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Speed Vs. Longevity: Rethinking How We Fund Rural Broadband - Episode 455 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast
On this episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, we're joined by Jonathan Chambers, a partner at Conexon. Conexon has helped rural electric cooperatives build fiber to the home networks since its founding five years ago.
Christopher and Jonathan talk about ideas for how to improve structuring rural broadband subsidies in a way that takes advantage of fiber infrastructure's long life. Jonathan and Chris dig into what this would mean for funding projects, and how it would change the way we think about and approach connecting rural communities in the future.
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Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.
Jonathan Chambers: I think if you're going to use public funds, you should fund things that are going to last. And by last, I mean long-life assets. Assets that will be 30 years, at least, in terms of their useful life.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: Welcome to Episode 455 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. This is Ry Marcattilio-McCracken here at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Today, we're joined by Jonathan Chambers, a partner at connects on Connexon. Connexon has helped rural electric cooperatives build Fiber-to-the-Home networks since its founding five years ago.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: In this episode, Christopher and John talk about ideas for how to improve structuring rural broadband subsidies in a way that takes best advantage of Fiber-to-the-Home networks today as systems, which to a large extent, rely on physical infrastructure that will last for decades and decades to come. Jonathan and Chris dig into what this would mean for funding projects, and how it would change the way we think about and approach connecting rural communities in the future. Now, here's Christopher talking with Jonathan.
Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Christopher Mitchell at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in St. Paul, Minnesota. Today, I'm talking with one of my favorite guests. Probably the person who's been on here the most, I think, after me, John Chambers. A partner with Connexon. Welcome back to the show, John.
Jonathan Chambers: Thank you, Chris. That's quite a distinction. If I've been here more than anyone else, maybe I've overstayed my welcome, but thanks for inviting me.
Christopher Mitchell: Oh, no. We'll have to count it up. I think there might be some competition and maybe I'll have people fighting to get on to try to get more appearances than you. That's the dynamic that I want. For people who are just finding me because of my newfound fame after the show publishes, tell us quickly about Connexon.
Jonathan Chambers: We do one thing. We work with rural electric co-ops to build last mile Fiber-to-the-Home networks in rural America. That's the only kind of network we build, Fiber-to-the-Home networks. And our objective is always the same. Build a fiber network to every single member of an electric co-op, so that every single member has access to the same levels of service at the same affordable prices.
Jonathan Chambers: We've been doing that since we were founded five years ago by my business partner, Randy Klindt. We have 50, 60 electric co-op fiber projects ongoing right now. I'd say it is a movement, not quite in the way that the 1930s were a movement in the building out electric facilities all across rural America. But I'd say it's a close cousin. There are themes that are the same. There are parallels to the electrification of America. It's a wonderfully rewarding line of work to be in.
Christopher Mitchell: Now, you and I were on a call last week, and you brought up an idea that you'd been noodling over. I think you and I talked about it a little bit. I actually just sent a note to Harold Feld, who's been on the show a few times, and Harold has long argued that we should fund infrastructure and things, physical things out in the world. Not like business models or services and things like that.
Christopher Mitchell: Frankly, I always thought it sounded good, but it sounded complicated and different and I didn't pursue it too much. And then, when you and I were in this meeting, I started trying to pin you down a little bit on it. And then, I ran it past Harold. And he was like, "I want to know more. Tell me about this. I've been talking about this for years." And so, I said, "well, let's get John on a show, and I'll try to nail them down." What is this idea?
Jonathan Chambers: It has seemed to be difficult for government agencies, state, federal, whether they're ... It doesn't almost matter what the agency is. Difficult to do a couple of things when it comes to funding rural broadband. One of the difficulties has been in defining what it is to fund, and most of the definitions revolve around speed. It's understandable.
