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When his Twitter feed announced the “arrival of 5G” last December, tech reporter Chris Matyszczyk made a beeline for the nearest T-Mobile store and asked, “Can I have some of this 5G, please? I will become a much more desirable, admirable person if I have 5G!” From there, it was all downhill.
The Pain of the Hype
We aren’t the only ones who have pointed out the hype around 5G as telecom companies rush to outdo each other. In another case of marketing mayhem overtaking technical truth, Matyszczyk shares his rain soaked pursuit in the Bay Area. Expecting fanfare, he was met with a surprisingly subdued store:
I wandered into a T-Mobile store that was emptier than a politician's tweet.
Oddly, there weren't 99 pink balloons hanging from the ceiling to celebrate 5G. There weren't even five.
He goes on to describe how the less-than-enthusiastic salespeople didn’t seem very well informed about when, where, or why 5G isn’t available to him when the company indicated that it arrived nationwide:
"But isn't it a bit annoying to be told there's this incredibly exciting 5G when you can't get it for at least another six months?"
They seemed neither to agree or disagree. They seemed like they were annoyed it was raining and that I was there, dripping.
Read the full article, "I went to T-Mobile to ask about 5G. The response was painful" here. You can also watch an interview with Matyszczyk.
He expressed sympathy for the salespeople. After all, he says, “it’s hard for them to present something they can’t actually sell you.”
Marketplace spoke with experts, including Gigi Sohn and our Christopher Mitchell, about the hype surrounding 5G. Sohn said, "5G is 80% marketing and 20% technology. The hype around this technology is enormous, and also the hype around needing to win a so-called race around 5G."
Listen to the story here:
This past October at the Broadband Communities Economic Development event, Christopher returned with all sorts of news from different places around the country where people are taking control of local connectivity. He also returned with an award from the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC). The nonprofit organization champions the right for local communities to decide for themselves the best course of action when expanding broadband to their residents, businesses, and institutions.
CLIC honored Christopher with the organization's "Indispensable Contributor Award" and described their decision to recognize his work:
You have been chosen for this singular award in recognition of the indispensable contributions you have made to local Internet choice during the last decade, for your tireless opposition to barriers to local decision-making, and for your creation of a huge and immensely valuable body of knowledge about community broadband initiatives.
As a clever symbol of Christopher's "indispensable" work CLIC's President Jim Baller presented him with a special travel mug to add to his awards shelf:
In a follow-up email, Jim added:
“If Chris Mitchell and his team at ILSR did no more than tell the evolving story of community broadband in real time, their work would be invaluable. But that is far from all they do. They often write high-quality analyses and reports. They address countless audiences in person and through electronic means. They participate actively in our fights against state barriers to public broadband initiatives. They communicate regularly with the media to debunk industry myths and falsehoods. This list could go on and on. Chris and his colleagues have truly earned CLIC’s recognition for their indispensable work."
Thanks, Jim and CLIC, from all of us at the Community Broadband Networks Team at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. We are truly thankful for the work you've done to lay a strong foundation on which we can build more support for local communities.
On October 21, 2019, The American Conservative published an article by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's Christopher Mitchell. The article delves into how preemption affected the municipal broadband project in Lafayette, Louisiana. Christopher addresses the fact that many communities that have invested in local Internet networks have done so to fill a void in a manner that is based in self-determination. He also discusses the ways local government strengths lend themselves to the success of municipal networks and how somes states are making changes that may signal a shift in perspective.
We've reproduced the article in full here:
Fleeced by the Telecoms and Your State is Blessing It
You may live in a place where the monopolies' lobbyists have more authority than your local government.
Joey Durel was not an obvious champion for building a municipal broadband network in his city. He owned multiple private businesses and was the head of the local chamber of commerce prior to becoming mayor of Lafayette, Louisiana, one of the most conservative urban centers in America.
In the early 2000s, like today, the big telephone and cable companies were extremely unpopular. DSL and cable Internet access were growing, but smaller markets like Lafayette always had to wait to get the speed upgrades they saw the larger cities getting. However, Bellsouth (now AT&T) and Cox were not slow to increase prices, which led to obvious customer frustration.
When first presented with the idea of a city-run network, Durel was skeptical but open minded. He looked toward the Lafayette Utility System, which already handled electricity, water, and wastewater for the community—and had a much better reputation than the cable and telephone monopolies—to make an assessment.
Durel soon determined that a city-run broadband network would provide better services at lower prices than Bellsouth or Cox, but he was under no illusion those companies would go quietly into the night. However, he probably didn’t expect such a challenge to his authority—a challenge that went right up to the state legislature to stop him. This was preemption, and Durel was about to get one heck of an education in how monopolies use the levers of government to get what they want.
