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Public Private Partnerships: A Reality Check

When Westminster, a community of 18,000 in rural Maryland, found itself with poor Internet access that incumbents refused to improve, it decided to join the ranks of a growing trend: public-private-partnerships between local governments and private companies to invest in next-generation Internet access. They are now working with Ting - one of a growing number of private sector firms seeking partnerships with cities – though how partnerships are structured varies significantly across communities.

In building an infrastructure intended to serve the community for decades, city leaders knew Westminster should retain ownership of the network to ensure it would remain locally accountable. Ting is leasing fiber on the network and providing Internet services to the community with plans to offer some type of video in the near future. The public-private-partnership (or “P3”) includes a temporary exclusivity arrangement for two years or when a minimum number of subscriptions are activated. Westminster will then have the ability to open up its network to other providers in an open access arrangement. 

Communities are realizing that if they want better connectivity, they need to take matters into their own hands. As local leaders wade through the complex process of planning, financing, and deploying Internet network infrastructure, P3s are becoming more common. Communities with little or no experience in managing fiber optic networks may assume that P3s are safer or easier. That may be true or not depending on the specific P3 approach; the data is only starting to come in. P3s have been relatively rare compared to the hundreds of local governments that have chosen to build their own networks in recent decades.

Partnerships will continue playing a larger role  when improving local connectivity but this area is still maturing – there are already a few examples of successful P3s though many will also recall the failed Gigabit Squared P3 approach

P3s are more established in municipal public works projects involving other areas of infrastructure. A November 2013 Governing article by Ryan Holeywell examined the pros and cons of transportation P3s. Many of the lessons apply to other areas of the economy, including efforts to improve Internet access. 

Considering Incentives

Different incentives motivate public and private entities, creating potential challenges implementing P3 projects. Maximizing public benefits is not necessarily counter to ensuring a profit for a partner, but the two goals can be in conflict. An observation from Joshua Schank of the Eno Center in the Governing article hit the mark regarding the incentive imbalance:

Urbana Champaign Logo

The problem, he says, is that the private sector comes to the negotiating table with less to lose than the government, and it is also more willing to walk away. 

Often private partners hold a significant advantage and a willingness to walk away simply because local communities have a critical need with few options. They may feel compelled to make unnecessary sacrifices to expedite the project. For example, Princeton, Massachusetts, had entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with partner Matrix Design to deploy a fiber network. Matrix would have retained control of the network for 20 years if the plan had proceeded. The P3 fell apart when the town discovered relinquishing ownership of the infrastructure jeopardized their grant eligibility.

The P3 between UC2B and iTV3 in Illinois’ Urbana-Champaign region explicitly considers current and future control of the network. UC2B received stimulus funds as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to deploy fiber infrastructure. In 2014, it entered in to an agreement with the Illinois ISP to provide last-mile services over the network. As part of their agreement, UC2B will have the option to purchase any equipment and infrastructure deployed by iTV3 if the two agree to part ways in the future. This provision helps ensure a smooth transition if there is a new provider and gives UC2B the opportunity to control that transition or step back into the role of provider. In short, they have a say in the future of their network whereas other P3s may give sole discretion to the private partner over how the network is managed or who operates it in the future.

Risks in All Directions

Perhaps the greatest attraction for P3s, whether in transportation or broadband, is the desire for elected officials to avoid paying for a project or at least transfer some risk. 

“Politicians are at the point where people are crying out for enhancements to infrastructure, but they don’t want to hear any proposals for new public revenues,” says Phineas Baxandall, a senior budget policy analyst at the nonprofit U.S. PIRG. “So anything that makes it sound like the money’s coming out of thin air is a win-win.”

“It’s perceived as free money,” says [Robert] Puentes of the Brookings Institution. “That perception has to be dealt with,” largely because, Puentes and others say, the capital often comes at a cost that can exceed the expense of typical municipal borrowing.

As Robert Heinlein was fond of writing, there ain't no such thing as a free lunch. These projects require a lot of capital and the private sector will not incur risk without charging for it. A project that seems to good to be true probably is. 

