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Yolo County, California Ready for Better Broadband

The Yolo County Board of Supervisors in California voted unanimously recently to accept consultants' recommendations to take steps improve broadband in the county. Some of those recommendations included investing in infrastructure to improve both urban and rural areas in the northern county. 

The Davis Enterprise reported on the meeting from February 24th:

With its diverse mix of rural and urban areas, the county has communities where little or no broadband service is available. And even in urban areas with greater access to service and providers, many residents complain of slow and unreliable connections, according to the Yolo Broadband Strategic Plan, which also provided direction for county officials on closing the divide in the coming years.

The strategic plan, commissioned in 2013, notes that in some areas residents must rely on dial-up or satellite:

“Residents are generally limited to low-speed connections that prevent these users from accessing the majority of online content,” reported John Honker of Magellan Advisors LLC, which prepared the report.

“Using the Internet for anything but simple Web browsing is challenging in these communities,” he said.

The situation is especially critical for farming communities in the county, reports the study:

Yolo's agricultural populations are also challenged by poor access to broadband, especially in the farming and seed technology industries. Yolo farms are often unable to keep up with the technological advancements in the agricultural field that would allow them achieve greater productivity and better management of their natural resources.

In the more urban areas, such as the City of Davis (home of UC Davis), residents complain they cannot get the service they need in households with multiple devices. In those cases, the bandwidth they need is just too expensive if it is available. These same communities complain of unreliable networks.

Almost a third of Yolo County residents who responded to the study survey reported that they use satellite or dial-up for Internet access, 35 percent said they use AT&T DSL, 18 percent reported they use Frontier DSL, and 18 percent reported they use mobile Internet. Eighty-five percent of respondents reported download speeds of slower than 6 Mbps, reports the Yolo County profile from the study.

“Yolo County is on the wrong side of the digital divide,” [Honker] told county supervisors. “The more devices we’re using, we’re taxing our connections more, creating demand for the services and the networks can’t keep up.”

Public or Private Ownership? Community Broadband Bits Episode 132

Ever since the last time I spoke with Blair Levin on Episode 37, I have wanted to have him back for a friendly discussion about public or private ownership of next generation networks.

Though Blair and I entirely agree that local governments should be free to decide locally whether a community broadband network investment is a wise choice, he tends to see more promise in partnerships or other private approaches whereas we at ILSR tend to be concerned about the long term implications of private ownership of essential infrastructure.

In what may be the longest interview we have done, Blair and I discuss where we agree and how we differ. We weren't looking to prove the other wrong so much as illustrate our different points of view so listeners can evaluate our sides. Ultimately, we both believe in a United States where communities can choose between both models -- and some may even seek solutions that incorporate both.

Blair Levin was the FCC Chief of Staff when Reed Hundt was Chair and was instrumental in forming Gig.U. In between, he did a lot of things, including being Executive Director for the FCC's National Broadband Plan. He is currently with the Metropolitan Project at Brookings.

Read the transcript of our discussion here.

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

This show is 37 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 Dickey F for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Florida Mama."

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 129

Thanks to Jeff Hoel for providing the transcript for Episode 129 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast with Michael Liimatta of the nonprofit Connecting for Good in Kansas City, Missouri. Listen to this episode here.

00:04:

Michael Liimatta: It's a digital world that we live in. And so, if you're not online, you're not really a fully-functioning citizen.

00:11:

Lisa Gonzalez: Hello. You are listening to the Community Broadband Bits Podcast, from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. This is Lisa Gonzalez.

This week, Chris and his guest, Michael Liimatta, discuss digital inclusion efforts in Kansas City. Michael is President of the nonprofit, Connecting for Good, an organization in the region, aiming to bring more lower-income households online. As our listeners know, Google Fiber is now deploying in the community. Chris and Michael discuss whether or not the deployment has increased rates of adoption. Michael and Chris ponder some proposed ideas for bringing lower-income households online: Charging a very low rate. Should access be free? How does home access affect adoption, as opposed to access in a library or other community space? We encourage you to visit connectingforgood.org to learn more about the organization, especially if you feel your community could benefit from a digital inclusion program.

We bring you the Community Broadband Bits Podcast advertisement-free each week. Please consider contributing to help us continue to carry on this valuable service. It's easy. Visit ILSR.org and click on the orange "donate" button.