One of the most respected and well-known organizations dedicated to improving the lives of people in rural Minnesota, the Blandin Foundation, has honored Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, with the Courageous Leadership Award.
The award was recently presented at the 2019 Blandin Broadband Conference in Nisswa, Minnesota.
The Blandin Foundation listed some of the many reasons for awarding the recognition to Christopher:
For his research, advocacy and leadership at the national level on behalf of community broadband networks, via public sector ownership and cooperatives, as a strategy for maximizing community benefits from broadband network development.
- Director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance where he researches and publicizes the benefits of community-owned broadband systems.
- Honored as one of the 2012 Top 25 in Public Sector Technology nationally by Government Technology magazine.
- Leads MuniNetworks.org, a comprehensive online clearinghouse of information about community broadband. Chris is also policy director at Next Century Cities, a national community broadband advocacy organization.
In response, Christopher said:
“It is an honor for our work to be recognized by the Blandin Foundation, which has done so much for Greater Minnesota. Achieving the promise of Border-to-Border broadband Internet access requires contributions from everyone, especially communities themselves. We have always felt that Internet access — a service that education already depends upon and medicine soon will — needs much more local leadership. That leadership is what we have seen from the communities that are reaping the rewards of the best connectivity available today.”
Read more about the award and read a the transcript of an interview with Christopher about his work on municipal broadband and about being a leader at the Blandin Foundation's website.
There’s still time to register for the Great Lakes Connect Broadband Development Conference from September 30th to October 2nd! Join broadband leaders from around the region in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, to discuss, “The Future of Digital Communities”. This will be a great opportunity to network with others, hear from engaging speakers, and share resources. Check out the full agenda for details, and complete your registration here.
Something for Everyone
Attendees can choose from three different conference tracks:
- Community Development - Planning and financing connectivity solutions.
- Emerging Technologies - Strategies and best practices for smart cities.
- Midwest Community Use Case Studies - Telling the unique stories of Midwest communities.
See You There!
We’re excited to be participating in this event ourselves! The Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Christopher Mitchell and Katie Kienbaum will be presenting on a panel on Oct. 1st about how municipal and cooperative networks can provide unique benefits to communities. Don’t miss out on the conversation: register today.
On September 12th, Christopher appeared on Community Radio KMUD’s Forward Humboldt to discuss the connectivity situation in Humboldt County, California, with residents there. Humboldt County is one of the more rural regions in the state with heavily forested mountains and more coastline than other other county in California. They’re situated north of California and have dozens of federal, state, and local parks and forests that are strictly protected. As a result, obtaining high-quality Internet access has always been challenging.
During this hour-long interview Christopher and fellow broadband policy advocate Sean McLaughlin join local Sean DeVries. They discuss what Internet access is like for folks living in Humboldt County and how a publicly owned broadband network might help. Their conversation encompasses the definition of broadband and why it's important for local rural communities.
They talk about some of the reasons why Humboldt County, where an effort has been in the works for several years now to improve connectivity, has not been able to take the final steps to develop a publicly owned network. Sean, Christopher, and Sean talk about recent progress in California and possible models that might work in the region.
When considering the future of the community, a community network makes sense. As Christopher notes during the interview:
"Local public ownership makes sure that you can make good decisions today, but also that as things change you have a strong voice in what's an essential input not only for jobs, but also quality of life, for education... this is something that's only going to become more and more important in our lives."
We recently realized that we’ve been sharing information, resources, and stories about publicly owned broadband networks for more than ten — TEN! — years. Our team has been so occupied helping local communities and working on projects, the anniversary went by without flowers, a cake, or a party. We’re still too busy for any of the typical celebratory activity, which is why we’re reaching out to you.
We want to hear what you need from MuniNetworks.org as we forge ahead.
What Would YOU Like to See/Hear/Download/Share?
In the past few years, many communities have expressed an interest in publicly owned networks. Innovative approaches to deployment and implementation have taken off. Legislation at the state and federal level has increased and funding opportunities have blossomed. Cooperatives are increasing investments in Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet access for members and others in their service areas. In short — there’s so much happening, we don’t have the manpower to do it all.
It’s a wonderful problem to have and we want your help to solve it.
We’d like to know what information you find most helpful and where you think we should focus our efforts. In addition to the types of material that you find most helpful — reports, videos, maps, fact sheets, etc. — we want to know what sort of content you feel provides the most value.
- Are you having trouble locating information on funding or RFPs?
- Do you want to learn more about the technical innovations of deployment?
- Perhaps you want to learn about state policies and legislation to offer ideas to your own elected officials.
- Is digital inclusion an issue that deserves more coverage from the community network approach?
