Tag: "chattanooga"

Posted November 28, 2019 by lgonzalez

As late November arrives, so does the the holiday season for many of our readers. People reading up on local efforts to improve Internet access will be counting their blessings today, which inspires us to do the same. There are many things we have to be thankful this year.

As access to affordable broadband becomes increasingly critical in today's world, however, and as rates from the large Internet access companies continue to rise, getting online is more challenging than ever for folks with limited incomes. We want to express our appreciation for local communities who adopt policies to make high-quality Internet access available to lower income households through their municipal networks.

A Growing Awareness

Wilson, North Carolina, decided that as part of the community network's mission, they would offer fast, reliable fiber Internet access available to those living in public housing residences. Since then, we've seen other communities take creative approaches to ensure that everyone can use the network, not only those who are already better off. Municipalities that see the value of publicly owned fiber optic infrastructure understand the value of eliminating cherry picking as a way to tap into their undiscovered human capital.

Unlike large corporate Internet access providers, publicly owned networks don't need to maximize profit from every subscriber in order to please shareholders. They consider themselves in place for the public good. Munis can dedicate themselves toward digital inclusion efforts, which are in line with their mission.

During Digital Inclusion Week in October, we detailed some of the innovative approaches that local decision makers are adopting to ensure the least fortunate in their communities have access to the community's new fiber tools. Here are just a few:

In Hillsboro, Oregon, one of the first neighborhoods to receive gigabit connectivity through HiLight will be one of the areas of town where many folks don't have access to, or can't afford broadband Internet access. People there who qualify for SNAP, free and reduced lunches, or other income-based assistance...

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Posted November 22, 2019 by lgonzalez

Multichannel News recently published an informative and detailed look at municipal networks and the surge in interest that communities have exhibited as they've explored ways to improve local connectivity. Author Mike Farrell provides an indepth examination some of the many local communities that have used fiber optic connectivity to attract job creators and some of the common challenges they've encountered.

Still Some Opposition 

As Farrell notes, several candidates for President have mentioned funding for municipal networks in their platforms, bringing more attention to publicly owned Internet networks. The interest has been growing for some time, however, as has opposition. Farrell writes:

But no matter which side you’re on, one thing is increasingly clear: municipal broadband is gaining steam and some communities are finding innovative ways to finance and maintain projects. And the risk, as many areas are finding out, is becoming worth it.

When Farrell spoke with the NCTA - The Internet & Television Association (formerly the National Cable & Telecommunications Association), which lobbies on behalf of large and small Internet service providers, they indicated a dislike of competition:

“Broadly, we support government programs that dedicate money to building networks where they don’t exist or make economic sense for private ISPs to build, and believe that taxpayer dollars should not be used to subsidize competition where networks already exist,” NCTA senior vice president, strategic communications Brian Dietz said in an email message.

Here and There

Farrell covers communities where networks have been serving the public for years and in places where locals have only recently decided to make the investment. One of the places Farrell writes about, which many other authors have covered, is Chattanooga, Tennessee: 

When municipalities want to talk about successes, they usually point to Chattanooga, which built its broadband network in 2009 and became the first municipality in the country to offer 1 Gigabit per second Internet service city-wide. That “Gig City” designation made the community a magnet for business. According to a study by the University of Tennessee, broadband helped drive about $1.3 billion in economic development...

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Posted November 19, 2019 by lgonzalez

Tri-County Electric Cooperative in north central Pennsylvania has listened to its members' wishes and is developing a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network for Internet access. While Christopher was at the October Broadband Communities Economic Development event in Alexandria, Virginia, he met up with Craig Eccher, President and CEO of the co-op, to learn more about the project and the cooperative.

Craig describes how the infrastructure was needed for basic electric operations - to improve communication between substations - and that members had also begun to request Internet access from their co-op. When they sought information through a survey, the results were supportive, but cooperative leadership needed to take a creative approach to get members to attend a meeting for discussion about project details. Craig describes how the demographic support surprised and encouraged them and how state and federal funding provided the boost they needed to confirm the project.

