Tag: "economic development"

Posted July 24, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues and the federal response sputters, it’s clear that the responsibility of getting our local economies back on track now lies largely with cities and states.

To help state and local governments responding to the coronavirus, the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) released a set of policy recommendations, “From Crisis to Opportunity: Recommendations for State & Local Governments,” in late May. ASBC’s policy suggestions touch on various issues, including Internet access. The guide directs government officials to promote cooperative and municipal networks and remove barriers to community broadband in order to expand Internet access.

ASBC describes the thinking behind the recommendations:

As socially responsible businesses and thought leaders, we have long advocated for a triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit. None of these values are mutually exclusive. Together, through local investment, equity and accountability we can rebuild our post-COVID economy stronger, more sustainable, and enduringly just.

How Cities and States Can Rebuild Sustainable Economies

ASBC represents more than 250,000 businesses and advocates for a vibrant, sustainable economy. Read more about the group and its principles on its website.

The recommendations are focused on actions that state and local governments can take because they are on the frontlines of the pandemic’s effect on local economies. “Even with the passage of three federal stimulus bills (with more promised), these leaders will remain in the driver’s seat, and they now need bold ideas,” ASBC explains.

However, ASBC also sees the ongoing crisis as a chance to fix existing issues, saying:

We believe that this moment provides state and local governments an opportunity not only to continue leading the way through this crisis but also in solving the structural problems the federal government has too long neglected . . . Most of our suggested policies effectively provide not only economic stimulus but lasting social, environmental, and public benefit.

Accordingly, while the pandemic has exposed our country’s many digital divides, it did not create them...

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Posted June 23, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

This week on the Community Broadband Bits Podcast Christopher talks with John Bowcut, Director of Information Systems and Network Director for Spanish Fork Community Network in Spanish Fork, Utah. As John approaches the end of his career he reflects on the network's founding, its success over the last two decades, and the missed opportunities which stemmed from a 2001 law limiting municipal networks. 

That Spanish Fork has achieved an impressive level of success is revealed by the numbers. In 2013, the utility had already paid off the majority of its debt and enjoyed a take-rate of 60% of the community of 35,000. In 2015, it began a fiber buildout to replace the hybrid fiber-coax neighborhood by neighborhood. By refusing to take on any new debt and focusing on neighborhoods with the most interest, the network was able to spend about a million dollars a year over the last five years, and is close to completion. Today SFCN enjoys a take-rate of 78% on its Internet service in the city of 40,000, with some neighborhoods subscribing at a rate of almost 100%. It continues to save Spanish Fork over $3 million a year, adding to the tens of millions it has already saved the community.

To what does John attribute their success? Community. Finding qualified, passionate people to build a network dedicated to the needs of people and businesses in the surrounding area. He highlights the utility's customer service and responsiveness to its users needs. Christopher and John consider the success of SFCN in the context of the the long-term consequences of HB 149, which in 2001 installed signficant new hurdles by preventing new municipal from providing services directly to residents and businesses like SFCN does. Finally, Christopher and John talk the importance of marketing, and using it as a way of forging community connections and creating messaging that fosters dialogue. 

Listen to...

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Posted June 8, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

While large Internet service providers routinely face some of the lowest customer satisfaction rates in the country, municipal broadband networks, like FairlawnGig in Fairlawn, Ohio, have set themselves apart by offering superior customer service to residents and businesses.

Case in point: recent subscriber surveys from FairlawnGig revealed that 94% of residential respondents were satisfied with their service from the community-owned network. Businesses in Fairlawn also appreciate the municipal fiber provider. A similar survey given to businesses showed that about 700 jobs — at least — can be directly ascribed to the FairlawnGig network.

“Our customer service revolves around our building a strong and diverse network to our residents and businesses,” Fairlawn Deputy Director of Public Service Ernie Staten said in a press release. “We have the extremely high customer satisfaction scores to prove it.”

Numbers Don’t Lie

FairlawnGig conducted its survey of residential subscribers at the end of April and found an astonishingly high rate of satisfaction among those surveyed. Overall, 94% of respondents said they were satisfied with the service and 77% reported that they were “very satisfied,” which is impressive even with an accuracy range of plus or minus four percentage points. Another three quarters of survey takers said that FairlawnGig’s customer service is “excellent.”

In addition, about half of respondents said that FairlawnGig was “extremely important” in their choice to live or stay in the community. And the survey found that activities like working from home and streaming movies and other entertainment increased after residents started subscribing to FairlawnGig’s Internet access.

A survey given to businesses in March revealed similar satisfaction with FairlawnGig. About half of...