Jonathan Chambers: People, they don't really understand speed, but at least there are numbers that they can compare, like one speed's faster than another speed, which might connote that one thing is better than another thing. Most of the discussion since broadband has been discussed as something to fund publicly has been around speed. Four megabits per second down, one meg up. 10 down, one up. 25 down, three up. 100 down, 20 up. 50 down, 10 up. A gigabit down.
Jonathan Chambers: It's always about speed. And the thing that has frustrated me and that I've argued against, and you'll see if you look at any blog posts that I write or speeches that I've given ... I often say broadband is not a speed. I never win these arguments, but it's my point. My point being broadband, since the beginning, has been about transmission media. Are you going to use copper? Are you going to use coaxial cable? Are you going to use fiber or spectrum?
Christopher Mitchell: I want to put a quick note in here, because this is something that I feel like policymakers are very nervous about. In grad school, there's this sense of, you don't want government to pick winners and losers. That's the issue, right? And so, government wants to come out and say, "Well, we're going to put fiber optics in statute." And I agree that I feel like if I'm spending my money, if I'm spending even other people's money, which I think is a higher responsibility in life, I'm saying we should spend it into fiber optics.
Christopher Mitchell: But let me just say for a second also, I can appreciate that what happens, and the reason that people have concerns about that ... As you put fiber optics in statute, if something better were to come along, you still have fiber optics in statute. These reasons aren't unreasonable, but we have to use good judgment about when to use them. In this case, I think it often results in using public money in ways that are not going to build what's in the long-term interests of the region, the community, the country, whatever.
Jonathan Chambers: That's exactly right. They're sides of the same coin. The technology or the speeds those particular transmission medium can deliver. What should you invest public money in? Which is why, also that gets wrapped around this particular axle, is this question about technological neutrality. Should the government pick?
Jonathan Chambers: Whether the term is, "Pick winners and losers", or, "Should be technologically neutral," it comes down to the same thing. And then, policymakers say, "But we need to fund. We need to define what we're going to fund." And that ends up devolving to speeds. We can't define it in terms of technology. We can't define it in terms of transmission media. Therefore, we're going to define it in terms of speed.
Jonathan Chambers: And so, here, getting back to your Harold Feld comment, I too, think the government should fund things. But the physical things shouldn't just be any physical thing. Because, once again, you'd fall into this problem of people saying, "All right, but I think we should fund a particular piece of equipment."
Christopher Mitchell: DSLAM.
Jonathan Chambers: Yeah. If you had asked the FCC what to fund in 2010, 2011, when it started spending public money on broadband? Well, the FCC ended up modeling a GPON Fiber-to-the-Home network, yet it started to fund speeds, which meant it was copper to DSLAMs. It was funding effectively more DSLAMS. You wouldn't want the government to pick that either.
Jonathan Chambers: What I think is a better approach, is public money should go for long-term infrastructure. There's a lot of talk about infrastructure bills and how you style a particular infrastructure bill and what the requirements should be. But the first requirement ... And I'll tell you, I will follow up with Harold. It's been a while since we've spoken.
Jonathan Chambers: I think if you're going to use public funds, you should fund things that are going to last. And by last, I mean long-lived assets. That will be 30 years, at least, in terms of their useful life. And if the public money is going for a long-lived assets, you've got a better chance of getting it right.
Jonathan Chambers: That is, you've got a better chance of spending the money on things that will last. Things that investors would invest in today. Specifically, of course, what's going to last for 30 years? Well, in the broadband industry, poles last for 30 plus years. Steel strand lasts for 30 plus years.
Christopher Mitchell: For people who are confused, steel strand is used between the poles to wrap the fiber around, so that it's supported.
Jonathan Chambers: When you're building aerial plant, typically you put strand between the poles and then you lash fiber. Then, the fiber itself, the glass, the fiber. Also, a 30 plus year asset. Our US rural utility service considers fiber to be 35-year asset. Corning tells me they think of it as a 40-year asset. The nation still today uses fiber that was deployed in the 1970s, so it's likely a 50-year asset.
