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Colorado's Unique Environment of Local Collaboration - Community Broadband Bits Episode 178
A few weeks back, Colorado voters overwhelmingly chose local authority and community networks over the status quo Internet connections. Approximately 50 local governments had referenda to reclaim authority lost under the anti-competition state law originally called SB 152 that CenturyLink's predecessor Qwest pushed into law in 2005.
This week, Virgil Turner and Audrey Danner join us to discuss what is happening in Colorado. Virgil is the Director of Innovation and Citizen Engagement in Montrose and last joined us for episode 95. Audrey Danner is the Executive Director of Craig Moffat Economic Development and co-chair of the Mountain Connect Broadband Development Conference. We previously discussed Mountain Connect in episode 105 and episode 137.
In our discussion, we cover a little bit of history around SB 152 and what happened with all the votes this past election day. We talk about some specific local plans of a few of the communities and why Colorado seems to have so many communities that are developing their own plans to improve Internet access for residents, anchor institutions, and local businesses. Over the course of this show, we also talked about Rio Blanco's approach, which we discussed previously in episode 158. We also discuss Steamboat Springs and previously covered that approach in episode 163.
This show is 24 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed.
We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.
Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.
Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Warm Duck Shuffle."
Locally Owned Networks Protect Privacy and Limit Consumer Surveillance
Since the story broke about the NSA domestic spying practices, debate among concerned citizens has revolved around the Big Brother surveillance model. Most of us shudder at the thought of our federal agencies from DC watching, noting, and recording our actions. However, there is another type of Internet surveillance that largely escapes notice and likewise threatens our liberty.
Both types of surveillance are perversely encouraged by a poorly regularly market that allows big corporations to profit from violating our privacy.
We have long known that our online habits are being recorded and combined with other personal data that allows companies to show us personalized ads. But Free Press recently offering a compelling explanation for how this model can harm us. From the Dana Floberg article:
And about those “personalized ads” — this isn’t about Facebook learning you prefer Coke over Pepsi. This is about corporations targeting us where we’re vulnerable. This is about your Latina neighbor who sees ads for risky high-interest credit cards. This is about your cousin who just got laid off and now sees ad after ad selling him dangerous fast-cash offers and subprime mortgages. This is about your friend who lives in a rougher part of town and sees higher prices whenever he shops online. This is about all of us.
These ads aren’t personalized — they’re predatory.
Floberg goes on to describe how shopping sites alter prices based on income and location so more affluent shoppers can access better prices and coupons. These sites both use and reinforce stereotypes as they take advantage of the most vulnerable in our society.
Without laws to protect consumers, there is little we can do to stop this predatory behavior. Just as the market encourages corporations to violate our privacy to sell its goods, big corporations are also profiting in their work with law enforcement at all levels.
An AP article by Anne Flaherty notes that AT&T charges $325 to activate a wiretap and $10 per day to maintain it. Verizon charges the government $775 for the first month and $500 per month after that to continue it. It is hard to believe these charges are in line with actual costs.
Silverton, Colorado, Breaks Ground in First Phase of Regional Network
In 2010, Silverton, Colorado, decided to build a fiber-optic loop for savings and better connectivity in rural San Juan County. At the time, Qwest (now CenturyLink) provided a microwave connection to the town of around 630 residents. After taking state money to connect all the county seats, Qwest decided to take fiber to everyone except Silverton, much to the frustration of local residents. We wanted to catch up with happenings in this former silver mining camp.
We spoke with Jason Wells, Silverton Town Administrator, who told us that Silverton's loop is part of a regional effort, the Southwest Colorado Access Network (SCAN). Silverton's loop broke ground in April and it will cost $164,000. Silverton and San Juan County contributed $41,000 and the remainder comes from a Southwest Colorado Access Grant. Wells says public institutions will be hooked up first, then downtown businesses. Connecting the schools will come later.
The community is limited by its remote geography. At 9,300 feet above sea level, the town is one of the highest towns in the U.S. and still served by microwave technology. Wells hopes future expansion will include wiring Silverton to Durango, the closest SCAN community. Durango connects municipal and La Plata County facilities with its municipal fiber and leases dark fiber to local businesses, private providers, and community anchor institutions.
Wells connected us to Dr. Rick K. Smith, Mayor of participating Bayfield and General Manager of the Southwest Colorado Council of Governments (SWCCOG). Dr. Smith shared some history on the SCAN project.
Community Owned Network in New Mexico Helps Save Lost Pets
We recently learned about Aztec, New Mexico's, free downtown Wi-Fi so we decided to contact Wallace Begay, the IT Director, to find out more. This desert community of about 6,600 people not only offers the free service, but uses its fiber to serve government, schools, and even four-legged residents.
