Fiber Fusion: Navigating Municipal Fiber Networks with Traverse City Light and Power - Episode 583 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast

This week on the first podcast of the year, Christopher speaks with Scott Menhart, the Chief Technology and Information Officer of Traverse City Light and Power. TCLP, a utility company, serves the 13,000 dedicated residents in Northwest Lower Michigan.

Chris and Scott discuss the history of the TCLP and the benefits of building a municipal fiber network for Traverse City, Michigan. They also discuss the role of fiber and how TCLP's use of it with supporting the electric grid led to them expanding its services over the years to include broadband internet access.

Despite the challenges they face from major companies, Chris and Scott conclude the conversation by emphasizing the importance of staying the course with proper planning with building small, successful broadband networks for their communities.

This show is 34 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed.

Transcript below.

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

Listen to other episodes or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.


Scott Menhart (00:07):
We are a benefit to the community. We're community operate. In fact, our local slogan for T CLP Fiber is your community network because that's what it is, right? People have a voice in this.

Christopher Mitchell (00:17):
Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Christopher Mitchell at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in St. Paul, Minnesota. Today [00:00:30] I'm speaking with Scott Manhart, who is the Chief Technology and Information Officer at Traverse City Light and Power. Welcome.

Scott Menhart (00:37):
Thank you to have me, Chris. It's been a long time coming and I'm finally glad we got to get together.

Christopher Mitchell (00:42):
Yeah, no, and I don't even know how long you've worked at TCLP there in Traverse City, but I feel like I've been watching Traverse City for like 12 or 15 years wondering if you were all going to make a commitment to build a municipal fiber network or when it was going to happen and whatnot, but we'll talk today about [00:01:00] what's going on there.

Scott Menhart (01:01):
That sounds wonderful.

Christopher Mitchell (01:03):
So for people who are not familiar and cannot see your hand, the palm of your hand, tell us where Traverse City is and about how big it is.

Scott Menhart (01:11):
Traverse City is located in northwest lower Michigan. I say lower Michigan because we're not up in the upper peninsula, so it's about an hour 45 minutes from the Mackinac Bridge, Mackinac City. We are right on the lakes or the shores of Lake Michigan surrounded by beautiful water and beautiful scenery. And we are a tourism [00:01:30] town at heart and we year-round, we've got about 13,000 dedicated residents that brutal the winters up here to enjoy the snow and sunshine in the summer.

Christopher Mitchell (01:42):
Have you had any snow yet this year?

Scott Menhart (01:44):
We've had a little bit. It stuck around for a couple weeks and then kind of dissipated and as of now I think it's like 45, 50 degrees out, which is pretty hot for this time of year, you would say.

Christopher Mitchell (01:56):
Yeah. So as we're recording this, which is the 21st, [00:02:00] just December for, we're not exactly sure when this will run in the new year, but we are here in Minnesota. We also dry ground. It's, it's a little bit sad. We're going to be above freezing for a while, but I hope that you get some big snow in the winter. Tourists have a great time up there. The Traverse City light and power utility, what all does that do?

Scott Menhart (02:22):
We are a local municipality that provides reliable electric service to the community and surrounding region, and [00:02:30] we also now provide telecom services in addition to that, A couple big focuses are on our telecom business infrastructure and on climate action planning. And so we're getting into sustainability models with climate action stuff and really trying to change the world both through municipal broadband and climate action initiatives for clean energy and telecom, broadband, Internet phones.

Christopher Mitchell (02:54):
Excellent. And you're one of many in Michigan at this point? Not like a million [00:03:00] of course, but there's Holland Siang Marshall, there's several cold springs that have been doing the old HFC before they got into the fiber upgrades. There's a lot going on in Michigan. You also have that law that you have to jump through some extra hoops in order to do it. But one of the things that I think we always see from the municipal electricity entities that go on to build these fiber networks is that often the fiber is first and foremost for the electric side. So [00:03:30] before we get into too much more about the fiber project and where you are, can you just help us better understand the role that the fiber plays in the electric grid

Scott Menhart (03:39):
Traverse City light and power got into fiber for that exact reason. Back in 2006, we wanted to replace some legacy T one circuits connecting our substations together, our electrical substations, and we did that with fiber. So we built out two massive city rings to connect all of our substations together. But as you build this out, you have capacity, right? Cost is [00:04:00] in the labor as many people know, not in the actual strand count density. And so we've had spare strands. And so from that point on, we actually started leasing out dark fiber infrastructure from 2007 and on. And while we got into fiber to start with was electrical communications and why we continue to expand our fiber network was electrical communications. Everything that we're doing with the fiber on the telecom side is an ancillary benefit to both the community and to us [00:04:30] in terms of revenue diversification and also help in just offsetting our grid infrastructure to be able to do some wonderful projects that we have coming up in the next decade.