The cooperative is redefining partnerships both in the community and in ways that go beyond the co-op's service area. Craig talks about business and member partnerships that will help expand the use of the infrastructure. He also describes how the project has breathed new life into the role of the cooperative within the Appalachian community it serves and how, while happy with the new excitement, it's important to manage expectations.

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

This show is 24 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this...

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Posted October 10, 2019 by Katie Kienbaum

Which would you choose — a broadband subscription with download speeds of 15 Megabits per second (Mbps) or a much faster gigabit plan for the same price?

The choice is clear, and it’s one that low-income households in Hillsboro, Oregon, may soon make, thanks to the city’s planned municipal fiber network. Earlier this year, Hillsboro announced that its new broadband utility, HiLight, will offer gigabit connectivity for only $10 per month to qualified low-income residents. In comparison, Comcast’s Internet Essentials program provides low-income families in the city speeds of just 15 Mbps for roughly the same monthly cost.

Hillsboro isn’t the first community to leverage its publicly owned fiber network for digital inclusion efforts. Municipal networks across the country are providing low-cost connectivity, affordable devices, and digital skills trainings to their communities, bringing the educational, economic, and healthcare benefits of broadband access to more people.

Defining Digital Inclusion

Digital inclusion is the practice of ensuring digital equity, which the National Digital Inclusion Alliance defines as “a condition in which all individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in our society, democracy and economy.”

Broadband availability is only one of many “digital divides” that explain who is and isn’t connected. For instance, income and affordability also play a role. According to the Pew Research Center, adults with annual incomes of $75,000 or more are almost twice as likely to have broadband access at home than adults with annual incomes of less than $30,000. Among those without home broadband access, the high cost of a subscription is most commonly cited as the top reason why, Pew reports.

logo-NDIA.jpg To succeed, digital...

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Posted August 7, 2019 by lgonzalez

In the Internet access industry, large corporations typically fight to maintain their positions as monopolies. Even if they have no intention of serving certain communities, big cable and telecom companies work to prevent others from gaining a foothold, fearful that they may someday lose subscribers. On the other hand, municipalities that operate publicly owned networks often encourage, mentor, and collaborate with neighboring communities to get people connected. Now, EPB Fiber Optics in Chattanooga is partnering with municipalities and cooperatives interested in offering Internet access.

Working Past Restrictions

Tennessee still prevents municipal power utilities from offering telecommunications services beyond their electric service areas, but state law won’t deter EPB Fiber Optics from doing what they can. Recently, EPB Vice President of Marketing J. Ed Marsten spoke with Telecompetitor. “We’re partnering with some other municipal and cooperative providers to help them get into the business,” Marston said. “We’ve seen a ton of interest.”

EPB Fiber Optics is offering a range of services to potential utility partners as a way to bring better connectivity to more Tennesseans. In addition to consulting services, the utility may be able to provide transport to an Internet point of presence (POP) and offers tech support. When municipalities or cooperatives work with EPB and use Chattanooga’s staff, they can cut operating costs and reduce the time it takes to begin offering services.

In Massachusetts, Westfield Gas+Electric (WG+E) offers similar services to the nearby rural towns that lack high-quality Internet access. Westfield’s Whip City Fiber, however, is not precluded from offering Internet access via local public infrastructure. Like EPB, WG+E also offers consulting services, if municipalities choose to operate their own networks.

Publicly Minded Moves…So Many

Earlier this year, EPB tripled the speed of their most popular service from 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) symmetrical to 300 Mbps with no price increase. They also decided to drop the price of gigabit...

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Posted July 3, 2019 by lgonzalez

Since 2011, PCMag has collected speed data and written about the country’s Fastest ISPs based on download and upload results. This year’s results reflect, once again, that locations with publicly owned broadband infrastructure contribute to communities’ ability to offer faster connectivity.

