Predictions for 2020, Reviewing 2019 - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 388

It’s the end of the year once again, which means the Community Broadband Networks Initiative team at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance takes their place in front of the mic for the predictions show. In addition to offering our expectations for 2020, we review what happened this past year and compare it to the predictions we made at this time last year. Get ready for some opinions and laughs.

Once again, Communications Specialist Jess Del Fiacco and Research Associate Katie Kienbaum weigh in along with Christopher and Lisa. Our newest addition to the team, Michelle Andrews, joins for the first time this year; Michelle is our GIS and Data Visualization Researcher.

We review advancements from cooperatives, the growing interest in municipal projects and open access, and new approaches. We talk about realizations of models we anticipated and also some that took us by surprise. The crew discusses state and federal legislative changes and funding, partnerships, and Christopher even gives Comcast a break. You don’t want to miss this!

This show is 42 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.

Image by Lisa Frideborg from Pixabay


Christopher Mitchell: Hi everyone. Welcome to another episode of community broadband bits. It's nice to be back in the office.

Katie Kienbaum: Chris, I think you mean community brooooadband bits

Christopher Mitchell: podcast.

Katie Kienbaum: I think they got that from, you know, the fact that we're in their ears right now.

Christopher Mitchell: I really wonder about the sound quality. I'm pretty sure that you went to 11.

Katie Kienbaum: I could try it again.

Christopher Mitchell: Hey everyone, that's Katie. I'm Chris. We have the largest community broadband bits podcast ever today. I think for our special year end and new year prediction show. Michelle was leaning forward to introduce herself.

Michelle Andrew: Hi, I am Michelle.

Christopher Mitchell: Michelle does our broadband mapping in data type stuff. Katie does a lot of research, she may have seen her working on rural issues and open access and whatever else I feel like assigning to her in any given time. Then we have our two people who've been on the show a little bit more often.

Jess Del Fiacco: This is Jess del fiacco, the communication specialist with the community broadband team here.

Lisa Gonzalez: And this is Lisa, the one who has to edit this thing, who is going to wring Katie's neck.

Katie Kienbaum: Like I said, I can do it again if you need me to.

Christopher Mitchell: Maybe from the hallway. And we're at the Institute for local self reliance where we are talking about things that, well I guess we're going to reflect over the past year and talk about what we might be looking out for in the coming year in 2020, the coming decade perhaps, who knows? I think we should turn to Lisa to ask her where we should start.

Lisa Gonzalez: Well usually what we start with is taking a look at our predictions from last year briefly to see who was correct and who was not so correct. And I think probably Jess is the one who sort of reviewed what we had looked over last year, so who was closest and who was spot on, Jess. Oh well, let's take a look here. I think when we discussed the progress that electric co-ops might make and deploying broadband to folks around the country, we had a couple of diverging opinions and one person was very close to correct and one person was not.

Christopher Mitchell: I was too enthusiastic. I thought that we'd have 150 electric co-ops offering service today. I thought 20, I thought 2019 would be in a year of just a lot of getting in the ground and getting going. And it was but not as much as I had hoped it would be. So I had said that we were gonna have a push goal of 150 by the end of the year. And, you know, unfortunately, the only other person who made a prediction is the person who counts them up, so I don't know if we should trust her or not.


Katie Kienbaum: I had predicted last year that we were going to hit about 90 electric co-ops with fiber projects, you know, on the ground operational. By my calculations, we are at 91 currently. So I think we, like we said last year, I think Lisa pointed this out, basically all cooperatives that we had counted as having projects announcer under construction. Most of those got their fiber in the ground started offering services, there were a few that came up that we hadn't realized were working on their projects. Overall, we kind of we're on track with what we thought we were on track with.

Christopher Mitchell: But what you were saying is that there are still many more who are getting fiber in the ground. They just haven't turned it on for our customer yet.

Katie Kienbaum: Yeah, I think if we count cooperatives that have fiber plans announced or are, you know, working on the construction side of things they have just haven't turned it on yet. We're at about 110 and so my prediction for next year is that we are going to hit 115 cooperatives with operational fiber projects. I'm going to push a little harder.

Christopher Mitchell: Price is right, I'm going 116, anyone else?

Lisa Gonzalez: I think it's going to be a little bit more, I'm going to go with about between 120 and 125 because I've been seeing a lot of articles and announcements.