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Posted June 2, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

This week on the Community Broadband Bits podcast, Christopher talks to Tanna Greathouse, a Boone, North Carolina, resident operating an online business, Your Favorite Assistant, from home. Tanna shares her struggle with the lack of connectivity options in the area and what it means to have to sign up for three expensive, overlapping services — DSL, satellite, and mobile — for unreliable, slow, and high-latency Internet connections.

Tanna and Christopher talk about the struggle to perform even basic cloud-based productivity work and how this struggle has been amplified by the coronavirus pandemic. They talk about what things might look like if there were more local Internet choice and how the rise of telework will likely change how large and small businesses operate in the future.

We’ve covered North Carolina’s efforts at local Internet choice many times before. Find our “Why NC Broadband Matters” podcast series, co-produced with NC Broadband Matters, on the Community Broadband Bits podcast index. Episode topics include the homework gap,...

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Posted May 29, 2020 by christopher

I have been tracking from afar local grassroots efforts in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to start a municipal broadband network for years. I've visited them locally and spoken to various people from citizens to elected officials about the different options. The following are my observations. I'm not trying to channel their thoughts on how to move forward.

Cambridge is a high-tech city with nearly ubiquitous coverage from Comcast, delivering more or less the same services they offer to millions of homes — which is too say mostly reliable and high-cost Internet access (that will be still higher cost next year and the next after that). In the case of Comcast, it comes with crippled upload speeds compared to fast download capacity. Customer service is . . . well, you do your best to never have to use it.

But with MIT and Harvard within its confines, many in Cambridge are well aware that Internet access can get so much better and not be mediated by a company willing to spend millions in D.C. to preserve its right to set up tollbooths for certain kinds of content if they so choose.

However, Cambridge is remarkably similar to Palo Alto, which is also home to high tech households that mostly use Comcast cable and sometimes have the option of AT&T fiber. And in both instances, there is a strong case for some kind of municipal network that would create more local Internet choice. Both appear to have significant support in the community for a public option. But both also have city staff that have decided to prevent any meaningful investment.

They have run into the challenge that Seattle also wrestled with. These high profile cities have refused to consider creative, incremental, and targeted efforts. Instead, they have focused almost entirely on the costs of duplicating Chattanooga or Wilson, where the community built the entire citywide at once with debt-financed capital.

In Cambridge, the city council is rebelling after having been stymied by a city manager that has successful resisted efforts to study municipal broadband for years.

City Manager DePasquale has consistently refused to act on municipal broadband despite a...

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Posted March 26, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Early last month, before the spread of the novel coronavirus turned staying home from a quiet night in into a moral imperative, Christopher traveled to North Carolina to attend the Institute for Emerging Issues Forum at North Carolina State University. While there, he interviewed Leslie Boney, Director of the Institute for Emerging Issues. He also spoke with Darren Smith from Wilson's Gig East Exchange and Ron Townley from the Upper Coastal Plain Council of Governments.

We wanted to share their conversation as a special episode of the "Why NC Broadband Matters" podcast series we've been working on with NC Broadband Matters. The nonprofit organization works to connect communities across North Carolina, bringing high-quality broadband access to residents and businesses.

logo-nc-hearts-gigabit.png Christopher and Leslie discuss the Institute for Emerging Issues, and Leslie describes how they developed the theme of the forum, ReCONNECT. They talk about the importance of not only expanding broadband infrstructure but making sure people and businesses can take advantage of technology. Leslie explains why rural and urban communities rely on eachother and both deserve investment in digital inclusion.

After Leslie leaves, Darren and Ron share what's happening in Wilson and eastern North Carolina. They reflect on their experience at the forum. Darren talks about Wilson's new innovation hub, the Gig East Exchange, and how the city is...

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Posted March 20, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

“While most of us take a high-speed Internet connection for granted, many living in rural areas feel disconnected,” states North Carolina television station WRAL’s new documentary, “Disconnected,” which first aired on March 19.

The documentary features local officials, healthcare professionals, small business owners, and families from across the state discussing the importance of high-quality broadband access and the struggle to connect rural areas. Though “Disconnected” was recorded before the Covid-19 outbreak forced schools and businesses to close nationally, the ongoing crisis further emphasizes the necessity of getting all North Carolinians connected to affordable, reliable Internet access.

“Disconnected” was created with help from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, the North Carolina League of Municipalities, and Google Fiber. Watch the documentary below or on the WRAL website.

A Tale of Two Cities

To illustrate the importance of connectivity for everything from education to healthcare, “Disconnected” takes viewers to two small North Carolina towns — one with high-speed Internet access and one without.