Christopher Mitchell (04:39):
And so let's talk about the decision-making process. So many communities, traverse City I think studied it and looked at it and said maybe we should do this, and then said, no, it's not the right time. And then studied it again and then said maybe we should do this, and then eventually found that they saw a set of numbers that looked reasonable. So [00:05:00] walk us through that process and that timing.

Scott Menhart (05:03):
I want to touch point on something that you had mentioned. The Michigan telecommunication laws that have us jumped to a couple extra hoops that some lobbying efforts were able to slip into there, which is that we have to do competitive bids in order to be able to build out as a muni and you have to have three or less competitive bids to be able to build out. And fortunately enough, we kind of forced all that happening in the change. And so we were grandfathered into this legacy prior [00:05:30] to those changes that went into effect in 2007. So we had to have a public hearing and do a couple extra steps way back then in 2006 to preclude us from that process. But we still ended up bidding it out anyways and following somewhat of the similar statutes. We just didn't have to go to the nth degree that the new telecom law state.

Christopher Mitchell (05:49):
So I'll just supplement that by noting that my deep frustration with that is something that I think as someone who works for public power, there's a sense among legislators when they're confronting [00:06:00] this argument from lobbyists where they're just like, oh, people in Traverse City need fiber. It doesn't matter where it comes from. A fiber network operated by an international behemoth would be the same as a locally owned network that is providing the service. And we know that's not true. We know it in electricity, we know it in all matter of infrastructure that who owns the network matters.

Scott Menhart (06:22):
It really does matter. I mean, we stand for local control. I mean we are a benefit to the community. We're community operate. In fact, our [00:06:30] local slogan for TCLP fiber is your community network because that's what it is. People have a voice in this. It's not just something that is, we're stuffing down people's faces saying, here's our network, this is what you get and this is the price. They can come to our board meetings, we work with them. I'm always engaging with the community and listening to feedback. We listen to every time we do an install at a customer's house, we get valuable feedback and we actually put those voices into production. I mean, we hear enough of X, Y or Z, we do what the community wants [00:07:00] and that's really the benefit. And one of the biggest misconceptions that our incumbents really, really targeted was our ability to operate and run a government owned network gone, as you call it, and I

Christopher Mitchell (07:14):
Would never call it that, but that's what they call

Scott Menhart (07:16):
It. I know they call it that. I'm not a big fan of that slogan, but that's what they're referring to it as. And the reality is they came out and said, you're not going to be able to keep out with the technology quick enough. You're not going to be able to. That is so far [00:07:30] from the truth because the reality is we're smaller and I can scale my network much faster than any national telecom provider out there today because I've got to worry about my single footprint here. I'm not worried about acquisition across multiple states. I'm worried about this region right here. And so where I can build out a network and turn it up and move and move and keep my network upgraded and launch the latest and greatest, it's only impacting this local region right here. And we can do that much faster than any large telecom [00:08:00] provider can do. Well, and

Christopher Mitchell (08:01):
As you said that it never occurred to me before, but also as we're sitting here with a federal standard of broadband is 25 3 with a proposal that I go up to 100 megabits down, 20 megabits up who's lobbying to keep it as low as possible. Those biggest companies, they claim to be the ones able to most rapidly adopt new change, but they're the ones who are constantly lobbying to keep it as slow as possible. So it is always entertaining when you live in that 180 [00:08:30] degree world in a state legislature where they have to deal with those lobbyist arguments and whatnot. It's usually 180 degrees from the truth.