Jess Del Fiacco: Last year you also predicted that we'd see more broadband co-ops, Lisa. Do you have any thoughts on that?

Christopher Mitchell: I do, she was wrong.

Lisa Gonzalez: *makes sad noise*

Lisa Gonzalez: Too much confidence.

Jess Del Fiacco: But how about for 2020? No, not yet. I'm going to give it a couple of years.

Christopher Mitchell: Way more. There are significant challenges with creating a brand new cooperative with zero revenue stream in the past and so I think it's reasonable to think that we'll see people trying to figure out how to make it work, but as long as there is things that at least has written on like the Lit communities in Medina, some of these other projects we're seeing where private capital is coming in. I think that takes some of the pressure off of local groups to create a cooperative because they may find ways of having a network come into town without, you know, having to do a lot of the local organizing work around it to create that sort of a structure. So I think that's a little bit of a relief valve that has taken pressure, unfortunately, off of a very good model.


Lisa Gonzalez: Along the same idea of cooperatives, I do predict that we will see more projects that are partnerships between cooperatives and municipalities.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes, yes. I certainly think that's true.

Katie Kienbaum: I think we've also seen, we're seeing more and more cooperatives partnering with local companies and you know, of course, other cooperatives as well to provide service. So I think that's going to continue and it seems like folks are getting a little bit more creative, you know, working out maybe like dark fiber or other types of partnerships with local companies and cooperatives.

Jess Del Fiacco: Well we touched on it a little bit there, but last year we talked a lot about open access networks and the growth we might see in 2019. What have we seen? What do you guys think will come next?

Christopher Mitchell: This, this actually ties into one of my other predictions which I would have in my head, where somewhat coupled, which is that I expected to see a larger city announcing a project, a city larger than Chattanooga, which in my mind expected that it would probably be some form of open access. We have not seen that, there has been no larger cities that have really moved forward aggressively.

Lisa Gonzalez: You're talking about municipally owned open access?

Christopher Mitchell: That's right. And so I think my other thought on open access was that I did expect to see some more of it, although, we are seeing announcements. I mean we're seeing, there's several different towns that are working with entry point networks, which is the vendor that worked with Ammon and is very enthusiastic about this municipal open access network approach. Redding in California is quite large, Quincy in Massachusetts and a few others that I think haven't announced yet. So, we are seeing progress in that but it hasn't resulted in any on the ground networks, you know, and I think we could see one of those, I mean, probably, more likely Redding moving forward a little more aggressively perhaps seeing it in 2020 toward the end. But one of the challenges of doing a yearly prediction show is just the lag is more than a year from when a community gets excited to, when they actually can turn on customers. And for people who track our numbers, we're trying to be very diligent about tracking the number of networks, not that are announced, but that have turned on. So our numbers tend to be a little bit less ambitious than others that track this space because we're generally just counting the ones who have already turned on.

Lisa Gonzalez: And correct me if I'm wrong, Jess, but I think I predicted more open access networks as well, but just open access networks in general, correct?


Katie Kienbaum: Well, yeah. So one thing we didn't exactly predict last year that I think we've seen this year is privately held open access networks. Does anyone have any thoughts about that going forward?

Lisa Gonzalez: Well, to backtrack, that's what I meant. That's what I meant. No, I think that we sort of had that in mind last year that we'd see some more and we have seen a few, well a couple and I think that we probably will see more this this coming year. I'm going to predict, we'll probably see...

Christopher Mitchell: 45

Lisa Gonzalez: I think we'll probably see 3 more but I also think we might see one that doesn't progress as well as it is predicted to, as in maybe the project will fall through or it just won't happen and that will sort of spook the industry for a while. But I think that it will recover, call me karnack, and then we will see more of those after next year.

Jess Del Fiacco: Michelle, I feel like you've got to get in here with something.

Michelle Andrew: I do.

Christopher Mitchell: Predict something.

Jess Del Fiacco: Just throw something out there, whatever you want.

Michelle Andrew: Well, I predict that we'll have the most up to date population estimates in a decade because of the census is happening in 2020. So that'd be great for my mapping and also for some of our numbers as well. So that'll be exciting — predict more accurate maps. My solid prediction right there.

Jess Del Fiacco: Okay, Michelle, I feel like predicting that the 2020 census is gonna take place in 2020 is pushing it a little bit.

Michelle Andrew: I think it's a great prediction.

