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Longmont Fiber Ring Set for Expansion, Local Service

Over the past few years, we provided continuing coverage as Longmont, Colorado, considered, and eventually approved, a referendum (two actually) to authorize the municipality to offer broadband services to local businesses and residents. The City installed the fiber as part of its electricity utility infrastructure long ago but Qwest then pushed a law through the state legislature limiting how it could be used. After two referendums and an expensive Comcast astroturf campaign, the residents supported Ballot Measure 2A in November, 2011. The City can now use the fiber network to spur economic development.

Longmont Power and Communications (LPC) recently held two meetings to field responses from the residents and local businesses. Results of the meetings, and an online survey, keep the community informed and will help decide several key elements to the roll-out plan. Scott Rochat of the TimesCall.com, reported on the July 16th meeting, focused on resident reaction. Longmont has some distinct advantages, that Jordan shared:

"We are unique in what we already have in place and what we can do with what we have in place," [Vince] Jordan, [LPC Telecom Manager] told a crowd of 43 at the Longmont Civic Center on Monday.

What's in place is an 18-mile fiber-optic loop that the city can now offer services on, thanks to a 2011 ballot issue. About 1,280 businesses sit within 500 feet of the fiber network; at least 1,100 homes already have the conduit and junction box that would let them join.

The meeting and the survey indicate a strong desire have the network up and functioning ASAP. From the article:

 An online survey at ci.longmont.co.us/lpc/tc/index.htm (which so far has gotten about 152 responses) found that given the choice, 63 percent wanted citywide service "immediately," while 21 percent said they'd settle for whenever the city could get it done.

The proportions were similar at Monday's meeting: 57 percent for immediately, 17 percent for whenever it could be done, and another 17 percent for a two-year timespan.

"My feeling is, get it done, whatever it takes," said one man who voted for "whenever it can be done."

Small map of Longmont Fiber

We spoke with Jordan, who mentioned a similar enthusiasm from the business community. On Friday, July 20th, LPC held a meeting to hear comments from potential business customers. Jordan said talks with local business leaders continue to uncover "more need, desire, and want for higher and higher broadband in the commercial sector." Tony Kindelspire of the TimesCall.com covered the meeting (reprinted here on TMCNet.com):

Nearly 1,300 Longmont businesses are within 500 feet of the city's existing fiber-optic lines, and they likely would be some of the first customers to lease that fiber, once Longmont Power & Communications gets the go-ahead from the City Council to begin leasing it.

The plan, currently being developed, should be presented to the City Council in August.

Jordan let us know that residents and businesses can take the online survey until August 10th, at which time the results will be tallied and posted online. Interim results will be posted within the next day or two.

"This is an exciting time," said Jordan, "Folks are very keen to move as quickly as the City can move."

Rural Wisconsin Residents Struggle to Connect to the Internet

A group of rural residents living east of Madison, Wisconsin, gathered near Portage of Columbia County to discuss their lack of affordable high speed access to the Internet. These are people for whom slow, overpriced DSL would be an improvement.

Lack of access to the Internet is a drain on rural economies -- their real estate market suffer and they are unable to telecommute, when they would benefit more from it than most who do have the option. They lack access to long-distance education opportunities in a time when the cost of gas makes driving to school prohibitively expensive.

Andy Lewis, who has been working with the Building Community Capacity through Broadband Project with U-W Extension, was on hand to discuss some of the lessons learned through their work, which is largely funded by a broadband stimulus award.

The incumbent providers encouraged residents without access to aggregate their demand and create petitions to demonstrate the available demand. Of course they did. And if CenturyLink decides it can get a sufficient return on its slow and unreliable DSL, they will build it out to some of those unserved areas. This is a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" scenario for rural residents. DSL was starting to be obsolete years ago.

The better solution is finding nearby cooperatives and munis that will extend next-generation networks that can provide fast, affordable, and reliable access to the Internet. Getting a DSL to a town will do very little to attract residents and nothing to attract businesses. It is a 20th century technology in a rapidly evolving 21st century world.

The Beaver Dam Daily Citizen covered the meeting, which eventually turned away from how to beg for broadband to how they can build it themselves:

But several attendees asked why the government can't play a role in making high-speed service available everywhere, in the same way that the government helped bring about rural electrification and telephone service.

This is a very good question. They may decide not to follow that path, but given the importance of access to the Internet, they should look at options for building a network that puts community needs first. North of Madison, Reedsburg has built an impressive FTTH network and we have been tracking progress of the Fiber-to-the-Farm effort in Minnesota's Sibley County.

