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Predictions for 2021, Year in Review for 2020 - Episode 441 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast
2020 is nearly over, and it's that time of the year we sit back with a cold glass of eggnog and reflect on what was, what is, what might have been, and what will be. In this episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast the MuniNetworks team cranks up Zoom for the zillionth time this month to review our previous years' predictions to see who swung the hardest and missed back in 2019, and who might be hiding a secret gift at prognostication that would put Zoltar to shame.
With the departure of Lisa and Katie, GIS and Data Researcher Michelle Andrews is the only one who must reckon with her predictions head on. Also on the show are two recent arrivals: Senior Writer and Editor Sean Gonsalves, and Senior Researcher Ry Marcattilio-McCracken. Hannah Trostle returns from a short hiatus as well, to offer insight and secretly watch Chris to make sure he hasn't turned into a total despot. During the show we talk state preemption laws, progress by municipal networks, electric cooperatives, and county governments in expanding affordable broadband, the recent RDOF auction, New Hampshire, Sean's water feature, and our favorite stories of the year.
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 of John Dee’s Crystal ball by Vassil [CC0], from Wikimedia Commons.
Christopher Mitchell: As long as none of us die on air, it's basically better than 2020 on average.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: Welcome to episode 441 of The Community Broadband Bits Podcast. This is Ry Marcattilio-McCracken here at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Today we're doing our end-of-the-year show where we review the previous year's predictions and discuss what's going to happen with broadband in the coming year. I'm going to turn over to Chris here to introduce who we;ve got.
Christopher Mitchell: No. I think you're going to turn it over to me so I can do the introduction that makes Travis and his wife so happy.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: Okay, do it.
Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Not as good as Katy did it last year. I was just reminded of her brilliant, brilliant rendition last year. You won't hear Katy's voice today unfortunately because she has abandoned us.
Christopher Mitchell: We have some new voices. We have an exciting team. But I have to say 2020 shook things up in ways that I never would have expected such that the only person from last year's prediction show that is back is Michelle Andrews, our GIS and data researcher. Welcome back, Michelle.
Michelle Andrews: Good to be back. You also were there last year, Chris.
Christopher Mitchell: True, but I'm going to be here in 2046.
Christopher Mitchell: We also have another returning voice, just not from last year, someone that I'm very excited to bring back who's been thinking about this stuff for a long time, who started with us as an intern and has just blossomed into a genius and then abandoned us for grad school and is now back, leading a project. Hannah Trostle, welcome back.
Hannah Trostle: Thanks. It's great to be here again.
Christopher Mitchell: Hannah is officially on staff, just not permanently. Whenever they finish the project, that will be the end and curtains, unless I can come up with another project and bring them back.
Christopher Mitchell: The new voices that we're going to hear today, let me introduce first Ry Marcattilio-McCracken, who you've already heard and has definitely the best name of the group. Welcome to your first year-end predictions and next year predictions show, Ry.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: Thank you. It's great to be here. I haven't got to do this yet, but I wanted to apologize to all the long-time listeners for the transition over from Lisa's wonderful voice to having to hear me at the beginning of every episode over the last nine months. I apologize about that.
Christopher Mitchell: We do miss Lisa, but, Ry, I think you're a wonderful addition. I think you need to laugh a little bit more and make more fun of me in the introductions, but there's a lot of promise there.
Christopher Mitchell: Our final voice ... I think this is the first time we've ever tried to do six people on a show I think, and it probably will work about as well as any time I try something new live and on the air. But our sixth person is Sean Gonsalves, who is a crack writer and researcher and editor and all-around fun person to be on staff with. Welcome to the show, Sean.
Thank you for having me, and bonus points for pronouncing my last name correctly. I love it. I'm glad to be here. My history of predicting things is very similar to Charles Barkley, which is to say it's abysmal. I'm usually wrong when I predict things.
Christopher Mitchell: That's terrible.
I don't know why. Yeah, terrible.
Christopher Mitchell: Sean is responsible for many of the long features that we're now doing, because the guy loves to pad the word count.
Yeah. That's a nice way to put it.
Christopher Mitchell: We're going to start by I wanted to first say that we did not expect to have to continue our lives without Lisa in our office. Earlier this year Lisa got poached away by the state of Minnesota, where she's doing important work working on telecom, still fighting the good fight to try to make sure people are getting the Internet access that they need. But we have soldiered on, and Ry has picked up a lot of her duties, and we've moved on.
Christopher Mitchell: Then, right around that time when Ry joined the team, Katy decided she couldn't stand working with us anymore, and she'd rather get more money for the energy team. She moved over to energy, which is work she'd been doing before she came to us at ILSR. She's now doing great work on the energy team. That freed us up to bring on Sean, and that's how we got to where we are in 2020.
Christopher Mitchell: Frankly, I will never say anything bad about the many great people that have worked for us, because I've just loved working with all these folks, but this team, it's a great team. The best thing that happened in 2020 was that the six of us get to work together I think. That's probably the only good thing that any of us will say about 2020, is that at least we have fun in our staff meetings and our program meetings.
