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Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 337
This is the transcript for episode 337 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. It's the end of the year, so that means it's time for our annual predictions podcast. In this episode, we review what we got right — and wrong — about 2018, and we make some new predictions for the upcoming year. Listen to the full episode here.
Lisa Gonzalez: It's 2019.
Christopher Mitchell: No, it isn't! Almost 2019.
Lisa Gonzalez: Have you started your presidential campaign yet? If you haven't, you're behind.
Christopher Mitchell: I was really fearful that we would already be knee deep in people that were, you know, arguing over the next president, but we've mostly avoided that. So that's something I'm incredibly thankful for in this moment.
Lisa Gonzalez: Something else to be thankful [for] is the prediction show from the Community Broadband Bits podcast, and here it is!
Christopher Mitchell: Wait a minute, wait a minute. I actually think it's the Community Broadband Bits podcast.
Lisa Gonzalez: Right you are Chris, and this year we have two new voices.
Christopher Mitchell: Yes. We're very excited to be welcoming into the studio the new voice of Jess. Jess Del Fiacco, welcome to the show.
Jess Del Fiacco: Happy to finally be on.
Christopher Mitchell: And we also have Katie Kienbaum. Welcome to the show.
Katie Kienbaum: Thanks.
Christopher Mitchell: We're missing Nick and Hannah, although we may have a special little presentation from them, just in recognition for their many years of service and how much we miss them. But we're gonna talk about what happened in the last year, what we thought was gonna happen, and then some of what we think will be happening next year.
Lisa Gonzalez: If you haven't heard one of our prediction shows before, it's a prediction show. However, it's also a review show because we always like to review the predictions we made for the prior year.
Christopher Mitchell: I predict some of our predictions will have been wrong.
Lisa Gonzalez: I predict you're correct.
Christopher Mitchell: The one that I wanted to start off with was that I made the bold prediction "No good will come of the FCC," and I was wrong. Which, I did not expect to be wrong, but I think that the CAF II reverse auction had a lot of good coming from it. It set some really important, really good precedents. So let's start with a moment of praise for something the FCC got right before we really start to trash them.
Lisa Gonzalez: Yay.
Christopher Mitchell: And in particular, if people are interested in that, the show that we did with Jon Chambers from Conexon that discusses the CAF II auction. I think we did it in September or October. I think that was one of our best shows of the year. The FCC, you know, that was sort of a joke that we did about "no good will come of it." I mean, obviously there's other things that are important that have been done. There's a number of things that I find frustrating, but we're not going to dwell on those things. Let's jump into the barriers discussion. Where Lisa was wrong, just —
Lisa Gonzalez: I was so wrong.
Christopher Mitchell: So wrong, despite having snuck through the previous year with a correct guess.
Lisa Gonzalez: That's right. And Chris predicted there would be fewer than five bills introduced at the state level that would be harmful to municipal broadband efforts, and he was correct.
Christopher Mitchell: And it's worth noting because there was a number of people that we respect who I think were right to sound the alarm that we could face many more bills given the many state legislatures that flipped to being much more conservative. And historically, it has been conservative legislators that have tried to preempt cities from building networks.
Lisa Gonzalez: I think it's also important to point out, Chris, that you are also correct, in that —
Christopher Mitchell: I agree. I don't even know what you're going to say, but you're so right.
Lisa Gonzalez: — in that you thought that there would be bills introduced to help local communities. And there was a bill introduced in California —
Christopher Mitchell: We won!
Lisa Gonzalez: Yes — that allows the community service districts to build municipal broadband networks. And in the past, they were allowed to do that, but if somebody else wanted to offer services over that infrastructure, they were obligated to sell that infrastructure.
Christopher Mitchell: Right, and our understanding is that there are at least a few that are looking into their options and could move forward. This is — it's very exciting. Many thanks to assembly member Ed Chau who pushed that bill, who was a champion for it, made it happen. There was no opposition from the usual forces that we were afraid might. I think we may see less of a push continuing into 2019. My first prediction, I guess, we'll see less of a push as the bigger carriers I think are more fighting over urban and suburban areas rather than worrying about rural areas.
Lisa Gonzalez: Right.
Christopher Mitchell: There was one other exciting development as well, which was Washington State eased some of the restrictions as well, which was on port authorities I believe. And I believe Kitsap has an emergency authority to offer retail services if necessary in some parts of its network.
Lisa Gonzalez: So then what about for this year, predictions for this year, as far as municipal broadband bills — for or against?
Christopher Mitchell: Well, I think we're quite concerned. I mean we've already seen old fan favorite Representative Hoitenga in Michigan pushing a bill that would try to make some broadband subsidies available but not available to municipalities. So there's still some movement in Michigan from her to try to harm municipal networks. We're fearful that we'll see some activity in Virginia. So I don't think it will be zero. I'm quite confident to stay below five. I don't think that's a very challenging prediction. I'm going to say we're going to see three or less.