Scott Menhart (08:39):
Yeah, and that speed, we're going into 20, 24, a 25 by three speed is absolutely ludicrous in my mind. I mean that is just scratching the surface on what you can do with the Internet. And so I mean if that is the scale, and I'm glad there's at least some effort to raise that bar, but I mean a hundred by 20 is better than [00:09:00] 25 by three, but come on, we're going into 2024. What does the nation want to do to provide better broadband coverage for the entire nation? Not have standards of a hundred by 20, right? I mean it's just very low, especially on the upload speed when a lot of stuff is becoming more connected in your house. People are working from home and they really want to start uploading stuff to OneDrive for business and things like that. You can't limited at that point, but the average citizen doesn't understand that limitation, and that's [00:09:30] one of the large educational efforts we have to do providing fiber symmetrical service, like what's the benefit of fiber over coax and traditional broadband methods And that upload speed is one of those things that I really touch home on and help businesses understand because that, and even homeowners uploading pictures for backups, that's a big deal and you don't get that because everybody just thinks download streaming movies and that's not what the Internet is about anymore today.

Christopher Mitchell (10:00):
[00:10:00] Yeah, no, I went through this because I did not have a robust online backup of my computer because I have data cap and I have a slow upload connection that's been rectified. And so now I have fiber in my home with no data cap and I have an online backup, and I wish I had had it six months earlier, it would've saved me, I don't know at this point, 20 or 30 hours of work trying to recover from a hard drive failure where I still had everything scattered around. But if I could have just downloaded that image, that would've been real nice.

Scott Menhart (10:29):
It [00:10:30] done. I mean, there's tools out there that literally take a snapshot of your computer and upload it and on your legacy upload speeds, three megs, five megs, 10 megs, you're looking at hours and so you're not going to do it that often because it takes forever on a fiber connection. Depending on your speeds, you're looking at minutes. So I mean, most of the stuff that I do now, because I'm on coex at home, I'm not privileged yet to have fiber at my location, and so we have it at the office here. I bring any large upload things that I'm doing in terms of data migration stuff into the office because I'm [00:11:00] not going to wait and watch that little bar scroll by ever so slowly when it's done in a matter of minutes inside the office.

Christopher Mitchell (11:06):
And I'll just say many times when I've gone to bed and been like, oh, I'll let it finish. You wake up and find out 10 minutes after you went to sleep, it stopped.

Scott Menhart (11:13):
Oh, isn't that the worst? That is the absolute worst.

Christopher Mitchell (11:16):
Let's go back in time maybe six or eight years ago I think. So you need fiber optics and you've been investing in fiber optics for the electric side. You're going to continue doing that for the electric side. At what point does it make sense then to go to the home [00:11:30] and to begin offering telecommunication services

Scott Menhart (11:33):
For us? It made sense now, and I even want to back it up a step further than that. You were talking about how we got into feasibility studies and business plans and all of that fun stuff. I mean, you're right. We did in 2006, we did a feasibility study and a business plan. It showed very favorable results then. But then the economy took a little bit of a down dip right around the 2010, and so we kind of stabilized and waited, and then about 2015 it started to really pick [00:12:00] back up. And so we started another study, which we did. We hired Conex on. They came in and did another feasibility study from us, did a short business plan from us. Then we did another business plan just because we're putting a lot of revenue or rate payer dollars into this infrastructure, we just want to make sure that we're doing the right thing for the community.

Then we ask the community, should we be doing this? And we got a resounding yes. I think at our board meetings there was more people at our board meetings discussing fiber than there on the electric side just in support of this, [00:12:30] in support of this infrastructure. So we said, well, we're still deploying it for all these other projects that we're doing on the electric side, our A MI projects that we did, our cap bank projects that we're doing now, we're furthering looking at grid diversification where we're sectionalizing our grid and putting smart devices out there to reroute power on the fly. You can't do that over Wi-Fi or old school technology because the latency is too high. You need fiber medium. That's a requirement for all of the stuff that we're doing. We built out a solar array [00:13:00] that needed fiber connectivity to be able to disconnect the breakers in near real time. We had to deploy fiber. So as we keep deploying all this fiber, we said, what are we doing? Why are we not offering more to the community because we're running all this fiber by everybody's house in business. So at that point, we actually really started getting into that and saying offering the community drops the service where we started Internet and phones. To

Christopher Mitchell (13:23):
Be clear, sometimes I don't think people appreciate that. Some towns, there are some places where people have extremely poor connectivity, [00:13:30] but a city of 13,000, like Traverse City, pretty much everyone has cable service that's in town. A lot of people probably just outside of town have cable service. People probably have some slow DSL availability just about everywhere. So you're not in a situation where you really have what we would call unserved, but you have a lot of people who are probably paying more than they should and getting less than they want. And that's the problem that you're ultimately solving, I'm guessing.

