On January 30, the FCC announced it will begin a process that makes Connect America funds available for pilot projects aimed at expanding broadband in rural areas. Details about the process are still forthcoming, but the FCC asks interested parties to submit "expressions of interest" by March 7th. In order to assist possible applicants, the National Rural Assembly's Broadband Working Group will hold a webinar today, February 13th, at 1:30 EST.
From the webinar announcement:
The National Rural Assembly's Rural Broadband and Policy Group invites all rural stakeholders, to participate in a national webinar in cooperation with the Federal Communications Commission that will explain how to participate in the FCC's new experiment, the Rural Broadband Trials - a program that will fund projects to bring broadband to rural areas.
Participation in this first phase is not mandatory but encouraged. The results from the expressions of interest process will help the FCC determine how much funding will be needed.
Public Knowledge and the Center for Media Justice have an eye on the transition from traditional copper landline telephone service to Internet-protocol services. As we move forward, both organizations continue to educate citizens on telecommunications policy and how it can affect us.
On December 12, at 2:00 p.m. EST, both groups will collaborate for a webinar on the transition. What's the Hang Up: A Webinar to Understand the Phone Network Transition and Defend Your Communication Rights, will offer info on the transition and will introduce participants to the "What's the Hang Up" toolkit, designed to help consumers get involved as we move forward. Presenters will be Stephani Chen, Amina Fazlullah, and Sean Meloy.
From the webinar announcement:
The largest telephone companies in the U.S. have announced they want to upgrade the technology that delivers phone service to an all internet-protocol (IP) based telephone network. The telephone has made universal communications possible keeping families connected, becoming a lifeline in times of crisis, and an economic engine for small businesses.
In order for our communities to continue to experience the benefits of the telephone, we must get involved. Over the coming months the Federal Communications Commission and other government agencies will be considering how to roll out this transition.
You can register online for the presentation. For some great information on the transition, listen to Chris interview Harold Feld from Public Knowledge in episode #52 of the Broadband Bits podcast.
The National League of Cities will be presenting a free webinar on June 13 on local broadband solutions. The event, titled Local Broadband Initiatives: Finding a Model That Works for You, is scheduled at 2 p.m. EDT.
The speaker line up includes three leaders in policy, law, and implementation:
Jim Baller, President, Baller Herbst Law Group, Washington, DC
Joanne Hovis, President, CTC Technology and Energy, Kensington, MD and President, National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, Kensington, MD
Deborah Acosta, Chief Innovation Officer, City of San Leandro, CA
NLC describes the discussion as:
Broadband, or high-speed internet, service providers can take many forms, ranging from national franchises to local providers to city/county governments to a combination of public and private partners working together. This webinar will give participants a better understanding of what the landscape of local broadband initiatives looks like in terms of public-private models, how and where local governments fit into these partnerships, and how they are financing and leveraging these initiatives to get the most benefit for their communities.
Last week, Christopher Mitchell of ILSR joined other broadband and municipal network experts to present the webinar "How a Municipal Network Can Help Your City" from the National League of Cities.
Christopher was joined by Kyle Hollified, VP Sales/Marketing, Bristol Virginia Utilities, Bristol; Mary Beth Henry, Manager, Office for Community Technology/Mt Hood Cable Regulatory Commission in Portland, Oregon; and Colman Keane, Director of Fiber Technology, EPB, in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
The group discussed common challenges and benefits communities experience when investing in municipal networks.
We want to remind our readers that tomorrow, September 13, is the day for "How a Municipal Network Can Help Your City." The webinar runs from 2-3 Eastern time. Registration is free and Christopher Mitchell will be joined by Kyle Hollified, VP Sales/Marketing, Bristol Virginia Utilities and Colman Keane, Director of Fiber Technology, EPB, in Chattanooga.
Christopher will be discussing his report, “Broadband at the Speed of Light” as well as other economic benefits from publicly owned networks and the panel will talk about lessons learned in building and deploying municipal networks. Mary Beth Henry from Portland will discuss their experience with broadband as well.
The Public Technology Institute and the National League of Cities are sponsoring the event.
We want to alert readers to some upcoming events that will discuss community broadband networks.
The first will be most interesting to those who are attending the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture (NAMAC) conference in Minneapolis from September 6-8. On Saturday, September 8, Christopher Mitchell will join a panel entitled "Digital Frontiers: Copryright, Censorship, the Commons, Privacy." The panel is scheduled for 10:45-12:15. Check out the NAMAC conference page and register to join us!
The second is open to everyone - a webinar jointly presented by the Public Technology Institute and National League of Cities. Once again, Christopher Mitchell will present on the webinar and will be joined by speakers from BVU Authority out of Bristol and EPB from Chattanooga. Register for "How a Municipal Network Can Help Your City." The webinar is scheduled for September 13 from 2-3 Eastern time.