Unfortunately, AT&T's incredible influence in the state capital has made it more difficult for communities to build the networks they need -- even in places like Columbia County where AT&T is not and will not connect rural residents. Such is the price of living under governments that make policy based on the interests of powerful special interests.

There was a time when the ideology of self-reliance was considered American and even conservative. But now the idea of self-reliance is largely abandoned as communities first seek to beg distant corporations (with a history of royally ripping them off) to connect them and only consider solving their own problems with local investments as a last-ditch effort, which could be too controversial.

Update: This meeting was hosted by the Public Service Commission as part of a larger effort to create a state broadband plan. Such processes are typically dominated by interests of incumbent providers -- a model that was emphatically rejected by the FDR Administration when developing its plan for electrification. Electrification was wildly successful; expanding broadband by begging incumbents has been a dismal failure.

Community Broadband Fills Needed Gap in Wisconsin

Another video from the University of Wisconsin Extension Service's broadband stimulus project, Building Community Capacity through Broadband, which we have been covering here.

This video looks at why these community networks are needed and how private partners look at the project.  These communities are often limited to much slower networks that are nonetheless priced higher than connections in larger cities.  Community networks benefit residents and local businesses by creating competition, offering higher capacity connections, and lowering prices, often by working with private sector partners.  

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Wisconsin Broadband Stimulus Network Wins Rural Award

More good news from the Building Community Capacity through Broadband stimulus-funded project in Wisconsin: it has earned an award from Wisconsin Rural Partners [pdf].

This award came shortly after the courts once again side with the network rather than AT&T in a frivolous lawsuit attempting to disrupt the network.

AT&T Group's Lawsuit in Wisconsin Fails

Yet another court has ruled against an incumbent telephone or cable company that filed a lawsuit to block any threat to their continued monopoly in America's communities. Access Wisconsin, an AT&T dominated trade group, has been trying to stop communities in Wisconsin from building their own next-generation networks to serve schools and libraries that AT&T has long neglected with slow, overpriced, broadband connections.

A local judge has dismissed this blatantly anti-competitive attempt to stop communities from building the networks they need.

Wisconsin Independent Telecommunications Systems, operating as Access Wisconsin, sued the UW Board of Regents in July in an effort to stop a $32.3 million fiber optic network to Platteville, Wausau, Superior and the Chippewa Valley region. The lawsuit also named WiscNet, CCI Systems Inc. and the state Department of Transportation.

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The grant — made available through federal stimulus funds — will build high-speed Internet fiber to anchor institutions such as libraries, schools and government, health care and public safety buildings.

A press release from the UW-Extension office that organized the Building Community Capacity through Broadband program, funded by the broadband stimulus program, notes:

“This work by the University of Wisconsin-Extension and our many community partners is vital to the future of the Wisconsin economy,” said Ray Cross, chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Extension and University of Wisconsin Colleges. “I hope that now government, the university, private businesses and communities in every corner of the state will be able to work together to assure Wisconsin is connected to the global economy.”

Remember that these lawsuits are rarely intended to be won. They are intended to intimidate communities, to scare them away from making the necessary investments in their community to ensure the incumbents can preserve their customer base without investing in modern connections.

But AT&T and friends have continued to whine that it just isn't fair, much like a coalition of landlords (where Donald Trump plays the role of AT&T) suing home owners because people should have to rent their homes forever. Or a coalition of dirt road owners who use every legal trick in the book to make sure some communities are not touched by interstates.

Until the Wisconsin state government recognizes the inherent authority of communities to invest in the essential infrastructure they need, we will see more attempts by AT&T to be the sole provider of telecommunications services, which allows them to overcharge at will and increase profits even while refusing to invest in better connections.

Fortunately, the Building Community Capacity through Broadband is documenting the taxpayer savings from their projects. Community networks create real gains for local businesses and make local government more efficient - but we have to make sure we can show these real savings to elected officials to counter the unparalleled lobbying effort of massive cable and phone companies.

Distance Learning Video from Northern Wisconsin

The Building Community Capacity through Broadband project from the Extension Service of the University of Wisconsin has released a new video about remote education opportunities that require broadband.  We covered their previous video here.

In it, we learn that some of these remote learning programs are closed to people using dial-up.  I wonder how many years it will be until those with basic DSL are similarly shut off due to their hobbled capacity.

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Video Showing Importance of Fast, Affordable Broadband to Wisconsin Governments

Another video from the Building Community Capacity through Broadband project (hosted by the University of Wisconsin Extension service) takes a look at how local governments use broadband and the importance of high capacity, reliable connections that they can actually afford. 

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