Scott Menhart (13:54):
Yep, that's exactly it. That and customer service, I mean that's been the Achilles heel with all of this is just [00:14:00] we provide very good customer service and we listen to the customers and we are able to offer what they want and price points that they want. And so Traverse City is a very dense population, eight square miles, a very dense 13,000 people, and then it gets very rural outside of those limits. And that's the part where we're going to start expanding to after this citywide push that we're doing right now to cover all of Traverse City proper and then we're going to get into these more rural areas that just only have DSL or starlink or something like that. So [00:14:30] to really give a, if you have DSL at this point, that's pretty much an abandoned market, just ready to be upgraded. And so we're looking actively looking at the surrounding region as well.

Christopher Mitchell (14:42):
You then begin building an initial phase. This is something that I think I would like to see more governments do, particularly local governments that do not have a municipal electric department. And I feel like as most of the cities that have [00:15:00] built citywide fiber networks have municipal electricity as well, but the ones that don't, sometimes they're in this sense of like, oh, I don't know if we want to take this big risk or we don't know if the feasibility numbers are right. And my answer is usually you should build it in phases and there's reasons why it's more efficient to not build in phases, but there are some pretty good reasons to start with a phase one and then reconsider and figure out how to really attack the larger problem. So that's what you decide to do. How come you moved in that direction?

Scott Menhart (15:30):
[00:15:30] We moved in that direction, building it out in phases for logistical reasons. We wanted to make sure pricing was set properly, technology was set properly. We didn't want to just immediately go, let's deploy citywide and then find out. We had to make all these adjustments across the entire city. So we wanted to get some metrics back from both our business community and our residential community first before we decided to deploy and kind of iron out all the kinks. And so we [00:16:00] launched in 2020 was our original launch and right now, and we launched two phases, one geared towards the business community downtown, one towards the residential community, kind of on the outskirts of the downtown area and gained all the metrics that we could. Now we are in a pivotal point where we're launching to the rest of the community, but we were able to get that data points and information from the customers to be able to know what we should do for the rest of the community. And so we've tweaked now our model to be able to [00:16:30] serve the better good by those first phase initiatives that we did, which I will say was an astounding success. We just reported on our financial statements that we are in the black already. So I mean it's been a good run all around and given such a small footprint that we're doing, I mean that's wonderful news. We're ahead of schedule ahead of time and ahead of budget

Christopher Mitchell (16:52):
When you say in the black. So that would count just the deployment of that phase, the expenditures

Scott Menhart (16:57):
There. So anything else that we do [00:17:00] on the phase two infrastructure, sure, we're going to have to add some fiber technicians and some scalability there, but the reality is outside of the capital investment that we're going to make, every new customer that we hook up goes back to debt to repayment at this point. And so from that standpoint, it's really a solid business plan and a lot of people do phases too, and we'll probably compartmentalize the rest of the city into different phases. You can get into demand aggregation, so where everybody [00:17:30] that wants the service, we have distribution areas and we can push these and make the community compete where we're going to go next. And so it really gets the community involved in the project. And I mean, it's their network. They're the ones pushing for it, and if they can get an area or a neighborhood or something that they want first and they get everybody, and you've got these local champions out there pushing their service and they get everybody in their neighborhood to sign up, we'll move to that area next ahead of another neighborhood just because of you getting [00:18:00] these prescribers.