Traditionally, the public sector designs and engineers a project that private sector firms then bid to complete parts of the project. (This is a needed reminder that even purely “public” projects have strong private sector involvement.) P3s come in a variety of flavors, including those in which a private partner handles all phases with little or no competitive bidding. Often that private entity contributes financially to the project as part of the agreement. This transfer of responsibility and potential transfer of risk seems attractive but:

Julie Roin, a University of Chicago law professor, also questions whether the “risk transfer” argument carries any weight. Ostensibly, for the private sector to turn a profit, a deal only makes sense if the government overestimates its risk and underestimates the project’s revenue potential. “It’s not as if any investor is going to accept risk without demanding compensation,” Roin says. “You’re just paying for the risk in a different way.”

The Congressional Budget Office, has determined that, when there is an improvement in cost or speed associated with a transportation project from a P3, the improvements are negligible [PDF of the 2012 report]. In short, some of the widely touted benefits from P3 approaches appear to be overstated or a manifestation of a preference for hiding risk rather than dealing honestly with it.

In many cases, powerful corporations lobby heavily in their own narrow interest against public projects whereas few have a strong direct interest in defending government. From the Governing article:

There’s a growing cadre of academics, activists, and state and federal auditors who question these public-private deals, but their voices aren’t always heard. At that Senate hearing, for instance, none of those dissenting views was represented on the panel. Nor did the hearing highlight what the governments’ own accountants say about P3s—namely that they are unlikely to solve the country’s infrastructure funding gap and, in some cases, may carry risks for state and local governments. “Whenever I see advocacy [for P3s], I look for real economic analysis that justifies privatization,” Cate Long, a municipal finance blogger for Reuters, recently wrote. “It’s never there.”

Congressional Budget Office

In Anoka County, Minnesota, a P3 arrangement limits the county's use of its own fibers on the network to only noncommercial uses. As a result, the County does not have the ability to fully use its own network, built largely with a broadband stimulus award, for economic development. It expected its partner to do more to encourage economic development, but the County apparently did not realize that its partner did not have expertise in that field. A company may be great at operating an advanced network but may not have any interest in the work of luring a potential future client to the county. A lesson from Anoka is that a P3 may require doing even more due diligence than building a municipal network. Read more about Anoka County's project in our 2014 report on 12 local government-led approaches in Minnesota.

Governing touched on a similar, albeit more extreme, situation in its reporting of a P3 transportation project in California:

When the government wanted to expand parts of the roadway to alleviate congestion, it was blocked by a “non-compete” clause in the 35-year contract. Following litigation, the government ultimately bought out the private partner. Just seven years after the express lanes opened, the county’s transportation authority paid $207.5 million for the $130 million project. That’s a worst-case scenario, of course. Those who study P3s say governments have learned their lesson about non-compete clauses. But “compensation” or “stabilization” clauses—in which governments owe the contractor money for taking actions that could reduce toll revenue—continue.

None of these criticisms are meant to suggest that P3s are unwarranted or inherently bad. Rather, we remain concerned that P3s are sometimes elevated as the ideal solution to all investment needs merely because the term public-private-partnership suggests that everyone is working together in harmony. Harmony isn’t easy. However, we firmly believe we will continue learning from previous efforts and improving on the P3 model. In the meantime, no one should assume that P3s are easier or less risky than a municipal network.

P3s and Opposition

Even though the FCC has begun to chip away at state barriers in Tennessee and North Carolina, these barriers persist in many states. Some of those restrictions prevent a local government from working with a private partner or at the very least, restrict the type of partnership available.

Unlike roads, community broadband projects are often the target of threatened incumbents or their lobbyist organizations. If a local community and a private firm work together, they may soften the ire of the mega corporate providers who cry foul at the prospect of a municipal broadband network. Communities working with a private sector firm may be more resistant to claims that the investment plan is somehow anti-business or anti-private-sector.

Conclusion

Some communities are too intimidated to take on the challenge of offering a service directly in competition with big providers like Comcast. They would greatly prefer to focus on the infrastructure side of the equation while a trusted partner focused on advertising and provisioning the services (which tend to evolve more rapidly).  If P3s allow local governments to achieve their goals without directly competing against a big cable company (as Westminster – Ting seems to), we will see many more of these approaches. However, that also depends on having a trusted partner working with the community.