Lisa Gonzalez: I agree. I would say that's a safe number.
Christopher Mitchell: Aw!
Lisa Gonzalez: I know. Well I can't go higher. I mean, I do have to stick with some common sense here, you know.
Christopher Mitchell: So let me our two new voices starting with Katie. You know, we're talking about these preemption bills. You haven't really been involved in a preemption fight yet. What's your sense when you've been working at this for more than six months now, in terms of the threat of the big carriers trying to preempt cities. Is it something that you worry about?
Katie Kienbaum: I worry about it, but I guess I'm more expecting that the big carriers will try to maintain the status quo in a lot of areas too instead of pushing for new preemption regulation or preemption bills — that they'll just try to keep it difficult or inconvenient for municipalities to build their own networks.
Christopher Mitchell: Sure. Yeah. I think that's what we're seeing.
Jess Del Fiacco: And I would essentially agree with Katie. I think if nothing else, it's pretty bad press for the big incumbents to make a move like that and they're going to avoid it when they can.
Christopher Mitchell: I've always secretly felt, like, annoyed when we had to deal with those bills, but man, it was nice because it was our best press months were in those months that we were being attacked.
Jess Del Fiacco: Oh yeah. Because it's us taking on the empire, right?
Christopher Mitchell: Exactly. Yeah. Related to that, we had a prediction from Hannah last year that we would see more state legislation to help co-ops expand in rural areas. I don't think that really happened, although we are seeing a discussion in Mississippi that maybe they should do that and I would think that probably it will happen.
Lisa Gonzalez: I think that's correct. However, this year I'm pretty confident that right now in Mississippi, there is a bill out that will change the law that will allow co-ops to offer broadband service because the way the law is written right now, this is the only state in the union that doesn't allow electric co-ops to offer broadband service. And we wrote about that recently.
Christopher Mitchell: Which again, I've tweeted about this a fair amount — and there's nothing better than a podcast host talking about tweets — but this is a very easy challenge under section 253 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. If the co-ops actually wanted to do this, they've had a route. It's a very easy case to say federal law does not allow you to stop us, as private institutions, from serving Internet access if we'd like to. They've just chosen not to do that. So to some extent, Katie, I think, you and I have talked about this before, but there is, I think a tendency of people in power to say, "Oh, I would love to make that investment, but I just can't. I'm not allowed to, so you can't blame me if I don't do it.
Katie Kienbaum: Yeah, I think, especially with a lot of the rural electric cooperatives, especially the smaller ones in small towns, you know, they have a lot of potential for creating this great change and bringing broadband to their members, but they also are a source of entrenched local power in a place where there's not a lot of outlets for that. So I think they can be, like most utilities, really risk adverse but also just kind of lazy. I don't know if that's too strong to say, but um —
Christopher Mitchell: Let's talk about this briefly because you have real experience with this. And this is not in any way to minimize the importance of electric co-ops, the way that they have done a tremendous job historically of providing this difficult infrastructure in areas that are difficult to serve, but there are some trends among some co-ops often in areas, I think more like in the Appalachians, for instance, we've seen it a fair amount, where you were working before you came here. But tell us a little bit about what you saw with that because I think there is a sense — and we're going to talk about our prediction [of] how many co ops would be offering services this year — you know, there's a sense that a lot of them are getting on board, but some of them continue to resist very strongly despite the fact their communities seem to be greatly harmed by not having the service.
Katie Kienbaum: So a of the co-ops kind of — I don't know if I'd say a lot, I don't know if I can really put a number on it.
Christopher Mitchell: More than one.
Katie Kienbaum: [laughs] More than one. Multiple, one may say, co-ops kind of just want to keep doing what they've always been doing, which is provide electric service often at a reasonable cost to their members, which is great, but a lot of them don't want to branch out, try broadband. Ideally, their members would be able to influence that by talking to their representatives at the co-op, voting for new board members at the co-op, but in certain areas — you know, you see it in the Appalachians, I think in the southeast in general, co-ops may not be as democratic as they're supposed to be and they may have barriers in place for voting and sometimes they have really crazy voting systems. Some co-ops make it really difficult for folks to vote and for their vote to be counted. So I think we're going to see probably some co-ops that give up after extended member pressure to bring better broadband. But I think that's gonna be a struggle, and I think just making the way as easy as possible for co-ops to deploy broadband and not have any concerns about its legality is a really good thing for legislators to consider.
Christopher Mitchell: Right. And I should say as well that even though we strongly believe that those cases are easy, that these co-ops don't have a ton of extra resources to go hiring lawyers and get opinions and that sort of thing. We're going to stick on rural for a couple more minutes because we made a prediction that more than 100 of the electric co-ops would be offering fiber service by the end of the year. We've got little less than — a little more than two weeks left. Katie, are we gonna make it?
Katie Kienbaum: No.