Christopher Mitchell: I don't actually think is that I don't think it's a bad production. I would actually be willing to bet it won't happen because this is a federal government that cannot do anything correctly. So I think it's kind of bold of Michelle.

Katie Kienbaum: Yeah, I mean it's a little bold to assume that our society won't collapse within the next several months.

Jess Del Fiacco: Katie, do not steal my prediction.

Michelle Andrew: I do also want to add that, I think it'd be really cool, my prediction is that we'll get some access to like subscriber rate data cause I'd be think it'd be really fun to work with actual prices that people are paying for their Internet and be able to do some kind of comparative analysis with that. We don't have much to work with in that area so I predict there'll be some sort of data source that comes out this year. Is that more ambitious, Jess?

Jess Del Fiacco: It is. I'll approve it.


Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that I think is the most important that we track every year is this question of who will come out and try to limit local authority more in this area and feel like I'm the reigning champion of the correct predictions here. In part because I predicted first last time so I took the the correct one, which is that we'd see very few attempts. I will be more bold and say that in 2020 there will be no serious and that's where we'll have to evaluate whether or not this is correct. No serious efforts to preempt local governments in new ways over municipal broadband.

Lisa Gonzalez: I'm going to up that curse. I say there'll be none and they'll even be two states that make measures to make it easier for municipalities to build their own networks.

Michelle Andrew: I actually have three written on my post it so

Jess Del Fiacco: I'm going to take this one step even further and say that preemption will no longer be an issue because I'm not sure that the United States of America will successfully be a functioning country at the end of 2020.

Christopher Mitchell: When we will all be speaking Canadian aye, there will be no more preemption.

Katie Kienbaum: This is Minnesota. We basically speak Canadian.

Katie Kienbaum: Yeah, I agree with y'all. I think that, you know, kind of like the amount of states that have preemption laws against municipal broadband will stay on the books as about, you know, even perhaps if you will, you know, lessen their rules or completely remove their restrictions. I definitely think if anything is kind of introduced or even as passed, it'll be something sneaky. Maybe like, you know, that we won't notice right away is targeting municipal broadband or perhaps something that's unintentionally impacting municipal broadband or cooperative broadband.

Christopher Mitchell: Oh, we will notice. That's our job.

Katie Kienbaum: Things have surprised us before. So I think that's, that's all we'll see. I don't think we'll see any like major municipal broadband preemptions laws introduced or passed next year.

Christopher Mitchell: I'd like to see two states reduce their preemption. I'd like to see 19 States reduce their preemption. I'll take a prediction that we'll see two reduce their preemption. I don't think any of them are going to fully remove it.

Katie Kienbaum: Do you want to wager on which states those will be?

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I mean, I certainly hope one of them will be North Carolina because there's a lot of effort being put into there by a variety of groups, including ourselves. And so I've certainly, I'm investing my energy into trying to have more local freedom in North Carolina around this issue. So, that would be wonderful. But last year, Arkansas took us by surprise and so I think we could see another surprise effort in some place that would maybe walk it back. I think Washington could be a place in which we see a lot more organizing. And I think just for people who weren't paying super close attention, we had really good coverage of Arkansas. We had an interview with a Senator who worked there to remove some of the preemption, but a year ago, none of us saw Arkansas being a place that would be removing it.


Lisa Gonzalez: I think what might happen is one or two states might introduce some laws that make it a little bit easier for municipalities to use poles as they deploy networks.

Christopher Mitchell: Lisa just lost her mind. No, I do not think that will happen. And so this'll be one in which this would be a good one and that if it happens, I'll just look like a total fool because I'm going to say not one.

Lisa Gonzalez: It is down for posterity in the podcast.

Jess Del Fiacco: Last year I didn't really make any specific predictions. I had a very general one that we would see increased support overall for municipal broadband efforts, which I think we have seen. So I'm just going to go ahead and say I was right in that very vague prediction. For one reason is because we've seen municipal broadband included in a few of the presidential candidates policy proposals. Do you guys have any thoughts on whether or not.

Christopher Mitchell: the election?

Jess Del Fiacco: I know, I know whether or not that kind of attention that we've gotten this year from them or you know otherwise, is that going to translate into local support? Are we going to see more movement on the ground or will that just kind of fizzle out? Is it going to be a big year for municipal broadband or not?