Carl Junction
When Internet access is poor in a town of 7,500, it is not easy to get the attention of AT&T or Mediacom. It is also not easy to fund an estimated $5 million fiber project in a fiscally conservative community, even when the majority of residents need better connectivity. In Carl Junction, Missouri, local leaders are partnering with a local private ISP to offer high capacity LTE wireless Internet access for residents and businesses if enough people pre-subscribe. The town will purchase the equipment and provide locations for installation. In exchange, their partner will perform all installation and management of the network; the town will also share in revenue beyond a 10 percent take rate and will also receive free public Wi-Fi.  Carl Junction’s partnership is one of many approaches that show how these partnerships have varying levels of risk and reward.

P3s may be the best solution for some communities, but they are not a guaranteed superior approach to a project owned and operated by local governments. Some of the most celebrated networks in this country, including Wilson, Lafayette, and Chattanooga, are not structured as P3s. The Governing article ends on this reminder:

“It’s a tool that can be valuable but needs to be used very carefully and with a complete understanding,” says Bob Ward, New York’s deputy comptroller for budget and policy analysis. He notes that public-private partnerships aren’t the only way to do big projects. “We went to the moon without a P3.”

P3s will continue to evolve and improve. We truly hope to see more ISPs emerging as viable and trusted partners for cities that want to focus only on infrastructure without having to get involved in service provision. Not as a replacement for other municipal approaches but as yet another group of models that communities can evaluate for their unique situation.

Princeton, Mass, Setback in Muni Fiber Quest

Folks in Princeton, Massachusetts have anxiously awaited better broadband for about two years as community leaders explored ways to deploy fiber in the community. According to the Telegram, the wait will be even longer than expected. The tentative deal between Princeton and Matrix Design Group for a public private partnership is over.

As we reported last December, 90 percent of voters attending a special town meeting approved a measure to borrow funds to get deployment started. Princeton planned to use $1.2 million for make-ready measures to pave the way for Matrix to install its FTTH network. The town would not have to pay any more to construct the network, but they would be sacrificing control over the infrastructure.

Apparently, it is this lack of control that soured the proposed deal. From the Telegram article:

But while the town authorized borrowing the money, the broadband light plant commissioners could not secure authorization from bond counsel to borrow the money without an operating agreement that said the town had control over the design, construction, operation, maintenance and pricing of the network.

In a Princeton press release [PDF]:

“Matrix, citing its business model, was not willing to discuss or negotiate its position of network control for a period of 20 years before turning it over to us,”[said Stan Moss, Princeton Selectman and one of the leaders of the initiative].

As part of the agreement between Princeton and Matrix, the city would have obtained control and ownership of the network after 20 years.

Another wrinkle in the plan appeared when Princeton learned that they would not qualify for grant money available from the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI). The organization is handling distribution of state and federal funds to assist in local deployments. Handing over control of the network to a private party in such a fashion is against the criteria established for grant eligibility.

The Princeton Broadband Committee will petition bond counsel to move forward to approve $1.2 million so the community can continue with make-ready plans. In the mean time, Princeton will get back out there and seek another partner.

While we are sympathetic to the people in Princeton who must wait longer to get fast, affordable, reliable broadband, we are somewhat relieved they have another chance to develop a partnership with more local control. The community may have felt protected because they were not investing in the full cost of a network, but without ownership the community would be unable to ensure it had the level of service it will need.

Community Broadband Media Roundup - May 8, 2015

State-by-State Community Network Coverage

Maine

Bangor panel argues state must invest in broadband or fall behind by Nick McCrea, Bangor Daily News

Broadband’s influence on economic development is an “academic marvel, because it’s the only thing that all economists agree on,” according to [Tilson Tech broadband consultant, Aaron] Paul. He argued the infrastructure is “fundamentally cheap,” when compared with investments, such as natural gas connections, because fiber optic cables can be hung on utility poles.