- Do you want to learn more about electric and telephone cooperatives?
- Are there issues that matter to you that we have yet to investigate?
Education, telehealth, economic development, public savings, ancillary benefits of publicly owned broadband networks — we’re seeking your ideas because you know what you need and there’s probably others who need similar information.
Email us and let us know how you think we should focus our efforts as we move forward. What will help YOU the most? Send your thoughts to: broadband(at)muni networks.org
This summer, Falmouth, Massachusetts, released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a feasibility study for a community network. The community, where the year-round population of 32,000 swells to more than 105,000 in the summer, has investigated the possibilities of a publicly owned fiber optic network for the past several years. In early September, Christopher visited the east coast and appeared on FalmouthCommunityTV to share information with the greater Falmouth community.
Courtney Bird, who has lead the effort, provides information about how Falmouth has gotten this far. He describes how surprised he was when, at public meetings to discuss better local connectivity, large numbers of people appeared in support of the idea of a publicly owned network. Bird also goes through the steps they took to establish a committee to examine the problem, seek out solutions, and find funding for the study.
Falmouth has received better than expected responses to the RFP, notes Bird, and while they originally expected to decide on a firm by mid-September, he anticipates the decision may be delayed due to the number of proposals. Bird offers updates for local Falmouth and explains what they should expect from the study and from the process.
Peter Cook, who is also on the Committee for a Falmouth Community Network, is IT Director for the local library and a former computer science professor. Peter describes what the Falmouth hopes to learn from the feasibility study. From funding to potential models to possible services, Peter gets into the details of what the community wants from the study. Peter also moves beyond to describe next steps. Falmouth is thinking ahead in order to be prepared and nimble; they encourage locals to stay involved and stay up-to-date.
Learning from Others
Peter and Courtney and the rest of the Committee understand that taking advantage of lessons learned from other communities will help. Christopher answers questions and offers suggestions based on years of research and documented results.
Broadband Communities Mag has celebrated the unsung heroes of community broadband by sharing their stories so others can learn from local challenges and victories. This autumn, travel to Washington, D.C., to get noisy about those places implementing better connectivity in their communities without fanfare. October 30 and 31, Broadband Communities will bring several to their conference in a panel hosted by Christopher. There’s still plenty of time to sign up for the conference, and put the conversation, “Quiet Success in Community Broadband,” on your schedule.
Register here for the conference. Public Officials and Community Representatives receive a discounted rate of $175.
In the Nation’s Capital
This year’s conference, titled “High-Speed Broadband: Driving America’s Growth,” will take place in Washington, D.C. Organizers decided to hold the event at The Westin Alexandria Old Town in the D.C. metro because, “We believe the federal government must play a pivotal role in bridging the digital divide. The involvement of Washington lawmakers and policy-setters is crucial to solving the problem.”
Folks arriving on October 29th can get acquainted at a welcome reception that evening; panel discussions begin the following morning. Christopher’s panel, scheduled for 9:40 a.m. on October 30th, brings together officials from four networks that aren’t usually on the front page:
- Jason Grey – Director of Utilities, City of Danville, Virgnia
- Robert Bridgham – Executive Director, Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority
- Richard J. Sherwin – CEO, Spot On Networks, LLC
- Mel Poole – Director, OCALA Fiber Network
The discussion will be an opportunity to learn about approaches that these quiet heroes are taking to improve connectivity in their communities.
View the other panels, presentation topics, and speakers on the conference agenda.
For years, Palo Alto residents have patiently waited for the city to move forward on building a citywide municipal Fiber-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network. In recent months, local supporters have started pushing harder for progress, noting recent successes in other communities, and by launching Muni Fiber Palo Alto.
In early July, they invited Christopher to give a presentation on municipal broadband and answer questions from community members. Christopher discussed the importance of high quality connectivity, different network models available, and success stories from communities around the country. He shared the many potential benefits of municipal broadband in Palo Alto and addressed some of the challenges cities can face when pursuing broadband projects, including competing with incumbent providers:
“When I hear people in Palo Alto sometimes being concerned about AT&T and Comcast, it’s a good concern to have. You have to have a good business plan, you have to take marketing very seriously, but you should not be intimidated from going into business against them, because frankly, sometimes I hear people say… there’s nothing better than competing against Comcast. Because people really don’t like having Comcast as their provider.”
He also gave an overview of how the Institute for Local Self-Reliance Community Broadband Networks Initiative works to champion community broadband projects, and pointed attendees toward the many resources available on MuniNetworks.org.
Watch Christopher’s presentation in full here:
Learn more about the movement in Palo Alto at MuniFiberPaloAlto.org, and show your support by signing the online petition in favor of a municipal fiber optic network.