Jonathan Chambers: It doesn't matter the specific year. It's a 30-plus year asset. Now, radio equipment or electronics. When we deploy fiber networks, you, of course, have to put in electronics. Optical line terminals, optical network terminals, core routers. None of those are 30-year assets. And I would not spend any public money on those things. Not because I don't think those things are necessary, but those are a small proportion of the total cost of the network.
Jonathan Chambers: Those things have to be replaced. In some cases, every five to seven years. In some cases, every 10 years. But they're not going to last 30 plus years. I do think that if we focused the policymakers' attention on the longevity of the assets, and let the private sector, people like me who make investments, invest our money in the short-lived assets, whatever that be. Again, radio equipment, Wi-Fi, optical network terminals, core routers, all the rest. Then, you've got a better chance of structuring a public funding program that puts the money into the right types of assets.
Christopher Mitchell: Now, would you include into that steel towers?
Jonathan Chambers: You're going to put up a tower? Sure it's not ... If somebody applies for it, and that's what they think public money should go for? Yeah, I suppose. I would structure a program around a couple of other things though. I wouldn't just spend money on whatever anybody wants. The FCC developed a couple of cost models, which are useful tools.
Christopher Mitchell: And so, for people who are not familiar, I think, no one really knows how much it costs to build an entire state. No one knows how much it costs to build the entire country. So you assemble these models that try to give you a sense, based on reasonable inputs, how much it would cost to pass a certain number of homes in certain areas.
Christopher Mitchell: These are what we call cost models to get a sense of ... If it might cost $7,000 to pass a home, you might say, "All right. Well, maybe we want to subsidize that home with $4,000." Or something like that. You're not going to pay the full cost. You've got to figure out the appropriate cost to offer as a subsidy.
Jonathan Chambers: Right. And so, the way the cost models are structured is, one of the modules of the cost model is the construction cost. Within the FCC's cost models, and again, they've got a couple of different cost models for fiber. They've got one for wireless. There are different cost models. The structure of the cost models includes the cost of construction.
Jonathan Chambers: And so, I'm not saying you should use those quite in the way the FCC uses them, which is to calculate a subsidy. I'm saying that you need something to give you a guide as to whether an application for funding is excessive. The state of New York used the FCC's cost models ... Or I think more precisely, they used the same company, CostQuest, to guide them. CostQuest had been the consultant to the FCC in developing the cost models.
Jonathan Chambers: So that when, during the New York Broadband Program, this was a $500 million program to get broadband into rural New York. Those of us who made applications for funding, well, we couldn't just say, "Hey, I need a million dollars to build a network to my house." The state of New York used the cost model to gauge whether it was a reasonable request.
Jonathan Chambers: And so, the combination, to me, of even just three tools that a government agency could use ... One, just the identification of long-lived assets. So that you can say, "Well, we will fund. We will reimburse you for your expenditure on assets with a 30-year life." And then, to be able to use a cost model as a tool.
Jonathan Chambers: You're building this network, we know what it should cost. Don't come in to us with an application that costs some multiple of that. Try to be less than what we would assume it to cost you. And then, the other tool is time.
Christopher Mitchell: Let's pause on time for a second, and we don't have to spend too long on this. But the thing about the modeling is that, you've made the case, it needs to be transparent. We've not had transparent modeling and that is a problem.
Jonathan Chambers: I think the folks at CostQuest did a terrific job in their modeling. Their modeling has now been overtaken by a lot of actual construction, and that modeling could probably be improved. You can't get access to their models, not because CostQuest is unwilling to give you access, because the FCC entered into agreements and restricts access to the information.
Jonathan Chambers: You don't want to use public tools that are not publicly accessible. At least to find out whether there could be improvements, either in the assumptions or the mechanics of the modeling. And just for the very reason that it is better to have more eyes, more minds tuned to one thing. Just to make it a better product, a better model.