Here are Chris and Michael.

01:26:

Chris Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell. And today, I'm speaking with Michael Liimatta, the President of a nonprofit organization, Connecting for Good. Welcome to the show.

01:40:

Michael Liimatta: Thank you very much.

01:42:

Chris: Michael, I'm really excited to have you on this show, because I know you've been doing excellent work in Kansas City. You and I are on a -- the same LISTSERV, where we talk about a lot of these different issues. And I've always found you to have -- I think you give a lot of deep thought to these issues, deeper than perhaps other people are. So, I was excited to have you on. And I'd like to start by asking you to tell us a little bit more about Connecting for Good.

02:09:

Michael: Yeah. Well, we have been around since November of 2011. That was actually, you know, my partner, Rick Deane, and I, the cofounders, were excited when Google Fiber was coming to Kansas City. We really thought, you know, it would be a great opportunity to reach out to people who have, you know, not been connected up to this point. We had worked together on some projects because Rick had an IT company, called NPO Tech Support, and I had done a lot of consulting for nonprofits. I'm actually the acting Dean at City Vision College, an online school I started in 1998, and have been involved in working with the homeless and alcoholics and drug addicts for over 30 years. So, I'm kind of aware of the empowering, you know, nature of accessible technology. So -- and Rick, on the other hand, you know, was an installer for One Economy in Kansas City when they were active here. He brought Wi-Fi to about 16 housing projects. So he's kind of on that end of things.

03:10:

Chris: Can you tell us a little bit about Kansas City. And, you know, is there -- is Kansas City just a typical urban area that has populations that aren't really served under the current situation? Or is there something unique about Kansas City, aside from Google Fiber?

03:26:

Michael: Yeah. Well, I think Kansas City itself has got a long history of racism and intentional redlining. And, as a result, I mean, the city is almost split down the middle between majority-white, majority-black neighborhoods. And so, everything east of Troost in Kansas City, Missouri, is like 90 percent black. And, you know, we know that all of the studies of this area showed that, you know, there are neighborhoods east of Troost that have -- fewer than 20 percent of the people have home Internet connections. In the Kansas City, Missouri, school district, we know that 70 percent of the kids don't have Internet at home. So there are huge, you know, disparities between what people can do, economically, academically. And so, we really felt like, you know, this was a time, and this was an opportunity to seize a chance to go out and say, you know, let's get these people connected.

So, we actually formed our board and incorporated in 2011. And our first project was something called Rosedale Ridge, which is a 158-unit, Section 8 property in Kansas City, Kansas. And we, of course, hoped that Google Fiber would allow us to their back -- you know, their bandwidth. But it turns out, at least at the time, their fiber-to-the-home didn't allow multiple users. So, we, at that point, got hooked up with Isaac Wilder and the Free Network Foundation that learned how to do backhaul through the microwave dishes. So we kind of became our own nonprofit ISP. And today we still supply about 500 low-income households with free Internet.

The other side of our project is that we are a computer re-user. We try to rescue usable computers from the scrap dealers and refurbish them and offer them to low-income families for $75. And then we have a training component, where we're involved with, you know, teaching people how to use the Internet, how to -- computer basics. And a three-hour class is required before you can buy a computer for $75. To kind of take home a computer that's useful, we've hooked up with EveryOneOn.org and Mobile Beacon, to actually allow them to buy a $45 router that will allow them to get 4G Internet for $10 a month. No contracts. No credit checks. And we actually accept cash from people who, you know, don't have bank cards or credit cards.

06:06:

Chris: Well, that's an important point. I'm glad you raised that. And, actually, your solution at $10 a month, it's worth noting, is far superior to the Comcast solution of Internet Essentials, because your solution would allow people to use multiple devices. So if kids in the school district got a device from the school district, you know, you could have multiple people in the household connecting, whereas Comcast Internet Essentials only allows one device to use the Internet at a time.

06:34:

Michael: Right. And I think the other side of the Kansas City, Missouri, school district is that 40 percent of the kids will move during the school year. So even Google Fiber, which is, you know, to a particular residence, doesn't help them much when they're not there at the end of the school year. So, it's a device that is, you know, you can take with you wherever you go. And it's kind of the equivalent of a pay-as-you-go cell phone. So, you could give us $10 this month, you can have the service, If you don't pay it next month, you don't have the service, but if you come back again, sometime during the month, we'll turn it back on, in 30-day increments.

