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Introducing the American Association of Public Broadband – Episode 504 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast
This week on the podcast, Christopher is joined live from Broadband Communities by Bob Knight (CEO, Harrison Edwards) and Kim McKinley (Chief Marketing Officer, UTOPIA Fiber). During the conversation, the three discuss the newly announced American Association of Public Broadband (AAPB). They talk about what the group is, why it’s needed and how people can get involved.
They talk about the AAPB’s guiding philosophy, how the organization is structured, and why they are taking an inclusive approach to building membership. Kim and Bob also weigh in on the fate of BEAD funding, and other issues affecting the industry.
We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.
Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.
Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.
Bob Knight (00:07):
The vision here is we need to have a voice in Washington. But more importantly, the immediate need right now is a voice in the 50 states. We've gotta be the counterbalance to 8 million a week from Big Telco.
Christopher Mitchell (00:22):
Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bands podcast. And I guess I'm not in my studio. I'm here in Houston for broadband communities. And I'm gonna first gonna introduce our first guest, Bob Knight with president and CEO of Harrison Edwards. Because I feel like maybe you just spent a word about what's broadband communities and is it a, is it a success this year?
Bob Knight (00:48):
We are having the best time. we've hit over a thousand attendees for this year's conference. We were hoping to hit about 808. I'm saying we, one of the conference co-chairs you know, the, the, the audience has been decayed for, for a number of years. This is the highest number of attendees since 2018. And I, I just think it, the agenda is so good this year. Like you can't find a lull anywhere.
Christopher Mitchell (01:13):
Yeah, no, I'm on several panels and those have been amazing. <laugh>.
Bob Knight (01:18):
Hey, I've been on some of them with you,
Christopher Mitchell (01:19):
<laugh>. That's right. So we also have Kim McKinley, who is the frequent star of a show called Connect This.
Kim McKinley (01:26):
Oh, I'm here. Oh, oh, sorry. Oh, okay. We're here.
Christopher Mitchell (01:28):
We, we don't have a, we don't have a video on you,
Kim McKinley (01:30):
So, oh, okay. So I can't dance. It doesn't work. I would like to say welcome. thanks for having me Chris. And it is very humid in Texas, is what I have to say. I had no idea how humid it wa it is here. So but it is good to be here. And I,
Christopher Mitchell (01:43):
And you spend a lot of time in Vegas. I hear,
Kim McKinley (01:45):
I I, I have spent a lot of time in Vegas. but it is I would agree with Bob and say this, this agenda has been very robust. unfortunately, I have missed all the panels that you two are on. So apparently I've missed the best content. That's what I've, according to you two.
Christopher Mitchell (01:59):
That's what I've said, <laugh>. And what do you do when you're not on connect this on my spare time, I work, work, let's move broadband forward. And I think that's what we're here to talk about
Today. You work for a network founded by Sir Thomas Moore.
Kim McKinley (02:14):
Basically? Yes. Basically
Christopher Mitchell (02:16):
<laugh> UTOPIA is what we're getting at. Yes, yes, yes. Okay.
Kim McKinley (02:18):
I got your reference. It's not funny. No, I,
Christopher Mitchell (02:20):
It's nothing, nothing that my wife No. My wife laughs at how, like, I do not mind that I am the only one who thinks that I'm funny. So I'm used to this
Kim McKinley (02:29):
Laughing at your own jokes, really get you a long way. Chris,
Christopher Mitchell (02:31):
Kim, why are, why are we talking today? you know, this, here we are when people are listening to this, the announcement will have been made, earth will have been shattered because of this announcement that that's you're gonna make tomorrow. But we got a, a preview for a show that I'll release later. <laugh>, what are, what are we talking about tomorrow? Or what are, what are you talking about while I'm on an airplane?
Kim McKinley (02:52):
<laugh>? Well, tomorrow we're making an incredibly exciting announcement that has been in the works for quite a while with a few of us, is that we are gonna announce that we have formed a advocacy organization called the American Association of Public Broadband inwards A A P B. And we're really excited. We really wanna be the voice for communities around the country of really giving them a seat at the table and helping them choose their own destiny, whatever that may be.