Jonathan Chambers: I would do something more than just take the Connect America cost model or the alternative Connect America model. I would take a version, make it public, and allow for the public through an open source approach to make it a better version. And then, that version could be used by states and counties and the federal government itself for this kind of planning purpose.
Christopher Mitchell: And then, the last factor is time, which is my favorite. Because I feel like no one understands time, and it drives me nuts in all of these conversations.
Jonathan Chambers: I've already talked about the one element of time, which is the time of the asset life. It's not only perplexed me for a long time, but really irritated me, that folks will talk about how fast they can do something and yet the thing that they're doing isn't going to last.
Jonathan Chambers: I hear this a lot. People say, "Well, I'm going to get a network built and it's going to take me this amount of time. And it's going to be cheaper." That's the last aspect. It's going to be cheaper. It's going to be cheaper for me to put up a piece of radio equipment on a water tower. I say, "Yeah. But over what period of time?"
Christopher Mitchell: There is an assumption that, because it will be cheaper, it will cost less to the residents to purchase services. And we have not seen that be true.
Jonathan Chambers: Right. If it were really less expensive to build a fixed wireless network than a fiber network, then you should see that reflected in the cost to the consumer. Let me say that again. It isn't cheaper if the price to the end user is more expensive. Man, this is really simple business and economics. It isn't cheaper for SpaceX to put up a lot of satellites if the price that they're charging is more expensive than the price charged by people who deploy fiber networks.
Jonathan Chambers: It isn't cheaper. The way I know it isn't cheaper is because, when you amortize the life of a fiber asset over 30 years, and then price your service so that you can recover your depreciation expense, your maintenance expense, all of that ... Guess what? We price our services less expensively for a gigabit symmetrical service or a 100 megabit symmetrical service.
Jonathan Chambers: It is less expensive to build Fiber-to-the-Home to every single rural home in the country than any other technology, as long as you consider time in your calculation. Now, the other part of time that I raise though, isn't the amount of time of the assets. It's the amount of time it takes to build the network. To me, the fundamental mistake of a lot of the programs, the FCC's program, for example, is that they give a lot of time for somebody to prove out whether they've actually built something.
Jonathan Chambers: The milestones for the FCC's program occur at years three, four, and five. And then, another milestone at either year six or eight. Year eight. That's how long you have in order to fulfill your requirements to the FCC. Now, the reason for that has to do with the way the FCC is permitted to raise funds and to spend funds. They have 10-year life cycles, more or less. It isn't the FCC's fault at all. It's a budgeting thing.
Jonathan Chambers: A better way, and this is closer to the way the New York Broadband Program was set up, and it is exactly the way the Mississippi Cares Act Project was set up. You say to folks, "I'm giving you one a year," or, "I'm giving you four months," in the case of Mississippi. You apply for that which you can build in a short period of time. If you built it, you get reimbursed. And then, you could get funded again.
Christopher Mitchell: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jonathan Chambers: The way the New York program was set up, and I had a small role in doing it, was in phases. It said, "You can apply for what you can build right now and you're going to have a year." And then, you can apply in the next phase. And then, you can apply in the third phase.
Jonathan Chambers: If you structure a program to say, "You're going to have six months. That's all the time you have. You have six months." Guess what happens? People don't apply for things which would, of course, take them years and years to do, and which you only find out whether they did after years and years. People self-regulate. Applicants self-regulate as to how much they're applying for.
Jonathan Chambers: They only apply for that which they can do. Because they know if they don't accomplish it, they not only don't get reimbursed, they don't get a second bite at that funding apple. It is better to set these up in terms of increments, where those who keep building can continue to get additional increments of funding, than it is to try to do it all in one big bite.
Christopher Mitchell: I really like that approach, because it encourages a decentralized and distributed approach as well. You're not penalizing the smaller entities for being smaller. Because are they expected to quadruple their size if they get a grant of this size? Probably not. They're going to do something that's within their scope.
