The Power of Anchor Institutions in Community Connectivity - Episode 464 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast

On this episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, Christopher Mitchell talks with John Windhausen, Executive Director of the Schools, Health, Libraries and Broadband Coalition (SHLB) and Alicja Johnson, SHLB Communication Manager. The nonprofit advocates for anchor institutions to be at the table when communities are considering building municipal fiber networks. This is because these institutions are not only the cornerstones of healthy communities, but also well positioned as gateways for bringing reliable broadband to every household.

Windhausen and Johnson cover the wide array of specific projects SHLB has going on, from work on the Emergency Connectivity Fund, to telehealth efforts, to larger picture efforts they participate in, specifically, the future of spectrum and its role in expanding wireless networks across the country.

This show is 41 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 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.


John Windhausen: So if you really want to solve the homework gap, the best thing to do is to give schools and libraries that option to self deploy.

Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: Welcome to episode 464 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. This is Ry Marcattilio-McCraken here at the Institute for Local Self Reliance. Today, Christopher talks with John Windhausen, Executive Director of the Schools, Health, Libraries and Broadband Coalition, as well as the non-profit's Communication Manager, Alicja Johnson. SHLB, as it's called, has worked to advocate for to and through broadband infrastructure, not only to connect community anchor institutions, but to facilitate connections through those communities a way to bring better connectivity to communities as a whole.

Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: John and Alicja cover the wide array of specific projects SHLB has going on, from work on the Emergency Connectivity Fund, to telehealth efforts, to making sure community anchor institutions show up on broadband maps, as well as the larger picture efforts they participate in, including encouraging anchor institutions to cooperate and collaborate and the future of spectrum and its role in expanding wireless networks across the country. Now, here's Christopher talking with John and Alicja.

Christopher Mitchell: 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, I'm speaking with a wonderful organization with the Executive Director, John Windhausen, from SHLB, the Schools, Hospitals and Libraries Broadband Coalition. Welcome to the show, John.

John Windhausen: Thanks, Chris, it's great to be here.

Christopher Mitchell: And we also have Alicja Johnson, the Communications Manager from SHLB. Welcome.

Alicja Johnson: Hi. Thanks for having us.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes. This is something I wanted to do in 2019 and then we just never got around to it. And lo and behold, unfortunately, some of the same things we would have talked about then, but we can talk about progress we've made since and what we're still working on. But for people who weren't there at the founding, what is the Schools, Hospitals and Libraries Broadband Colation? What is that?


John Windhausen: Well, we're a non-profit public interest group and we were formed in 2009 because we're now almost 12 years old actually. We were formed in order to be a strong advocate and a voice for anchor institutions and public broadband circles. The reason is that the traditional industry tends to divide the world between business and residential and they leave out the needs of the schools, libraries, the health care providers, the community colleges, public housing, all of those critical institutions that aggregates lot of people and serve the public interest. We're their advocate. We try to make sure that they're not forgotten and left out of these broadband policy decisions.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. I think I may have used the wrong name. Was it originally the hospitals or did I just always remember that incorrectly?

John Windhausen: We're actually Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition. We focus on not just hospitals, but also a lot of those rural health clinics that especially need broadband and we've seen through this COVID pandemic why getting broadband to those health clinics is so vitally important.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes. I wanted to make sure I got that right. Was it hospitals in 2009 or was it health then too and I've just always gotten it wrong?

John Windhausen: In our name, it's always been health.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, there you go. I should just pay more attention.

John Windhausen: It includes hospitals and health clinics and anyone providing telemedicine.

Christopher Mitchell: Cool. Yeah. No. I think the organization in my mind was also... It was instrumental because that was the time when the federal government was going to try to figure out how to improve connectivity to these community anchors and there was no one really that was ready to step up. There's organizations that do great work in each of these fields, but there was a need for an organization like yours to centralize that message with a focus on broadband for all of them.

John Windhausen: Well, that's exactly right. I mean, the American Library Association does a great job for libraries. CoSN and SEDA do a great job for schools and others for health, but nobody really brings those sectors together and with the private sector industry and state broadband officials, consultants. We try to be that melting pot that brings all of these different diverse sectors together to figure out common sense solutions to these broadband problems.