Christopher Mitchell (03:21):
Wonderful. And then, Bob, you've been in intimately involved in this. I, we didn't actually cover this right away, but Harrison Edwards you're in advertising and of social pro like market promotion
Bob Knight (03:31):
For public relations, marketing, social media. Yeah.
Christopher Mitchell (03:33):
Right. And communications, all kinds of stuff. And you would do a lot of work with community broadband. So obviously you saw that this was something that was needed and something that you could help provide.
Bob Knight (03:42):
So actually it's a little bit of a misnomer because I'm also a public official right in town of Richfield, Connecticut, where I serve as an economic community development commissioner. And, you know, one of the great frustrations that I was having as I was watching you know, the, the funding, you know, whether it was CARES Act or the infrastructure bill unfold in real time was that Muni broadband, community Broadband didn't have a voice in, in any of it. And, and our community is looking at an all fiber network, what that model is gonna look like. You know, we're not there yet, but we know that we needed to have a voice. And looking at the way the funding was, was carved out, how it's been flowing, looking at lobbying efforts that are going on in DC and now that have, have sort of populated the 50 states.
it, it was astonishing to me the amount of money, the amount of money that's probably gonna go to waste, frankly. and just going back to the same old, same old and not really advancing stuff. You know, when you have 65 billion Plus Cares Act plus funds at the state level, I mean, billions and billions and billions of dollars. And are we just, just moving the ball down the field a little bit? We, we, this is a Hail Mary. This is a once in generation opportunity and communities really need to have a voice a a singular voice. And a few of us had been thinking about it. I talked to Kim about the, the idea. She had the, a similar idea, talked to Heather Gold about it at Mirrors. She had sort of a similar idea. So a bunch of us sort of came together and pulled together a board. And we've been working very hard behind the scenes. So I'm not there in the Harrison Edwards role. I'm, I'm there in the town of Richfield role. you, you have to be a public official to be on the board. you know, Harrison Edwards will support as, as a vendor. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, but you know, this is, this is for public officials, by public officials to advocate in a clear and singular voice
Kim McKinley (05:38):
And to educate. I think that's an important role in this is because we want to educate as I am from Utopia. I don't think we mentioned that at the beginning cuz we just anticipate everybody knows who I am, but
Christopher Mitchell (05:49):
If they don't, they're really, I mean, they're, they're doing something wrong. Exactly. It's their fault.
Kim McKinley (05:53):
Well, we have, like, we have a few, we have like people like Bob who are just starting the process to people like me who works at a mature network operator to Highland, Illinois, to Kitsap, PUD and Traverse City that is all deploying networks. And I think we have a vast like amount of experience and we just wanna bring that education to these other cities who are just starting the process or might be at some point in the deployment process. And they might just be lost and they just need to just at some place to ask questions or bounce ideas off of mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And that's what we really wanted to be. and I think it's an exciting opportunity because at least for me, and I think for Bob as well, I get calls every day from communities around the country just wanting some kind of advice. And I think yet again, that's kind of how this idea started because you were like, I'm getting all these calls, but how many calls am I not getting?
Christopher Mitchell (06:46):
Is that why you're not returning my calls every day?
Kim McKinley (06:49):
I might have you blocked Chris, so we don't wanna talk about that <laugh>.
Bob Knight (06:52):
Yeah. I'm getting calls too every day about why Kim is the way she is <laugh>. But you know, it, it's, it's okay. No, I mean, the reality is that there's so much confusion in the marketplace, right? If, if you're a Muni official, you really don't know where to go with this. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so you know, we, we sort of assembled this, this, this dream team of, of board members here. So Angela Ming from City of Highland, Illinois, she is our board chair. And, you know, we, we talk about how there aren't enough women in leadership roles and here, you know, national advocacy and education organization. chair is a woman, vice chair, Angela Benach, you have to be named Angela, by the way Sure. To be a leadership role. from she's the general manager of Kitsap Public Utility District in Washington State and
Christopher Mitchell (07:37):
Is just a real powerful force for public broadband in Washington state.