And so the moment you are able to hook turn up services in that area, you've got all this influx of business right then and there. And so I think that phased approach really works out for a lot of other communities just because you're getting prescribers and so you know that your demand is there already before you build it. And you don't have to feel the dreams that if I build it, will they come? This

Christopher Mitchell (18:22):
Is where it gets a little bit awkward, right? Because as a public power entity rooted in the community, you need to serve everyone ultimately [00:18:30] that's in your DNA. And you're familiar obviously with the challenges of some households being less advantaged and able to take advantage of it. How do you wrestle with the families that need a little bit more support? Obviously right now we have the ACP, which I don't know if you're involved with some of the, I know some municipalities are still trying to figure out, given the way it's going to wind down here pretty soon. And also just the sheer number of people, sometimes they just do their own thing rather than doing that. But what is [00:19:00] your digital equity focus as you're taking on a Herculean task of building the network?

Scott Menhart (19:05):
That is something we're very cognizant of, right? There are different levels of community people that live inside the community at different points of their economic careers, if you will, that may need some assistance with that. And so we've looked at part, we do take advantage of the ACP program and I know it's about to wind down and they're spinning that down to some level. And so we're wondering what's next, [00:19:30] but we're also working with the local school system to one initiative that we have ongoing right now that we're trying to connect the dots on is working with them if they have children in school, can we somehow subsidize the rates to their home so they can actually do homeschooling and have access to Internet if they're not even homeschooling just for research, but that now you're only looking at households with children, but how administration do you look at other low income housing and be able to facilitate that from a broadband [00:20:00] perspective?

And that's a really big challenge from a municipal standpoint. So I mean defining a low income rate, it's easy to do, but how do you police that? How do you implement that and make sure it's not being taken advantage of? Because we do know that that happens from time to time. And so those are things that we have to work through the logistics as we move forward throughout it. And we're kind of studying what other communities are doing, and so we're going to adapt, I hope something comes in place of the ACP or they keep extending it because that's a wonderful [00:20:30] program for this exact initiative,

Christopher Mitchell (20:33):
Especially when you're just getting built out. I mean, that's where you're in your most vulnerable state and it is the hardest time to really be supporting. In 10 or 15 years, y'all will be basically rolling in cash. You never want to hear anyone say that, right? It's just like it's a kiss of death. But it is the case that when the network is more mature, you've paid off a lot of the fixed investments, then you have more freedom. It is extremely hard to deal with [00:21:00] that when you're still trying to figure out how to pay all your employees, your contractors, you're trying to find new people to grow. It's a big headache.

Scott Menhart (21:08):
And I mean that's such a sweet spot that you hit though, right? Being a muni, we're a nonprofit. So once we hit that sweet spot, what do we do with this? We have to have enough to be able to run the network and in a reliable and safe manner, but at that point then it's if we're still accruing too much [00:21:30] cash, we either have to expand or lower our rates. So I mean that's a good position to be in being a nonprofit and not to mention the local investment goes right back into the community. And that's something so when you're investing in T clp fiber or any muni that's local or nonprofit that's doing serving your community, the dollars are going right back into the local community. It's not going somewhere else from some other big telecom that's out there. It's right here, staying right in the community, going right back [00:22:00] in, reinvesting right into your infrastructure that you live in your backyard. It's really a win-win win for everybody involved in this.

Christopher Mitchell (22:08):
Now, one of the things I think is worth noting because we just discussed it briefly before we started recording, is that in some setups, cities will establish a new department and they'll have just employees that are dedicated only to the wastewater or the solid waste or the broadband [00:22:30] or whatever, but in your case, you have people that are cross-trained everywhere from what I can tell. And so how has that been working out? Is that something that has been challenging or that has been rewarding? How do you reflect on that?

Scott Menhart (22:44):
It's been very rewarding. I'll start off by saying that, and I'll kind of segue into why is because we did study that in the very infancy of the project, and I'm not talking about the dark fiber anchor tenants that we hooked up. I'm talking about the lit fiber telecom service, [00:23:00] that department that we then deployed. So the reality is that we looked at maybe potentially spinning up another department underneath the city umbrella that manages the fiber. The problem with that is that now you've got another wires company that has to maintain wires. And so here we are deploying electrical and then another department's going to come back and run a wire right underneath there, right next to that in the ground. Economies of scale didn't make sense. We are a wires company. We can easily manage the fiber [00:23:30] wire just as we can. The electrical, obviously the electrical wires more dangerous, but we have the capacity to manage wires.