Christopher Mitchell: Now, let me ask Alicja, what does that actually mean? So if I ask you, all right, so I understand the reason for SHLB's existence, what does it actually do on a regular basis?


Alicja Johnson: Well, we're taking a look at the various funding opportunities, the various broadband policy talk from the FCC, the White House and Congress and we're reminding them, "Hey, I see you're talking about residents, I see you're talking about business, but how about the schools and libraries, the public housing Authorities?" We just want to make sure that anchors are always being included in these policies because you really can not leave them out. They are the cornerstones of any healthy community and it's just vital in this 21st century for them to have broadband access. We try to make sure that the people who are making broadband access happen don't forget about these important institutions.

Christopher Mitchell: I think one of the ways that you do that very well, specifically John, when we're at conferences and the focus is just acting as though the world is filled solely with residents and businesses, you will often stand up and remind people, "We have these institutions that are an important part of lives that we really need to also consider in this work." I think you all do a good job of that. Let me know, what are your key priorities right now that you're working on?

John Windhausen: Well, I'd be happy to talk about that. Let me just provide one additional framing reference point so that the audience understands where we're coming from. We have a little turn of phrase, which we call to and through. Our mission is to build broadband not just to the anchor institutions, but have that be open to interconnection so that it can also be used as a jumping off point to serve the residential consumers around them. That's what's also makes us a little bit different from a lot of other groups that are just focused on the school building or the health building, we actually want everybody to have broadband. The anchor institution and the residential consumer. We care very much about extending high speed broadband to homes as well and also making that affordable.

John Windhausen: For instance, with rural health care, we're biog supporters of the FCC's Rural Health Care Program and we were doing this work before the pandemic, but now it's even more important that we've gone through that, but the program is desperately underfunded. It's the smallest of the four universal service fund programs that the FCC administers. Unfortunately, it should be treated equally with E-rate. But right now, E-rate gets about five times more funding than the Rural Health Care Program does and that's nothing against E-rate, we're strong supporters of E-rate too, but it does show the disparity in funding that we are trying to equalize. We are working the FCC to improve the processing delays with Rural Health Care applicants.


John Windhausen: We're also sponsoring legislation in Congress that would provide an additional $2 billion to supplement the FCC's Rural Health Care Program. Those are a couple of things that we can do, but our big initiative lately has been the Emergency Connectivity Fund that Congress passed, that $7 billion, that's also a big initiative of ours that we strongly support. I'll let Alicja talk about that because she just managed this fabulous workshop last week.

Alicja Johnson: Well, I can't take full credit, of course, John did a wonderful job of putting together the program. What really made it possible is that we had over 20 different speakers, many of whom were experts in E-rate. We also had some of the policymakers engaged in making the Emergency Connectivity Fund happen. We're really hoping to see schools and libraries make the most of this opportunity because it's really historic and I don't know if you've discussed it on here before, Chris, but never before has there been such funding allocated for schools and libraries to connect the communities they serve off campus.

Alicja Johnson: It's just a very exciting opportunity and something that SHLB has really been driving for ever since the pandemic began and even before that, when in, I believe, 2016, a school district filed a petition to try to connect its students at home in Boulder, Colorado. We've been trying to push for opportunities like that because the schools and libraries and other anchors are really in the best position to help connect their communities and those without Internet at home. As we've heard, our wonderful Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel say, "You cannot do your homework without Internet in this era." Especially since the pandemic began, it's really you can do much at all without Internet.

Alicja Johnson: We're really glad to see the FCC has begun this opportunity with the Emergency Connectivity Fund, but, of course, it's a ton of new rules and there's some items that we'd like some clarification on just to make sure that everybody's able to obtain this funding and use it in the right way and not go against the FCC's wishes.


Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. John, if you want to provide a little bit of insight into that, I would be interested. I've been deeply disappointed in some of the rules. I think clearly you've had a lot of ideas for policy improvements that I think weren't taken up by the FCC, which has a... We live in a world in which the FCC doesn't want to tell someone that they don't get any piece of the loaf, so unfortunately some of your good ideas were not embraced, ones that I shared with you, but what clarifications are there out there that you'd like to address?

