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After his daughter asked how her classmates could do their school homework if they did not have a computer or Internet access at home, Pat Millen's family formed E2D - a nonprofit organization called Eliminate the Digital Divide. This week, Pat and I talk about their strategy, which was created in the footprint of North Carolina's municipal MI-Connection but is now expanding through Charlotte and working with incumbent operators. E2D has arranged an innovative and replicable program to distribute devices, provide training, and arrange for an affordable connection. Along the way, they developed a sustainable funding model rather than merely asking people with deep pockets for a one-time donation. An important lesson from E2D is the richness of opportunity when people take action locally. That is often among the hardest steps when success is far from assured - but these local actions are the ones that can be the most successful because they are tuned to local needs, assets, and culture.
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Thanks to Roller Genoa for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Safe and Warm in Hunter's Arms."
MI-Connection, the North Carolina community-owned network serving Davidson, Cornelius, and Mooresville, is upgrading network speeds and unveiling a new marketing campaign. MI-Connection was formed when a few towns north of Charlotte purchased the old, dilapidated Adelphia cable network out of bankruptcy and began rehabbing it.
According to David Boraks of the DavidsonNews.net:
The company on Dec. 10 will begin selling a new top speed internet service tentatively called “Warp Speed Broadband,” though the name could change. It will offer 60 mbps downloads and 10 mbps uploads. Customers can get it for $80 to $100, depending on whether they bundle it with TV and telephone.
Existing customers also will get faster speeds Dec. 10, at no extra charge (Download speed x upload speed): 8×4 becomes 10×5, 12×4 becomes 15×5, 16×4 becomes 20×5 and 20×4 becomes 30×10.
Notice that this community network offers faster upstream speeds than most privately owned cable networks -- because they recognize the importance of empowering subscribers rather than hoping they will just consumer video and do little else.
The DavidsonNews.net article also covered MI-Connection's last quarter financial audit report. The network has faced chronic financial problems but things continue to improve. From the article:
The financial report for the quarter that ended Sept. 30 showed that the company grew revenues in all three of its businesses – cable TV, telephone and internet. Altogether, revenues were up 6.5 percent from the first quarter a year ago, to $4,114,992. Expenses fell 8.7 percent, in part because of savings on what the company pays its high-speed internet providers.
The company’s earnings from day-to-day operations continued to grow.
Venzon [Chairman of Board for MI-Connection] said he’s frustrated because the publicly owned company still fights an image problem. “With the improvements we made to the system, I thought that people would be lined up out the door,” Venzon said. “I thought they’d see this as ours, this is us, and it just bugs me that we get such poor PR out there. We have not won that battle.And now we know that a major critic of the network works for Time Warner Cable, a company vociferously opposes muni networks as a threat to their de facto monopoly.
Time Warner tried to get a bill passed in the state legislature this year to prevent cities from offering broadband service. They claimed community networks create an un-fair playing field. Personally, if I ran a bezillion dollar company and a small town of 48,000 with no prior technology business expertise built a network 10 times faster than my best offering, I’d be embarrassed to be associated with the bill. If incumbents want to level the playing field, maybe they should outsource their engineering operations to Wilson.He revealed an upcoming list of ten smart broadband communities that has since been published here. This is a mixture of communities that have taken action to improve broadband - a variety of models and community types. Without detracting from this list, I want to note that some networks are missing important context. For instance, Wilson NC, lists an unimpressive number of subscribers currently, but the network is still being built and many who want to subscribe are not yet able to subscribe. Additionally, it would be nice to see the prices offered for each speed tier -- many of these networks keep higher speed tiers much more affordable than do traditional carriers. That said, many kudos to Craig for putting this list out there (he will be putting similar lists up in the near future). While on the subject of impressive community networks, NATOA has announced its community broadband awards.