How They Did It

PCMag asked readers to use a special speed test developed specifically for this reporting that measured download and upload speeds. PCMag's Speed Index assigned to each ISP represented 80 percent download speed and 20 percent upload speed. Filtering out non-U.S. tests, they ended up with 256,016 tests that applied to the comparisons. If, however, a location (for state and regional comparisons) or ISP had fewer than 100 tests, the folks at PCMag did not consider it a contender.

While editors further broke down results so as to stack major ISPs against each other in a head-to-head comparison, they also looked at all the results in a general comparison. PCMag broke down the results further by region and city. For more details on the results, check out the full article.

Munis New and Not-So-New

FairlawnGig in Ohio made the list this year, adding a third municipal Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to the list. The city’s retail service began serving residents with gigabit connectivity back in 2017, after firmly establishing their fiber services for local businesses.

When contemplating the investment, city leaders adopted the approach that their fiber optic network would be an essential piece of infrastructure on par with sewers or roads. Fairlawn used municipal bonds with no intention of turning a profit; they considered the network an investment that would keep the Akron suburb competitive. Residents, businesses, and institutions in Fairlawn, however, have enthusastically signed up for fast, reliable, connectivity where residents can get gigabit Internet access for $75 per month.

pcmag-2019-fastest.png Fairlawn’s municipal FTTH network will keep company with a veteran to the list — Longmont, Colorado’s...

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Posted June 18, 2019 by Katie Kienbaum

In the most recent episode of his weekly Netflix show Patriot Act, comedian and former Daily Show correspondent Hasan Minhaj answers the question we’ve all asked ourselves: “Why does my Internet service provider suck so much?” To figure it out, the show, which features research from the Community Broadband Networks initiative, takes a deep dive into Internet access inequality, lobbying telecom monopolies, inept federal regulators, municipal broadband networks, and more.

Minhaj, citing our Profiles of Monopoly report, points to monopoly broadband providers as one of the main reasons for slow speeds, poor service, and uneven access. He calls out Comcast in particular:

“Now look, all of these companies are terrible, but Comcast deserves a special place in Hell . . . In fact, Comcast has been called “America’s Most Hated Company” . . . The emotions are real. People hate Comcast.”

Later, he notes that the federal government shares responsibility for the sad state of affairs:

“The most frustrating part about the broadband cartel is that the government isn’t just letting this happen; it’s helping it happen. They are protecting broadband monopoly power over the public good, and most of the blame falls on one agency: the Federal Communications Commission, or the FCC.”

In the episode, Minhaj also explains how the FCC’s data collection methods vastly overstate broadband coverage, calling Form 477, which the agency uses to collect deployment data from providers, the “government version of ‘grade your own quiz.’”

As a counterpoint, Minhaj highlights how communities across the country, like Chattanooga, Tennessee, are building their own broadband networks to get around monopoly providers and sluggish regulators:

“Small cities are going DIY, and they’re setting up their own Internet. It’s become known as municipal broadband, and it is phenomenal. It turns out, when cities create their own Internet, then their own broadband customers get faster speeds, lower prices, and better customer service — you know, all the things that violate Comcast company policy.”

Municipal broadband, he says, is creating competition and faster, more affordable Internet access:

“Chattanooga forced Comcast to magically find a way to offer the...

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Posted April 24, 2019 by lgonzalez

It was only a year ago that Next Century Cities Executive Director Deb Socia received the Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion Award. Since then, Deb has continued to raise the bar for nonprofit leaders. She has brought people together, advocated for smart policies, and developed resources to help local communities improve connectivity and shrink the digital divide. Now, Deb has decided it’s time to share her high-energy magic in Tennessee. Deb recently announced that she has accepted a position as CEO of the Enterprise Center in Chattanooga.