John Windhausen: Well, that's right, Chris, we were a little disappointed that the ECF rules didn't make it easier for schools and libraries to deploy their own wireless networks. I know that's an issue that you've been working on and we've been working on too. The advantages of CBRS Spectrum are just tremendous. What we've found is that schools are increasingly looking at deploying their own private LTE networks. As Alicja said, Boulder Valley Colorado started this trend, even before CBRS came on, by contracting with a wireless Internet service provider and they agreed to put antennas on the roof of the building, of the school building, and broadcast out wireless Internet service. They made it available for free to low income consumers, which we just thought was a fabulous opportunity and the company, the WISP, was willing to do that because they were getting free access to the school building infrastructure.

Christopher Mitchell: And fiber.

John Windhausen: And fiber. Yes.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, because they built the fiber without using E-rate dollars.

John Windhausen: Exactly. That's right. So we really want to... I mean, this is very consistent with our to and through mission. We really see this as a great opportunity to foster this kind of technological approach that can often be more efficient and more cost effective or cheaper than some of the incumbent providers. But unfortunately, the Congressional legislation that created the ECF program really focused on funding hotspots and cable modem services, which are the two primary technologies used by the incumbents. When we talked to Capital Hill to say, "Look, could you loosen that up to give schools more authority?", the Hill folks said, "Well, we'll leave that to the FCC to figure out."


John Windhausen: When we went to the FCC to say, "Can you make that more liberal for schools and libraries?", they said, "Well, Congress didn't tell us to do that, so we're not authorized to do that." Well, I think they are authorized to do that, but it was unfortunate that Congress wasn't more clear. But anyway, if there's more funding coming down the pike, we hope that more funding flexibility is made available. Right now, the rules say you can only self-deploy if there's no other commercial provider in that market, but that's hard for schools and libraries to know if there's another provider. The providers often exaggerate where they provide service and claim that they provide service when they actually don't or the speeds aren't good enough or it's too expensive.

John Windhausen: There are a lot of reasons why a school or library could do this on their own and really connect a lot more students. So if you really want to solve the homework gap, the best thing to do is to give schools and libraries that option to self-deploy.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes. And you mentioned the Boulder project and they are featured in a paper that I was involved in through the Department of Education's Ed Tech Office that we'll be highlighted on and I'm going to go ahead and guess that you all will probably feature on your lists and emails as some of that comes out. We did a podcast, actually, with the ISP and Andrew Moore, I think his name was, at Boulder, who got the call from the FCC that he was violating E-rate and would he please stop. They had to come up with an issue that may have that... you've carried that forward that request for a waiver, but for people who are really interested in more information on this, whether you look at where this podcast is posted or just pay attention to my work or SHLB's work, you'll find more information about that in coming weeks I think.

Christopher Mitchell: Alicja, did you want to add anything to that?

Alicja Johnson: Another really enticing part about schools and libraries deploying their own networks, as opposed to just hotspot renting, is that that's a solution that will outlast the pandemic because there are areas where hotspots aren't going to cut it and we've talked to a number of school districts and libraries about their problems trying to connect their residents. The number one thing we hear is, "I don't want to get started on hotspots. The hotspots have been a nightmare." It's great for some areas. It's going to work wonderfully for some people and some regions, but in other areas, a hotspot's completely useless. I think anyone listening to this podcast is going to be aware of that, but it's something that the FCC didn't hear us on and that was unfortunate because even prior to the pandemic, the Chair of the FCC, Rosenworcel, has been a big advocate for closing the homework gap. We'd really hope that this ECF would be a good opportunity to address the homework gap issue beyond just the current crisis.


