Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 469

This is the transcript for episode 469 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. On this week’s episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, Christopher Mitchell and ILSR Senior Reporter, Editor, and Researcher Sean Gonsalves talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly of the bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed the Senate in August. Listen to the podcast here or read the transcript below.

Sean Gonsalves: The sausage making is never pretty.

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. Although I am ordering materials to go back to my office in Minneapolis, so who knows where future shows will come from today? I'm speaking with my colleague here at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Sean Gonsalves. Welcome back to the show, Sean.

Sean Gonsalves: Good to be back.

Christopher Mitchell: Sean is one of our main writers. The one that when we have hard things, we force him to write about them. We've had a lot of fun on our podcast before, so Sean's back. If you really don't want to hear Sean's voice on future podcasts, you should tell me and then I won't tell him. So, I want to bring you on Sean, because you had no shortage of reactions and feelings about the infrastructure bill, the Senate version of it.

Sean Gonsalves: I did. My initial reaction was that it was all bad.

Christopher Mitchell: Because you hate bridges.

Sean Gonsalves: Okay, so let me clarify, the broadband portion of the infrastructure bill. I love-

Christopher Mitchell: Right, you love you a bridge.

Sean Gonsalves: I love good bridges, especially since I have to cross one to get on or off the Cape where I live here, Cape Cod and I like good transportation and roads and those kind of things. But as it related to broadband, I had my hopes up that what would come out of this would be what President Biden said he wanted to see in it.

Christopher Mitchell: We can go back further than that. I mean, you spent a lot of time researching the Affordable Accessible Internet For All Act that Majority Whip Clyburn put together, which we thought at the time was a really good bill and still has a lot of really good components. But as a result of the RDOF, the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund disaster at the FCC, we soured on the auctions, but there's talk about a hundred billion dollars going into broadband and real money going into digital inclusion. Some of that is still happening, but like you said, then President Biden came out and got our hopes up even higher. Then they decided to negotiate with Republicans who generally don't have the same priorities as we do on broadband, it seems.


Sean Gonsalves: Right, right. So, I had these high hopes. I was hoping that there was just going to be this bill that was going to prioritize municipalities and nonprofits and community broadband networks, and with this real emphasis on creating a competitive market.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. I mean, and it's worth noting, I mean, because I feel like you talk about municipalities and co-ops and non-profit business models, and people think you're going all like state control. In reality, it's actually the means of establishing a market in which people have real choices because we don't have that today.

Sean Gonsalves: Exactly. When it became apparent to me that really none of that essentially is in here. I was bothered by that. But then, after a few days and looking at things a little bit more closely, I realized that there's actually some good things in this bipartisan Senate version. We should say that it's not at the finish line yet.

Christopher Mitchell: No. And in fact, this weekend, it sounds like Republicans are going to try to crash the whole thing because one of the things that you and I really like about it, Senator Thune, who's a ranking member on telecom issues for the Senate, from South Dakota-

Sean Gonsalves: He wants the money to go to FCC.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, he wants to make me go to the FCC. That's just not a good idea, it's really not.

Sean Gonsalves: And in fact, yes, and that was one of actually the good things about this bill, is that the money was going to the states, not as good as going to localities, I think, but going to the states is definitely better than handing it off to the FCC who we've seen doesn't have a great track record. I mean, now we're seeing stories pop up all over the place about how they're having to take back some of the money that some RDOF winners got and some major players. So, that's a mess, but he wants that money to go over to the FCC, Senator Thune does. Then I think I also saw that the Republican-appointed commissioner on the FCC suggested that maybe it should go to the agriculture department.

Christopher Mitchell: Oh, I didn't see that, is that Simington or Carr.

Sean Gonsalves: I'd have to go back and look.

Christopher Mitchell: Oh, sorry.

Sean Gonsalves: But the point is, is that there's how the money can be spent, but then there's now this fight, I guess, now that threatens the torpedo the whole thing, as to of the 65 billion, the 42 billion that the current version says goes to the states, there's now this fight as to whether or not that money should be doled out, not through the NTIA, but through the FCC. So there's this question of who's going to administer that.