Michelle Andrew: I feel like there's going to be a lot of issues on the table like I mean the election already is kind of in full swing, which it shouldn't be because debate season shouldn't be like pre 2020 but I think the fact that it hasn't really made like any of the debate stage questions or anything like that, it's an easy one for them to like slip under the rug when they go into office and then like whatever crazy things they have to do when they get into office will have to be done first. But I would like it to be something that's a priority because it impacts so many other things that they would want to pass whenever whoever gets in the office but I have a feeling it's not going, it might be some campaign season attention, but then not as much in the actual agenda.

Jess Del Fiacco: I would agree.


Christopher Mitchell: I think it is going to be a big issue in that, I think we're going to see more than 20 new citywide networks announced. Let me, let me rephrase that differently — I hope that we see more than 20. I think we're going to see more than 10. My prediction would be more than 10. But the language I've been thinking about is that there's a dam that may be ready to break and that the language is not that we would see them turn on or even necessarily financed, but I think we're going to see a surprisingly high number of cities that take very concrete steps forward to move on these networks and I want to talk more about that in the second half of this show as to some of the dynamics around that but I wanna keep this question focused on the election for a second. There's a couple of things that I think, I think one is that a year from now when we're recording our next prediction show, I don't think we're going to feel a lot more hopeful than right now no matter what happens, no matter who gets elected, no matter what the dynamics are.

Jess Del Fiacco: This is a cynical podcast.

Katie Kienbaum: That's also perhaps speaking more to our own personalities than the reality.

Christopher Mitchell: No, I think I think there's a really bright future ahead of us but I think we have some more years of darkness of working through the technological changes in media. The fact that the media does a really poor job of covering politics of covering a lot of issues right now and changes in business and business models and things like that. So I, I just think that we have, um, a lot of reasons to look forward to the future. I think there's a lot of problems that will be resolving, but I think a year from now we will still be pretty worried about the direction of the country at the federal level. Whereas at the local level, a lot of us will be pretty, pretty hopeful about it. I also think that we'll be, um, probably in the beginning of a recession, which is the same thought I've had every year for the past five years.

Lisa Gonzalez: I think that it's not really gonna make any difference in the election one way or another. However, if it does come up and people do become interested in it, it may spur some fake investment from the large Internet Service Providers (ISPs) or some investment here and there, which may be helpful to some people, but not everyone but I agree with Chris. I think we're going to be pretty much in the same place, federally,` in a year from now as we are now.

Christopher Mitchell: No, I think that one of the dynamics that we'll continue to see is that people are locally very bullish and nationally very worried and frustrated. And it's just sort of the dynamic we're going to be dealing with and frankly, I think that if the country were to embrace a more locally self-reliant type of approach that we would resolve some of these issues. I think if we made more decisions locally, people would be happier with the results even if they didn't agree with all those decisions and even if they really didn't agree with the people who were deciding different things in the next neighborhood, the next town over.


Jess Del Fiacco: Where are you getting these crazy ideas from?

Christopher Mitchell: Totally off-brand, I realize.

Katie Kienbaum: Speaking of local investments

Christopher Mitchell: No, no, no, we've got stay on the national election. You'll have to make an election prediction. This is we're heading into 2020 — I predict there'll be an extra day in February.

Katie Kienbaum: I predict that Bernie Sanders will start using Warm Duck Shuffle, the community broadband bits anthem as his rally music. Does that satisfy you, Chris?

Christopher Mitchell: No, that was pretty weak. I think that we will see, I was debating whether to say 99 or just go full out and say 100% of the discussion about broadband on the campaign trail will be about rural broadband. And there'll be very little discussion of the many more people in urban areas who yes, have something and I don't want to in any way, you know, suggest that we don't absolutely need to focus on getting higher capacity service in rural areas. But I think the attention will almost entirely be on that whereas there's a lot of people in urban America, in suburban America who are frustrated, who are unhappy, who wants something better and there's not going to be any discussion about their needs.

Katie Kienbaum: I agree with that. I think that a lot of the candidates that have spoken about anything to do with broadband are using it just kind of as a token rural issue, you know, perhaps as a way to appeal to rural voters. I don't think most of the talk about it that's going to be involved in the election is going to be very nuanced. I think it's just going to be, we're gonna put all this money in this thing and it's going to be better, so I definitely don't think they're going to dial down to the differences between the, you know, digital divide in rural areas and in urban areas.

Christopher Mitchell: Michelle, what's your election prediction?

Michelle Andrew: If there's any nuance in that discussion, they'll focus more on like healthcare accessibility or like the more business sense of it rather than like faster broadband means more businesses will be in your area rather than the actual like more people having access means more people have access to like more things. And I think that I don't, yeah, I don't think there's going to be a lot of nuance to it because there isn't a lot of nuance in general with campaign statements.

Jess Del Fiacco: I think Joe Biden is going to say something weird about 5G. I don't know what it is, I can't predict it.


Michelle Andrew: can we run by a record player?

Christopher Mitchell: Oh, I was just trying to think of things to say that wouldn't, I wouldn't later have to defend as not being racist or somehow offensive in some way so let's just move on and let's not talk about the election until one year from now when we're doing this show.

Michelle Andrew: Sounds like Joe Biden.

Christopher Mitchell: So one of the things that I was looking at when I was reviewing the show from last year was that I feel like none of us saw the Springfield, Missouri investment, the partnership with CenturyLink happening and that's pretty huge. I'll say again what I said probably four or five years ago, which is that the city partnering with a major ISP in this way as Hunstville did with Google will fundamentally change everything and we'll see hundreds of new networks like this. That's what I said five years ago. That was a prediction I was pretty wrong on. I'm still, I still think that that model is very promising and as we see incumbents more willing to do that, I think we could see a lot more of it. I think that'd be a very good future where cities are building fiber and leasing it. Even if it's just to a large company that may not have a very great customer service record that the very act of owning the fiber and picking who's operating on it or even ideally making it open to multiple ones is a great precedent to set moving forward into an era in which communities have more control over this essential economic input and input the quality of life.

Jess Del Fiacco: Was there a question in there?

Christopher Mitchell: There's no questions in there. Just musing on like the, we didn't see CenturyLink coming.

Katie Kienbaum: #onlymidnightthoughts.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is Chris musing.

Katie Kienbaum: I, yeah, I think it would be great if companies like Century Link continue to see city-owned fiber as a legitimate, like business opportunity for them. I don't know if it'll happen. I think it's more likely we'll see "partnerships". More along the way of how consolidated has convinced a couple of New Hampshire communities to basically build them their fiber and then eventually give it to them.


Christopher Mitchell: We had the, we had Charter suggest this in New York and Katie found my person of the year nomination. What was the reaction of the New York City? Not in New York city but the city in upstate New York's proposal that Charter have the city build the network and then just give it to charter. His reaction struck me as being pretty accurate for what, how I feel about that.

Katie Kienbaum: Am I allowed to curse on this podcast?

Christopher Mitchell: I think we have to bleep it out.


Katie Kienbaum: Okay, so the town manager after, the town manager after I believe it, yeah, Charter Spectrum suggested that the town build it a fiber network and then eventually give it to them. The town manager responded with a, "That's ridiculous."

Christopher Mitchell: And that is the correct response to any sort of suggestion along those lines. Hey, feel free to work with Charter Spectrum but the idea of like giving them yet more taxpayer dollars, just ridiculous. So we're going to come back with a few more predictions and some more discussion about what we're expecting but in the meantime, this is that time when I tell you that you have a wonderful opportunity. Your wallet is probably feeling a bit too heavy so should go to and unload some of that on us. Your wallet will actually be the same weight, but your conscience will be lighter because you've supported ILSR so that we can continue celebrating the vulgarity of certain town managers in New York who really understand the economics behind broadband.

Katie Kienbaum: Will I get a tote bag?

Christopher Mitchell: No tote bags.

Jess Del Fiacco: I have a prediction for 2020. Actually, I realized this is a bad time to jump in, but I predict we're going to get some ILSR swag.

Christopher Mitchell: Oh, maybe, we will get a tote bag, maybe even a tow bag. That seems a little weirder, which would fit with us. That's what I thought you said at first.

Katie Kienbaum: I'll donate either way.

Christopher Mitchell: So let me just end strongly by saying that this has been a great year for people supporting us. We've really appreciated the donations that have come in. There is room though for all of you, so please support us. If you can't give money or you're just have other areas in which you prefer to give your money — help us spread the show. Make sure people know about it. Check out Building Local Power, a wonderful show that has me hosting it less frequently if you really liked the content but would prefer to hear my colleagues talking more. There's also the local energy rules show and I think we may have a new show or two coming in in 2020 as well. So check out our other podcasts at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and I hope that you continue to enjoy this one. And if you don't, please tell us why. Don't just disappear. Send me a note telling me what I can do better. So let's come back now and Katie, you were going to offer a question or a prediction or something. I'm going to guess silly.