Christopher Mitchell: I just did all the introduction, everything else. Does anyone else want to start off on just quickly reviewing any thoughts from looking back at the wonderful world we lived in at the end of 2019 in which we were joking about how 2020 couldn't be that terrible and of course the world was not going to fall apart?
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: I don't have anything to review, but if it's not too early, I will make my first bold prediction for the coming year.
Christopher Mitchell: You cannot restrain Ry. Okay.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: My prediction is that you, Chris, are going to experience a delayed response to all the stress of 2020, and in January of 2021 we're going to come back and your hair will be completely white and you'll look 15 years older.
Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. I might look like I'm 36 years old then if that were to happen. I like that bold prediction. Geeze.
Christopher Mitchell: I was telling some folks that I make family calendars every year, and I'm looking at the photos I took 12 months ago of my son, my family, things we did. I have never been so disassociated. For 15 years, every year I make these calendars, personalized calendars in which I go through thousands of photos that I take over the course of the year, and I've never felt so alienated from the photos a year ago. It just seems like a different lifetime. I cannot believe it's been 12 months.
I'd like to hop in on the bold prediction train here. It's probably actually not all that bold, but I want to say it before somebody else does, because it's probably my one prediction that makes any sense. My prediction is that SB-152 in Colorado, which restricts municipalities from building municipal broadband networks, will be toast in the year 2021 for obvious reasons. The pandemic of course has shown everyone that laws like that are ridiculous. They're embarrassing.
As an associated prediction of that, that also would mean that the number of states ... What is it now, 19, that prevent [crosstalk 00:07:04]
Christopher Mitchell: That is our official count, and that is the correct count. Anyone that says 22 is incorrect.
So SB-52 goes down and that number, 19, goes to 15.
Christopher Mitchell: Oh, wow, okay. There's a history here, Sean. Last year I predicted we would see a lessening of barriers, not that they would be totally removed but that we would see them chipped away at. I was incorrect. I was not so bold as to make that prediction for next year, but you're going there, and now in one year you can laugh at me and say, "Your timing sucks, Mitchell."
Christopher Mitchell: Anyone else in on this action? How many states at the end of this coming year, at the end of 2021, will have barriers to try to limit municipal networks? I'm going to say 18.
Hannah Trostle: I'm going to say 17. One of us will have to be right.
Michelle Andrews: 16's my lucky number, so I'm going to go for 16.
Christopher Mitchell: If 2020 is any guide, by the way, the number's going to be 62. Ry, what's your number?
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: I'm going to go the other direction. I'm going to say 31, not because I'm a pessimistic person but I think it provides me a little more job security if the number goes up.
Christopher Mitchell: Three weeks ago, or let's just say pre-November election, I was pretty confident that number would be down to zero, because I thought the federal government was very likely in January of February to remove all the laws. You can tell that I've lost my enthusiasm for that. We'll find out what happens with Georgia as to who controls the Senate, but I don't know. I think the cable and telephone companies are looking to be more powerful than I thought they might be. They're powerful. Comcast is going to be powerful in the Biden administration, and AT&T will be quite powerful, especially what we're seeing at the FCC where Republicans may control it, despite the way the system is supposed to work. Anyway, there's your range of folks that say it.
Christopher Mitchell: I want to go back and say that Lisa made a prediction last year related to this, which was that she predicted several states would follow Connecticut's example and make it easier for municipalities to build networks by making it easier for them to get on poles, whether it was free or not. I thought that she was visiting crazy town, and in fact I was right. I don't think we have any record of any state trying to make it easier for municipal networks to build networks on poles. Georgia is trying to make it easier for ISPs to hop on poles, the one buck per year per pole thing, but we'll see.
Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. I'd be very curious to see if that leads to more investments in those areas. The Georgia co-ops proposed that and it's been accepted by their public service commission.
Christopher Mitchell: There were predictions made on co-ops and the number of co-ops. It's hard to say. We can't really judge them because, when Katy left, we stopped tracking it. This is something we're going to pick up again as we're able to add a little bit of staff capacity in 2021, but we have not been able to resume tracking that as we are all trying to figure out what works best for this team in terms of how we divide the workload. That's something that's just been temporarily dropped.
Christopher Mitchell: But we can say confidently that the number of electric co-ops is still growing, not as rapidly as we thought it might and probably not as rapidly as it would if the rural digital opportunity fund was correctly administered, but the FCC seems to have royally screwed the pooch on that one, and a lot of electric co-ops that were trying to get in may have been iced out, perhaps by entities that were specifically bidding in those areas to prevent them from being able to build networks. Conspiracy alert: there are some folks that I think have some good reason to believe that some of these areas might not even be built. It may have just been an opportunity to try to deny funds to anyone so that some folks would be able to focus on just picking off the cheapest areas to build and preventing subsidized competition.
Christopher Mitchell: We're going to see what happens in the early part of 2021. This is something that I'm very fascinated by, because I have no idea what's going to happen next there.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: I was going to ask you, Chris, what you thought. Are we just going to find out a lot more once that quiet period ends here at the end of January or are we going to have to wait a little longer to see what goes on?