Christopher Mitchell: Yes. I hope that what we'll see is that they really have a tendency to stick to what they have already agreed to. I did want to say, I wanted to say this earlier at the beginning, but let me just do a quick promo as Sean knows, I gave blood an hour ago. So I'm just going to blame any mistakes that I make, even mistakes that I normally make, on being a little bit lightheaded and everyone should go out there and be lightheaded from time to time, to help their fellow people out. But I wanted to say that we're going to be critical of some parts of the bill, but I didn't want it to be lost on the staffers who've worked really hard on this, ones that have taken objections we've had, they've taken them seriously and they've really turned it into language that I think improves the bill. We don't want to sit around and confuse them with the people that might be working for senators that are frankly, out just to support the cable and AT&T talking points.

Sean Gonsalves: Excellent point. The sausage making is never pretty and getting a glimpse into that, you see some of the nuances in terms of some of the folks that are really trying to make sure that there's some really good elements in this bill. Then as you pointed out, that's mixed in with senators who seem to be beholden to the cable and telco monopolies.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. I want to say that I hate coming out here and sounding partisan and I hate coming out here and offering false equivalents.

Sean Gonsalves: That's right.

Christopher Mitchell: So, what we've seen is that in general, the Republican senators have really not wanted to pursue market reforms to actually have more choice. They're trying to really limit where the money can go, I think to really push it ineffectively to only rural areas. Democrats have tended to have a better understanding, but with the 50/50 Senate, we would need every Democrat to agree with us in order to achieve a policy that would actually result in more competition in cities. That did not happen. So there's one or two Republicans that were more on our side than three or four Democrats, so there is that crossover period there.


Sean Gonsalves: That's an important point to note. We don't want to get into all of this partisan bickering per se and certainly don't want to over-generalize, but yeah, that's a good point.

Christopher Mitchell: Because if you and me had a few drinks, we'd just explained that we hate everyone.

Sean Gonsalves: Right.

Christopher Mitchell: I don't want to talk out of school, but that's the sense I get from you every now and then.

Sean Gonsalves: Oh my goodness, yes. It's very frustrating.

Christopher Mitchell: I also wish the world totally worked perfectly.

Sean Gonsalves: Yeah, yeah, exactly. What can I say? It's a hell of a burden to carry when you have such high hope for the world.

Christopher Mitchell: Oh, I thought you were going to say when you know everything and get everything right all the time. That's my impression of you. We're going to talk a little bit more about this infrastructure bill and then we're going to talk about some cities that Sean's been writing about recently, just a couple of quick hits on some interesting city stuff, but within the infrastructure bill then, one of the things I want to dig into quick is you mentioned, so there's like 65 billion for broadband-type things. There's like 42 billion, I think, for broadband infrastructure and most of that goes to the states. I forget if the one billion for middle mile is included in that 42 billion figure or not, but it doesn't really matter that much for this purpose. I mean, billions of dollars.

Christopher Mitchell: What's interesting is it goes to the states and you and I have made our peace with the fact that some states are really going to be smart with how they spend this money and some states are not. I think that is still preferable to a situation where the FCC could basically screw it up for every state.

Sean Gonsalves: That's a good point. That's a good point, I mean, although ... And you're right, it's going to be a mix. There's going to be certain states that are going to do good stuff with it. Then we've got to remember that there's 17 states that ban or prevent municipalities in some form or fashion, or [inaudible 00:09:32] barriers for municipalities to even get into broadband. I would suspect that those states, we're probably going to see that money handed off to the big incumbents in those markets.

Christopher Mitchell: That's right. Although, I mean, I feel like some of the people we've talked to have been quite explicit about this, and often they're from states that are not Maine or Mississippi, two states that are quite different, but nonetheless have both reacted pretty intelligently with CARES Act funding and other funding recently.