Christopher Mitchell: But as you get more toward the FCC, you're incenting private equity to get involved and try to roll up a bunch of stuff. To be able to try to build, not as rapidly as possible, but in order to try to maximize the award. And then, try to figure out how to slap it together, I feel like. And so, this approach that you're proposing is better for competition. It's better for the kind of economy that we want with smaller entities involved, I think.
Jonathan Chambers: The beauty of the every six months approach is, from a regulator standpoint, from the oversight of the government agency spending the money, it's easier. You're not asking for results some years from now, and then gauging whether somebody produced or not. If you're doing these in six-month increments, then you get the receipts. You get to see whether somebody built 100 miles or 200 or 300 miles. Or, again, whatever their technology is, you get to see.
Jonathan Chambers: And then, if it were something ... You asked, "Well, could it fund steel towers?" You don't have to wait three or four years to see whether the thing that somebody deployed is capable of delivering a service. You can say, "Well, your application said that you would deliver service within six months to all of these places. Can you do it or not?" And if you can't do it, maybe that's the end of your funding.
Jonathan Chambers: If you can do it, and it helps in terms of ... It's the case in a lot of places, in life and in spending, it's easier to do these things in pieces than it is to do it ... You might have a whole plan. But for the folks who are responsible for deciding whether the applicant can meet the plan, they may not have the ability to consider, "All right, it's 1,000, 2,000, 4,000 mile plan."
Jonathan Chambers: They may not be able to judge that, but they can sure judge whether within six months you build 300 miles. It's a very different level than a review of accounting, of auditing. And it allows for far more public confidence that the money is going to the places it was meant to go.
Jonathan Chambers: Because if you were supposed to build in a particular place, and the public there knows, then they're going to know that within six months. You get this with the RDOF auction results right now. You could say to people as an RDOF recipient. When you get the funds, you can say, "Well, I've got eight years to get to you. I have a plan, but my plan is to get to you sometime in the next eight years."
Christopher Mitchell: To be clear, for people who are confused, from the money that RDOF starts arriving in the ISP's bank accounts, they have six years. But they can apply for a two-year extension, I think.
Jonathan Chambers: No, it depends on whether the population in the area where you receive funds was greater in 2020 than it was in 2010. If it's greater in 2020 than it was in 2010, you got eight years.
Christopher Mitchell: I want to move on. Another benefit of the six-month is it's less complicated. I want to talk briefly about, about how this might apply to cities. In terms of what Biden is talking about, what Congress is likely to talk about, in terms of long-term incentives. My sense is that, hopefully people will listen to this conversation and maybe think about how to restructure this spending.
Christopher Mitchell: Because I feel like there's still a lot of openness in terms of how to really make sure this money, if we're talking about on the order of 100 billion dollars, making sure that money is spent effectively. But I heard from my city, St. Paul, this sense of, "Well, maybe we're not going to spend any of the Rescue Plan money on broadband. Maybe we'll wait to see what happens with the infrastructure money?"
Christopher Mitchell: And my response was twofold. It was to say, "Hey, infrastructure money. Do you remember when Senator Kennedy died and it significantly changed President Obama's Presidency?" We may not have an infrastructure bill if something horrible happens to a Democratic Senator, being that it's a 50 vote margin right now. Or a zero vote margin, I guess, would be the proper way to say that.
Christopher Mitchell: And then, second piece is, if there is an infrastructure bill that has a significant amount for broadband, which is certainly the intention of a lot of people that I like and trust in DC ... We don't know that St. Paul, an urban area, is going to be involved. The language today from Representative Clyburn certainly would include much of St. Paul, but I have a sense that that language may well change.
Christopher Mitchell: And so, I want to put it to you. How are you thinking about this? And you can just laugh openly if you'd like, at the idea that a city that Comcast runs by everyone's house with a service, would be eligible for money from this Congress. Because I feel like there's a lot of doubt from folks as to whether or not that will happen.