Christopher Mitchell: I think that the quiet period will end and a number of these consortiums will remain quite quiet. I think they're not going to have a reason to speak up. The question is, by February 15th, a lot of these companies have to demonstrate to the Federal Communications Commission that they have the money, which means that banks are going to loan them money. That will be the main source of funds for the builds in these areas. If they have the money and they have a plan for technology the FCC thinks is not totally Loony Tunes, then they will be able to move forward and unlock those subsidies.
Christopher Mitchell: This is the next big issue, is whether Congress intervenes before then to say, "The FCC has screwed this up and y'all need to fix it," or if the FCC will have to decide will we be embarrassed today by admitting that we got the auction wrong or are we going to start writing checks every month to these folks and hope that they somehow pull it off or that nobody notices when we admit that they got it wrong and they can't do it. But I would really like to see the FCC just own its errors and make sure that they have an auction that has integrity.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: Can I hop in and ask another question here?
Christopher Mitchell: Who's doing this interview?
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: You are. You've been doing this ...
Christopher Mitchell: Sir, it's sir.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: Yes, sir.
Christopher Mitchell: I've been watching too much Charlie Brown. Sorry.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: You've been doing this for roughly three decades at this point, and I'm curious. The auction ended a little more than two weeks ago or whatever. Have you ever seen something like this happen before where an auction ends and we're confused and it's two weeks later and we're still just as confused about what happened?
Christopher Mitchell: I haven't, but there's so few people in this space that bother to try to make it accessible for other people that I think, for a lot of us, it's hard to know what happened in the past regarding this. Part of what we're seeing I think is what happens when you put sunlight on something that's never had sunlight on it before. Usually people weren't paying attention to this before except for insiders. One of the things we're desperately trying to do right now is to make sure that other people are aware of this, that people in these areas are aware what's happening.
Christopher Mitchell: I guess I can't really answer your question. I don't want to say no, but I can't think of an example.
Christopher Mitchell: One thing I also want to credit Katie with is she thought we'd see a lot more interesting partnerships from the electric co-ops, and we're seeing that. We've certainly seen a number, and, in fact, just in Georgia there's several co-ops partnerships, ones with Windstream that I'm not particularly excited about. I like to see small, local companies getting some of these partnerships, but there's just a lot of different opportunities, and I think that's pretty exciting, that there are innovative models moving forward.
Hannah Trostle: Let's talk about Windstream for a second, because you had a prediction before we got on the show about the future of Windstream and how RDOF is maybe bringing it basically back from the grave.
Christopher Mitchell: I guess I should say that that's not an original prediction of mine. One of the folks that monitors this space closely had made that comment to me, that he thought Windstream would come out of bankruptcy really strong. The whole bankruptcy issue with Windstream I didn't fully get. It was a totally different situation than Frontier. Frontier was dead man walking for years. It was a pool of how long it would take Frontier to fall into this. Windstream was different circumstances that I don't full understand, but Windstream will come out with more money and a plan that seems likely to work according to some people that are paying closer attention than me.
Christopher Mitchell: So yeah, I think with the RDOF money, I would not predict the doom and gloom for all of the Windstream areas that I would for all of the Frontier areas. I feel really bad for folks in West Virginia. I think Senator Capito is right to be livid that the federal government has decided to throw more cash at Frontier to do terrible things in West Virginia.
Christopher Mitchell: I want to poke Michelle, because I haven't heard her voice in too long. In going over some of these older predictions, was there anything else that stood out to you from what we did a year ago?
Michelle Andrews: Yeah. I was completely too optimistic about the Census. I believe, Jess, I said something about how the Census is going to come out and I could use that data to use some better mapping and that would be really cool to have up-to-date data on things, and then Jess said, "That's really optimistic that the 2020 Census is going to happen," and it was, because it was super rushed and they kept changing the deadline and all sorts of shenanigans happened that made a lot of underreporting probably happen. Just another reason why the FCC in general has to have better broadband mapping data, as well as just the Census in general needs to do a better job of collecting the data in the next 10 years to make up for it.
Christopher Mitchell: Yes. That was right around the time that Katie made a prediction. Katie: It's a little bold to assume that our society won't collapse within the next several months.
Hannah Trostle: Katie, do not steal my prediction.
Christopher Mitchell: It's fascinating to me that she didn't say six months or a year. She just nailed it with several months. It's a pandemic, and we haven't collapsed. There's been a lot more suffering than is necessary, but it's a little hard going back and reviewing those discussions.