Christopher Mitchell: Well, one of the things that I see is a dynamic in which, let's just say for a second, that there's like a governor and a legislature in a state that we'll call ... I'll pick on North Carolina and North Carolina actually has a governor who wants to get rid of the ban on munies because the governor probably recognizes that we should have more investment, not less investment in broadband networks, but if all this money comes in and does not result in better service, I think what we'll see is the opposing party, in this case the Democrats, will in the next election, hopefully make a big deal out of the fact that Republicans in the legislature squandered this money.

Christopher Mitchell: So, that's progress. That's better than what we see with RDOF, where nobody really knows what's going on except for a few of us eggheads and there's no political price to pay for it really. So, I think even in states that waste the money, there's still then the opportunity for hope and progress, moving down the line.

Sean Gonsalves: Yeah. I mean, I don't want to be so doom and gloom as to feel like if this infrastructure bill doesn't include the stuff that we'd like it to and that it's the end of the road for community broadband in certain states, that's certainly not the case, but it would have been nice for this to be that watershed moment that we thought it may have turned out to be.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. I mean, there was hope that they would actually overturn all of the state bans.

Sean Gonsalves: Exactly, right. And there's nothing in there that suggests that they're going to do anything close to that. So, I mean, that in and of itself would have been a tremendous victory.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. Oh, absolutely. I mean, we would have seen a lot of new investment in many states, not every state, but certainly in many of them. So, what else is happening in this infrastructure bill you want to talk about?

Sean Gonsalves: I think we've already generally said that we think the good part is, or at least I think the good part, is that the money going to the states and that it specifically calls for the states to work with localities and gives localities an opportunity to comment on the state's digital equity plans, which is a prerequisite for getting this money. So, that I would say is a good part of this.


Sean Gonsalves: The bad is, as we've talked about, there's no structural change. There's nothing in the bill that suggests that there's any interest in promoting competition in solving the digital divide in non-rural areas. Frankly, the ugly part, going with the good, bad, and the ugly analogy, the ugly part is that, to my mind, even though this is good on the face of it, which is that it does require the FCC to come up with these rules within two years to basically the language is something like to facilitate equal access to broadband Internet service in cities where there has been what many call digital red lining, leaving certain neighborhoods, certain parts of communities behind in terms of access to broadband.

Sean Gonsalves: So, one thing this bill does is it requires the FCC to basically come up with this plan of how we're going to address that. The reason why I say it's ugly is because in my mind, it's essentially saying let's kick the can down the road a couple of years to address something that we know is happening right now.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes, yes. It's definitely an issue of concern. This gets into multiple things relating to the FCC, and we can take a quick detour, which we talked about this a little bit, maybe more than a little bit on the episode of Connect This that went up last Thursday, where we were talking about tribal broadband with Matt Rantanen and Jessica Engle, as well as my co-host Travis and we're in a situation in which, because the Biden administration has not nominated an FCC chair or another FCC commissioner and made Jessica Rosenworcel or Geoffrey Starks the chair, then we're in a position where if they nominated a person today, it would probably be until November or December till that person was confirmed.

Christopher Mitchell: Jessica Rosenworcel has to step down in January, as I understand it, which means that the Senate Republicans have a real incentive now to drag things out because they will have a 2:1 majority. The FCC is supposed to have a 3:2 majority in favor of the party that has the presidency. I really worry about the ability of the FCC to do anything when the Senate Republicans, who very well may be in power again in just another year, a year and a half, that we may not see the FCC doing anything. Then we're going to wait years for a study and then they're going to come up with ... "Oh, now should figure out how to implement something." Then that's going to be another year or two, and then they're going to maybe get in the courts. This is a recipe for not solving the problem. So yeah, I'm deeply skeptical of an FCC study on this issue as well.


Sean Gonsalves: Yeah. So, that's the reason why I say that I would consider that one of the ugly portions of it as it were, particularly because I just recently came across this Brookings Institution study that found that city dwellers are three times more likely to lack broadband access than folks in rural America, which is something that we tried to point out in the policy brief that we-

Christopher Mitchell: We did, yeah, you did.