The Heart and Soul of Next Century Cities

Since she started the organization in the fall of 2014, Deb has led its team and the member communities that collaborate and share information. The group began with a modest 32 members, but through Deb’s hard work and determination, more than 200 communities have now joined. The nonprofit, through her vision and leadership, has assisted local governments in their vision of better connectivity and local policies that encourage broadband investment.

logonext-century-cities-2017.png Before getting Next Century Cities off the ground, Deb was the Executive Director of the Tech Goes Home program whose mission is to ensure digital equity. Deb also spent 32 years as an educator and education administrator, a role that gave her many of the skills she has used to bring people together. Deb worked as the founding principal of the award winning Lilla G. Frederick Middle School, a Boston Public School where she led the one-to-one laptop initiative. She has received a many awards for her work in education and in helping local communities get their populations connected, including recognition as the NATOA Community Broadband Hero in 2013, the 2013 Pathfinder Award from MassCUE (Mass Computer...

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Posted October 26, 2018 by lgonzalez

Earlier this month, Chattanooga’s celebrated as municipal network EPB Fiber Optics announced that they now have more than 100,000 subscribers. The high numbers indicate that the network is serving more than 60 percent of premises in the EPB service area. EPB's success also attests to the popularity of publicly owned Internet infrastructure that is accountable and responsive to the community that both own and use the network.

An Expected Milestone, Big Benefits

Hitting six digit subscribership this fall was no surprise based on rapid growth and intense interest in EPB’s affordable, symmetrical 10 gigabit connectivity along with other available speeds. When the city began serving subscribers in 2009, they based initial figures on an estimate of 35,000 subscribers within five years to break even. Within 18 months, they had already surpassed those goals.

Having paid off remaining debt earlier this year, more revenue is now freed up for more investment back into the system or to put back into the community. The utility is now reinvesting around $42 million per year back into the electric system and power rates are lower for the entire community, regardless of whether or not electric customers are EPB Fiber Optic subscribers.

"Contrary to the fears some had about us spending power funds to pay for this service, our power rates are actually 7 percent lower than they otherwise would be because of our Fiber Optic network and the business it has generated for us," EPB President David Wade said.

In addition to significant savings on power rates, Chattanooga has experienced an influx of economic development as tech companies have come to the city specifically for the network. “Gig City” Mayor Andy Berke:

"Our fiber optic network is today's locomotive that is driving Chattanooga's success and positioning us as a model for other communities. It is a powerful recruiting tool to attract new businesses that need reliable, high quality power and communications, as well as a catalyst for launching startups and expanding our existing...

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Posted August 31, 2018 by lgonzalez

Consumer Reports (CR) has once again gone straight to the source to collect opinions on subscribers’ experiences with their Internet access, telephone, and pay TV services. Unsurprisingly, a vast majority of respondents to their survey of 176,000 people expressed dissatisfaction with the large national providers. Once again, municipal network Chattanooga EPB Fiber walked away as the only Internet service provider to receive top marks for value, speed, and reliability.

This isn’t the first time the Tennessee publicly owned network appeared at or near the top of the list in a customer satisfaction survey. In addition to consistent high scores on CR surveys, EPB Fiber has also earned kudos from J. D. Power.

After Chattanooga EPB Fiber, Google Fiber was the only private sector ISP to garner a positive rating from subscribers. Google Fiber also obtained a favorable score for value.

Bigger is Better (Not!)

The most recent survey from CR also underscored what many Internet access, pay TV, and telephone subscribers keep expressing year after year — that they despise the big, corporate behemoth providers. When it comes to Internet access, smaller cable ISPs fared a little better, but only Armstrong Cable Company, serving communities in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and four other states, received an “overall satisfaction” rating.

RCN, Hawaiian Telecom, and Grande Communications also did better than the large ISPs, including Comcast, Spectrum, and Cox Communications.

Hiding Fees in the Bundles

According to a CR article on their survey and analysis of the results, approximately 75 percent of subscribers answering the survey needed to bundle TV, Internet access, and telephone to obtain what they thought was the best deal. Subscribers reported that, even though they had to continually haggle for acceptable pricing, they still felt overcharged.

One of the most prominent areas of complaint from subscribers who answered the survey, dealt with hidden fees, unexplained increased, and confusing bills....

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