Christopher Mitchell: So I was wrong, but more importantly, Hannah was really wrong, so I can feel better about myself. Hannah predicted more than 150.
Katie Kienbaum: Yeah. So I think the real number is probably about about 68 electric cooperatives are currently providing service to at least one person. Um, I think there's probably about another 20 that have announced that they're going to begin providing service or have started construction of a fiber network but haven't started servicing their members yet.
Christopher Mitchell: What are you thinking for next year. You got 12 more months, what number are you going to stick on?
Katie Kienbaum: I might go for . . . 90? That sounds really sad.
Christopher Mitchell: No, I'm going to say 150. I think we're gonna see a continued resurgence, and I think we're going to see a bold construction period here and, you know, I think we'll have 150 who will be serving a member or be very close to that, I think I might say. There's a little bit of wiggle room, but you can't blame a co-op in Pennsylvania that is ready to put the shovel in the ground but can't in November. So that's where I would stick it. And either one of you want to jump in, Lisa or Jess?
Lisa Gonzalez: I think that your number of 150 is way too high. I think that those 20 projects that Katie mentioned are going to be done and will be serving people. And there may be a few more, but I think the process is too long and cumbersome for many more to have already started serving people.
Christopher Mitchell: I think that's a good critique. I think there's many more than 20, we just don't know about them, who are working their way down that pipeline.
Lisa Gonzalez: It's very possible.
Christopher Mitchell: So yeah, I'm going to be bold, and I'm no stranger to being wrong in these predictions.
Lisa Gonzalez: Boy, ain't that true.
Christopher Mitchell: So the last piece is, and this is my favorite prediction from last year — Lisa, do you know which one I'm talking about?
Lisa Gonzalez: The network neutrality one?
Christopher Mitchell: No, no.
Lisa Gonzalez: The cities one?
Christopher Mitchell: No, my quote was that the federal government would tell rural America —
Lisa Gonzalez: Oh yeah, yeah — that rural Americans could suck it.
Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, and I would stand by that. I think the federal government has told rural America, in not as many words, you can suck it.
Lisa Gonzalez: And they've done that in so many things, not only broadband.
Christopher Mitchell: Right, and so I think this is one of those things. A lot of people, when Donald trump was becoming president, they had this hope that — many people who voted for him in rural areas did it because they had a sense that no one was looking out for them, they would take a big gamble, and Donald Trump and the people around him immediately forgot about them, about rural America, to the extent that they ever really cared about them. And I think this is really embodied in a program that was passed this year that we critiqued that was gonna give the USDA more money to get out to the most underserved areas. I think it was $700 million dollars or so was appropriated. None of that money is available yet, and from what I understand, they don't even know what the rules are going to be. Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget for the Trump administration basically said, "Yeah, we're not in a hurry to disperse this. You know, we're developing the rules but USDA still has mone, they haven't gotten out the door, so, you know, we don't really care that much about it." And I think that's the attitude of the federal government, frankly. There's a lot of good people in the federal government, you know, whether are Democrats or Republicans, whether they're Trump republicans or the sort of historic Republicans or whatever. They do care about rural America, but as a whole, the federal government is not doing much to increase the quality of life or the economic opportunities in rural America.
Katie Kienbaum: But aren't they trying to appropriate even more money for the USDA grant, in addition to the money they have that they haven't spent?
Christopher Mitchell: No, I think congress is trying to make some more money available, but it has to go through this whole process at USDA in order to be spent. But there is a bottleneck in the agencies, and federal government is not doing much. I mean, there's no real hearings on it. Frankly, the way in which the Republican Party has tried to hold the executive branch accountable is incredibly frustrating. I've said this before, and this is getting a little bit on a rant but I think it's worth saying, are the founders of our country envisioned presidents like Donald Trump. They did not envision a congress that would refuse to hold a president accountable for his actions or for the actions of the executive branch. The failure of our country right now is squarely in the legislative branch. And so that's where I think we should be frustrated. But at any rate, rural America continues to be ignored and let's hope that that gets better. Jess, do you wanna jump in?
Jess Del Fiacco: Yeah, I just wanted to add that I do think people are just sort of shocked and appalled at the way the federal government has treated them, especially people in rural areas. And that is really bringing the focus back to, you know, what people can do with local movements and I think broadband is going to be a big part of that.
Christopher Mitchell: Yes. And so this is one of the things that we're tackling and as we move into more of our predictions for next year, I think it's worth noting that I thought that we'd see more organizing at this point. I myself have failed, in terms of a hope that we had with the Broadband and Beers. I know that several of you have worked hard on getting that ready. We have not actually launched it or are tried to make this more of a movement. But we are seeing more organizing. I'm just not as much as I'd hoped we'd see at the local level.
Katie Kienbaum: Why do you think that is?