Katie Kienbaum: So Illinois announced a very large grant and funding program last year for broadband to the tune of about $420 million.

Christopher Mitchell: You mean in 2019 they announced it?

Katie Kienbaum: Yes, this year, not last year. You know, we're close. Do you think any other states are going to see that and try to also increase their investment or do you think Illinois is going to continue to be an exception?

Jess Del Fiacco: I'm going to say that no, we won't see investment at that level anyways, maybe on a smaller scale.

Christopher Mitchell: Which to be fair, is it's like saying that is the most we've seen from any state that's not New York, which got its money from fining banks. I mean Illinois legitimately raised taxes to do this massive infrastructure push. So yeah, I mean it's, it would be crazy if we saw more than that in the United States of America.

Jess Del Fiacco: But I do think it's more likely that we'll see more and more states establishing state broadband offices.

Christopher Mitchell: We are definitely seeing that and I think we will continue to see states doing more of those sorts of things. I mean, North Carolina and Georgia are both being very aggressive for better mapping in ways that I wouldn't have predicted. In part because I felt like it's just too costly and difficult but in Georgia, they've found a real good way of gaining the trust of the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to get that data. If I was the king of Georgia, I might've just said, if you want to do business in my state, you got to give us the real data. But they found a way to make it work without being quite so corresive, so we should give them credit for that. But I don't see a lot of states digging deep in part because we have a lot of states that are struggling, and Minnesota has another billion dollar plus surplus. It's really wonderful to live here, people. I don't know why everyone isn't moving here except for the fact that it's frozen outside from lake.

Katie Kienbaum: Except for the fact that it's about 22 degrees today and we're all celebrating like it's spring.


Christopher Mitchell: Exactly. But the point is just even with this amazing amount of surplus, we're not going to see very much of it put into broadband. And this is a state that's done a lot of work in terms of broadband, so States aren't prioritizing it as much and until people vote on it, that'll be the dynamic. I mean, we do see some states and I think in some states where for instance was an all blue democratic legislature and governor, we may see more investment in this sort of thing because Democrats have tended to prioritize that more. But there's not a lot of states that have that dynamic. So after the 2020 elections, we'll be able to make more of these kinds of predictions maybe based on the composition of the 2021 state houses but I see a lot of gridlock and smaller state programs that are really, you know, plan of playing around the edges. And frankly, I'll say one of my biggest frustration with our allies is that there's this continual thought of we just need the federal government to do it, we need the federal government do it. I don't know why we bother to have cities, counties, states or anything anymore. Why not just have one fricking government and we'll all just be miserable at whatever they decide because people are constantly looking to the federal government to solve all the problems. So, you know, we can do better. And I hope that there's some places that move in that direction, but I guess the answer is I'm not counting on it. So I want to give, I want to give credit to both Jess and Katie from last year's show cause both of you identified that we are seeing this trend of the urban areas where people have a cable option. They may even have two decent broadband options, but they're dissatisfied and they want municipal broadband. That's where I see the growth coming in the near future. You know, we're going to see some of these more places or see some places that have very bad broadband moving forward like Western Massachusetts but I think most of the municipal broadband growth will start to be coming from these places in which people have a good cable connection by a common definition, but they are dissatisfied with the customer service, with the price increases, with the reliability, data caps will continue to be an issue. I just looked this up, my household with two adults and a child who doesn't use it yet, where we did 600 megabits in September, 650 in October, and I'm over almost 700 in November and we go, I don't know, five or six days sometimes without streaming video. So for the life of me, I can't figure out how other households that watch a lot of video are gonna live in this era of these data caps, particularly with the higher quality streaming. So I think those dynamics will push us in the way that cities that have networks that the federal government would describe as good, they will be the ones that are undissatisfied and moving forward more.

Katie Kienbaum: Thank you for acknowledging our brilliance. I agree with you. I think that's going to continue to be a trend. I see it a lot when I'm, you know, reading articles or talking to local officials that are interested in local networks or building their own network that they cite. You know, just having that ownership and that control over service and quality and customer service is a really big priority attraction for them.