Bob Knight (07:41):
Boy, she is, she is a force. It, it's, it's, and it's fantastic you know, to, to work with both of these women in, in this capacity. You, we know each other from industry stuff, but to really see them in action is, is phenomenal. Scott Menhart is the board treasurer from Traverse City Light and Power. They're deploying TCLP Fiber, and Kim is board secretary, and I was just elected member at large, the largest member <laugh>. Thank you. Covid.
Christopher Mitchell (08:08):
So are there, if if I'm a, a community out there and I'm like, I've had a municipal network for 20 years, like how do I learn more about it? Like what do I, what do I do to support it or to make sure that I'm on the board or, you know, those sorts of things? Like how, how, what do you do?
Bob Knight (08:24):
So American Public broadband.org is our website. You can also go to.com just in case you're fancy. but you, you can learn how to sign up what the dos are, you know, we wanna hear from members, you know, putting together advocacy platforms, putting together committees, you know, whether it's a policy committee or an advocacy committee or, or whatnot. education committee, you know, the vision here is we need to have a voice in Washington, but more importantly, the immediate need right now is a voice in the 50 states. Cuz that's where the money's flowing. You know, polic policy is, is essentially baked right now. So now it flows to the states, whether it's a state broadband office or another entity. And, you know, the, the state broadband offices is, they, they're poaching from each other. N t i is poaching talent, right? So there, there's a real need for educating these new officials that are coming in. So we, you know, we're, we're open, you know, to cities, towns, counties, state agencies, federal agencies, if you wanna be part of AAP b it it's a really important conversation. We've gotta be the counterbalance to $8 million a week from Big Telco.
Kim McKinley (09:34):
No, I think you are absolutely correct, Bob. And that's the only time I will ever say that you're correct on this.
Christopher Mitchell (09:39):
I think we should high five on that. That's just,
Kim McKinley (09:40):
Oh, excuse me. Excuse high five. Hi, bye. no, I think you're absolutely correct and I think it's, it's that we're just out there to be the voice and these communities, we wanna help the, who wanna join us. We wanna help them to have a voice and help dictate where we go. this is, you know, five people who are on the board today. But we wanna grow it and hear where people want to go. We don't wanna say these five people are the ones who are gonna dictate where this organization goes. We want all the community and board members and future members to come in and say, okay, this is what is important to us today. we also wanna be a voice for some of this legislation that is happening in states. Some states are like removing the barriers to municipal broadband and some are enacting putting barriers to make municipal broadband harder. And I think that's the point, right? One of the biggest points is that I don't think municipal broadband necessarily works for every community across the country, but what I am saying is every community should have a choice. If municipal broadband works for their community,
Christopher Mitchell (10:39):
I have a list of the five that it doesn't work in.
Kim McKinley (10:41):
Christopher Mitchell (10:41):
You do the five communities? Yeah. Okay. <laugh>.
Bob Knight (10:45):
But I, I think Kim's point is really relevant, right? We're model agnostic. If you wanna partner with a company like, like a Comcast, if that's gonna work best for your community, absolutely. You know, we'll, we'll help you with the resources, we'll help you understand what that looks like. If you wanna build your own network, fine. We're model agnostic. If you wanna, if you wanna be be an open access network, great. We'll, we'll help you. If you're gonna be a single I s p, you're gonna partner with a new entrant, like a, like a Google Fiber. Fantastic. It, it doesn't matter
Christopher Mitchell (11:17):
Who's gonna be answering the phone then when you <laugh> when you give 50 calls next week. <laugh>.
Kim McKinley (11:24):
Well, Chris, I would like to say that we are our member, board member at large <laugh> has a responsibility and it's phone calls. That's what I I have voted
Christopher Mitchell (11:33):
For. So you don't have a a staff at this
Kim McKinley (11:35):
Point? We do not have a staff at this point. This is very much, we are announcing it. We're exciting and we're kind of building, building the momentum to continue to keep growing the organization. We're gonna have a fast and rapid growth after we announce tomorrow. just from some early announcements and early kind of you
Christopher Mitchell (11:52):
Told someone else aside from just me?