Alicja Johnson: Another issue that we've heard about is the document retention requirements for libraries. We understand that libraries are being asked to retain documentation of patrons who are borrowing hotspots and other devices for, I believe, 10 years after that device has been returned. That's not something that libraries do. In fact, what library representatives have told us is that it goes against the very creed of the library mission. We do worry that if the FCC doesn't do something to address that concern that it will discourage eligible libraries from applying for funding because they're going to put those principles of library service over this funding.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes. And frankly, I mean, the libraries are very focused. I mean, for those of us who lived the Patriot Act in the beginning of that, they are a mountain when it comes to protecting the privacy of their patrons. I would not want to encourage them to just not participate, which I would guess many of them will choose to do. I want to move on. I don't want to spend too much time on this, but I want to note that this issue of the schools, it isn't just about like, "Oh, the schools want to do this thing that's going to cost more money," in many cases, what we're talking with these programs is whether or not you can consider it if it's the lowest cost. Even in cases right now in which it would be the lowest cost to self-provision, they're still being discouraged from doing that.

Christopher Mitchell: I think that's something E-rate has gotten right in the past, with SHLB's help, was making sure that dark fiber, for instance, was on the table when it was the best deal for the taxpayers or for the people who pay the fees that fund the Universal Service Fund. But I want to ask, John, how is it going in terms of making sure that all of our community anchors are connected to a high quality Internet connection?

John Windhausen: Well, we're making progress, Chris, but it's been a little frustrating that we haven't solved this problem yet. As Alicja said earlier, we don't even know how far away we are from solving the problem because the broadband maps don't cover anchor institutions and this is a very frustrating. We've talked to the FCC because they've launched a new mapping initiative, which, okay that's great to recognize that the old maps are bad, so we need new and better maps that are more granular, but the FCC seems to be only focused on the residential mapping, which is fine, we're not trying to denigrate that, but anchor institutions ought to be mapped as well. We ought to know, we ought to have a better dataset for what kind of broadband anchor institutions have today, so we know how much money we need to solve the problem going forward. Joanne Hovis, who I think you and I both know and love, she did a-


Christopher Mitchell: A terrible person, can't stand her.

John Windhausen: Oh my. She's the best. Yes.

Christopher Mitchell: She's wonderful.

John Windhausen: She wrote a report for us a few years ago that estimated it would cost between $13 and $19 billion to connect all the remaining anchor institutions to high capacity broadband, like fiber. That was the significant study, but it was still based on estimates of the demand. We really ought to have a more rigorous mapping effort so that we would know how far away we are from that gigabit goal. Fortunately, we are seeing some legislation in Congress that would really take the initiative to really identify that funding is going to be made available for anchor institutions to get gigabit connectivity. In fact, there's a new broadband bill that's going to be reintroduced tomorrow that will provide another $40 billion in broadband funding and it specifically says that anchor institutions are eligible if they don't have gigabit capacity.

John Windhausen: We think that's headed in the right direction and we hope any of these versions that include gigabit for anchor intuitions to be enacted by Congress in the near future would be a wonderful thing for this country.

Christopher Mitchell: Through the magic of time-travel, that bill will probably have been released last week, as people are listening to this so.

John Windhausen: Okay. Sorry about the timing.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. No. It's actually wonderful because they'll be able to go check it out if they're interested in it. I think it's a wonderful piece of legislation that I have also encouraged... I support and offered a statement in support.

John Windhausen: Great.

Christopher Mitchell: Alicja, were you going to jump in? Go ahead.

Alicja Johnson: I just wanted to add that what is inspiring to see is the number of states that have been doing their own mapping projects that do include anchor institutions. I know that Simmons University, Colin Rhinesmith, I believe, has done some really great work mapping library broadband. I know that Pennsylvania has also been doing a great job, so I just encourage people to go look into the state level work. SHLB really hopes that one day we can find a way to unite all of these various mapping effort into something that is useful in determining where we are with anchor institution connectivity.


Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. I've come around to the idea that probably it would be best if we had a coalition of states and organizations like yours, mine and some of the others that actually developed a map that became kind of the authoritative map because I do not trust the federal government to get it right and I'm a little bit worried about states going off in directions. I felt like maybe if we could get a critical mass of states uniting behind something that had some rigor and really covered all of these different problems that we're seeing regularly, that would probably be a good solution. It would also be a little bit insulated from the world of the federal government, which isn't always for doing mashups and things like that, but we would have an incentive to try to help others extend it and things like that.