Christopher Mitchell: Then I think the last thing I want to note is predictions that I made. I don't know how to evaluate this. I'm going to ask Hannah and Ry in particular to evaluate me on this, but anyone else that wants to judge me should feel free. The question is whether the dam would break on the municipal model, and I feel like it has. I don't think there's 30 new cities, but there's a bunch of new cities, whether it's the western Massachusetts ones that are moving forward boldly. We've seen Houston, Missouri. There's several that are starting in Texas it looks like. There's actually multiple in Utah, even though Kaysville got set back a little bit. And then Quincy, Massachusetts seems to move forward, Redding, California. Actually, our job is to do a better job of knowing exactly how many there are, and we have to go through our notes to update our map, but I don't know. I feel like the dam didn't break, but it's sure got big cracks in it.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: Yeah, I think so. I think it'll be exciting to see what happens over the next year. But it does seem like, at least in the last nine months, we've seen a real uptick of serious consideration and people moving forward.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: I was watching the Lehi, Utah city council meeting the other day to see how it unfolded, and they opened it up to the public to make comments and questions, and there was one guy who stood up and said -
Christopher Mitchell: When you said a guy, it was just like, "He's going to be a jerk."
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: He was for them to build the network and wanted somebody else to administer it, but then they expected I think a little more of a tsunami, and he sat down, and they said, "Okay. I guess that's the end of the public comment and we'll move forward," and then they voted in favor.
Christopher Mitchell: See, I was assuming that it was someone who'd be vituperously opposed to it. That's often what we see. But the fact that it's not even controversial or interesting I guess is in some ways useful. I would like to see people super excited about municipal broadband, but I will take people just being bored by it because it's so obvious to them that the city should do it.
Christopher Mitchell: Hannah, what do you think? Is this just a matter of me trying to pretend that I got it right when in fact I didn't?
Hannah Trostle: No. I think you may have it right. You did qualify it and say that the dam hasn't fully broken. Just you have large, large cracks in there. I'm excited to see where it goes in the next couple years. We've seen people talk about municipal broadband now in the tribal broadband space.
Christopher Mitchell: We can do a little foreshadowing. What is happening in the tribal broadband space, Hannah? Previously, our sense was that there was between 10, maybe 20 tribes that actually had tribal broadband networks that they were operating that were being deployed. You're about to publish research about this. Can you give us a little hint as to what the number's closer to?
Hannah Trostle: Yeah. It's definitely more in the 30 to 40 range I would say, and I feel like that 10 number probably comes from the number that are ETCs, eligible telecommunications carriers. I believe that number's only in the teens as far as tribally owned broadband networks.
Christopher Mitchell: Is that a faucet running behind you? Do you have a waterfall in your room where you're recording?
No. That's my waterfall. Oh my goodness.
Hannah Trostle: I was going to say there's a -
Christopher Mitchell: Is that soothing for you, Sean?
It actually is soothing. See that mountain range? It's the faint sound of that.
Hannah Trostle: I actually moved rooms because there's a cat water fountain in my main office. I did not want that in the background.
Christopher Mitchell: Look at what 2020 has done to us once proud people.
Christopher Mitchell: The other thing that I would note is that I cynically predicted that broadband discussions in public policy would be focused almost entirely on rural areas, and I think I was wrong, wrong, wrong. The US House proved me wrong I think. Representative Clyburn and Representative Eshoo made sure that when the House decided to get into broadband legislation that they crafted a bill that would improve broadband access, mostly in terms of infrastructure for some urban settings, and also more than a billion dollars of digital inclusion money. I am so thrilled to have seen that, and now we're all really hoping that that makes its way into 2021 and into legislation that the new president signs. I'm glad to have been wrong about that. I think we really need to have a balanced discussion about how to connect people.
Christopher Mitchell: Any comments on that dynamic from this past year?
I still think that the ... You're right to point to that legislation and Clyburn. I still think a lot of the coverage that you see, broadband expansion, is very much focused in rural areas, which I think it's not a stretch to say that expanding rural broadband can be seen as a code word as well when you get into the politics of it all in terms of the folks who live in these areas.
Christopher Mitchell: Being white. Being assumed to be white, because many of them are in fact not white.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: It's also been heartening to see the amount of work and the efforts being launched by maybe we would say nontraditional actors to bring broadband coverage to urban areas. I'm thinking of all the neighborhood-wide or community-wide or school-district-wide free wireless networks that have cropped up in places like Providence and Pittsburgh and San Antonio.
Christopher Mitchell: San Rafael.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: And San Rafael, and these nonprofits who are stepping up to the plate with a lot of help from local government and setting these ups in relatively short order and bringing good, decent broadband coverage to the people who need it most in their communities.
Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. I think that's one of the stories that's been lesser told that we'll see more of. I would predict that we'll see more of those stories, because there are so many schools that are right now building networks or have a partnership to deliver services. Unfortunately, this isn't entirely good. The challenge is that, if the school district is building a network to connect kids, well, that's terrific. We desperately need to make sure that the kids have access. But it means that a family that does not have children in the school or a retiree living on a fixed income may not have coverage and may see less likelihood of getting proper investment to solve that problem when the kids' problems are taken care of. I think it's worth remembering that the schools are responding to failed leadership at the local level, failed leadership at the state level, failed leadership at the federal level, and they need to take action, but it's because of failure, and I think that's just really frustrating.
Hannah Trostle: I feel like I need to make a joke about how I am the Count of ILSR, because, as soon as I left, it was like y'all couldn't keep track of these co-ops anymore.
Christopher Mitchell: Oh, I disagree. I think Katie did a great job. It's a hard job.