Lisa Gonzalez: I think you're right, Chris. And I also have noticed that in a lot of the articles and a lot of the places that are developing networks and I think a lot of this also has to do with the people who are using the networks. We're seeing that for one as the population ages, we're talking a lot more about telehealth and you can't have networks that are expensive with data caps that are unreliable when you need to have it for that sort of service.


Katie Kienbaum: And I think statistically, we do have more rural areas connected. You know, there's still a lot of areas that don't have any access to broadband or, you know, reliable networks. But as we keep connecting the rest of rural America, the growth and municipal broadband will start to be these areas that do have one, two, three options already for Internet access.

Michelle Andrew: With that in mind, I'm thinking about number of providers in cities. I think I'm looking at areas of cities that are underserved currently. I feel like there isn't, there may be more options coming in the forefront but like for instance, just in Minneapolis itself, I'm just North of where USI Fiber is installing a bunch of their fiber networks. It'd be really nice to have like fiber in my home cause my Internet currently is below broadband speed at home in the middle of Minneapolis and it's a major ISP, not going to name them. I think that that would be cool to see do comparative studies, but also seeing the change over time of like what are more affluent areas. Are they the ones that are getting these fiber installations more quickly or they're more of the areas that are always been underserved and will continue to be underserved. This isn't as easy to look at but I think that it would be interesting to see what areas of cities are getting those options in the future. Hopefully, it's more equitable. But I feel like based in geography of other installations, that's not gonna happen.

Lisa Gonzalez: One of the things that we learned from Doug Dawson in one of our recent podcasts was that the digital equity issue is something that a lot of these communities are installing municipal networks in order to solve. That's one of the reasons why they want to develop publicly on broadband. We've realized that the large providers are not going to do that and prices are going up, they continue to go up. And digital equity is a priority for municipal networks.


Christopher Mitchell: You know, I will say one thing, which is that in 2019 I came out, I think feeling not necessarily better about Comcast but relative to all the big cable and telephone companies, I feel like Comcast is the only one that is not trying to be viewed terribly by its customers. Comcast Internet essentials program is unrivaled in terms of its scope and its results in terms of trying to connect low income folks. I think there's lots of ways to improve it. I fundamentally don't think Comcast can solve this problem because there's so many greater problems that Comcast is not like the longterm solution of trying to make them a better company, but they are doing more than anyone else. And so I think as I've gone through 2019, I feel like I've been less angry or harsh toward Comcast versus some of the other companies. Comcast also shows a lot of leadership in the industry of making the cable networks do a lot more. If it wasn't for Comcast, we wouldn't be looking at the ultra fast high-speed uploads that we're going to be expecting in a few years on the cable networks. And I think that's really important for the future of the Internet, for the future of production and things like that. So, I think Charter Spectrum, At&t, MediaCom, you know, those companies if they disappeared tomorrow, I don't think we would lose a thing. Like there's not one part that I'd be missing. If Comcast disappeared, I actually think in some ways we'd be worse off and that's high praise for me.

Jess Del Fiacco: At&t owns HBO and I would be a little bit upset about my prestige dramas going away.

Christopher Mitchell: Let's be clear, if At&t disappeared tomorrow, HBO would be so much better off. Let's assume HBO would still be here.

Michelle Andrew: I think also is Comcast that I've known when my previous work with doing digital literacy is that they not only do the Internet essentials program for people who are low income or elderly, but they also have like a wide span of like classes like online videos to like how to be literate on the Internet and like make sure you don't give your information to anyone or anything like that. And I think that's another important part of Internet access that we can't always talk about because we are doing so many other things but just like knowing like this is because people have access doesn't mean they're necessarily going to be, they're more open to the world and being able to figure out how to educate people on that is also important.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes, exactly. Those materials are very high quality and they're used by a lot of other advocates nationwide that have been produced first by Comcast.


Jess Del Fiacco: See, folks, we can be positive.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes, we're more positive about Comcast than we are about the future of our nation. That's wonderful. So I wanted to make one other thing, which is Nick and Hannah both checked in with us last year, long time contributors to ILSR in our work, both of them in their final year of grad school. Maybe we'll cross paths with them again in the future, we have no idea at this point but both hold them in very high esteem. Nick nailed it, in terms of suggesting that there would be corruption found around FCC chairman Pai, I don't think it was as bad as Nick was thinking we might find it. Frankly, I think we may still find more in the future, but the Sinclair Media stuff where this television station was trying to grow and consolidate in a lot of ways, they were doing it in a corrupt manner. And to his credit, I think Pai pulled the plug on it before it got to the point of being something that was actually going to happen. But for a lot of us looking at it until that got publicized, we fully expected that corruption to work. And, so people want to look into this Sinclair Media, the sort of stories around that, I feel like that fits the definition of what Nick thought we might see amongst some of the people around chairman Pai. Nick also said that more states will be doing broadband policy. Pretty weak sauce, Nick.