Christopher Mitchell: Well I think in part because people are distracted by a lot of other issues. These things do tend to be a little bit slow moving and people like me need to actually make it easier for people to jump in, get informed, get inspired and that sort of thing. And so that's our job and I think we're going to try and do better at it in 2019.
Jess Del Fiacco: Broadband and Beers coming soon.
Christopher Mitchell: Yes. Lisa, you were wrong about AT&T and Time Warner. You said that they would just walk away.
Lisa Gonzalez: Yep. I was wrong.
Christopher Mitchell: It's exciting though. The Department of Justice has stood up and said, "We're going to fight for this,' that Judge Leon got so much wrong in that awful decision in allowing them to merge. The Department of Justice is fighting on, and it's actually, I think in some ways, a continuing sign of the way in which the courts have been corrupted by the power of big corporations because the Department of Justice is basically like, this is gonna be awful for everyone if we allow these companies to merge. And the courts are kind of like, as I used to say, you've got to find a leprechaun riding on a unicorn before we'll accept your arguments because you haven't riden that camel through the eye of the needle yet to demonstrate the case you have to make.
Lisa Gonzalez: I guess the desire for a mega-conglomerate was just stronger than I expected it to be.
Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. Well, I mean if I was AT&T I would certainly be pushing on because the courts are basically saying no, the Department of Justice hasn't proven that this will end the world, and even though it will probably inconvenience just about everyone and raise prices and really harm the overall market, the law doesn't say we can stop it for those reasons.
Lisa Gonzalez: So along those lines, you had predicted there would be more consolidation and you were —
Christopher Mitchell: You're going to pick on me now.
Lisa Gonzalez: No, you were right.
Christopher Mitchell: No, I was wrong. I predicted five.
Lisa Gonzalez: I guess maybe I don't remember part. I just remembered you had said there were more.
Christopher Mitchell: Well, yeah, we were deeply disappointed to see Opelika is privatizing. I understand why. The state legislature refused to allow them to expand to serve their neighbors.
Lisa Gonzalez: Yeah, they've pretty much been a target since they started.
Christopher Mitchell: Right. From what we can tell, they've certainly been successful in achieving what they want to, but they need to serve their neighbors. Their region needs better access, and the state will not let them serve outside of their boundaries. And as we know with these networks, if you can expand, the economics looks a lot better. And frankly, we need these networks to be able to expand because their neighbors need better service.
Lisa Gonzalez: So in terms of predictions for privatization, what do we expect to happen? Do you think that we'll get more this year?
Christopher Mitchell: I do think we'll have a few more; I don't think we'll have a lot more. You know, I think what we're seeing from HBC, the private company that was bought by Shurz and consolidation is a bit concerning. It's still a company that, from what we can tell, really wants to meet its mission. But we're sensing that there's interference from the larger entity that owns it now, and that's deeply concerning. I think, again, our job will be to make that clear to people that if you sell your network and lose local control that you're going to suffer. And that's something that we're seeing more of — is that understanding. When I see people, the arguments that they're making for municipal broadband now, that argument is changing. I'm really curious to get a reaction from Jess and Katie on this who are a bit newer to it. But you know, when I see the arguments people are making for municipal broadband, it's not just, "Oh, our speeds are too slow." I see net neutrality, which we'll talk about in a minute, I see concerns about customer service, prices, and just this general idea of local control seems to come up more and more.
Jess Del Fiacco: Yeah, I would definitely agree. And I think the customer service is actually a big aspect that I've just noticed in a lot of stories in the past couple of months that people are really, really mad at the service they're getting from Comcast. Not just prices and not just speeds, but that, you know, you're just getting that "they don't care about you" attitude and people don't want to live with that.
Christopher Mitchell: Rightnd, a I think we're going to see more of that, Jess, just stick with this for a second, because I think we're gonna have more people hitting their caps. You know, my family, we have a 4K tv. I've wanted one for so long. We finally got one this year, and now every Netflix stream is 25 Megabits rather than five Megabits a second, and that adds up. My family was already on the order of 500 to 600 gigabytes of data per month. I'm guessing we're going to be over 800, closing in on that Comcast cap. [We] may have to switch to a business service that doesn't have a cap. But I think we're gonna see more Americans coming up close to that cap and then they're just gonna be more frustrated at these carriers.
Katie Kienbaum: I agree. I think, you know, a lot of people, it's not just — especially in maybe medium-sized towns and smaller towns that do have service from a telephone company and a cable company, I see a lot of stories mentioning just wanting to have options and wanting to have, you know, good local service.
Lisa Gonzalez: I think you guys are completely correct when it comes to customer service as being one of the issues that rankle people the most. Oh, as an example, here at ILSR, we had a situation that went on for 96 days regarding customer service, and that was when we were trying to get a phone cord for one of our phones from CenturyLink.
Christopher Mitchell: Specifically a power cord.