Hannah Trostle: Katie did a great job until she left.
Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. Once she joined the energy team, she did a crap job of counting our co-ops for us frankly. Very disappointed. She doesn't come to any of our meetings. Just terrible.
Christopher Mitchell: While we're talking about the education networks, I want to ask everyone their favorite story of this part year. I know that Sean isn't prepared for this, but some of the rest of you may have given that a thought. My favorite story is Chattanooga. I've got a second favorite. I'm going to go first and last in this. My first favorite one is Chattanooga and the fact that they're extending fiber broadband, very high quality services, to 17,000 families, all the kids in the free and reduced lunch program. I'm hoping that not only will this be great for them but we'll see research coming out that will be surprising for people that aren't us in terms of how many benefits this creates in terms of additional benefits for these families and lowered cost for government programs and maybe servicing these families. I'm just so thrilled.
Christopher Mitchell: And it also gave me an opportunity to talk to Deb a little bit more this year, Deb Socia, who just has continued to do great work in Chattanooga, along with many other great people who are on staff at her organization and working for various parts of the city.
Christopher Mitchell: That is I think one of my favorite stories of 2020. Who else has a favorite story?
Does Ry's turkey story count? Because that, man ... Anyone who sees this who hasn't read it needs to read that.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: Aw, man. I was hoping that we wouldn't bring that up.
Michelle Andrews: I was also going to say that story but I didn't want to be the one to bring it up.
Christopher Mitchell: You didn't want to be a jerk.
Christopher Mitchell: All right, Michelle, what's your favorite story?
Michelle Andrews: I don't know if I have a specific favorite story. I just think that the conversation this whole year and how much more aware people that have broadband are becoming of people that don't have broadband and how that's affected their lives in so many ways, especially because of the pandemic. It was a problem previously, but it's so much worse now, both education and communication and just being able to maybe even order groceries online if you needed to do that. I just think that that is one of the silver linings in the pandemic in general, are all these stories that we have about people, the school districts specifically, but just in general more people being more aware and working towards it for their communities is pretty cool.
Christopher Mitchell: It is far easier now to explain to people why upload is important.
Michelle Andrews: Yeah.
Christopher Mitchell: That's nice.
Michelle Andrews: And I think that part of that discussion as well that I think NEA has also been doing is the education aspect behind actually using the Internet, and the digital literacy part has become more important I think. That's been more of a conversation. I made a prediction last year that it wasn't going to be much of the election conversation, then it became a little bit more so with the pandemic.
Can I just make an addendum? In addition to Ry's turkey story, which, again, is fabulous -
Christopher Mitchell: And posted around Thanksgiving.
Yeah. But in all seriousness, actually Ry's story on the Olneyville neighborhood ... Obviously, you guys have forgotten more stories than I've read into the archives. But his story on the Olneyville neighborhood in Providence, Rhode Island is really interesting, just because of, to my mind, the collaborations, the nonprofits that came together, the way they tackled it. Unlike in many instances as a result of the pandemic where there's a lot of effort being put into, as you pointed out, Chris, connecting kids to schools, with Olneyville, they really looked at it through a healthcare lens, which I think is a broader one. Anyway, I think that story, so far for me, has been at least one of my favorites, just because of that unique approach and vision.
Christopher Mitchell: It's a very good point. The part that I really liked about that story also is the honesty that Jennifer Hawkins had in terms of one of several people building GAP networks who told us that may not have done it if she understood the challenges when she started. I think that commitment to see something through, even when it gets really hard, that's something we need to have more of.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: I think there are a lot more stories out there like that that are getting ready to unfold in a similar way, and I'm excited to see those blossom over the next six months to a year as well.
Christopher Mitchell: Yes. And I feel like the hope, in some ways, is that that creates a local infrastructure of people, that the Wi-Fi's not going to solve everyone's problems, and they're well aware of that, and now the next step will be "Okay, how do we force the city and the state to put real money into this to actually solve the problem?" I think for people who might be looking at that and saying, "Yeah, but it's Wi-Fi. It's not going to be perfect. It won't be," but it's not the last step. These are people that are motivated, they're competent, and they're I think pretty impressive.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: I like that term, that infrastructure of people. I think that's well put.
Christopher Mitchell: Hannah, favorite story?
Hannah Trostle: I don't really have a favorite story.
Christopher Mitchell: Hannah's favorite story is graduation.
Hannah Trostle: Yes. Surviving the last half of a semester suddenly online, moved to a different state in a different time zone: yes, that is my favorite story.
Hannah Trostle: But no. I really appreciated, over this summer and this fall, being able to interview folks involved with tribal broadband and learn about all the different ways that it's being adapted and used and all the different applications of it, like Michelle was saying. Just that has become a very big part of the story this year.
Christopher Mitchell: And Ry?