07:09:

Chris: Right. And I want to point that I -- just for our listeners -- when you -- we normally talk about municipal networks and things that are related. And one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you is because you're working on these kind of solutions that I think can inform what people are doing with municipal networks. And one of the things that you said earlier, that I want to come back to briefly, is that you had hoped that you would be able to get connections from Google and then share them. So maybe get one or two connections from Google and then share it over multiple households -- something that the cable companies and telephone companies don't let us do. And Google decided not to let us do that. And I think many municipalities don't allow people to do that either. So I just want to put it out there as something that you saw a solution there, and it's something that we don't really see ISPs in general allowing people to do.

07:58:

Michael: Yeah, well -- and, of course, we haven't given up. Google has announced this small business plan. And, you know, we -- actually, we have used Time Warner in the past for one of our projects. It was a commercial connection. So we have hopes, maybe, that, you know, there's a ** another avenue for sharing bandwidth to a commercial connection of some sort that Google provides.

08:19:

Chris: Right. Now, one of the things that, as I understand it, Google helped to set up was the Kansas City Digital Inclusion Fund. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

08:29:

Michael: Yes. Well, Connecting for Good is one of the first recipients of a fund that was actually organized by Google Fiber. And it included some other funders. Like, Sprint got involved. And J. E. Dunn. And, you know, the whole idea was to put together a million dollars and to offer $300,000 of finance a year. So, last year, we received about $35,000.from that. And used it to basically upgrade our refurbishing operations. And the other nonprofits were a couple of Hispanic groups, the public library, and another youth organization.

09:06:

Chris: Do you have any advice for other cities that are trying to set up digital inclusion funds? You know, we had an effort here in Minneapolis. And the way the contract was worded, the provider that was getting city money to build a Wi-Fi network effectively stopped making contributions to it, which was very disappointing. So my experience has been somewhat negative. You know, what advice would you give to cities that want to set up a fund like that?

09:34:

Michael: Well, I think it's an awesome thing. And the key is to really start talking to the people who are already doing the work. You know, I think that if you design any kind of fund that, you know, you don't consult the people who will actually be the beneficiaries, you're not going to get something that is really practical for them. And I think, you know, again, in Kansas City, like many other major cities, the people who are unable to connect are really left out. I mean, it's a digital world that we live in. And so if you're not online, you're not really a fully-functioning citizen. You know, people have thought that perhaps the public libraries or such could really, you know, solve part of the problem. But, at least in Kansas City, they're completely deluged. So either you wait for a couple hours to use the computer for 45 minutes. And if you had to check your e-mail every day by doing that, it would be pretty discouraging. So, you know, we just really think the gold standard is Internet in the home.

Well, we've gotten a little bit involved also with working with Free Networks, and have supported their work here in Kansas City, too. So, we're trying to do it on multiple levels. You know, our whole idea is, how do we get you connected? Are you in a Google Fiber neighborhood? Can you afford it? Is it an opportunity? You know, if you're in a public housing project that you live in, of course we provide it for free.

10:50:

Chris: Can you tell us a little bit about that? So, is the -- in the -- what happens if you're living in a public housing?

10:57:

Michael: Well, right now, we have a partnership with the Kansas City, Kansas, Public Housing Authority And they've pretty much given us open door as far as all their properties. Of course, the key is always the funding element. Last year we had a crowd funder here on a platform called Neighborly. And we raised a total of about $40,000 to bring their biggest property online, and that was called Juniper Gardens, which has about 400 households. And so, we built the Wi-Fi hotspot, using equipment that was donated by One Economy, to bring Internet to all this property. So we put about 70 radios on 40 buildings.

11:39:

Chris: And so, you took $40,000, and you were able to serve 400 housing units.

11:45:

Michael: Yes.

11:46:

Chris: And that corresponds --

11:47:

Michael: About $100 a door.

11:48:

Chris: Right. And, presumably, you have -- you know, what, two and a half, three people in each of those units?

11:54:

Michael: Yes.