Jonathan Chambers: Yeah. It isn't the first place I'd spend money ...
Christopher Mitchell: Actually, that reminds me. This is how I was going to put it to you also. Because you and I both know if they want to spend 100 billion dollars on broadband, there's just not that much money in rural America. There's just not that many spaces left. People in DC think ... Senators, their staff, they think that there are entire towns in rural America that don't have anything.
Christopher Mitchell: They don't understand, A, how much progress has been made, but, B, the nature of the areas that are left and how much it will cost to fix them. Particularly, when you subtract out money that is already earmarked for those areas from federal programs.
Christopher Mitchell: You know this. And I've just sort of laid it out quickly for people, so you don't have to go over it. But there's not a lot of money for non-urban areas. If we spend all the money on all the rural areas, there's still a lot leftover. It's got to go to some urban area somewhere.
Jonathan Chambers: Well, I do think that to get fiber to every single rural home, if done efficiently, it would cost between 20 and 30 billion dollars.
Christopher Mitchell: Beyond the RDOF?
Jonathan Chambers: Beyond the RDOF.
Christopher Mitchell: Thank you.
Jonathan Chambers: Yes. And since the money tends not to be spent efficiently, the government will probably spend something more than that. But spending 80 to 100 billion dollars just in rural America? That's hard for me to see. I would spend the money a little bit differently, and in an important way, though. I think it's vital that the government not use its position either to confirm monopolies through the past doings, franchises, and study areas and things that guarantee a monopoly to a provider. Or to confirm monopolies with money.
Jonathan Chambers: Over the last 25 years, the federal government and state governments have done more than their share at ensuring that certain areas of the country only have one provider, because they only spend the money on one provider. While to some people it's, I don't know, blasphemy to suggest that money should go in the same geographic area to multiple providers, that's how I do it to ensure competition.
Jonathan Chambers: What I'm getting at is, I think there should be infrastructure funding. I think that infrastructure funding should go towards long-term assets, as I described before. But I think, in addition, to ensure that those same areas are not left with one provider for the next some number of decades, there should be something of the nature of a portable subsidy that goes to the provider of service to individual households in high cost areas.
Jonathan Chambers: Individual households in high cost areas. That's basically what the statute, the Communications Act, says should happen. High cost areas. That would preserve a competitive element to broadband for the decades to come, and it would do a lot towards ensuring that we don't just repeat the same problems of the past.
Christopher Mitchell: How long would that last? Because this is where my particular brand of fiscal responsibility ... I don't want to see open-ended commitments for operating subsidies indefinitely.
Jonathan Chambers: Yeah. There have been subsidies in the telecom industry for 100 years. I guess, 115, now? Whatever. I think you can decrease those subsidies. I think they would be part of the FCC's normal system, and it would go back more towards the way subsidies were, which was on a per subscriber basis. I think they could become, not nominal, but they could become a smaller element.
Jonathan Chambers: I would decrease the overall size of the FCC spending programs. That is, I would use the CapEx money to replace the monies that are collected and spent through the FCC's programs and reduce those. But I think it's important to use ongoing subsidies for competition purposes, for OpEx. They don't have to be the levels. But subsidies in rural areas of some sort or another, and subsidies for people of limited means for low income residents of the country, those are ongoing support systems.
Jonathan Chambers: And while I'm all for trying to establish an affordability benchmark, something that you can't find that anywhere, what is affordable? I know you and I had this conversation the other day. I don't think you'd give subsidies through a program like Lifeline before you define what an affordable broadband service is.
Jonathan Chambers: If you think broadband is 100 meg down, 100 meg up, like in the Clyburn Bill or the other ... If you think that's what it is, well, you tell me what affordable is before you define whether your subsidies should be $50 or $9.25, which are the two benchmarks that are now used. But they're used as a subsidy.