And so from that standpoint, it made sense locate to keep the fiber infrastructure within Traverse City lighting power, the electrical branch of the local municipal city infrastructure. That being said, why we didn't then turn around and sub out the departments into various different reasons inside, and we kept it within the technical department of itself is because internally [00:24:00] we've been, my team has been running those types of services internally for our internal clients, which are the other staff members. You start working at Lane Power, we run wires to your office to hook up your Internet and your phone, and then we do everything else, support your monitors, laptop, printers, all that fun stuff. This is just an extension of that where we're running it now to the next block over, but we don't have to support your laptop and all these other things. We just have to make sure your Internet and phone [00:24:30] works and we're using all ideally, right? I mean you'd be surprised. We definitely get support calls about laptops that crash and stuff like that. And actually we do typically, if we have the capacity and or time go to the extra step to help out customers,

Christopher Mitchell (24:45):
That's what I would expect.

Scott Menhart (24:47):
And that's not something the incumbents would do at all. It's like you got your speed, that's it. And so we are going that extra mile already and that's why I think our customers fell in love with T clp fiber. But I just think that [00:25:00] just continued on of a technical infrastructure, just kept it local, kept it within the technology department, and we use all the same. I think it is paramount to know that we use all the same equipment for both electrical and fiber. So the electrical companies is on the same network than our fiber. We vlan everything off so it's all secure and it's all locked down, but it's the same backend. And so from that perspective, it doesn't make any sense to try to relocate somewhere else because we have the scalability [00:25:30] within that department just to keep expanding. Sure.

Christopher Mitchell (25:32):
Now as we're winding down the interview, I do want to cover a couple other things. One is that talking about the benefits, and so this is typically, again, building the network is the hardest phase. I feel like in five years your job gets a lot easier, hopefully sooner than that. But as you're thinking here, it's December, this is the shortest day of the year right now. I think as we're recording, you're trying [00:26:00] to get motivated to get out of bed. And what are you thinking in terms of how this is benefiting the community? What is there that's happened that has made it clear to you that this was the right decision?

Scott Menhart (26:11):
There was a story. We launched our phase one during the pandemic and that was problematic because the governor at the time called a standstill. And so we kind of pulled all of our construction workers off the project during construction. She then came back and said, well, if you're building out telecom networks, you can continue [00:26:30] because those are needed during this timeframe. So we were able to remobilize and we get going, but once we were able to actually get people online and connecting, and we saw a huge increase in our residential take rate because everybody was at home, people were working from home, they weren't going into work, businesses were operating out of their house. I mean, everything went to the house. And so one of the stories that I heard that I really fell in love with was what's happening during the pandemic without people [00:27:00] being able to go to the school and kids being able to interact and play on the playground and stuff like that.

And there was a couple little pop-up facilities houses that their teachers were hosting. Some kids there as smaller educational stuff once they were cleared to do so, but they weren't fully returning to school in their entirety yet. But they were doing these little covid free zones where kids can come and actually learn in a smaller little classroom, maybe 10 kids in a house setting. And they were using TCLP [00:27:30] fiber to do this. And so that to me was just a love story that I absolutely love because it was like we're still getting somewhat of a smaller benefit of a normalized life for our children. Granted, it's not at the big playground and everything, but they're able to go to somebody's house, use our service to actually learn and educate and better themselves, but still get to interact with each other. And that was when I knew we're doing the right thing in this community.

Christopher Mitchell (27:57):
And nonetheless, you face pushback. And so [00:28:00] I don't want to get lost in this, but any sort of advice,

Scott Menhart (28:03):
That's an easy conversation to get lost in. We all know this

Christopher Mitchell (28:06):
And so I'm curious, we are seeing more networks still being launched, people cities are considering this. What advice do you have for folks to try and deal with that and how can you prepare people for that onslaught from a company that may never have even sent people to your community before suddenly now is sending high level people to tell you you're making a terrible mistake,