11:54:

Chris: So, that's really quite remarkable impact.

11:56:

Michael: Yeah, we really think so. And, you know, we're seeing, really, like maybe about 150 gig of data being transferred a week in this particular housing project.

12:08:

Chris: Well, I want to get back to Google briefly, and just -- one of the things that enjoyed in talking with you online is the nuance. And some people are very critical of Google. And some people only want to praise Google. And I think you and I have been taking a position of, this is good, and this is challenging, or we don't really like that so much.

12:27:

Michael: Uh huh.

12:28:

Chris: Google's decided not to serve some neighborhoods. And that's obviously disappointing. Now, they gave those neighborhoods a chance to sign up. So that's different from what we've seen from other carriers. But I'm curious if you can tell me -- and maybe we'll separate it into the neighborhoods that are served by Google, and then those that are not served by Google, separately. But, how has the Google Fiber network impacted low-income neighborhoods in Kansas City?

12:57:

Michael: It brought faster Internet to people that were using fast Internet. But, really, was not any kind of significant impact upon any low-income neighborhoods at all. The -- you know, there's less than a 10 percent adoption rate in the traditionally black and low-income neighborhoods of east-of-Troost. And also in Wyandotte County, where we work -- where we have a community technology center. And that just follows pretty much the pattern of all of those neighborhoods, that, you know, like, one in five people has an Internet connection. And so, those who had it thought that Google was a great deal. Those who weren't already on line first, and didn't understand it, may not have had the money to do it -- it didn't happen.

13:40:

Chris: What IS the barrier for people who are not online where it's available?

13:47:

Michael: Well, I think there's a lot of barriers. First off, of course, is the cost of the equipment, which is something we're trying to address through refurbished computers. The cost of a subscription. There was a lot problems around renters -- that, you know, unless the landlord initially paid $300, you weren't going to -- for your unit and every unit in your building, you weren't going to get Google Fiber. So, I understand now they have changed that policy, and we'll see what the impact of that is. But, ultimately, too, is just the fact that people don't understand the Internet. They're intimidated by it. They don't see its relevance in their lives. Plus the cost, you know. Plus not owning a device. So there are some on-the-ground issues -- that a lot of Pew research studies have indicated. I guess the hopeful part for us, though, was that, you know, we did -- we've trained like two thousand people in our -- what we call our Free Digital Life Skills Class, this year already. And our profile is pretty much 80% black, because that's the neighborhoods that we're in, but also 75% $20,000 a year income or less, two-thirds women. And of the women, I mean, most of them are 50 and older, and have a child under 18 living in their home. So, in some ways, we're kind of in this motif of empowering older black women to the Internet, and they're taking computers from us home -- and connectivity home -- to where they have children in their care.

15:18:

Chris: Now, I think, one of the benefits that you had identified in a previous discussion was that Google coming in has cast more light on the issue, and really helped to galvanize a better conversation about the need of many in Kansas City for better options than they currently have.

15:37:

Michael: Yes. I would say that is THE biggest impact of Google Fiber on the low-income neighborhoods. Very simply, that they did a digital inclusion, or a digital divide, study, and, you know, it just sort of like made people aware of -- hey, wow, you know, there's a huge percentage of our people that aren't online, and aren't using the Internet. So it really created, you know, quite a thrust among ourselves, the public library and other nonprofits to figure out, well, how -- what are we going to do about this now? And so, we have actually been meeting for a couple of years. And a group got ** Kansas City Digital Inclusion Coalition. We actually sponsored a summit on the 17th of October that was very well attended. And we'll be doing a follow-up here in January of that summit. And we got a lot of, you know, think tanks and discussion and energy going. And so now, actually, we're moving to the place where our city council is about ready to pass a resolution in support of digital inclusion activities. And we're actually moving toward the city opening up more of its facilities. You know, Google Fiber is installing free connections at many of the community centers. So we're, right now, working to install computers and all of the equipment to make sure they can use that gigabit connection. And then other community organizations engage with, you know, training and things at those sites. So, we're -- you know, we're really excited for that part. You know, I guess it's a problem that's been kicking around for years, but they're actually coming to Kansas City to sort of put the spotlight on it.