Begay tells us that in 1998 the city and school system coordinated to install the original fiber and the entities share ownership. The school wanted better, affordable connectivity for students while the city wanted economic development opportunities. Community leaders used E-rate funding and a Gates Foundation grant to construct the original fiber aerial route.
The town provides water, wastewater, and electric services through municipal utilities with its SCADA system. The public library and all ten Aztec Municipal School facilities connect to the fiber network. Municipal government facilities also use the network.
Even though the city is a co-owner, it took several years for municipal offices to get on the fiber network. Aztec City Council originally decided to install the fiber network as a way to bring in revenue by leasing dark fiber, not as a way to connect offices. When Begay started at the city in 2001, administrative offices still used dial-up connections. Twenty dial-up accounts (and the crawling speeds associated with them) added up to $500 each month.
At the time, Qwest (not CenturyLink) was the provider in Aztec and could only offer microwave or copper connections. Connecting 13 facilities at 1.4 Mbps would have cost the city $1,200 each month. Begay used $500 from the electrical enterprise fund to purchase equipment and pay for tech labor to move municipal offices on to the existing network. The city electrical enterprise fund pays for expansions and updates. The network is now about 12 miles.
In Iowa, Indianola Networks Helps Local Businesses
Longmont Referendum Take Two: It Starts With a Debate
Without that vote, the city can't let homes or businesses use that fiber without a vote, thanks to a 2005 state law. It's a fight the city's lost once before in 2009, when opponents -- including the Colorado Cable Telecommunications Association -- spent $245,513 to urge the measure's defeat. This time out, there's a different tack. The city has been underlining in discussions that the measure would "restore its rights" to provide telecommunications service.
Longmont Considers Second Vote on Community Fiber Network
The first attempt at getting that approval didn't go so well in 2009. According to city records, opponents -- including the Colorado Cable Telecommunications Association -- spent $245,513 to defeat that ballot measure, the largest amount ever spent on a Longmont city election. By contrast, the city legally couldn't campaign on its own behalf, and the explanations that were out there didn't explain well, according to Longmont Power & Communications director Tom Roiniotis.The cable and phone companies created an astroturf group called "No Blank Check" that then used standard fear, uncertainty, and doubt tactics to spread misinformation around the community.
Short History of Powellink Muni Fiber in Wyoming
Seattle Mayor Uses City Conduit to Connect Pioneer Square
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn today laid out a proposal to encourage broadband Internet in a four-block area in Pioneer Square, allowing telecom and cable companies to lease some of the conduit that the city is now placing under First Avenue South. McGinn said it is a small, incremental step in a larger plan to bring high-speed Internet to the parts of the city that need it, tapping into some 500 miles of “dark fiber” that’s not being utilized.Pioneer Square, with a mix of commercial and residential, currently has very poor access to the Internet:
Jeff Strain, the founder of Undead Labs, a 20-person game developer in Pioneer Square, said that fiber-optic cable would dramatically improve his company’s ability to create cutting-edge games. “What we are able to get in Pioneer Square is about half the speed of what you’d be able to get in your home,” said Strain. “So, it is not really suitable for the sort of media rich businesses that we are trying to build down here.”The Mayor's site explains that Jeff Strain was considering moving his company to a location with better access.
We’ve heard from Pioneer Square businesses that internet speeds there are just not what a 21st century economy needs. Jeff Strain, who founded a game development company called Undead Labs, worries that he might have to move his company from Pioneer Square if the “barely adequate” internet service isn’t improved.
Cortez, Colorado, Also Launches Open Access Network
On the heels of our story announcing a new open access community fiber project in Idaho, we have learned of a similar project in Cortez, Colorado. Cortez is the county seat of Montezuma County in the extreme southwest of the state and has approximately 8,000 residents. Much of Colorado has long suffered from Qwest's refusal to invest in modern networks -- though a more charitable take on it would be to say Qwest's inability because it simply does not have the capacity to invest in the kind of networks communities now need to take advantage of modern communications technologies. In the late 90's, Qwest's services in Cortez were served by microwave links incapable of meeting local needs and Qwest refused to invest in a better connection due to an insufficient business case. In the words of Rick Smith, Director of General Services for Cortez (and in charge of the network), the city then decided "to take its destiny in its own hands." They began building their own network. The initial phase was an I-Net, built with the City's capital funds, to connect schools and other public facilities. They were able to later expand that under Colorado's Beanpole Project, a program that sought to aggregate community traffic in an attempt to lure more private sector investment in networks. Along the way, they began leasing some dark fiber to private companies that needed better telecommunications options. When Qwest pushed through a bill in 2005 to limit local authority to build networks (click on Colorado on the Community Broadband Preemption Map), Cortez was grandfathered, leaving it with more authority to invest in this essential infrastructure than most communities. A press release details the financing for this latest phase: