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Gigi Sohn is still up for confirmation by the Senate to complete the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) - an independent agency in the executive branch of the federal government that has been stuck at a 2-2 split of Democrats and Republicans since President Biden took office. The FCC is supposed to operate with five commissioners, with the party of the President in power having 3 seats.
She was the obvious choice in December of 2020, when it was clear that Joe Biden would take office. With decades of history in telecom and media-related policy as well as a recent stint as Counselor to Tom Wheeler when he was Chair of the FCC, she would be among the most-qualified people to serve on it since I began working in telecom in 2007. And by among, I mean at the top.
I’ve known Gigi for many years and respected her from the first time I saw her in action. She isn’t a political agent trying to figure out the best path to the top. She has strong beliefs, and she’ll tell you what they are in a wonderful Long Island blur of passion. She respects other beliefs and ideas but she isn’t going to pretend she agrees with you when she doesn’t.
Maybe my word isn’t that persuasive, because I tend to agree with Sohn on many issues. But a lot of people with far more credibility among conservatives have spoken up on Gigi. So I hadn’t written anything about this because I assumed it would take time but Gigi would get confirmed. Plus, I focus my work outside DC and there is a lot going on that is keeping us busy.
This is episode 282 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Joining the show from Fort Collins, Colorado, Glen Akins and Colin Garfield describe the grassroots organizing that defeated a Comcast-funded astroturf group. Listen to this episode here.
Glen Akins: The $451,000 turned this from a local story to this small town in Colorado to a national news item.
Lisa Gonzalez: You are listening to Episode 282 the bonus episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. In Fort Collins, Colorado, the community voted earlier this month to change their city charter in order to simplify the process if the city decides to invest in high quality internet network infrastructure. Voters chose to opt out of restrictive state laws back in 2015. In an attempt to derail the campaign so that they wouldn't have to face the prospect of competition, Comcast and cronies led an expensive local disinformation campaign. Under the guise of a local grassroots group, they blanketed the community with misleading advertisements and literature. According to campaign disclosures, the Comcast front group spent around $451,000 to fight the local initiative. In end, the initiative passed. We reached out to two people in Fort Collins who were spearheading the campaign to pass Measure 2B. We wanted to hear how they did it. Colin Garfield and Glen Akins are here to offer their insight into what worked, what they would change and what they were thinking while pitted against the Goliath ISP. Now here's Christopher, with Colin Garfield and Glen Akins from Fort Collins Colorado.
Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell at the Institute for Local Self Reliance up in Minneapolis and today I'm speaking with Colin Garfield, campaign lead for Fort Collins Citizens' Broadband Committee, welcome to the show.
Colin Garfield: Thank you, Chris. Pleasure to be here.
Christopher Mitchell: And also, Glen Akins who's also campaign lead for Fort Collins Citizens' Broadband Committee. Welcome to the show.
Glen Akins: Thanks, Chris.
Fort Collins, like more than 100 communities in Colorado, had already opted out of the state law that requires a referendum prior to a city or county investing in an Internet network, even with a partner. But it went back to another referendum a few weeks ago to amend its city charter to create a telecommunications utility (though it has not yet decided whether it will partner or operate its own network).
After years of sitting out referenda fights in Colorado, Comcast got back involved in a big way, spreading money across the Chamber of Commerce and an astroturf group to oppose the referendum. And just like in Scooby-Do, they would have gotten away with it... but for local grassroots organizing.
We have a special second podcast this week because we didn't want to wait any longer than necessary to get this one out in the midst of frustration around the FCC bulldozing network neutrality. Glen Akins and and Colin Garfield were both campaign leads for the Fort Collins Citizens' Broadband Committee.
They share important insights to organizing around broadband Internet access and a strategy for success against hard odds. They had very little experience organizing and were up against a cable industry willing to spend more than $450,000 to defeat them, setting a record in Fort Collins elections.
For people who feel frustrated by the federal government handing Internet access regulation to the big monopolies, Glen and Colin offer hope and a roadmap for better Internet access.
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. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.
Want to hear more from Glen and Colin? They recently spoke with Robert Bell from the Intelligent Community Forum on their podcast, The Passing of 2B - A conversation with Glen Akins and Colin Garfield of Fort Collins, Colorado.