Kim McKinley (11:54):
No, they heard when I was just talking to you, that was it. Yeah. Like, I would definitely not tell anybody but you, but we, we are seeing a lot of people. I think a lot of people have been waiting for an organization like this to pop up.
Christopher Mitchell (12:06):
Yeah. Well, I mean, Doug Dawson and I talked about this like eight or nine years ago and we just didn't have the energy or like the, the capacity to like try and get it going. I mean, this is something that has long been, I think needed, but it's just, you know, we needed someone that had the kind of vim and vigor that the two of you have along with the other board members.
Bob Knight (12:23):
We, we do have Vim and Vigor. So Kim and I during the pandemic, we we approached the Fiber Broadband Association. We started the public officials committee, which is actually technically a round table. but there's about 150 cities, towns, counties, and state agencies that are involved. And we have weekly monthly meetings rather. And you know, that organization has been very, very supportive of, of the efforts. They're a big tent organization. You know, we've talked to Gary Bolton about it, and he, he's extraordinarily supportive of, of aap b of the new organization,
Christopher Mitchell (12:57):
Anything. So he has to spend less time with you too. Yeah,
Bob Knight (12:59):
Clearly. But he he, he sees it as we do, as an opportunity to really partner on, on some issues and to really, you know, advance the industry and advanced fiber forward. So we're really thrilled to have close working relationship with fba. And, you know, we, we wanna have close working collaborative relationships with a lot of the other industry groups cuz there's a lot at stake. And, you know, it's, it's our economy, it's our communities. We have to really move, they move, move things forward. Mm-hmm.
Kim McKinley (13:27):
<affirmative>, this is our future. We are doing this because broadband is infrastructure and broadband is needed as we continue down this journey. I mean, we all learned this during the pandemic that how crucial this is. And if we don't, like Bob said, get this, spend this bead money correctly, where are we gonna be? It goes back to we just want to educate and be a voice so we can use this money that is coming out of Washington and all these different states in the most effective and efficient way.
Bob Knight (13:58):
I mean, I hate to say this, but it's almost too late for the bead money, right. We're, we're gonna be able to have some influence in the states and whatnot, but I think we need to be looking, you know, what's the next farm bill gonna look like? You know, what's coming down the road? That's what we need to have our eye on as
Christopher Mitchell (14:13):
Well. You talked about the states as well. I mean, what are the states doing, right? So some of the states will find that the bead money is not enough and they'll need to do something
Bob Knight (14:20):
100%. Look, look in my home state, Connecticut, you know, the, the governor's been pretty aggressive about it. You know, he, he, he's a former cable guy, so he, he actually really understands the, I mean, he wasn't knocking on doors and, you know, installing, you know, net Lamont was was an executive. He, he had a network. but he, he really gets this and they, they've put a lot of money in the budget in Connecticut where I am, other parts of the country. Look, I mean, was it Missouri? They, they returned, you know, the federal funds you know, for political reasons. So I, I mean, let's get real here. It, we, we, this is a once in a generation investment and it's certainly not a once in a generation problem or challenge. So we gotta roll.
Christopher Mitchell (15:05):
The, the thing that I felt really showed how much this is needed was when the Biden White House said, we want to solve the broadband problem, which is not just rural. It is the problem of raising of higher prices. It is a problem of needing more competition. You know, we want to spend money, we wanna support community networks. And the next day, I think five trade associations showed up at the White House to talk with the White House about that, right? Each of those trade associations had their own agenda. Some of them overlapped significantly with the agenda that, that we would have as like focused on municipal broadband. But there was no one there whose mission was to say, yes, you got it. Right. <laugh>, right.
Bob Knight (15:46):
Well, that, that's, that's the biggest problem of all the Biden administration actually got this thing, right?
Christopher Mitchell (15:52):
Well, it did In rhetoric. Yes.