Sean Gonsalves: So, that's something that we know is a present reality and for this bill to basically treat it as like a back-burner issue, something that we'll get to, we'll study it, and then who knows, maybe we'll throw out some vouchers that people can pay Comcast with.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, that leads to another part of this bill. I mean, that's another part of this bill is that it's many billions of dollars to establish permanently what we've called the Emergency Broadband Benefit. It would have a lower total benefit amount, I believe, but it would be permanent, subject to Congress occasionally giving it more money because money doesn't just grow on trees and it's not set up to fund itself the way the Universal Service Fund historically has. But yeah, this would be ... I mean, it is one way to address it, but well, let me pause for a second.

Christopher Mitchell: So, there's that money for that program. Then there's also money for digital inclusion activities, which is very important and really kudos to National Digital Inclusion Alliance, many other advocates who have been beating the drum on the need for this, but it's just, it's too little, it's not very well-designed for the actual needs of people who lack Internet access in these cities.

Sean Gonsalves: Right and then actually, listening to you mention about the EBB, I happen to be one of the massive audience members that watched that Connect This and from what I could ascertain from Travis in particular, the EBB has got ... There's a lot that could be improved with that, for that to work.

Christopher Mitchell: Oh yeah. Yeah, Matt and Jessica talking about their experience as new ISPs trying to get into it and it sounded like ... I didn't totally clarify, I'm not the best host in the world, but it sounded like Travis basically gave up on him.


Sean Gonsalves: Right, yeah. Well yeah, I heard him say that basically, "Look, I won't do it again."

Christopher Mitchell: Right, yeah because they-

Sean Gonsalves: They'll do something different and when guy is committed and as good as Travis is says, "You know what? Forget it, I won't do it again." That's a red flag that this program needs to be fine-tuned in a way that makes it so that the Travises of the world can participate in a meaningful way and not have the taste smacked out of mouth.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, let's be clear. Travis has many tens of thousands of subscribers. A lot of small ISPs don't have that many. He said he had three, full-time employees that were working on it at one period. That's half of the staff have a lot of small ISPs. They can't do that because the FCC or USAC, the Universal Service Administrative Company, can't bother to design a working website or staff it correctly, which frankly might be Congress's fault for not appropriating the right amount of money to support in such an effort. But I mean, there's no shortage of blame to go around. But the simple fact is this stuff doesn't work and because it's just poor people who get screwed by it, a lot of folks don't notice, and it's not a priority to fix.

Sean Gonsalves: Right. A lot of shoulder shrugging, yeah. So therefore, that's why I consider that part of the bill at this point as being not good at all

Christopher Mitchell: Right. Now, let's be clear, the cable and telephone companies, they're fighting against this, They want to kill the whole thing off, but they've already had some major wins. We would have liked to have seen the definition of underserved being less than 100/100, which should be very future-oriented.


Sean Gonsalves: It's 100 over 20 [crosstalk 00:19:05].

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, now it's 100 over 20 and that is ... It's reasonable. I mean, for today, I worry a lot about networks that are built that will be subsidized in several years that will be able to barely do 100/20, because I mean, this is the reality. Just like 25/3 is the definition. So you get a bunch of DSL systems that claim to offer 25/3, and they deliver 10/1. That's still considered broadband depending on who you talk to. Some of the wireless systems that will be built by people that are going out and pushing the envelope more than the ISPs we typically highlight, the ones that are responsible and deliver the highest quality services, there'll be advertising 100/20, but they'll be delivering 50/10 or something like that. It's going to be hard for families to keep up in several years with a connection like that, I think. So yeah, I'm worry about this.


Sean Gonsalves: Would you say that the 100/20, that is mainly the fingerprints of WISP, right? I mean, they're the ones that-

Christopher Mitchell: No, I don't think so.

Sean Gonsalves: No?