After elected officials in Washington, D.C., voted to allow ISPs to invade their customers’ privacy online, leaders in Minnesota took steps to protect constituents. A recent amendment in St. Paul may be setting some new rules for ISPs operating in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
Taking Action In Minnesota
Both the state House and Senate approved omnibus bill amendments that prevent ISPs from collecting the personal data resulting from customer use of the Internet. The Senate amendment language, introduced by Ron Latz, reads like this:
No telecommunications or internet service provider that has entered into a franchise agreement, right-of-way agreement, or other contract with the state of Minnesota or a political subdivision, or that uses facilities that are subject to such agreements, even if it is not a party to the agreement, may collect personal information from a customer resulting from the customer's use of the telecommunications or internet service provider without express written approval from the customer. No such telecommunication or internet service provider shall refuse to provide its services to a customer on the grounds that the customer has not approved collection of the customer's personal information.
The body voted 66 - 1 to adopt the language into the Senate omnibus jobs bill, SF 1937. In the House, an almost identical amendment was adopted into HF 2209, their economic development omnibus bill. The Senate version added the last sentence, preventing ISPs from denying service unless a customer allows their ISP to collect data.
After the amendment was included in the bill, Sen. Latz commented that the language was, “about standing up and saying that our online privacy rights are critically important.”
Chattanooga EPB has selected two new winners of its "Fibervention" campaign. We introduced you to Ms. Martha in August; during September and October, the winners were the Rolles and a student named Monica.
Winners, nominated by a "Fiberventionist," receive three months of free EPB fiber optic service, a Roku online streaming player, and several other cool gifts. The Rolles also received a new laptop and Monica received a new TV.
Chris and Dorothy Rolle are making a difference in Avondale, one child at a time. Every morning, they arise at 4 a.m. to help provide a nutritious breakfast, healthy snacks and school supplies for nearly 100 children who gather at the bus stop across the street. EPB staged a one-of-a-kind Fibervention to give them a helping hand. Together we can all be neighbors helping neighbors.
A full time nursing student working her way through college, Monica needed faster Internet in order to download class materials and complete Web-based assignments. Her Internet speeds were so slow and inconsistent that Monica was forced to do her homework at a friend’s house with EPB Fi Speed Internet. Monica kept saying she wished she had Internet that fast and reliable so her good friend nominated her for an EPB Fibervention. And now Monica has the Gig – the nation’s fastest Internet.
Google knows how to differentiate its gigabit Internet access from the slower options offered by cable and DSL. Community networks should take notes on effective advertising.
Before the economic downturn, a typical small video service provider could expect between $1.25 and $2.00 a month per subscriber in ad revenues, noted Walter P. Staniszewski, president of Prime Media Productions – a company that sells advertising for small video service provider clients. Since the downturn, the numbers are more like $1.00 to $1.50.The article focuses on the windfall cable operators are seeing due to all the money being spent by big-money interests in anticipation of the election in November. However, the smallest networks may not want to commit to ad-insertion until they are reaching thousands of homes, according to the Telecompetitor source:
“If you study the cable industry, even the big guys didn’t have their own sales force until they developed some real scale,” said Staniszewski. He cautioned operators with systems with fewer than 5,000 or 6,000 subscribers against hiring their own sales force.
Located in the northeast corner of the state of Tennessee, Morristown Utility Systems offers FiberNET to Morristown's 30,000 residents and businesses. MUSFiberNET is another community that decided to take control of its destiny and invest in a municipal broadband network. And by offering 1 Gbps anywhere in the community, Morristown is in the ultra-elite category of broadband in America.
We featured Morristown in one of the Muni FTTH Snapshots way back in June of 2009. They were doing well at the time but this great news shows how Morristown has brought next-gen, affordable, and reliable capabilities to anyone who wants it.
MUS FiberNET was built in 2006 and maintains a list of reasons why their network is superior to competitors. To advertise their incredible high capacity network, they developed this great billboard: Morristown's Gig announcement never received the attention given to Chattanooga or Google's roll-out in Kansas City, which is unfortunate. For commercial users, the Gig runs $849.00 per month, a ridiculously inexpensive price point compared to what large carriers commonly charge for the service. Morristown Schools are also taking advantage of the network, including making full use of the gig service. Residential prices vary from 6 Mbps/4 Mbps, download and upload speeds, for $34.95 to 20 Mbps/10 Mbps for $74.95 and MUS FiberNET also offers a variety of triple-play bundles.
Like many other communities in Tennessee, Morristown has few choices for service from private providers. After promising the state legislature major investments in Tennessee in return for favorable legislation, AT&T decided to only served high end, dense neighborhoods, as we have seen just about everywhere else.Communities that are satisfied with last generation connections and having no control over the networks on which they depend can make do with AT&T and cable companies. But those who want universal access to fast, affordable, and reliable services should consider building a community fiber network.