Jess Del Fiacco: Oh, I was just going to say something about Sinclair broadcasting. I just read that they're pivoting to focusing on local news now for their local news stations so that's very kind of them after buying all the local news stations.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, fewer of the must read where they decide what the local news will be. I find that just odious and frustrating, although frankly, the more that we see people degrade television news, the better we're off because fewer Americans will hopefully watch it because it is possibly one of the single worst things of the 20th century is the idea of putting news on television. It's done incredible damage to this wonderful nation of ours but anyway, Hannah also had a prediction and Hannah's prediction was that half of the nation have fiber to the home. Hannah was more ambitious than investors I guess, so we didn't actually get there.


Katie Kienbaum: I mean, technically, do we know?

Christopher Mitchell: Technically, I think we won't know for a few years. I would put, I'll put $100 on us not having 50% todaY.

Katie Kienbaum: Come back in a few years.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, and I mean, part of it also, we again have to deal with this fact that how will we know because we would be just waiting until the FCC data comes out. And what we just saw was what Verizon and T-Mobile I think were the two worst ones, but basically a lot of the cellular carriers, not just exaggerating their territory but increasing it by a factor of 40%. That's crazy. And it's once again a sign that the Federal Communications Commission is fundamentally broken. So yeah, I mean, I feel like we're running out of time here in our studio, but my office, which has a meeting in four minutes.

Jess Del Fiacco: People are tapping on the door.

Christopher Mitchell: So, but I feel like this is, you know, there's a lot of reasons to be hopeful. There's a lot of really good trends. I mean, when we look at the amount of rural America that has fiber, a lot of the work has been done to get us to a good place. We should be moving faster, but we're in a good, we're going in a good direction with a lot of local investment and fundamentally I feel like people are too pessimistic about DC. I think the federal government's getting a lot of things wrong but local governments and communities in general are really what's the backbone of this nation. And they'll continue to be, and we'll find a way to muddle through no matter what's happening in DC. And as a final note, I wanted to say two things — one is there's a lot of really good people in DC every time I've gone there, I'm always impressed. People I agree with, people I disagree with. The problem of DC is a fundamental dynamic of all the stuff, so I don't want to say any negative on anything. In 2019, we lost two our allies. I mean, didn't lose her but Deb Socia stepped down as the director of Next Century cities. Deb was and still is a close friend. I regret not being able to talk with her every single week anymore but Deb's doing really great work in Chattanooga and to all my other friends that I've been working with on this for a long time, don't desert us in 2020 because having Deb step down was it's been hard to deal with and we all really miss her. So Deb, I'm sure you're listening cause you're one of our biggest fans but we're really glad that Chattanooga is benefiting from you and we miss you a lot. So I just want to dedicate this show to you.


Jess Del Fiacco: Awww.

Christopher Mitchell: You know, I just forgot what were we doing here? Will you show us this, Katie?

Katie Kienbaum: This is the community brooooooooaadd

Jess Del Fiacco: Okay, just shut off the recording now, Lisa.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with our community broadband networks team, Katie Kienbaum, Michelle Andrews, Jess Del Fiacco and me, Lisa Gonzalez. We were reviewing our predictions for 2019 and making some new predictions for 2020. And, by the way, happy birthday to Katie. She was born on new year's eve 20 some odd years ago. There's still time to donate to ILSR before the end of the year so that we can continue to make more predictions in the year ahead. Go to Any amount is appreciated, it helps us continue to bring quality content along with resources such as reports, fact sheets, policy briefs, and our daily news source — muni We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available 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 podcast and the other podcasts from ILSR Building Local Power and The Local Energy Rules 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 and again, while you're there, please take a moment to donate. Your support in any amount helps keep us going. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle licensed through creative commons. This was episode 388 of the community broadband bits podcast. Thank you for listening and we wish you a blessed holiday season and a fruitful 2020.