Christopher Mitchell: I mean, the WISPs agree, but the thing is WISPs don't have any more political power than we do. If someone out there was talking about this and they were like, "Oh man, Sean and Chris really got this amazing thing through Congress." You and I would be like, "Yeah, maybe." We don't have a lot of juice on the Hill. We definitely have some folks that take us seriously, we really appreciate that. We write the best we can to influence people and that sort of thing, but it's the cable companies and the telcos that got that 100/20, I think. They're coordinated maybe with the WISPs on some of that messaging, but I think if it was the WISPs alone pushing for 100/20, I don't think Congress would listen to them.

Christopher Mitchell: I mean, I think Congress should listen to WISPs more than they do, frankly. I agree with WISPs on a fair amount of stuff, but on the speed thing, we disagree a little bit, but I don't think it was the WISPs that led to the watering down of the definition of who is underserved.

Sean Gonsalves: But certainly, I guess there's this argument out there that you don't want to build that essentially to find things so that fiber is the only way that you're able to meet those goals.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. I mean, that's what people will say. I don't know, I mean, to me it seems like to some extent going back 70 years and saying, "We should build some of our highways out of dirt, because there's an industry that likes building dirt highways," and you don't need to put a ton of 18 wheelers across every single highway, and frankly, prior to the interstates, we didn't have that. It was because we overbuilt the interstates to a level that would accommodate future demand that we arranged our economy the way we did. There are pros to that and there's definitely cons to that. Like a few of these things, fortunately, the negative externalities of building a better broadband system are somewhat less than building a bigger highway system, as we found out for all manner of both cultural and economic reasons.

Sean Gonsalves: Yeah. There's not a whole lot of greenhouse gases produced by broadband networks, I would imagine.

Christopher Mitchell: Not as many, compared to the highways. But I mean, it comes back to this point of this idea of, well ... I mean, to be snarky about it, which some do, building the infrastructure of the future is not a participation sport. We shouldn't have trophies, participation trophies, as some people say. Which actually just for people, is line that goes back to the '50s. It was in the fifties when people started complaining about how kids were getting participation trophies, it's nothing new.


Sean Gonsalves: Okay, see, I thought that that was something new, not the idea of participation trophies, but this outrage of their existence, like really? We're going to pick on the kids these days? I don't know, anyway.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah but the argument that comes back to is just this idea of we want to build infrastructure that never has to be, or at least not in many decades, does not have to be re-subsidized. If you're building a network that's 100/20, in this decade, I would guess you're going to be lining up from more subsidies to that household that's served by 100/20 network. That's unfortunate and that's fiscally irresponsible. So, hey, we're running out of time. We've been spending a lot of time on the infrastructure bill. There's a lot to go on. We're going to do more of a post-mortem once it passes. I don't want to spend a lot of time talking about the things that I love, so I can feel that knife in my back when they get ripped out of it in the last minute.

Christopher Mitchell: So, so tell us about Ocala, Florida. You just recently talked to Mel Pool down there. He's a past guest on the podcast. What's going on with what's going on with Ocala?

Sean Gonsalves: The horse capital of the world. I did not that until I started digging into Ocala, which is a city not too far from Orlando in central Florida there. I mean, they've been delivering high-speed Internet service to area businesses and anchor institutions and public entities for a while now, over a decade. But in 2019, they launched a residential service and they are now serving 2,500 residential subscribers. I think the thing that is probably interesting about Ocala is that they've taken this incremental approach and it's self-funded, they've got enterprise funds set up. The initial money for the core network came from the electric department.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, I think it was a loan, right?

Sean Gonsalves: It was a loan. So they've been taking this incremental approach. They rolled out this pilot network essentially to four different neighborhoods, their take rate, they were shooting for 30%, but in one of the neighborhoods, the largest of the neighborhood which has a thousand homes, they've got a 42% take rate. There's another neighborhood where they're not doing quite as well, or they're somewhere around the 10% take rate. This is fairly early on in the process but Mel thinks that's more of a educational challenge. You got to keep in mind some of the demographics, sometimes in some of these areas, much like the Cape, there's an older demographic that lives there. Some folks there, it's like, "I like my cable," you know?