Lisa Gonzalez: That's correct. A power cord. And if you'd like to read about it, you should read about it. It's on MuniNetworks. And we got caught up in a maze of customer service. We finally got some traction and some results when we took it to Twitter, and even then —
Christopher Mitchell: For like, the third time.
Lisa Gonzalez: Yes. And even then it was difficult to get any sort of help, and we had to go to the escalation team in order to get help then too. So it's not just, you know, Jane and John Doe in their home without any help. It's —
Christopher Mitchell: It's us. It's us with business class service. I mean, we're sitting here with fiber, we've got fiber in our office, and in part to pay for it we got the voice service which all penciled out to something that we could work out on. But the fiber service is great. We have no complaints. CenturyLink is doing a great job. 100 Megabits symmetrical. Having that extra upload is everything we hoped it would be. It makes a difference. It's wonderful, but it's a reminder that it's not just about the technology because we don't want just the technology. We're waiting for US Internet to bring their fiber here, which with any luck will be next year. At that point, we'll be able to have both the fiber but a good company that actually is responsive. You know, with a company that's local, whether it's municipally owned or privately owned, but if it's in the community, I could have gone there to get the cord, right? They know where that stuff is. It's not like I'm talking to somebody who's in South Carolina who's trying to get a warehouse in Colorado to ship out something and people in Washington state are getting in the way. I mean, you know, there were times when I felt like the CenturyLink employees were more frustrated than we were because of their inability to solve this issue.
Lisa Gonzalez: Yes, because they said that what we should do is buy it off eBay.
Christopher Mitchell: Right. They did at one point. I think maybe they suggested Amazon as well. Here's my prediction regarding net neutrality. I think Disney's going to introduce this streaming service next year. That's not a prediction. That's something that everyone's expecting. And I think they'll be announcing deals with like Comcast and Spectrum where if you sign up for that streaming service — maybe it will be billed through Comcast, maybe it'll be billed directly to Disney — but it won't count against your cap. I mean, already Comcast did this thing where they called me up and they were like, "Hey, you know, for an extra, like, $7 or something, we'll give you this streaming stuff and Cloud DVR." And I asked them, I was like, well can I use Chromecast? And the guy said yes — turned out to be a lie. And so I can watch certain programs now using an Internet connection, using my computer or phone or other devices, and those do not count against my cap. And so I think we're gonna see more of these sorts of games, and I think it's going to squeeze Netflix. Here's the key point: when that is announced, if it is, I think you see Netflix's share price drop and there you see the economic harm from not having these policies, from basically having AT&T and Comcast take over the market because there are no protections from the federal government. So that's a prediction that I think we'll see at the end of 2019.
Lisa Gonzalez: Okay. We'll check that when it happens.
Christopher Mitchell: Hey folks, there's a few days left before the end of the year, and that's a few more days in which you could send us a check. We really appreciate and need your help to keep us going. We're a nonprofit 501(c)(3), which means that it's tax deductible because we engage in education; we tend not to do direct lobbying. And so, you know, as a nonprofit organization, we really depend on people to support us so that we can keep our doors open. And even, you know, it's one of those things where you might be thinking, "Oh, is this amount of money really going to be helpful?" Yes, it is, because when our funders see us getting more small donations — our big funders like the Ford Foundation, for instance — when they see that we're supported by by people who are using our resources, that helps them to know that we're a smart investment. So please do make some contribution. You can go to ILSR.org/donate. That's ILSR.org/donate. And we really appreciate any support you can give us. You know, additionally, you can also really make sure all your friends are aware of our work, our resources, our podcasts, things like that. Spread us around on social media. Please do what you can to help us win in 2019. Thank you so much. And now, back to the predictions.
Christopher Mitchell: Let's talk about digital equity. Jess, what do you see happening?
Jess Del Fiacco: So digital equity, I think it's going to continue to kind of grow as a movement as, you know, more and more people acknowledge that broadband is a universal need for everyone, just like electricity. We need it.
Christopher Mitchell: Jess, let me ask you, how does this set it apart from maybe in previous years? I mean, I feel like we could have made that prediction every way. What do you see specifically happening, or what's going to manifest from that?
Jess Del Fiacco: I think it's going to be broader support for municipal networks. Speaker 2: So you think people will increasingly build municipal networks for digital equity reasons? Because historically, people have built them for jobs, for economic development reasons.
Jess Del Fiacco: Yeah, that's what I think. I think it's just expanding the argument for them.
Christopher Mitchell: Great. I really hope that's what happens. I think that's a good prediction.
Katie Kienbaum: For example, Chris just did an interview with some folks out of Portland, Oregon who are organizing for a municipal network. One of the big drivers and kind of reasons they're doing it is to increase digital equity in the region and to make it easier for folks to access the Internet.