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: I think my favorite story of the last year was what happened with the New Hampshire Electrical Cooperative. In June a vote fell short by two percentage points to add broadband to the cooperative's charters. Less than a week later, the board voted unanimously to create a separate entity to pursue broadband projects for the 85,000+ members of the cooperative. Then, after a month-long vote here in October, 88% of those who voted voted yes to modify the cooperative's policy procedure to give it the flexibility needed to do things like pursue state funding and get those broadband projects off the ground. I'm excited with what happens any time when you get a bunch of people on the ground who push leadership for change, maybe even when that leadership was being a little intransigent. I'm excited to see what happens with the electric co-op here in New Hampshire.
Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. That's one of my favorite stories too. I love those stories of the board and leadership having real hesitations and a committed number of people working together to educate folks and demonstrate that this was something it could do and needed to do.
Christopher Mitchell: My second story then is the 2.5 tribal priority window. It's a year ago that I believe Chairman Pai, who was Trump's pick, moved forward with an aggressive window to allow tribes to have first shot at a limited number of licenses to use specific spectrum over their territories. At first it was going to be a two-month window, and it was argued, this is long before the pandemic, that that was not enough time. I would say that many of us did not expect Chairman Pai to lead the way to have an expanded window of six months, and he did. I think that is a real commendation to him.
Christopher Mitchell: The FCC was assuming that it would see 10 to 20 tribes apply. I think in the end it was over 150, because of the hard work, again, of a small number of people that went out and worked with the tribes. I think it could have been well over 200 if we had not had the pandemic. Many tribes were just unable to take advantage of this during a period in which they had very poor connectivity and they were trying not to engage in risky behavior, so they couldn't do some of the information sharing.
Christopher Mitchell: I think it is very disappointing the FCC did not increase that window by a longer period of time to allow more opportunity, but, nonetheless, it was a success, and I hope it is the first step of many needed steps to give more tools to the Native networks to make sure that we're able to resolve the glaring inadequacy of broadband in Indian country. I think that's a really good story that we should remember.
Christopher Mitchell: This is a really good time to remind people that we're at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which is a nonprofit 501(c)(3), and we would love to have your money in our bank account so we could do great things with it. I would say that we'd love to have your support to be able to build the kind of foundation we've been building to move this movement forward. I feel like we do a great job of stretching dollars as far as we can. We have all kinds of interesting content. I think we've demonstrated that, and we'd love to have your support.
Christopher Mitchell: For people who are tapped out because you've given all your money to struggling local businesses, I support you. I'm with you. I'm glad that you're supporting those local businesses. You could also give us great podcast reviews. We have several good podcasts: Building Local Power, Local Energy Rules, the Composting Podcast. And then we have some great podcasts, which are produced by this team, which have my voice in them a lot of the time: Community Broadband Bits and the Connect This Show. Tell your friends. Tell people on whatever Apple's calling its app today. Tell them on Stitcher and Google and all those other platforms.
Christopher Mitchell: Hopefully, this has been the most fun pitch you've heard for support for many of the podcasts you're listening to at the end of this season. Thank you so much. We appreciate that you're giving us your time. With that, we're going to come back to the show.
Christopher Mitchell: Let's roll through. I want to ask if there's any more predictions, and I specifically want to ask Michelle. I'm going to put you on the spot. The FCC, are they going to do new maps? Are we going to have good, accurate data rolling in in one year's time?
Michelle Andrews: Supposedly we are supposed to have more accurate maps, but I don't know if the timeline has changed with the pandemic, how they're rolling it out, but also just the fact that it's still mandatory for the companies to report it, and there's not a lot of error checks on the other side, like if this company's actually providing service in that location. They're supposed to be more accurate instead of just by census blocks, but we'll see, because I think that's the main weakness in the FCC data, is it's not spatially explicit, but it also isn't kept from year to year or month to month or a six-month period.
Christopher Mitchell: Is it going to happen?
Michelle Andrews: It's supposed to. It's supposed to.
Christopher Mitchell: That's a real dodge. We're going to remember that next year.
Michelle Andrews: I don't think it's going to go honestly. I think if it's going to, it'll be six months to a year after they said. Supposedly the next dataset is going to be that way, but I don't see it happening.
Christopher Mitchell: I am very pessimistic about the FCC right now, in part because I'm worried that Mitch McConnell will remain the Senate Majority Leader and it will basically prevent the Biden administration from getting its picks on the FCC, which would then leave the FCC deadlocked and rudderless effectively, which, to me, suggests that we would not see any of these good things happening unfortunately. That's what I worry about.
Michelle Andrews: I do have one prediction, though, that might be in left field. I do see maybe the shenanigans with the RDOF and other rural broadband funding maybe being able to call it out being a little more easier in the next year, because I think a lot of people are moving to more rural areas with their jobs going more remote and they want those connections. I think that there might be more political push if more people are actually doing that. I don't know if that's really going to be a huge migration in the coming year, but I think that that might be a good thing to predict.
Christopher Mitchell: I think that's a solid prediction, especially in the New England area perhaps as we see New Yorkers ... That was probably really terrible. Ry's just not able to speak now because of how hard he's laughing ... moving out of the city and up toward Boston.
Yeah. We're seeing a lot more New York license plates here on Cape Cod. That's for sure.