17:22:

Chris: To wrap up, I'm curious if you can help me understand something, which is: Do we need to just lower the cost of connectivity, and teach people how to use computers? Or do we need to find a way of making sure there's a free connection available at every address in a given city?

17:40:

Michael: Well, you know, I think that there's an element of expecting people to pay for something. Because what they've actually invested in, I believe, they value more. So, that's why, you know, we try to offer it for ten dollars, because that's a price point practically anybody can do -- it's like two packs of cigarettes, right? -- to get Internet for a month. And with our computers for $75, we let people actually make payments -- layaway ...

18:10:

Chris: Right.

18:10:

Michael: ... before they purchase it. And so, we want them to have that investment. And because, you know, we've invested more than $75 into these computers, we don't want them in a pawn shop in a week. So people have to take the class, put their money in. So it's -- you know, there's a value proposition there. But we don't mind doing this in places that are, you know, **. The low-income, like the housing authority, right? Or Section 8, where we know people are just getting by on $10,000 a year. For them, you know, it's like, keeping food on the table and clothes on their children. And it's like, that's all they can do. So, to provide free in some cases, I think, is something that's, you know, very worthwhile. I think it -- you know, but, generally speaking, I just think a big, giant giveaway is not the way to do it.

18:54:

Chris: Well, thank you so much for coming on the show. I've really enjoyed learning a bit more about Kansas City. And I think there's a lot of cities that could benefit from all the thinking and work you've done in this area. So, thank you for sharing that.

19:07:

Michael: Thank you, sir.

19:08:

Lisa: Take a look at stored tagged "digital divide" at muninetworks.org for more on this topic. Send us your ideas for the show. E-mail us at podcast@muninetworks.org . Follow us on Twitter. Our handle is @communitynets . Thank you to Dickey F for the music this week. His song, "Florida Mama," is licensed through Creative Commons. Have a great day.

Connecting For Good in Kansas City - Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 129

We have seen a lot of claims about Kansas City - whether Google Fiber's approach is increasing digital inclusion, having no impact, or possibly even increasing the digital divide. This week on our Community Broadband Bits podcast, we are excited to have Michael Liimatta, President of a Kansas City nonprofit called Connecting for Good, that discusses what is happening in Kansas City.

Michael offers insights into the difficulty of connecting low income populations and how Google's entrance into the City has not solved the digital divide but has sparked a deeply needed conversation on how to meet those needs.

We also talk about how Connecting for Good is using a 4G Clear wireless device to help low income families connect to the Internet. This is a far superior solution than Comcast's Digital Essentials programs in that it is more responsive to the needs of low income households rather than being tailored around the least that Comcast could do.

Read the transcript for this episode here.

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 20 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 Dickey F for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Florida Mama."

Minnesota Border to Border Broadband Video and Materials Now Available from Blandin

Our friends at the Blandin Foundation recently sponsored another Minnesota Border to Border Broadband conference. Video and materials are now available

In addition to the archived video of the November 19th event in Brainerd, Minnesota, Blandin on Broadband's Ann Treacy provides links to summaries of each session, some of which also have PowerPoint presentations or video available for viewing:

Interest in rural broadband projects has risen sharply in the past two years. In 2013, the state legislature set aside $20 million in grant funding for rural broadband projects; applications have recently come due.

A Star Tribune article reports that entities seek approximately $44.2 million in total for Minnesota projects. Sen. Matt Schmit, the lead author on the grant funding bill also spoke at the conference and told attendees:

“Above all, I think what we wanted to do was prove there was interest out there — that there’s a need."

Baltimore Residents Take the Initiative With CrowdFiber Campaign

A community group from Baltimore is taking their fiber campaign directly to the people. The Baltimore Sun recently reported that over 900 people have pledged more than $17,000 to the Baltimore Broadband Coalition. It seems the good people of Baltimore are tired of the city's on-again off-again romance with the idea of a municipal network.

According to the group's CrowdFiber site, the grassroots organization began in a church basement in the Roland Park neighborhood, quickly expanding to other neighborhoods.  There is no specific plan in place yet; the group hopes to use the campaign to first raise awareness of the problem. From the article:

"This is an advocacy effort to help to change what has been the city's plan, or lack of plan, on broadband," said Philip Spevak, one of the campaign's organizers. "Those numbers will help to motivate the city."