Maryland

Baltimore Broadband Coalition wants your input by Stephen Babcock, Technical.ly

Massachusetts

Colrain eyes broadband options Tuesday by Diane Broncaccio, Recorder

Princeton to seek new broadband partner by Sandy Meindersma, Telegram

North Carolina

Fibrant’s new director: we’re evaluating every portion of the business by David Purtell, Salisbury Post

Ohio

Broadband conversation begins 

Local officials who want to see improved broadband Internet service in the area pitched their ideas during an information session Monday.

Tennessee

Athens TN to get fiber-optic Internet, thanks to EPB, Times Free Press

Need for speed: city utilities fight to offer internet by Jim Matheny, WBIR

"We are making a profit, we're paying down the loans, and the money we make get reinvested in the network and the community. That is all money that used to leave this town and go to stockholders of private companies without making the service here any better," said Wigington.

EPB looks to next school year for discounted Internet by David Morton, Nooga.com DAVID MORTON

Comcast announces super-fast Internet in Tenn., mum on cost by Erik Schelzig, Associated Press 

Comcast brings fiber to city that it sued 7 years ago to stop fiber rollout by Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica

"I'm an EPB customer that had to sit on the sidelines while Comcast sued my city to halt the fiber rollout...  I'm glad they lost as it was a total win for the community here," cdclndc told Ars, adding that Comcast has struggled to maintain Chattanooga customers since the EPB rollout. "I have EPB's 1/1Gbps service at home, and to be honest after all the shenanigans [Comcast] pulled here keeping our city tied up in court for the longest time trying to hold onto their monopoly, I wouldn't go back to them on principle alone."

Comcast launching 2-gig broadband to trump Chattanooga's municipal gigabit offering

This isn't the first sign that the evolving U.S. broadband market is forcing Comcast to improve its services. Earlier this month, the ISP announced that it will begin rolling out its 2-gig Gigabit Pro service in Atlanta in May. Just over two months earlier, Google announced that it was bringing its $70, 1-gig Google Fiber service to Atlanta.

West Virginia

Huntington mayor says fiber broadband “a game-changer for economic development” by Marcus Constantino, Charleston Daily Mail

“Do you want to go into a NASCAR race with a Volkswagen Beetle?” Williams said. “The Volkswagen Beetle certainly has a function and it can get people where they want to go, but if you’re going to be competing in the international marketplace, broadband is the interstate of the 21st century. In order for us to compete effectively, we don’t need as much to have an international airport as we need the ability to compete with somebody across the world in China and be able to compete at a speed that belies any other place.” 

 

Other Muni Broadband News

OPINION: The right to high-speed Internet Seth Bailey, CNBC

In short, municipal broadband allows those in rural areas to have high-speed access similar to that offered to residents of urban areas. Which means the quality of their technological lives do not suffer due to their addresses.

FCC's Sohn: Wired Broadband Competition Lacking by John Eggerton, Broadcasting and Cable

Wheeler to Cable: Suck It Up by Alan Breznick, Light Reading

Wheeler urged cable operators to "overcome the temptation to use your predominant position in broadband to protect your traditional cable business." If they don't, he warned, "the Internet will disrupt your existing business model. You can take that to the bank because it has done that to everybody."

That 20 Mbps Broadband Line We Promised? It's Actually 300 Kbps. Enjoy! by Karl Bode, Tech Dirt

Poorly-served towns and cities need the right to craft their own, flexible and customized broadband solutions in cases of market failure -- whether that's a publicly-owned fiber ring or a public/private partnership with somebody like Google. Instead, we've watched as the same telcos that don't even want to serve many of these DSL customers -- pass protectionist law preventing these communities from doing anything about it. We're only just starting to see this logjam starting to break, but it's going to take a lot more work to get many of these broadband black holes out of the grip of mega-ISP apathy.

The Latest on Wired West Rural Fiber - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 149

Our second episode of Community Broadband Bits featured an interview with Monica Webb, Chair of the Wired West Board and Spokesperson. Three years later, we are excited to have Monica on the show again to update us on their recent progress.

As we recently noted, the state has decided to contribute significantly to the capital costs of a network connecting these rural towns and the towns are currently voting on whether to move forward.