John Windhausen: Chris, I should have reached out to you before this podcast because I've been composing at promoting an idea for funding from this broadband legislation that it really should include funding for needs assessment by local communities. I realize now it was an oversight, I should have reached out to you to try to combine efforts on this because my suggestion to amend this Broadband Act on needs assessment was not adopted, but let's keep working together on that to see if we can improve that because we know the federal maps are not going to be good enough. We have a lot of questions about the state maps. I think the local communities are in the best position to determine where broadband does and does not exist on the ground, but they need funding another in order to be able to carry out that needs assessment. They can't just do it. They probably need to hire a consultant or an engineer to examine the broad capabilities in their network.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes. I've been hoping that philanthropy would help to demonstrate how this could work and how we could potentially develop some tools to make that a bit easier so they wouldn't have to hire a consultant in every single city or things like that. But yeah, I mean, there's some much opportunity out there. That's something that I... I feel like I wake up cheerful no matter how many times I'm disappointed at the news I read the day before because there's a lot of opportunity out there still. Not every day, I wake up not cheerful sometimes. I'll admit it. I want to ask about telehealth. I mean, this is something that I just... You mentioned, John, that it is underfunded. I feel like even though people recognize that it has tremendous implications, I don't think enough people really appreciate just how much that it's... To give you an idea, I've been saying this for a while, people in broadband think of broadband as being expensive. When people in telehealth or in health care, more generally, think about broadband, they think, "Oh, it's expensive."


Christopher Mitchell: But in health care, broadband is nothing. If you went to a hospital instead and said, "Oh yeah, the cost of keeping that patience to have a home connection is going to be... maybe it'll be $500 to $1,000 per year," the hospital will be like, "What? That's what it costs them to spend the night with us." It's costs like a fraction of that to have them have Internet access for a year with some devices, even you could like still save money over what it costs. I feel like it's this issue in which it makes so much sense to improve health care with broadband and just take a portion of the savings we can get from health care and we can do a heck of a lot in broadband. But let me ask you just more broadly rather than going off in this flight of fancy, what are your priorities? What are you working on right now in telehealth?

John Windhausen: We've got three different tracks of work on telehealth that we're trying to do simultaneously. One track is that the application process for the FCC's World Health Care Program is really not operating at an optimal level. In fact, it's been getting a little bit worse over the last few years, which is incredibly frustrating because that's exactly when it should be increasing and improving given the COVID pandemic, but, of course, it's been difficult for the FCC and USAC for a couple of reasons. One is that the demand is just going through the roof. If you can just imagine how many people now are using telemedicine, there's some reports that the number of telemedicine visits has grown like 900% higher than it used to be two years ago, so it's an enormous demand requiring much greater bandwidth.

John Windhausen: To its credit, Congress did try to address this by allocating some separate money to the FCC. First, it was $200 million in the Cares Act and then another $250 million that they gave to the FCC for telehealth. The FCC actually did a good job of administering that money, but that's one time money. Well, two time money, I guess, to be accurate. The Rural Health Care Program is ongoing. Unfortunately, the demand has been more stable for that because people find the application process so difficult and time-consuming and frustrating. I mean, here we are in June of 2021 when some applicant's applications that were submitted in May of 2020, over a year ago, still haven't been ruled on yet by USAC, so that really discharges participation in the program.


John Windhausen: We're working with the FTC and USAC to improve the application processing times. We're also working with Congress to appropriate that $2 billion in additional funding that I mentioned earlier. Third, we're also working with the FCC, talking to the FCC, about how to improve the rural urban database that is used to calculate the rural discount for rural health care operatives that operator in the telecommunications program. There's multiple fronts that we're working on, but it's all towards the same goal of upgrading the bandwidth available for these rural health clinics. And oftentimes, the best way to get them higher quality telemedicine is to connect those rural health clinics to the urban hospitals so they can exchange information, electronic medical records, more cleanly.

John Windhausen: But right now, we hear examples where a rural health clinic can't exchange medical records and do electronic monitoring of patient care at the same time because they just don't have enough broadband capability, so that's really limiting the quality of healthcare, especially for rural communities where people are older, they're sicker and they have less income in rural markets, so that's where it's really needed.