Christopher Mitchell: Right. Muni Broadband PDX is, I think, a really good follow on Twitter and on social media. They're very creative, they've done a video, and they're going to be a campaign to watch, for sure. Let's talk about bigger cities, and I'm curious because Katie and Jess, you both started I think after the San Francisco effort clearly had declined. This was something that I expected. I don't think we really talked about it much in the previous show, but I felt like there was insufficient grassroots organizing and activity. I felt that the mayor, Supervisor Farrell, had his heart in the right place but didn't have an effective campaign to really make it happen. Gut what do you see happening in major cities? Are you seeing any trends in terms of what you predict to happen in a major city in the next year?
Jess Del Fiacco: I would be surprised if we saw a whole lot of new movement there just because things move slowly in big cities. I think it's a lot harder to get stuff off the ground without, like you said, a really good campaign behind it.
Katie Kienbaum: Portland, Oregon, is the only one that's really on my mind for that, and they do have a lot of grassroots support there. I think we're going to see small things maybe and just small efforts to fight the 5G order, like in San Jose, and maybe some attempts to try and address digital redlining or those kinds of equity issues. But I'm not expecting a giant municipal network anytime soon.
Christopher Mitchell: I think we're going to be surprised. I think there's going to be a larger city than Chattanooga that announces. It may not be a citywide effort. I think we're gonna see some larger cities coming forward, and then I continue to hope that Seattle will do something. I think Seattle has really been harmed by this focus on trying to go citywide all at once, and I think Seattle could have long ago been a real model for a large city if they had chosen a more incremental strategy. In fact, by now they would have some service in low-income neighborhoods if they'd targeted them with a modest investment that Seattle's budget could handle. Instead we continue to see this fight over trying to do it all at once. And, you know, I'm skeptical of that, but I certainly admire the passion and the skill with which those folks have brought this issue to the forefront in Seattle.
Jess Del Fiacco: Is there anything in particular that you think would help kind of launch the big city effort?
Christopher Mitchell: Perhaps, you know, a mayor that wants to become a president or governor or something like that. I mean, that's one of the things that's a bigger deal, but I think a number of these cities are recognizing that if they don't take action, we're going to see businesses and people being pulled out of the bigger cities. Because, you know, there are some pockets of bigger cities that are getting investment from private companies, but it's these midsize cities and smaller towns even that are getting this better access, maybe better served by a co-op or something like that, and I think the market's going to notice that.
Katie Kienbaum: Yeah, I keep seeing articles about the resurgence of the midsized American city and I think, you know, that's for a variety of reasons: housing costs, style of living, and just generally the resurgence in cities with, like, arts, culture, food. But I think municipal networks and connectivity could have a role to play in that kind of trend that we're seeing.
Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, I mean, if you gave me $100,000,000 and said you can build anywhere in Minnesota, I would probably go to Rochester or Duluth because it would be lower cost to build there. Building in larger cities is difficult even for any entity, frankly, and so I think the bigger cities are going to have to take action. Otherwise, they may be left behind. And they'll still have cable. I mean, they're gonna have good download speeds. They're going to have, you know, the customer service. It's not going to be the end of the world, but I think they'll be frustrated and it's not where they want to be. Lisa, one of the cities I just want to note, you've been working on a case study of Newark that will come out in 2019, and so some of those cities are moving forward quietly.
Lisa Gonzalez: They are bringing better connectivity to lower income people.
Christopher Mitchell: And businesses.
Lisa Gonzalez: And businesses, yes. And you know, when you were talking about larger cities, I was going to on some levels agree, on some levels disagree. I believe that there will be larger cities who are more inclined to offer municipal network connectivity to businesses, but I don't see it for residents yet. There's going to be more of them who are offering their I-Nets, expanding them out to businesses and testing the waters and maybe developing some finances to then go to residents. But I don't think they're quite there yet for residents.
Christopher Mitchell: What do you think is going to happen on open access?
Lisa Gonzalez: We are going to see more communities that are investing in open access networks. You know, with places like Foresite, who are actively going out and working with communities.
Christopher Mitchell: Right. EntryPoint is doing a great job of this too. Jeff Christensen's all over the place. I see him.
Lisa Gonzalez: Yeah, and I think that there will be more communities that are interested in that model. I'm not sure that the communities that are doing it are the right places for it simply because the number of people who live there might not economically support an open access network. However, I'm not an expert on open access networks. Maybe I will be someday, but I do think that we will see more of them. I do think there's a pretty big future for open access infrastructure, and I expect to see more of that at different size communities, including large cities.
Christopher Mitchell: I think our budding open access expert Katie wanted to jump in.
Katie Kienbaum: Yeah. I wouldn't be surprised if some of these places where maybe open access isn't the right choice, where it turns into more of a quote-unquote "partnership," public-private partnership type of model, where they really only find one provider to operate in their open access network and it turns into something more like that.
Christopher Mitchell: Well hold on — Katie's trying to push the microphone away from her face. When you say it doesn't work out, I'm curious, what do you mean by that? What is your fear?