In our discussion, we discuss Wired West and what it is like to live with very poor Internet access in 2015. You can read all of our coverage of Wired West here. Keep an eye on @Wired_West on Twitter for breaking news - 2 more communities voted to move forward with overwhelming majorities last night!

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

This show is 27 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."

Chris to Speak in Cambridge, Massachusetts on May 5th

On Tuesday, May 5th, Chris will speak at an open meeting to provide information on municipal fiber networks. The community is in the process of exploring the possibility of investing in infrastructure to improve local connectivity. 

The city formed its task force in 2014 and are in the process of establishing a relationship with a consultant to help them move forward. 

The presentation will be at the Harvard Information Center, 1350 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge. The event starts at 5 p.m.

Shutesbury and Wendell Residents Ready to Vote on WiredWest

Five months ago volunteers in Shutesbury gathered to inventory local poles to prepare for a possible fiber deployment. Now, more than 40 percent of local households have committed to high-speed Internet access through WiredWest, reports MassLive. Nearby Wendell is also celebrating the 40 percent milestone. According to the article, these are the first communities in the WiredWest region to reach the 40 percent milestone

The next step will be a required two-thirds vote at a town meeting to authorize borrowing to fund the deployment in each community. After that, a majority of voters must approve a debt exclusion in Shutesbury and Wendell to invest in the capital projects as required by state law.

Shutesbury's Broadband Committee Co-chair Gayle Huntress told MassLive that it was no surprise that the community reached the 40 percent threshold needed to move to the next step:

"We are internet-starved," she said. "You should see the people sitting in their cars outside the library and town hall to use the wireless signal."

A small portion of Shutesbury residents already have access to the internet via Verizon DSL, which is built upon deteriorating copper telephone wires, said Huntress. Others use satellite dishes.

Shutesbury is home to approximately 1,800 people on 27 square miles. Wendell is a bit larger at 32 square miles but only 848 people live there.They expect to borrow $1.66 million and $1.19 million respectively to apply to the cost of deployment in their communities. 

Massachusetts has offered to contribute up to 40 percent of the funds to connect rural towns to the state's MassBroadband 123 middle mile network, but local communities must contribute the remainder. In Shutesbury, the total cost of the deployment is estimated at $2.58 million.

Community Broadband Media Roundup - April 17

This week, Christopher traveled to Austin, Texas for the Broadband Communities Conference. It was great to connect with so many people doing great work and build on the energy we are seeing across the country. Onward!

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler Pokes Finger in Eye of Telecom Incumbents at Broadband Communities in Austin by Drew Clark, BroadbandBreakfast.com

Wheeler Talks Up Pre-emption Says There Are Serious Questions About ISP Competition by John Eggerton, MultiChannel

Just to reiterate: 

"The Commission respects the important role of state governments in our federal system," he said, "and we do not take the matter of preempting state laws lightly. But it is a well-established principle that state laws that inhibit the exercise of federal policy may be subject to preemption in appropriate circumstances. My position on this matter was shaped by a few irrefutable broadband truths:

  • You can't say you're for broadband - but endorse limits on who can offer it,
  • You can't follow Congress' explicit instruction to 'remove barriers' to infrastructure investment - but endorse barriers to infrastructure investment,
  • And you can't say you're for competition - but deny local elected officials the right to offer competitive choices."

National broadband summit aims to 'Gigafy America' WRAL TechWire

Municipal Broadband: Signs of Desperation? by Bernie Arnason, Telecompetitor

One response to this question regarding the need for municipals to enter the broadband business grabbed my attention – desperation. It was voiced by Deborah Acosta, the chief innovation officer for the city of San Leandro, California during the panel discussion “Using Broadband to Drive Economic Development: Successful Local Approaches.”

 

Community Broadband Networks News: State-by-State

California

Digital Divide: 100,000 lack Internet access in SF, report says by Joshua Sabatini, San Francisco Examiner

100,000 San Franciscans Don't Have Internet? by Jay Barmann, SFist

Massachusetts

Letter: Key moment for broadband by Steve Nelson, Berkshire Eagle

The regional fiber network is our best tool for economic development. For keeping young people here after they graduate from our fine colleges and universities. For attracting families with young children, who will get a better education because increasingly kids will have to do more homework online.