Alicja Johnson: Not to mention that those areas also are the ones without hospitals. That health clinic, it's the only resource for these people in this area. I don't know if you're interested in exploring the COVID-19 Telehealth Program, but there was some disappointment in the way that the funds from that were dispersed from the Cares Act specifically. For example, the states that received the most funding correlated with the COVID-19 outbreaks, which, of course, it makes sense when you think about it, but the thing is that that meant that the funding went to areas where there actually was less need for broadband funding. The sparse areas, like Alaska, which is notorious for its tricky health care situation, given how rural it is and how much more expensive broadband is there, Alaska did not get anything.


Alicja Johnson: There was just some disparities there that were really disconcerting and we're hopeful that that was a learning experience.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes. I was expecting you to say they did not get as much as it should have, not it got nothing. I mean, that's one of the things... I know SHLB's had members in Alaska for a long time. I know that you don't forget that Alaska's an important state that has a lot of needs from libraries, schools or health care facilities. John, one of the things that I really appreciate about you is the fact that I feel like the road of broadband is littered with people who have tried to touch contribution reform and got electrocuted or, at the very least, were just deeply disappointed that they weren't able to make a bigger dent. This is this issue of how big is the Universal Service Fund? How is it funded? How can we keep it sustainable to make sure it matches with the need and a variety of other things because I think everyone agrees it is on an unsustainable course? It has been for some time.

Christopher Mitchell: As we talk about contribution reform for how we make sure we have money for things like E-rate and rural broadband and telehealth, why is this something that you want to move? Is it personally? I mean, not just from SHLB's point-of-view, but you as a person can decide where you're going to do your focus and you have a deep history of this stuff. Tell us a little bit about that.

John Windhausen: Thank you, Chris, for framing it that way because I do feel pretty passionately about the Universal Service Fund. Before we get into the mechanics, which I will get into, but just if you look at the big picture, the whole purpose of our communications regulatory system is to make sure that communication services are affordable for everybody and that's what brings this country together is that we can create subsidy mechanisms so that if you're benefiting from the communications network, you benefit more from the communications network if lots of other people are connected to those networks and you can interact with them. So for me, it's a real social equity issue. It's really one of the reasons I got into this field in the first place. I really feel like we ought to be democratizing our communications infrastructure so that individual consumers have more control and more say over how the communications networks are deployed and they need to have these rights to be able to connect so that we're not just dealt the hand that we're played by the big multinational corporations.


John Windhausen: The Universal Service Fund really is a philosophy that I think is so important, vitally important, to bringing America together so that we're all working together to achieve a similar goal of connecting everybody and sharing information, selling products and services and just inspiring each other, but we need to be connected to broadband now if that's going to happen. I mean, this is the future, but the current Universal Service System is funded with an old fashioned mechanism that only places a fee on your telephone bills, on your international and interstate end user telecommunications services and some telecommunications, so that is still an old way of collecting the money when, really, most of the funding is being spent on broadband networks.

John Windhausen: So in my view, we really ought to be assessing a fee on broadband consumers today in order to encourage everybody else to be connected to those broadband networks in the future. I have been working with several other organizations who also feel the importance of continuing and improving the Universal Service Fund because we all have a joint interest. Yes, we may have some differences of opinion on each individual program, but collectively, we all believe in the notion of universal service and everybody should be connected and so we ought to, and we are, putting together a proposal now that would stabilize the funding for the Universal Service Fund for the long run. Relying on Congress to fund the Universal Service Fund, in our view, is not a good stable solution.

John Windhausen: I mean, just look how often Congress shuts down the government or has sequestered funding, where they take back funding that's always been appropriated, that is not a stable mechanism for funding communications networks going forward or connectivity for anybody. We think the FCC is the proper body. I mean, this is one of the reasons the FCC was created was to provide this kind of expertise and coordination for the whole country, but we just think that the existing funding mechanism has been... the rate has been going up and up and up and now it's around 31, 32% of your telephone bill. It's going to collapse. We can't keep that system in place or the entire universal service fabric will disappear. The timing on this is really urgent. We need to solve this problem and we are working with others to... We're willing to do that.


John Windhausen: We're putting our fingers on the electrical wire that electrocutes other people, but we're going to do it anyway because this is so important.