Scott Menhart (28:30):
[00:28:30] Which absolutely happened. That is absolutely what happened. And I tell people that get into this, stay the course. I think it's easier to convince a board or a city commission get four no votes to shut the project down than it is to compete with a nonprofit. And that's the angle that a lot of our incumbents take. Stay the course. You're going to get negative pushback. You're going to get negative feedback. You're going to get them people telling you, you shouldn't be doing this. We can do it better. We can deploy technology [00:29:00] quicker. But the reality is stay the course. I guarantee you in a couple of years you'll be happy that you did because you will have local control of an asset that is now geared towards your entire community. And there are like your podcast and others obviously I think interviewed Bob Knight and Kim McKinley on American Association of Public Broadband, right? That's another resource. But there's resources out there that can help you navigate those and look, but stay the course, do not be distracted by this [00:29:30] anti-government, anti-gun slogans that you'll see. Because the truth is it's a lot easier than you think it is,

Christopher Mitchell (29:36):
Right? Although I do think you'll agree with me. Make sure you're staying the course if you've given it real study. And as you know, there's a lot of claims, there's a lot of claims of failure. Many of them are lies, but there are some communities that have not done their homework and have gotten into trouble.

Scott Menhart (29:56):
Let me reiterate, say the course, as long as you've done your homework and it makes sense. Don't [00:30:00] just throw money at something that you've never studied or you never looked at just because you think you can build it and it'll happen. At least do the forefront, do your feasibility study, do your business plan, make the business case. And one of the things that I really want to iterate is everybody gets caught up in the telecom side and what I mean by the Internet side of this, but the reality is there's a lot of infrastructure needs. We're working with the local police department to lease them our fiber and start up a security camera as a service where we're going to offer, there's revenue streams [00:30:30] that you can get off of that network that don't just involve broadband and phones or TV if you're doing that. So just make sure you're putting, you identify all those key niches upfront and that helps pad those revenue streams as you're moving forward. And so you can actually get that coming in. So don't rush into it, study it. But once you have a solid plan, stay that course. Stick with it because you'll tell Everybody will come out that's against government owned networks telling you you can't do it, but they're afraid [00:31:00] of it. And that's really what it's,

Christopher Mitchell (31:01):
Now, you said something, and I can't let you go without asking him about this because you are the chief technology and information officer for the entire utility. I sometimes hear this claim, Internet is so hard, electricity is easy, and so that's why electric utilities shouldn't get into it. And I always laugh because my answer is always like electricity still kills people when you mess it up. Electricity is a lot harder than you think. And so I'm just curious, as someone who has to work with both of these things day in and day [00:31:30] out, how do you respond to someone that says The Internet is really hard and electricity is super easy,

Scott Menhart (31:35):
Electricity is infinitely more difficult to supply and demand in a safe and reliable manner than broadband is. It just is. I mean, most pre us doing telecom, we were doing it in our internally hooking up customers, our internal customers, our staff members, our hr, our finance director, all of these people on Internet. I mean, it is happening internally everywhere. If you think about [00:32:00] it like that. And you just say, oh, so now I'm going to remove the roof and just expand it next door. Imagine that's just a building next door. Internet's an easy thing. Electricity is hard and it's dangerous and it's gruesome work, and we have dedicated linemen that support that, but it is, it's very dangerous. It's a very hard initiative and power contracts, how you're generating power, how that's all happening. Those take years and years to negotiate and understand, and Internet's just an extension [00:32:30] of services that your IT team was already doing. And so do not let people think that Internet is more difficult than power because that's not the case.

Christopher Mitchell (32:38):
Well, Scott, it's been a long time coming, but I'm really glad we're able to record this. Thank you so much for your time today.

Scott Menhart (32:44):
Absolutely, Christopher, it's been a wonderful time chatting with you, and I look forward to hearing from you in the future. Thank you everybody.

Christopher Mitchell (32:50):
Sounds good. And then also, you're a board member. I didn't mentioned this, but you are a board member and one of the founding folks behind the American Association of Public Broadband now with the executive director of Gigi, so [00:33:00] and so, if listeners haven't heard of that, they should go check that out.

Scott Menhart (33:04):
Yes, please do. That is something that we are all very proud of, and Gigi has been a wonderful addition to that leadership team there, and she's been doing Wonder wonderful, wonderful things on that front. So look forward to a lot to come in 2024 in regards to that.

Christopher Mitchell (33:18):
Great. Thank you.

Scott Menhart (33:19):
Thank you.

Ry Marcattilio (33:20):
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