Members of the group are also visiting community meetings to help spread the word.

In a Sun commentary published shortly after the group organized, Spevak wrote:

Demonstrating demand alone is unlikely to change the broadband landscape. By adding communities to our campaign and extending the campaign to include the entire city, we hope to engage our city and state leaders to a greater extent. We hope our campaign will lead to a second phase where, in partnership with elected officials, there is a change toward more proactive public policy. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Councilman William Cole understand that the availability of fast Internet is a necessity for economic revitalization. 

Spavek went on to explain their belief that the vision should be unique to suit the community, that Baltimore should locate and use its existing conduit, and that the city should adopt helpful dig-once policies. The group also wants the city to keep citizens, providers, and other stakeholders connected and reach out to federal officials.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has been vocal regarding her support for better connectivity. She has cited the need to jump start economic development:

"You can't grow jobs with slow Internet... people don't want to invest in communities where they feel like they are running through sludge, trying to catch up with other businesses,...People want to be on the cutting edge."

The Baltimore Broadband Coalition goes on to address high-cost, no choice, and a growing digital divide in the city:

  • In Baltimore, compared to surrounding counties where effective competition for Internet services exist, we pay more (as much as $1000 over two years) and the quality of services available is less
  • We face a monopoly for fast Internet services in Baltimore leaving us with little choice in the broadband market
  • Digital injustice - 20-40% of city residents do not connect to the Internet when connectivity is now essential for effective participation

In August 2013 the city commissioned a feasibility study to survey existing resources and provide options to improve connectivity. The current administration expects to see the results by the end of the year. The Coalition is not depending on the city to lead the way:

"I think if the city decides that it is not willing or it's not able to be a municipal broadband, that's not a showstopper at all for our campaign," Spevak said.


Consumerist Sounds Off on Internet Essentials and Comcast's Hidden Agenda

In a Consumerist article, Kate Cox takes a look at who is benefitting the most from Comcast's Internet Essentials program and - guess what - it is Comcast.

The program has brought Internet access to a number of people who may not otherwise have been able to get online and that's a good thing. According to Comcast, 300,000 families are receiving 5 Mbps download for the program's $9.99 monthly rate. All considered, that is 300,000 families who might otherwise not have Internet access at all.

But Cox noticed how the gigantic cable conglomerate pulls the program out to dazzle politicians whenever they need a little public opinion boost. In August 2013, Comcast announced it was extending the program:

Comcast, meanwhile, is not acting out of a sense of charity or philanthropy. They’re satisfying federal requirements to help bring broadband access to the poor. And Internet Essentials is only available where Comcast already operates — so Comcast isn’t spending a dime to run infrastructure to any place where it doesn’t already exist.

They sure get to benefit from looking philanthropic, though. Community outreach is a huge part of Comcast’s extensive lobbying efforts. And in looking to gain the blessing of federal regulators on their impending buyout of Time Warner Cable, “benefit to the community” is one of their best cards to play.

Cox notes the significant obstacles to signing on to the program, as we did in 2012. She also notes that families who need the program most are not always the ones who are able to find the information to enroll:

The other barrier is the enrollment process itself: Internet Essentials is separate from Comcast’s standard service. It uses a different website and phone number for enrollment and information. Consumers who call Comcast’s regular line and try to ask for the cheap internet generally get shunted into some kind of promotional triple-play package. Comcast representatives don’t redirect callers to the other phone number.

So the consumers most likely to be able correctly to sign up for Internet Essentials are high-information consumers who have the time and resources to use the internet to research how to get the best choice in internet access. And the target user of Internet Essentials is a lower-information consumer, potentially with education and/or language barriers, who doesn’t necessarily have the time and resources, or internet access, to do all the research over best choices.

Once a household no longer has a child who qualifies for free and reduced lunches, that household no longer qualifies for Internet Essentials.
Cox also comments on the service itself:

The other main problem with Internet Essentials is that it’s crap. A download speed of “up to 5 Mbps” is, by the standards of 2014, painfully slow. Those fancy online educational tools that are supposedly the main benefit of the program? Many of them don’t work so well on that connection.

In other words, Comcast is giving their low-income customers access to what they pay for — not access on par with what most other Comcast customers can buy. It’s both a fifth of the cost and a fifth of the service.