...

The choice we face in our moment of truth this spring is simple. Each of us must decide for ourselves, our families and our towns: to move ahead or fall behind.

Washington

Group fighting for Seattle broadband to become a public utility by Kipp Robertson, MyNorthwest.com 

Citizens took to social media when Comcast service went down for more than 30,000 customers. Follow the hashtag: #ComcastOutage for the stream.

"If Internet were a public utility in Seattle, everyone would have access," Roach said. "There's just no limit to the things that could shift in our city if we had that access."

Making Internet a public utility could allow for better reliability, Roach said. The impact of construction crews accidentally cutting a fiber-optic line in South Lake Union, for example, might have less impact if there are more safeguards.

Restless crowd wants Tacoma to keep control of Click network by Kate Martin, News Tribune

People are passionate about connectivity, and believe that there are may benefits beyond the bottom line. It's important that elected officials realize this before they make long-term deals that will impact their constituents. 

 

Oh, ALEC...

Phone Company Refuses to Stop Denouncing ALEC’s Telecom Policy Credo Mobile said it will not comply with the conservative group's cease-and-desist demands by Dustin Volz, National Journal

Anti-municipal broadband group tries to silence a critic ALEC sent cease-and-desist to wireless carrier, which refuses to comply by Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica

ALEC Threatens To Sue Critics That Point Out It Helps Keep Broadband Uncompetitive from the sloppy-denial dept by Karl Bode, TechDirt

Leverett Starts to Light Up in Massachusetts

The celebrated municipal network in Leverett, Massachusetts, is starting to serve select areas of the community. Customers' properties on the north side of town are now receiving 1 gigabit Internet service from the town's partner Crocker Communications. These early subscribers are considered "beta sites." Telephone service will become available when the network has been fully tested.

According to the press release:

The Town's initial plan was to turn on all subscriber locations at the same time; but interest from pre-subscribers was so strong that the Town's Broadband Committee arranged to offer sequential connections as individual homes are spliced into the network distribution cable. 

We learned about Leverett in 2012 as they explored the possibility of a municipal network. Lack of Internet access and problems with traditional phone service drove the community to take the initiative. Since then, they have been heralded as a model for self-reliance by the press, featured in case studies, and included in a white paper from the National Economic Council and Council of Economic Advisors.

LeverettNet subscribers pay a monthly $49.95 fee to the local Municipal Light Plant (MLP), the agency that maintains and operates the infrastructure. As more subscribers sign-up, that fee will decrease.

For stand-alone gigabit Internet access, subscribers pay an additional $24.95 per month. Stand-alone telephone service will be $29.95 per month. Those services will be $44.95 per month when bundled together.

A subscriber with bundled services of 1 gigabit symmetrical Internet access and telephone service pays a total of $94.90 per month, which includes the MLP fee. 

According to the press release, LeverettNet currently has 600 pre-subscribers, a take rate of 70%. Community leaders expect the network to be completed by August.

For more on Leverett, listen to the Community Broadband Bits podcast episode #113, in which Chris interviewed Peter d'Errico from Leverett's Select Board and the Broadband Committee.

Community Broadband Media Roundup - April 12

Community Broadband News Around the Nation:

Colorado

Community and candidates react to Grand Junction election results by Lindsey Pallares, KJCT-TV

“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.

Connecticut

Connectict is taking steps to become the nation's first gigabit state. You can also check out our Community Broadband Bits episode 118 for more on how they're doing it.

At Least One State has a (Fiber) Backbone by Susan Crawford, Backchannel

Who’s on track to get citizens high-speed Internet? Hint: it’s the only state with the word “connect” in its name.