Christopher Mitchell: Right. Well, especially when my guess is what happens is Mel rolls up personally, I'm sure, he goes door-to-door and he tells people, "I'm Mel, and I've got a $60 a month option for you with this 300 Mbps service." Then what happens is Comcast comes up next and they're like, "Hey, we're Comcast. How about if we charge you $25?" So, these people that don't care as much about the 300 Mbps symmetrical, they're going to be like, "Yeah, that sounds like a great deal. I'm going to get that for two years. Yeah, I'm going to take that for sure." So, I would love to see the study on how much that neighborhood is paying now relative to what it had been paying before.

Sean Gonsalves: Yeah, yeah. So, I think over the next three to 10 years, they'd like to go city-wide with the fiber network. That is estimated to cost $90 million, so there'll be looking at various ways of funding that, including looking for whatever kind of grant funding they might be able to get through the state or through the federal government.

Sean Gonsalves: Another thing that I thought was pretty interesting is they recently got a Smart City award from IDC Government Insights, and they really shined during the pandemic in terms of the increased bandwidth that their existing business customers, healthcare facilities needed during the pandemic and now they were able to provide that easily.

Sean Gonsalves: One of the things I thought was really cool is that the county had set up a vaccination site at the local mall. Just to show you that even though sometimes municipalities, the opponents of municipal networks like to make it sound like this stuff is way too complicated for municipalities to deal with, in Ocala, there was a need for a fiber connection so that they could access medical records and digitally document folks getting vaccinations. They were able to provide that fiber connection within 24 hours. I mean, it's pretty cool.

Christopher Mitchell: Those 24 hours were spread out over three weeks though. No, I'm just kidding.


Sean Gonsalves: No, it was literally 24 hours. Yeah, so that was pretty cool about Ocala. Then there's a few other communities that wrote about recently, Fairlawn.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. If people are confused also, some of this is writing for stuff that's going to be published in a report soon. So, not all of this is visible, so don't go crazy trying to find it on the open Internet right away.

Sean Gonsalves: Right. The story on Ocala is on

Christopher Mitchell:, yeah.

Sean Gonsalves:, yes. Then also recently wrote about Fairlawn in Medina County, both communities in Ohio.

Christopher Mitchell: Medina, I think. I'm pretty sure it's Medina.

Sean Gonsalves: Median?

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah.

Sean Gonsalves: Medina. Oh my goodness. Medina, that's important to get that stuff right. In Fairlawn-

Christopher Mitchell: It's not going to get caught by a spell check.

Sean Gonsalves: Good. But when you're from a community and you hear somebody mispronounced it though, it's painful.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, no, it's true. So Fairlawn is right next to Medina County, the city of Fairlawn, just outside Akron. What's going on in Fairlawn? I should say, we've had Ernie Staten on before. He's a director of public service, I think, or public ... He's a director of public stuff in Fairlawn. What's going on there most recently?

Sean Gonsalves: Well, they're just continuing to expand an Akron-Bath-Fairlawn Joint Economic Development District, this network has been ... I mean, only 7,500 people live in Fairlawn, but apparently the population swells to about 40,000 during the workday.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, I've been there, there's a lot of businesses.

Sean Gonsalves: So many people are coming in there and there's a lot of businesses there. A big reason why there's a lot of businesses there is because of this network. It's really been a magnet for economic development, or for attracting businesses and therefore, really given that region a real economic development boost.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. Folks from Europe have come over. Businesses from Europe have expanded to Fairlawn and industrial facilities and business parks and stuff, because of the network specifically. I've read articles about that.

Sean Gonsalves: That's a similar story in Medina, where their network has been very much a tool for economic development there. In fact, that's really their focus there, is to use that network to enhance economic development. Which is one thing that sometimes, in kitchen table kind of conversations, can get overlooked. So when you talk about fiber-to-the-home networks, there's so many more benefits to having them, in addition to being able to have multiple Zoom meetings in a home and remote work and so on and so forth. All of those things are at the top of mind and are very important, but there's all of these ancillary benefits that come with these networks in terms of the impact that it has in a community.