Last year, John Randall from the Roosevelt Institute came to a similar conclusion:

Comcast's Internet Essentials program does more to benefit Comcast's customer acquisition, public relations, and lobbying departments than to help people in America who need high-speed Internet access at a reasonable price. The reality is that the program is a cleverly designed customer acquisition program that benefits Comcast's bottom line. 

The Internet Essentials program, while offering a temporary respite to a small segment of low-income families, draws attention away from the real solution - policies that ensure affordable, reliable, and fast Internet access to all. As long as we continue to allow the consolidation of some of the most hated companies in the country, Internet Essentials is the best we can expect.

Benefits of Increased Broadband Utilization - Community Broadband Bits Podcast #93

While in Iowa for the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities telecom conference, I had a chance to interview Michael Curri, the Founder and President of Strategic Networks Group - SNG. He and I have long had great discussions at events around the country and I attempted to recreate some of the key points in this interview.

Michael is dedicated to measuring and tracking how increased broadband utilization impacts communities and economies. He makes a compelling case for why communities should be concerned not just with robust Internet availability but also with ensuring local businesses know how to take full advantage of it.

Read the transcript from this show here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 12 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Thanks to Valley Lodge for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Sweet Elizabeth."

Richmond Neighborhood Gets Free Wi-Fi in California

Residents in the Iron Triangle neighborhood of Richmond are now receiving free Wi-Fi as part of a new pilot program. The pilot, sponsored by Building Blocks for Kids (BBK), hopes to make Internet access widely available to the many local families who cannot afford it. New towers have been placed on local homes to extend access to approximately 400 houses.

BBK is a collaborative of 30 government agencies, nonprofit groups and community leaders. The pilot project is funded by a $500,000 grant from the California Emerging Technology Fund to address digital literacy in areas of Richmond where affordable Internet access is not readily available.

A recent Contra Cost Times article covered the story. According to the article, an Internet connection tower is mounted on local resident, Yolanda Lopez's roof:

The Internet tower installed on Lopez's house receives signals from Internet Archive, a nonprofit organization that has a 40-foot tower at 2512 Florida Ave. Lopez's transmitter sends free Internet signals for a radius of a few hundred yards, providing the web to dozens of neighbors, said Internet Archive engineer Ralf Muehlen.

The ongoing costs to provide the signal, now that the hardware is in place, is "negligible," Muehlen said.

By summer, BBK partners hope to outfit 20 houses in the Iron Triangle with signal towers, providing free high-speed Internet signals to more than 400 homes, said BBK Executive Director Jennifer Lyle. A second tower has already been installed at a home in Atchison Village, Lyle said.

The BBK press release notes that several public and private entities worked together to enhance the Wi-fi service:

Because of the technical skills of collaborative member ReliaTech and the IT infrastructure expertise of City of Richmond’s Department of Information Technology, low-income Richmond residents will have access to wi-fi at an impressive 12-16 megabits per second.

The neighborhood of just under 20,000 has had problems with high rates of crime for many years. A 2013 survey reflects that residents of the neighborhood are not embracing connectivity because it is too expensive for them. The results of the survey are part of a larger study from BBK examining home Internet access and usage in the Iron Triangle neighborhood. The study indicates that one-third of local residents do not have access at home and 40% do not own a working computer.

The grant has also allowed BBK to distribute 1,000 free refurbished computers and provide training to over 900 families.

Lopez told the Times:

"All my neighbors are coming up and thanking me for the free Internet," Lopez said in Spanish. "A lot of people can't pay $50 per month."

Baltimore Mayor: You Can't Grow Jobs with Slow Internet

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake sees expanding Internet access as a justice issue and wants to make sure every Baltimore resident benefits from City assets, including fiber optic cables. To that end, the City is examining how it can use its conduit and fiber to improve Internet access.

We have previously covered Baltimore and its consideration of public investments to expand Internet access after both FiOS and Google decided not to invest there.

In the interview below, Mayor Rawlings-Blake expands on why this is important, saying "You can't grow jobs with slow Internet... people don't want to invest in communities where they feel like they are running through sludge, trying to catch up with other businesses," going on to say, "People want to be on the cutting edge."