Jonathan Chambers: They don't say affordable broadband is $30 or $34.95 or $46 or anything. You got to tell me what that is. And I think the ongoing subsidies for certain categories ... "High cost areas and low income Americans," that's what it says in the statute. You want to do something different? Change the statute.
Christopher Mitchell: It's a very good argument. It's hard to argue against, but let me just say, we should change the statute. We should be putting money into areas. It's 25 years after the Telecommunications Act has passed. We have achieved robust competition in the voice space. We've actually achieved pretty remarkable competition in the television space of moving images.
Christopher Mitchell: We have gone backwards, tremendously backwards, in the broadband competition space from what we had when that act was passed. And I feel like after 25 years, it's pretty clear we need to do something significantly different. For me, that would be municipal open access infrastructure that has a low cost component built into it.
Jonathan Chambers: Yeah. Look, I'm not one to step away from an argument.
Christopher Mitchell: I've already told you, we're almost out of time.
Jonathan Chambers: Oh, the time? I'll just say this. Where I work, open access doesn't work. That's not to say it wouldn't work in urban areas. It's just not my fight. I get the argument. I understand. And I'm not against the municipal system getting a vote of its citizenry to issue a bond and to build a fiber network.
Jonathan Chambers: I think it works a little bit better if you're a municipal electric system. And you have a smart grid, a distributed generation, distributed energy resource, some rationale for building a fiber network. And then, you lease excess capacity to those. It can be in an open access format, I guess. I'm not against it. It's just not my thing.
Christopher Mitchell: Well, I still enjoyed the chance to throw it out there. It's been great talking to you, John.
Jonathan Chambers: Thank you, Chris.
Christopher Mitchell: I am quite hopeful about this. I think, for a lot of people, they've never even thought about the modeling aspect. And so, as we finish up, I just want to hit back on this one more time, which is focusing on long-term assets. Learning, iterating, short time periods. Using open transparent modeling to make sure we're able to correct these errors.
Jonathan Chambers: Let me add one addendum to the open source, open access modeling, and say it should be open source, open access mapping as well. Currently, the commission's plan on mapping is the same as its plan on modeling. Using proprietary information that's not open to the public, not reviewable, not knowable. The people working on it, man, are best in the business. I admire the people. It's just not open.
Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, I haven't verified this myself, but my GIS and data person, Michelle, told me this morning that the new FCC data dropped. And every single part of Michigan has 10 gigabit symmetrical service. So, A, Michigan's been doing really good work through the Moonshot. But we can do better on the mapping. That's for sure. Proven, once again, QED.
Jonathan Chambers: Yeah. If you hear the word referred to in the mapping, the new mapping, the data mapping, you hear the word, "fabric," being used. Just know that they're using a fabric that is not open and available to the public to review. Again, same thing with the modeling. The modeling, the mapping.
Jonathan Chambers: In order to decide ... Now, people can have their own maps. I don't care about that. But if you're spending public money based on a private model and a private map? You're making a mistake. That really needs to be fixed. It also shouldn't take a year to do all of this.
Jonathan Chambers: We ought to be able to do an open source, public facing, mapping, and modeling program that everybody can can use as a tool, so that state doesn't have to create its own tool. And the FCC isn't in the position of ... They're not hiding the data for nefarious reasons. It's just their normal way of approaching all of this. It's an expert agency. It should lend its expertise, but it should open everything up.
Christopher Mitchell: Thank you, John. I think this has been really fun.
Jonathan Chambers: Always great to talk to you, Chris. Thanks very much.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: That was Christopher talking with Jonathan Chambers. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at muninetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email us at email@example.com with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @communitynets. Follow muninetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @muninetworks.
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. You can catch the latest important research from all of our initiatives if you subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ilsr.org.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: While you're there, please take a moment to donate. Your support in any amount keeps us going. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song, Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons. This was Episode 455 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Thanks for listening.