Christopher Mitchell: I'm going to relate a prediction that we heard from our wonderful Connect This Show! that Ry's been producing on the open access show, which was just a great debate. Jeff Christensen predicted that we would see a new application on open access networks, probably [inaudible 00:37:36] I'm guessing. That would be something that's new and different that we haven't seen on networks before. I want to come back and evaluate that. I'm excited about that, because we've been waiting for this for a little while. That's exciting.
Christopher Mitchell: Actually, one of my predictions is we're going to have a lot more Connect This episodes. Connect This, because it's just so much fun.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: Yeah. Those have been a lot of fun to listen to, and I'm glad we're doing them.
And it's the one prediction you have the most control over [inaudible 00:38:03]. That works out well.
Christopher Mitchell: There's going to be four episodes in the second week of January just to prove myself right so I get a win.
Christopher Mitchell: I do think we're going to see more, meaning open access networks. It's hard to say in some ways. I'm going to make a prediction, which is something that would have already happened but we wouldn't know it yet, and that's that I think we will see 20 new networks, new municipal networks. That would include cities that are getting a network that's expanding into them, if Chattanooga were to expand, if it was permitted to, for instance. But I predict we'll see 20 new communities that have municipal fiber networks. Many of them will be their own, and several of them are going to be open access, and I think it could well be beyond that frankly. I think there's a lot of enthusiasm out there. It's an exciting time.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: I'm also excited to see more and more counties partnering with electric co-ops to get projects off the ground. I feel like we saw a goodly number of those, especially in the second half of this year, and that kind of momentum is going to continue into 2021.
Christopher Mitchell: I would love to see more of the conduit model that west Des Moines has pioneered with Google Fiber, but there is a lawsuit that Mediacom has filed to challenge it, and the lawsuit basically alleges that the way it's being funded is improper. There'll be a little cloud hanging over that for a little bit I guess, which is disappointing, because it's a really good model. I think it deals with the concerns a lot of cities have with not wanting to offer their own services.
Christopher Mitchell: I'm going to put everyone on the spot to just ask, in one year, are we going to be excited at what the Biden administration and the new Congress accomplish in broadband, or are we just going to be frustrated? Let's assume that they're going to do something, but is it going to be something where we're excited about it or are we just going to say, "We could've done so much more and we just didn't get it done?"
Yes. I'm fully in the camp that they'll do something and it will be underwhelming.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: I think that's probably a pretty safe bet, Sean. I'm going to say they're going to do something and it's going to be maybe not as much as we all would like but it's going to be some real good forward progress. I think it's going to be robust action, whatever that ends up looking like. I feel like I'll be more optimistic at this time next year.
Christopher Mitchell: That's a good way to phrase it. Go ahead, Hannah.
Hannah Trostle: I was just going to say I'll say it'll probably leave us frustrated, so the opposite of Ry.
Michelle Andrews: I'm torn because I think that there's just a lot of other things that need to happen in the next year. Broadband is connected to a lot of those issues, and having more access will help a lot more people with those issues, but I think that this cabinet picks and the people that he's ... I think 5G is going to be where they're going to go or something like that, so we'll be a little more frustrated.
Christopher Mitchell: We almost made it through a show.
Michelle Andrews: I'm sorry. I couldn't help it. But that's where I am with my camp. I think we'll be frustrated but maybe some progress in some areas.
Christopher Mitchell: Honestly, I feel like whether I'm feeling optimistic or pessimistic a year from today, it will probably have more to do with my mental state that day than the actual legislation that's passed. But I do think I would say that ...
Christopher Mitchell: Sean's been doing great work detailing this Affordable, Accessible Internet for All Act, and it's hard for me to believe that there will be anything that ambitious that's pushed forward. I think I'm more Ry ends up, which is that it will be something that is less ambitious, but I think we very may well move the ball down the field.
Christopher Mitchell: Frankly, we're going to do what we can. We might be frustrated, but we can't determine what the Biden administration is going to do. We are going to do everything we can to work with anyone. I was just thinking I'd work with a Reuben sandwich if I thought it would result in more access. One of the things about our team is that we don't have a big ego about the work that we do. We just try to figure out how to get some things done. If the environment makes that easier, fine. If not, we'll work harder. That's how I think of it.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: I was just going to make a terrible joke about being okay with working with a Reuben sandwich even if it doesn't move the ball forward on broadband. I love a good Reuben.
You like those sandwiches?
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: Absolutely.
Christopher Mitchell: No way. It popped into my head as things I don't like.
Michelle Andrews: Whoa.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: I didn't realize I was working with an office of pessimistic, Reuben-hating people.
Michelle Andrews: I enjoy Reubens. I'm in your camp on that, Ry.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: We'll put a panini press in the office whenever we go back and we can make Reubens all day.
I like all the ingredients separately. Somehow I just don't like it all together.
Christopher Mitchell: Last show at predictions, what do we got?
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: I think we're going to see ECFiber go on a tear here. It seems like they've got a lot of momentum going on there up in the northeast, and I'm excited to see them continue. They've got a whole bunch of projects in various stages of completion. They got some CARES money to make some additional progress in places. I think it's a good time to be living in their territory.