Christopher Mitchell: Yes, yeah. These networks are all dynamic too, Fairlawn's built out to every citizen in town, but they're working with the county to expand to nearby folks in ... I forget what county they're in, but it is right next to Medina. Medina is working with the local towns to figure out how they can expand that network. They're working with Lit Communities with Brian Snider and team. So yeah, there's a lot of exciting things happening.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things we're going to try and do is I think do more of these shows, Sean, where we come on, we talk about something with some meat in it and then we talk about some of the reporting you've been doing. We'll see how that goes and like I said-

Sean Gonsalves: I like that, hopefully your inbox will be crushed with fan mail saying, "You've got to have Sean on there, on the regular." Before we go, though, we should just mention though, Fairlawn and Medina did play a big role in killing that Ohio budget amendment. If folks are not familiar, we had a lot of coverage on this, but the Senate in Ohio, the state Senate, tried to sneak in a budget amendment that would've essentially killed municipal broadband in the state of Ohio and Fairlawn and Medina were really out front on this and really got a lot of their constituents and so forth to write letters and emails and so on and so forth. So, a lot of credit should go to the folks in Fairlawn and Medina for helping to convince the governor, and the lieutenant governor, and the state legislature, that an amendment that would have killed municipal broadband would have been really dumb.

Sean Gonsalves: I mean, we just got through talking about how important these networks have been to the economic health of these communities. And here you have a this Senate amendment that was saying, "Yeah, but we want to get rid of that stuff."

Christopher Mitchell: Yes. What's interesting is that Ohio is one of these places where there's a lot of odd things happening, in that, I mean, for instance, mega, mega corruption with the monopoly utility company and some of the ... I don't remember, I think it was the speaker of the house Republican, you have the lieutenant governor and the governor who could have quietly tried to kill the municipal broadband, that anti-municipal broadband amendment, but they came out publicly and said, "No, no, this is the wrong way to go." I think that's really remarkable.


Christopher Mitchell: And then Senator Portman, Republican, has been a real leader. He's on the Bridge Act, which is great legislation from Michael Bennett and Senator King, Senator Michael Bennet, Senator King, and I'm probably forgetting another one or two folks who deserve recommendation. But yeah, I mean, it's interesting because we do see these schisms where the folks in Arkansas, that in the legislature who are almost all Republicans, they really don't want to see bans on municipal networks. And yet the senators that they've sent to DC do. It's interesting as we see different dividing lines among the Republican Party in this space.

Sean Gonsalves: It is, I mean, of course and we've talked about this before, Arkansas is another example. The state legislature there is dominated by Republicans. They got rid of their municipal ban essentially in its entirety. And yet you've got a group of senators in DC who submitted legislation, that's dangling out there to preempt localities from getting into municipal broadband. So, as we said at the top of the program, it's a mixed bag as always, there's always nuance. There's always exceptions to the rule. We shall move forward. It'll be interesting to see what happens ultimately with this infrastructure bill in total. I mean, if it even gets passed.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. And so let me just say that, I feel like there's one other accomplishment we should discuss and that's based on discussions, you and I have had over the course of the week, and the kind of day that I'm having, we got through the show with a clean tag and that's remarkable.

Sean Gonsalves: Wow. Wow. Maybe you should-

Christopher Mitchell: Drop an F bomb real quick.

Sean Gonsalves: No, no I was just going to say, maybe you should give blood every before every podcast.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, it was great talking to you, Sean. Thank you for coming on.

Sean Gonsalves: Absolutely, thank you. All right, well go have some more cranberry juice and I'll talk to you soon.

Christopher Mitchell: All right, sounds good.

Sean Gonsalves: All right, okay.


Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at Email us at with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @communitynets. Follow stories on Twitter. The handle is @muninetworks. Subscribe to this and other 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

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 Husey for the song, Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons. This was the Community Broadband Bits podcast, thanks for listening.