Katie Kienbaum: I guess my fear is that if a place doesn't have, you know, the subscribers that are ready to subscribe to that and take services off of it, it won't attract enough providers to really make it an actual, like, marketplace over the open access network, so then it will turn into either a de facto, you know, one provider network or the municipality will work out some type of agreement with a provider, either before they even get to that point or after they've tried it for awhile and it doesn't quite work out. I don't think that's going to be necessarily, like, a significant number, but I wouldn't be surprised to see it happening in some places.
Christopher Mitchell: We have seen some evidence of this. You know, Powell, Wyoming, was going to be open access, but ended up having one provider, a local co-op, that it felt strongly with. I think [it] may still be the only provider on it. But Rio Blanco in northwestern Colorado, they have multiple providers and they only have a potential I think like 3,500 subs or less. So, I would say, I think it's a good concern and people need to be aware of it, but I wouldn't take away from this any sense of doom or anything like that.
Lisa Gonzalez: In my dreams, I have this wonderful, wonderful concept that we'll see more of these open access networks and things will go back to the way it used to be when there were, like, all these smaller providers all over the place. Wouldn't that be great, if we had, like, new entrants to the market? I would love that.
Christopher Mitchell: I mean this is what Susan Crawford's calling for in her new book, which will be out in early January. It's a book called Fiber, and she's very much calling for cities to be building open infrastructure that is available to launch all of those ISPs. I think it's a great vision. I'm incredibly hopeful for it.
Lisa Gonzalez: And we do get queries from people once in a while, people who actually want to start local ISPs and they're asking us, "How do I do it?" So the interest is out there.
Christopher Mitchell: So, Lisa, you have a few more predictions.
Lisa Gonzalez: Well, just a couple more, and one of them is —
Christopher Mitchell: You're not getting a raise.
Lisa Gonzalez: Well, then I'm leaving.
Christopher Mitchell: Okay, okay, okay. We can't have that. This is a good moment for our podcast listeners: We need you to chip in to make sure that we keep the hardest working member of staff employed here.
Lisa Gonzalez: I believe we'll see more broadband co-ops. RS Fiber has been in place for awhile.
Christopher Mitchell: Right. Not electric co-ops, not telephone co-op, but a new co-op that just does broadband.
Lisa Gonzalez: That's right. There's another one that we've seen lately that's taking form in Wisconsin called 3C. It's near the community of Seneca, and it's just taking form right now. I predict we'll see more of those, and I would love to see that happen. I think we'll probably see at least two more this year.
Christopher Mitchell: Okay, that'd be wonderful.
Lisa Gonzalez: Also, 5G. Somebody had mentioned it earlier, I think it might have been Katie, and Katie had also mentioned fighting 5G rules that the FCC had put in place. And I've noticed that there have been quite a few local communities that are creating these emergency local ordinances, either for esthetic reasons or because they're concerned about what 5G is doing to their health.
Christopher Mitchell: Next Century Cities has a great toolkit for communities that are trying to figure out how to navigate this new world, in which the FCC gave about $2 billion of potential revenue from cities to the big carriers, and the big carriers went to Wall Street and said, "Yeah, we're not changing our investment plans. This is pretty much what we expected and, you know, we're not going to speed anything up. We're going as fast as we can anyway." So a totally unnecessary limit of what cities can charge for being in the Right-of-Way, limiting city's ability to negotiate effectively and certainly limiting the ability to do zoning of where you might be putting 50 foot poles, which is pretty large for a pole to be in a front yard of someone's house. So yeah, these are pretty big issues.
Lisa Gonzalez: Yeah. And I see a lot more of those local ordinances. You know, there are places that have put a lot of time, a lot of money, and a lot of thought into historical districts. And so, they're passing these ordinances, and I think we're gonna see a lot of them, especially the first part of the year. I don't know if the FCC is going to try to do anything about that, but I think it'll be interesting to watch.
Christopher Mitchell: So I think my last prediction has to do with preemption more generally, which I just learned from a focus group, most Americans don't know what the word means, but it's where a higher level of government tells a local level of government or a lower level of government that it cannot do certain things. And I'm expecting to see more knowledge and awareness of preemption in the coming year because it's becoming more and more favorite tool of very big corporations to limit local authority. Because if you're trying to do something as a big corporation, it's easy to do at the federal level. It's somewhat easier to do it at the state level than at the local level. As we saw from the referenda in 2018 here, if you spend a ton of money on a state referendum, you can win almost no matter what the issue is. If it's a fair fight, then it's a little bit more mixed as to how the outcome will be. But at the local level, what did we see in Fort Collins? We saw an ungodly imbalance of money — almost more than $900,000 versus $25,000, and $25,000 won. I mean really the people pushing the issue, they won. And so big money can win at the federal level, it can win at the state level, but it does not have nearly as power at the local level. And so we're going to see big corporations pushing to preempt that local power more and more, and I think we're going to see it on a range of issues. And I'm hoping we'll see more of these people who are getting preempted on these issues working together to raise awareness about it. And, you know, in 2013 there was a sense like no one's ever going to know what net neutrality is. My friend's parents ask me about net neutrality now. So we educated people on net neutrality, we're going to educate them on preemption, and it's going to be harder to push these things through in a few years. Jess and Katie, thank you very much for joining us on your first episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.