How Connecticut set itself up to be the first gigabit state by Colin Neagle, Network World

Georgia

PTC to get into fiber-optic broadband business? by Ben Nelms, The Citizen

Maine

New group forms to support faster Internet in Maine by Darren Fishell, BDN Staff

Dickstein said the group has been organizing for several months in advance of the legislative session that includes about 35 bills dealing with broadband expansion in the state. Learn More: mainebroadbandcoalition.org

Massachusetts

On the Grid: last-mile LeverettNet Connections being made to households by Paul Franz, The Recorder 

The lighting of LeverettNet marks the first “last-mile” network to connect to the Massachusetts Broadband Institute “middle-mile.” The fiber-optic network design provides upload and download speeds of 1 gigabit per second.

Shutesbury, Wendell first Wired West towns to reach subscription threshold for high-speed Internet by Mary Serreze, The Republican 

A Decade Later, Mass. Broadband Coverage Gaps Persist by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

It’s time for western Mass. to get up to broadband speed by B.J. Roche, The Recorder

Webb’s commute is a common ritual — people regularly drive to a library or town hall parking lot for a high-speed Internet connection. At night, you sometimes can see us sitting in the passenger seat side of our cars, uploading a work project or downloading a software update, faces lit by the glow of a warm laptop. It’s not just a question of which movie to stream on Friday night, but whether there’s enough satellite bandwidth left this month to watch it.

Minnesota

‘Rural agenda’ without broadband is rural sham by Aaron Brown, Minnesota Brown

This last year has seen a small but encouraging spurt of state investment into rural broadband on the Iron Range, but it was just the starting bell, not the final buzzer on what needs to happen

... I understand that Republicans don’t trust government. That does not excuse action to eliminate efforts to expand broadband without new ideas to replace them. I wrote earlier today about the perils awaiting places like the Iron Range without broadband and economic diversification. The same is true throughout rural Minnesota. As was true 100 years ago, we need leadership and respect, not promises and exploitation.

US Internet's fiber spreads across south Minneapolis by Adam Belz, Star Tribune

“There are good reasons Comcast should be more afraid of USI,” [Chris] Mitchell said. “Comcast competes with CenturyLink around the country. The cable companies have a history of duopoly — of a soft competition rather than hard competition because they recognize that a rough and tumble competition between the two would hurt each more than each is likely to gain.” 

The cable war is coming to St. Paul by Peter Callaghan, MinnPost

CenturyLink aims to bring more competition to Twin Cities cable-TV market by Shannon Prather, Star Tribune

FCC fines CenturyLink $16M over multistate 911 outage by Riham Feshir, MPR News

New Jersey

Village-wide wifi getting close look by Charles A. Peterson, Newark Advocate

"From the standpoint of a community that basically is a knowledge-based community, it would be nice if we had a little faster Internet service available," Wilken said. "When a community earns its bread through knowledge, it's kind of nice to have that kind of high-speed stuff."

Oregon

Google who? Oregon cities want their own fiber networks by Mike Rogoway, The Oregonian/OregonLive

"We realized we're too small for Google to come to us," said SandyNet general manager Joe Knapp.

Budget plans called for signing up a third of the city initially, growing to 50 percent over several years. But Knapp said well over 50 percent of the homes in the city have already come aboard.

Oregon cities look to bypass Google Fiber by building own 1 Gbps networks by Sean Buckley

"They may be a benign company but they would still be a monopoly," said Lake Oswego city manager Scott Lazenby in an article in The Oregonian. "And monopolies charge what they can."

Vermont

Broadband bills take a number in house commerce by Erin Mansfield, VTDigger

“We’re just a huge, underserved region, but we have a lot of kids who can’t do their homework,” said CJ Stumpf of East Randolph. Stumpf said a child in her town was issued an iPad at school and used it as a paperweight at home because he had no Internet access.

Washington

CenturyLink Apologizes for Misleading Customer About Its Gigabit Internet Service by Ansel Herz , the Stranger

Google Fiber

Google Fiber Is More Important Than You May Think by Jamal Carnette, Motley Fool

Google is forcing big broadband providers to boost speeds by Timothy B. Lee, Vox

Other Broadband News

CLIC Sets Muni Broadband Protection Event: Wheeler to Speak at Broadband Communities Conference by John Eggerton, MultiCHannel 

US broadband providers wake up to the need for speed by David Crow, Financial Times New York

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.