Enfield NC

In Enfield, home to 2,300 people, businesses and residents alike struggle to get connected, and town officials face difficulties attracting new employers to the area. Enfield Middle S.T.E.A.M. Academy reports that about 60 percent of students don’t have Internet access at home. WRAL interviews one student’s family, which only has unreliable satellite connectivity. “It’s a lot of running around,” says Lashawnda Silver, the student’s mother. “If I don’t provide it for her, she’s going to lose out.”

Similarly, an Enfield health clinic says that most patients aren’t able to connect at home and even 40 percent of staff lack home broadband access. “It’s a barrier for their healthcare,” explains Mary Downey, Family Nurse Practitioner.

The city of Wilson is less than an hour south of Enfield, but it’s a world apart in terms of connectivity. Wilson's 49,000 residents have access to gigabit speeds over the city's reliable fiber network, Greenlight. We’ve...

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Posted February 27, 2020 by lgonzalez

Christopher went to North Carolina earlier this month to attend the Institute for Emerging Issues Forum at North Carolina State. While he was there, he interviewed Dr. Jeff Cox, President of Wilkes Community College, and Zach Barricklow Vice President of Strategy for the college.

The conversation was too good not to share as another bonus episode for the project that we’ve been working on with nonprofit NC Broadband Matters. Our common goal is to shed light on some of the connectivity issues in North Carolina. NC Broadband Matters focuses on bringing broadband coverage to local communities for residents and businesses and we’re teaming up for the "Why NC Broadband Matters" podcast series which explores broadband and related issues in North Carolina.

logo-nc-hearts-gigabit.png These education leaders discuss the value of broadband and distance learning in places like rural North Carolina. They examine how access to high-quality Internet access is presenting opportunities to potential students and increasing the possibility of economic mobility. They also look at how increased access to community college curriculum is improving the work force and improving economic development in rural areas of the state.

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

This show is 20 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or with the...

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Posted February 20, 2020 by lgonzalez

In recent months, we’ve been working with nonprofit NC Broadband Matters to shed light on some of the connectivity issues in North Carolina. The group focuses on bringing broadband coverage to local communities for residents and businesses and have asked us to help them develop the series, "Why NC Broadband Matters," which explores broadband and related issues in North Carolina.

Many of the discussions have struck a chord with folks in other states, especially those with rural regions and those that grapple with the digital divide. This week, we’re sharing a bonus episode in addition to our monthly episodes. Why? Because this conversation is interesting, important, and inspiring.

logo-nc-hearts-gigabit.png While he was recently in North Carolina at the Institute for Emerging Issues Forum at North Carolina State, Christopher had the opportunity to sit down with Roberto Gallardo, Ph.D., Assistant Director of the Purdue Center for Regional Development and a Purdue Extension Community & Regional Economics Specialist. Roberto has been working with the state’s Department of Information Technology to develop their N.C. Broadband Indices and examine digital inclusion in North Carolina.

Roberto, who has studied the digital divide(s) elsewhere speaks with Christopher about the overlap between availability, adoption, and infrastructure. He and Christopher look at how data can help communities take a targeted approach at developing a unique strategy for closing the digital divide for their...

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Posted January 30, 2020 by lgonzalez

As federal, state, and local leaders increasingly recognize the need to make Internet access universal, they are also realizing that adoption is a separate issue. Programs such as the ReConnect and Connect America Funds I and II Auction have helped to expand infrastructure, but even in places where Internet access has been available for years, 100 percent of households do not subscribe. In an effort to better understand digital equity, the House Subcommittee on Communications & Technology of the Committee on Energy and Commerce recently sat down to listen to experts on digital equity. They discussed common misconceptions, hurdles that make wide-scale adoption difficult, and offered policy recommendations to help us achieve digital equity.

Not Only a Rural Problem

Angela Siefer, Executive Director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) described how her experience as a digital equity warrior has changed from working with people to learn the basics of computer use to the additional problem of helping people get online. Angela's statement addressed some of the most common myths associated with the digital divide that NDIA, through boots-on-the-ground research, has discovered, including:

The digital divide is a rural problem: Census results show that populations in urban areas do not have Internet access subscriptions of any kind; these are often low-income households.

5G will bridge the digital divide: Lack of infrastructure and devices deployed in areas where existing problems with digital inclusion continue with regards to this new technology.

People don't subscribe because they don't think the Internet isn't valuable: Accomplishing day-to-day tasks often require access to the Internet, which is a fact not lost on those who don't subscribe, but the cost is out of reach for many of those same people.

Read Angela's statement here...

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