Jess Del Fiacco: Happy to lend our expertise.
Katie Kienbaum: Glad to be here.
Nick Stumo-Langer: Hey, Community Broadband Bits family. I'm missing your dulcet tones in person but I'm getting them through my ear buds here, and I just wanted to say hey and make a couple of predictions for this next year. I looked back at my own predictions, and some of them really panned out and some of them really did not. I think the one that I'm most impressed with myself is, is the kind of attitude about the big corporate mergers that the trump administration kind of let through. And I think there has been a sea change in the media and in the way people are talking about these as really harmful for democracy and our economy. So I'm going to take credit for that one and just kind of ignore all the ones I got super wrong, but I'm sure you'll litigate during the show. My prediction for this next year — and I'm interested to hear on the episode what you guys say about this — I predict that our good friend, Ajit Pai, our wonderful Verizon lobbyist and FCC chair, is going to have some kind of media attention put on him as one of these other kind of commissioners or people in the Trump administration that has kind of inappropriate ties to the lobbying and the industries that they been a part of,and that that's going to be a big media story this year, which hopefully will clarify some of the different things that he's been doing in the FCC. And on the state level, I'm super interested actually to see in the legislative session, I hope that there's going to be maybe three or four or five different legislatures kind of taking up this issue of how to get broadband access to their kind of most rural and sparse areas. So that was my prediction for those things.
Lisa Gonzalez: If you have listened to other podcasts from the Community Broadband Bits podcast, and we know you have, then you probably remember Hannah Trostle's voice. Hannah Trostle used to work at ILSR as a research associate, and she's authored several reports for us. Well, she's back. She's been in Arizona doing graduate studies and she's just come back to visit us, and while she's here we grabbed her to give us her predictions for 2019 and beyond. Hey Hannah!
Hannah Trostle: Hey Lisa. Thanks, it's so good to be back.
Lisa Gonzalez: So, we have all given our predictions. We wanted to get yours for 2019 and beyond.
Hannah Trostle: Yes. I haven't listened to any of their predictions, so I don't know what they said.
Lisa Gonzalez: They're fascinating
Hannah Trostle: But my prediction for 2019 is that technically, in 2019, about half the US population will have access to Fiber-to-the-Home.
Lisa Gonzalez: That's pretty ambitious. Are you sure you're going to go with that, Hannah?
Hannah Trostle: Yes, I'm very sure. And my next prediction is even going to be even more ambitious.
Lisa Gonzalez: And what is it? Drum roll please.
Hannah Trostle: My prediction is that, in the next five years, technically everyone in the U.S. will have access to broadband, not via satellite.
Lisa Gonzalez: Everyone?! Are you sure you want to stick with that, Ms. Pollyanna?
Hannah Trostle: Yes, I'm a very, very optimistic person about the next five years.
Lisa Gonzalez: Wow. Graduate school must have really done something to your brain.
Hannah Trostle: Maybe. I did just finish finals. It maybe melted it a little bit.
Lisa Gonzalez: So tell us how it's going anyway.
Hannah Trostle: Graduate studies are going very, very well. I am getting a masters in urban and environmental planning. I just finished up a tribal community planning course, and I am currently working on a small little paper that I'm going to give to my Cherokee nation council member to discuss, like, broadband and libraries within the Cherokee nation. Because the areas with population — so around the outskirts of Tulsa and Tahlequah — have good broadband access and then the other areas do not, but they have a lot of access to libraries. And so, finding ways to use libraries to boost people's access to Internet service is really important.
Lisa Gonzalez: Wow, that sounds really great. We are looking forward to when you come back again next year to give us more predictions, and maybe this summer you'll be around and, you know, we can have you on the show again to talk about your paper or other things that are going on.
Hannah Trostle: Yes, I should be back in Minnesota during the summer.
Lisa Gonzalez: Great. Thanks Hannah.
Hannah Trostle: Thank you. See you around.
Lisa Gonzalez: Thanks to Nick Stumo-Langer, former communications manager, for sending in his contribution and to Hannah Trostle, former research associate, for stopping by the office to record her predictions. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/BroadbandBits. Email us at Podcast@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. Follow MuniNetworks.org 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. Don't miss out on original research from all our initiatives. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org, and while you're there, take a moment to donate. We'll be taking a break next week in observance of the New Year holiday, so our next podcast will be published on January 8th, 2019. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and thank you for listening to episode 337 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast and for tuning in throughout all of 2018.
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