Bob Knight (15:53):
In rhetoric. Yeah. At least in rhetoric. In terms of policy. You know, we're, you know, I don't think anything is gonna be perfect when, when you sort of cobble together a, a bill with, with multiple stakeholders. But it's the biggest opportunity that we've had and it's potentially the biggest opportunity that we're gonna lose
Christopher Mitchell (16:08):
Kim McKinley (16:08):
Money. Money and more money. And let's just figure out how we can deploy these networks in a great way with this money. And I think that's the key. It's, this is not, the bead money is not the first amount of money we've seen in the past, and this is not gonna be the last, I hope that doesn't shock anyone. But I think that we, as this organization has been started, is really, really just trying to help. It goes back to it. I keep saying it over and over, but just give a voice
Christopher Mitchell (16:38):
Now. I lsr we're not public officials, so cannot be on the board, but there is a role for us as well as other vendors, right?
Kim McKinley (16:47):
Yes. There is a role. we have two membership categories for vendors. And we would love, we want vendors at the table, right? Because we are, we want them part of the organization as well, because vendors are an important part of this process, right? We can't build these networks without vendors. They don't let me in a factory building optics or equipment. They, they decide
Christopher Mitchell (17:06):
Not anymore. They don't <laugh>
Kim McKinley (17:08):
After that first network. so we do need vendors part of this discussion, and it's, we welcome them, we want them. I think they are a crucial part of, of making all of this a success. I think there's so many crucial parts to this discussion. so I, I'm, I'm excited to see where this organization goes and and I think, Chris, you mentioned something of that we had the vigor to start this organization. I don't know if it's vigor or it's a tad bit of crazy in US <laugh> maybe too much coffee.
Christopher Mitchell (17:39):
I detect a little bit of that. So when, when I helped to launch next Century Cities, I'll tell you the, the question came earlier than I expected and was surprising. Can Canadian members join? It's, it's partly part of America, man.
Kim McKinley (17:52):
Okay. Chris, I used to like you
Christopher Mitchell (17:55):
Kim McKinley (17:56):
those are one of the questions I had not thought of. Uhhuh
Christopher Mitchell (17:58):
<affirmative>. Yeah. I had neither when, when we were doing that. Yeah.
Kim McKinley (18:01):
I think that will be a board discussion. And as the board secretary, I will take notes on that discussion when it happens. Yeah.
Bob Knight (18:08):
One of my favorite people in the industry is Barry Walton from Corning, resides in Canada, which, which province is, he's New Brunswick, I think, or
Christopher Mitchell (18:16):
Yeah. It's either New Finland or New Brunswick.
Bob Knight (18:18):
Newfoundland or, or New Brunswick.
Christopher Mitchell (18:20):
Right? He's out there in the east.
Bob Knight (18:21):
He he's out in the far east. He's east of Maine. Yes. I I think we need to allow Canadians in and people from all countries. Right. You know I, you know, they, they have the problem north of the border too.
Christopher Mitchell (18:33):
Tim's making a face.
Bob Knight (18:34):
They have the same issue. <laugh> they have against Canadians.
Christopher Mitchell (18:37):
Kim, Kim had the right answer, which is the board will discuss it. <laugh>, the
Bob Knight (18:40):
Board will discuss it. Well, the board is discussing it now. <laugh>
Christopher Mitchell (18:42):
At least two fifths of the board, board of the quorum.
Bob Knight (18:44):
We don't have a quorum though, but it is the American Association of Public Broadband. And, and I think based on the exchange rate, since we are raising money right now, <laugh>, you know, I I'm just saying we should consider it Kimberly.
Kim McKinley (18:59):
It will be a board discussion, and as your board secretary, we will discuss it and I will take notes.
Christopher Mitchell (19:04):
Is that fair? The city of the city of crypto from Bitcoin, Istan would like to join <laugh>?