Here at MuniNetworks.org, we encourage the idea of local communication, via broadband or any other medium. Naturally, we are fans of low power radio, owned and operated by independent groups, rather than more stations owned by a few communications giants, seemingly located all over the radio dial.
The Prometheus Radio Project has been working with communities since 1998 to advocate for democracy in radio and aid in local control of the media. They will be hosting a webinar, Expand Community Radio: National Campaign Update, on Monday, April 9th, at 4 pm EST, to update, educate, and support local groups interested in the possibilities of low power radio. Register ASAP
From their email announcement:
The Prometheus Radio Project is coordinating a broad coalition of groups to get the word out and help hundreds of groups apply for, build, and sustain stations nationwide. Over the past year, we have built a campaign plan and significant infrastructure to support community groups and nonprofits wanting stations. Meet civil rights groups, labor, environmental, indigenous, immigrants, LGBT, faith groups and more - the 99% - who are gearing up to build stations.
The Promethus Radio Project was instrumental in the FCC's decision to clear the airwaves for community radio, allowing for the largest expansion of community radio in US history. Now, Prometheus wants to assist groups interested in community radio as they prepare for the licensing process. In addition to the upcoming webinar, they provide additional training and information.
Santa Monica's approach to building community owned broadband that puts the community first has been wildly successful. They have not focused on providing residential connections, and likely will not in the future, focusing instead on meeting their municipal needs and businesses to spur economic development.
They can deliver up to 10Gbps to businesses that need it and they have connectivity throughout the City for whatever projects they choose to pursue. This includes free Wi-Fi in parks, controlling traffic signaling (prioritizing mass transit, for instance), and smart parking applications. On top of all that, their investments have saved more than a million dollars that would have been wasted on slower, less reliable connections provided by leased lines.
Arizona Avenue, the Mid-City area and the city's office district will all be getting makeovers if the City Council approves two contracts that will connect 40 signalized intersections to City Hall's centralized traffic control system.
The work represents the fourth phase in a five-phase effort to connect all of Santa Monica's intersections using fiber optic cables. Some signals will need to be fully replaced, while others can get by on smaller upgrades, according to the staff report.
Don't miss this hour long interview between Craig Settles and Jory Wolf, the brains behind Santa Monica's success.
Around 45 minutes into the interview, Jory Wolf talks about the ways the free Wi-Fi network promotes local businesses in partnership with a Buy Local campaign. I was thrilled to hear this as a colleague of mine at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance is a great friend of buy local campaigns because they are proven to help the small, independent businesses that contribute so much to communities.
If you want to learn more, particularly about how Santa Monica's approach has created many new jobs (that's right, smart public investments in broadband create jobs!) check out .
-Though the city provides Internet access directly, it also makes the network available to third-party providers on an open-access basis. “The incumbents have chosen not to use our assets,” Wolf says, explaining that larger providers are often reluctant to operate over networks where they cannot control the user experience and that their marketing and support organizations are not geared to using other companies’ networks.
However, other ISPs have shown interest in the network now that it is becoming successful. Currently, two ISPs offer services generally over the network, and other ISPs serve the Santa Monica offices of businesses that they deal with in other locations. Wolf says, “We have the opportunity to handle the business any way they prefer. … We’re not an obstacle; we’re an enabler. We don’t see ourselves as competitors, but as filling a void.”
City Net’s revenue from current business customers totals about $300,000 per year, enough to fund network operations and maintenance and to support an extensive system of free Wi-Fi hot spots throughout the city. Wi-Fi is now available at parks, beaches, libraries, public buildings and other open-space areas. On any given day, about 2,000 of Santa Monica’s 87,000 residents use the 27 Wi-Fi hot spots.
The city also has $190,000 of its capital funds remaining, which it uses as a revolving capital improvement project account. This account funds construction for network expansion, which is repaid by customers as the network is extended to their premises.
An indirect benefit of City Net is that it has forced competing networks to lower their prices. Wolf’s office estimates that nonparticipating providers have lowered their bandwidth prices by 20 percent or more, making bandwidth generally more affordable throughout the city. “If that’s all we had accomplished, we’d feel that we’d done what we intended,” Wolf says.
It is inherently dangerous to a democracy for all of its telecommunications infrastructure to be held in the hands of unelected and unaccountable private actors with no obligation to behave in a nondiscriminatory manner. Municipal networks by their nature answer directly to the local community and their policies are subject to scrutiny and modification by public action, if need be at the ballot box. The preservation of a system of mixed public and private ownership of telecommunications infrastructure is essential to maintaining the free flow of information unfettered by the economic interests of dominant private actors. ,