city has outpaced job growth in Tennessee. The city added 3,598 jobs from April 2009 to April 2014, a 1.63 percent annual growth rate, about double the statewide rate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

For perspective, Holmes visited Fayetteville, North Carolina, where community leaders have tried and failed to initiate community network deployment. Even though the community has a generous store of fiber assets, state laws prevent municipalities from offering connectivity. Local officials see the nonsense behind the law, pushed through by telecom lobbyists.

For Steven Blanchard, chief executive of Fayetteville’s Public Works Commission, prohibiting Fayetteville residents from using the fiber network that’s already there doesn’t make sense.

“Why shouldn’t we be allowed to sell fiber if it runs by everyone’s house?” Blanchard said. “They are already paying for the fiber to be there, so why not allow them use it for telephone and Internet and capture back a lot of the cost they put in to have it there?”

The article also provides an excellent resource for those curious to know how much North Carolina and Tennessee state lawmakers received from the telecommunications industry. Public Integrity's graphs paint an alarming picture of corporate influence on state policy. Unfortunately, it is easy to look at the graphs, purse one's lips, and think, "so THAT'S the reason why."

In a more recent piece Public Integrity's Jared Bennett interviews Holmes about his experiences reporting on the right for local authority. "Behind the municipal broadband battle" is a collection of brief interviews with people in the trenches. Holmes offers context for each interview.

In the Bennet piece, Holmes shares conversations he had with a number of business owners, residents, and community leaders in Tullahoma and elsewhere:

JB: In the past the president has framed this as a jobs creation issue. And that’s what it sounds like when you talk about companies like Agisent and Matt Johnson’s company, but is that what you found through your reporting?

AH: Yeah, you even talk to big investors, venture capitalists, about the importance of having broadband in a city and you find out that, yeah, Obama is right. We talked to Cameron Newton in Tullahoma. He was an investment banker in New York and for a very large bank in Charlotte, and now he’s a venture capitalist and we sat down in his office in Tullahoma to ask him about the importance of broadband to a city.

“Manufacturing in the U.S. is very, very different than it used to be, and it’s changing rapidly. And now you’re having much more automation. The next move in manufacturing is to additive manufacturing, which is 3D printing. None of that equipment is going to be isolated so in other words it’s all going to be connected. So if you don’t have broadband accessibility, if you don’t have fiber in your community, where are these manufacturing plants going to go? Well, they are going to go to areas that do have it.”

The Center for Public Integrity also produced this Reveal Radio story, "Duking It Out With Telecom Giants." Host Al Letson presents Holmes's journey into money in state politics, threats from incumbents, and the power of the telecom industry.

Bozeman's Public-Private Approach In-Depth - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 142

In Montana, local businesses and the city of Bozeman have been working on a public-private partnership approach to expanding Internet access that is likely to involve the city building an open access fiber network. We discuss their approach this week with Brit Fontenot, Economic Development Director for the city of Bozeman; David Fine, Bozeman Economic Development Specialist; and the President of Hoplite Industries, Anthony Cochenour.

Bozeman has long been known as a city with opportunities for outdoor activities but it also has a significant tech presence though like nearly every other community in the United States, many recognize the need for more investment in better options for connectivity.

A group of citizens, local businesses, and city staff have been examining their options, how they might finance it, and how to encourage the existing providers to work with them in improving Internet access.

Read the transcript from this episode here.

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

This show is 22 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."