Christopher Mitchell: Yes. They do such good work. It's exciting to see Vermont. There's multiple communications union districts popping up. I think it's exciting. I think what's happening in Maine is exciting. We're going to see new investment there I think. I'm excited about these places where people are really taking their future into their own hands, and I think ECFiber is a great model for that.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: The last question I wanted to pose to the team is, Chris, you said we might see 20 or 30 more municipal networks launch, a bunch of new electric cooperative subsidiaries launching. I'm curious if people have an idea maybe what the craziest or best name for a new broadband subsidiary will be next year, because I feel like this is an area that's ripe for terrible puns and lots of repetition and very little originality in some ways. [inaudible 00:43:58] put you all on the spot here.
That's a great question.
Christopher Mitchell: I think Pulse is an excellent name for a broadband [crosstalk 00:44:05]
I love that, Pulse.
Christopher Mitchell: Project Thor might be my favorite recently.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: Something [inaudible 00:44:12]. I wouldn't be surprised if that already has been kicked around somewhere.
Christopher Mitchell: [inaudible 00:44:16] is Next Light, which is similar.
Hannah Trostle: I was going to say Light Year.
I'm trying to think of some young person vernacular that is related to fiber in some kind of way.
Hannah Trostle: Fiber on Fleek.
Yeah, Fiber on Fleek.
Christopher Mitchell: I was trying to remember the word fleek, and then I couldn't remember it, and then my next thought was "Damn, you're old."
Yeah. Basically, when we start using those words, it means that they've no longer -
Christopher Mitchell: I can't even remember those words anymore.
They don't use them anymore.
Christopher Mitchell: I'm going to be like, "Remember those words the kids used to say?"
Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. I'm trying to think of other good examples. There's Firefly, is really great from CVEC in Virginia. There's a lot of good names out there, but I'm trying to think of something that's borderline inappropriate that I'll be unsure if I should say on the air. I can't even think of anything.
What do the kids say? It's lit.
Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. Brian Snyder is running Lit Communities, and I've long wondered if that was a name that might harm him in some quarters, although not in many states now. You've got a lot of states that are encouraging lit communities.
Michelle Andrews: I think we should have one that's just an emoji.
Christopher Mitchell: Like the Prince Network.
Michelle Andrews: Yep, or just the fire emoji, like Lit Communities but just the emoji, though, no words.
Hannah Trostle: That reminds me. The Phoenix Water Department actually uses the poop emoji as their brand mascot. I got a pen from them that's just the poop emoji.
Christopher Mitchell: I know what Sean's latest Google query is.
Christopher Mitchell: Well, I think we should wrap there. I feel like this has been a pretty good show for having six people all trying to figure out how to not talk over each other.
Michelle Andrews: I'm still struggling. Who's the sixth person, Chris?
Hannah Trostle: I've been wondering this too.
Christopher Mitchell: There's five ... Oh. I was thinking there's five people on the screen plus me, but I'm one of the people on the screen. It's been a hard week. It's been a hard year. It's been a hard month. We'll so how many people are sitting at home waiting for that sixth person to say something. Maybe our editor will figure out some way of just throwing in another voice.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: Just say the number five so she can dub it in over every time you say the word six.
Christopher Mitchell: Five. That way it'll be a totally different cadence and pace.
Michelle Andrews: If we have Katie's voice pop in, that's [crosstalk 00:46:53]
Christopher Mitchell: I feel like this is an Easter egg for people who are early on. If they make it all the way to the end, they get to figure out that I'm an idiot.
Christopher Mitchell: Well, that's a great way to end 2020, folks. We hope that 2021 is going to be great. There's been some great parts of 2020, and let's just forget everything else that's not in that set and move on, do what we can. It's been a great team to work with you all. I would like to thank you all for the great work that you do. I'm excited to make big accomplishments and changes in 2021.
Thanks, thanks, thanks. This was fun. I'm looking forward to 2021.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: Yes. Thanks for having us. This was fun.
Michelle Andrews: Yeah, good times.
Hannah Trostle: Thanks.
Christopher Mitchell: Thank you all for listening, and the next show will probably be more to the point of what you're looking for in this show, but we had fun. Take care, everyone.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: That was our end-of-the-year review and predictions episode. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at muninetworks.org/broadbandbits.
Christopher Mitchell: And we've really appreciated your being a listener. If you're never going to listen to another one of our shows, first of all, I'm surprised you're still listening right now, but we've enjoyed having you.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: Email us at email@example.com with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @communitynets.
Christopher Mitchell: It's worth it.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: Follow munitynetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @muninetworks.
Christopher Mitchell: It's all right.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: Subscribe to this and other podcasts from ILSR, including Building Local Power, Local Energy Rules, and The Composting for Community Podcast. You can access them anywhere you get your podcasts.
Christopher Mitchell: Look for the ones that I'm on.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: You can catch the latest important research from all of our initiatives if you subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. 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 Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: This was episode 440 of the Community Birdman Bits podcast. Thanks for listening.