Alicja Johnson: I would love to just add here that I think John is really underplaying the coalition that he has built around this effort. He has been convening any and every organization with a stake in this. Obviously, SHLB is not a partisan organization, but really it's across industry lines. He's really put together something wonderful. I do want to raise, John, the naysayers view of... the idea that moving the contributions base to a broadband base source of income, would that hurt consumers because that's something that I think we've heard floating around? I know that you have a certain thought about that.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I have to intervene because I just have to say that I don't know what that means because Internet users are not consumers, and John's heard me rant about this before. I know you all have your way of talking about it, but I just wanted to get that in there.

Alicja Johnson: Thank you. My apologies.

John Windhausen: Well, that's a good point, Chris, and I think our view is that the current system is very unfair and basically it's people who are stuck with the old fashioned telephone service that are bearing the brunt of paying for broadband connections. Some people are paying into the fund, other people are not paying into the fund, even though they use very comparable similar services. It's harmful to existing users/consumers/producers of content on broadband connections and a system that equalizes the pain, if you will, would also lower the cost quite a bit. For instance, our analysis shows that if you broaden the base of funding to include all broadband service's revenues that the percentage fee would drop from %32 down to less than 5% of your monthly bill.

John Windhausen: We think that is an acceptable and important value in reform because it would just reduce the burden and equalize... spread the burden more fairly.


Christopher Mitchell: Alicja, it was a very nice way of putting that and I'm sure that some people make that argument with more seriousness than others, but I honestly think that the only reason we resist this logical way of paying for it is because we're like, "Ah, I don't want to pay a tax on my broadband because I would prefer not to." I mean, we're talking about an amount that is less than what most of our broadband bills will increase over the next two years. Like, "I'm already going to be paying that much more or a lot more. I mean, heck, in December my broadband bill could well jump like $20 or $30 a month as my contract with Comcast comes up." There's a rational sense in which people are like, "Oh, I'd prefer not to pay another tax." But at the same time, with what John's saying, it's unfair and it's unfair for a variety of reasons.

Christopher Mitchell: It totally distorts the market. I mean, if companies pick and choose technologies based on not necessarily what's best for their network, but based on whether or not they can avoid paying a tax and that's just bad policy. We really need to fix this and I honestly think that the arguments that are against it are often made in, I think, bad faith, but the simple fact is it's still very hard to change a system like this. I think John is a perfect person to be working forward on it because if it was someone like me, people would be like, "Ah, I'm not going to trust Chris," but everyone trusts John.

Alicja Johnson: He yelled at me for using consumers incorrectly, I'm not going to trust Chris.

Christopher Mitchell: I do that often. Well, this is good. I do think it is very important that we have this mechanism for universal service and that it is right sized. We all know the lifeline wasn't getting the job done and we really need to fix all aspects of the universal service and make sure it can be funded well into the future. It'd be nice if we could just tax Facebook solely to pay for it, but I don't think that's going to happen, no matter how politically popular it would be in DC. I welcome a serious discussion that SHLB's putting forward.

John Windhausen: Well, that's the thing. I mean, we're looking for realistic solutions that the FCC can adopt under this existing authority. Trying to go after Facebook and Twitter and Google and the other platform companies, as Commissioner Carr has recently suggested, that would take an act of Congress. Those platform companies will fight that to the death, so that is not a likely and realistic solution. We're looking at solutions that the FCC could do under its currently authority.

Christopher Mitchell: Wonderful. Well, there's a lot of other things that you're working on. We'd love to have you back and talk more about some of these in depth, but thank you so much for your time today and good luck with all this work.

Alicja Johnson: Thank you.

John Windhausen: Well, thank you Chris. It's a great pleasure to be here with you and look forward to continuing to work together with you.

Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: That was Christopher talking with John Windhausen and Alicja Johnson. We have transcripts for this and other podcast available at Email us at with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. Follow stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this and other podcast from ILSR, including Building Local Power, Local Energy Rules and the Composting for Community Podcast. You can access them anywhere you get your podcasts. You can catch the latest important research from all of our initiatives if you subscribe to our monthly newsletter at While you're there, please take a moment to donate. Your support, in any amount, keeps us going.

Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warmed Up Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons. This was episode 464 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Thanks for listening.