Kim McKinley (19:11):
Oh, that is a good question. Do we take crypto as a form of payment
Christopher Mitchell (19:15):
Bob Knight (19:17):
However the website's set up, man. But Kim, Kim made a point earlier and and she's a hundred percent correct. This has to be an organization of inclusivity. There's exclusivity on the board to keep the mission pure, which is you have to be a public official. but, you know, the vendor community, the nonprofit community, there is a special nonprofit rate that we have because a lot of nonprofits are, are in the, we don't, you know, it's not just cities that are cities and towns that are building networks. There's nonprofits, there's advocacy groups, there's there's groups like I lsr. so we wanna make sure that, you know, we're big tent with a real sharp focus in a very narrow area. We're gonna stay in our lane and we're gonna, we're gonna work collaboratively with some of the other groups and make sure that our voice is heard and we're gonna help them and support each other. and I think that's, that's sort of the, the biggest challenge for the industry in general, right? We have so many people, there's so many sales goals, everyone's trying to, you know, cut each other down for $5 or whatever. And I think we have to reverse that trend too, and just bring out the best in each other. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Because really if, if the cities and towns and counties are moving forward with this, everyone's gonna win. You know, all the, the vendor community's gonna win. So let's just do it.
Christopher Mitchell (20:31):
Well, I, I appreciate both of you taking a light tone with this interview, because as we've been discussing here, like, this is serious, right? I mean, like, these networks are actually life and death for people. They are life and death for communities. They are life and death for employers. Like, these are very serious topics. And, and I mean, I'm glad that we can, we can joke about it, but like, this is something that is sorely needed for people to be able to figure out how to move forward and to make sure that we have an organization that is representing these interests to, to bring the balance. And that's the word that I just feel like we need to use a lot, is, is you know, we're not looking to run anyone outta business. I say that like, as a whole movement, your organization is not looking to run people out of business but you are, you know, looking for a balance.
Kim McKinley (21:14):
Yeah. I think that's absolutely correct. And I think that one of my, like, I guess it's one of my brand standards, is just because it's serious, it doesn't mean that it doesn't have to be fun. And we wanna bring like, fun and like being able to laugh about things and broadband, because I think that we've all been to conferences that you sit there and watch panelists and it's like you're watching PBS over and over again. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, it's, we want to bring character and bring, like, include everybody. you know, you can include me with a, my Brigg Red Glasses or Bob with his, you know, Hawaiian shirt on yesterday. We're, we're being inclusive, but we want to, but we do agree that this is a very serious issue. And building out America is going to be like, it's, it's the cornerstone of where we're going.
Christopher Mitchell (21:58):
And let me just say, I mean, like, I feel like your discussion, the video that you'll find on the website, which is american public broadband.org.org
Kim McKinley (22:05):
Org there's a, the video up there I think gets at this and how serious this is and how successful public strategies have been. And so I'm excited to, to help amplify that message and, and work on that with you.
And I think it's important that we help with people and the attack. Like I was just reading a thing, that's why Mike made a face with what, like, we're getting attacked about something stupid that just came out. Right? And we have to help communities who are getting wrongly attacked on some of these issues because as big Telco comes out, some of them are, don't like what Utopia Fiber and others are doing. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and they're making false allegations and claims. So that's another thing that we're gonna help of how to navigate some of those hurdles that might come up during these process of deploying these networks back to the publicist of the group.
Bob Knight (22:52):
Well, now I feel foolish, you know, coming after that, that lofty comment, because I was gonna say, my favorite part of the video is that Scott Manhardt flew out to, to New York, so we can record our, our section. And I got him standing underneath the Yankee sign in my office to record his part. Big Detroit fan
Christopher Mitchell (23:11):
Bob Knight (23:12):
But yes, I think it's important that you know, when people come after Utopia that we know how to respond.
Christopher Mitchell (23:19):
Wonderful. Thank you both for, for taking time to, to share this the American public broadband with us and the great work that you're doing both in your communities and and then on this organization.
Bob Knight (23:30):
And Chris, we would like to thank you for having us on the podcast today.
Kim McKinley (23:36):
Is this where I get my Oscar speech? Is this where it is? Or is it somewhere else? Oh,
Christopher Mitchell (23:39):
We've already started playing the music in the background. Oh, okay.
Bob Knight (23:42):
And cue the Pigs Blood <laugh>.
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