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Local Voices Support Muni Telecom Utility In Fort Collins
With election season fast approaching, Fort Collins is buzzing with the possibility of municipal broadband entering the quaint Colorado town. In addition to talk among neighbors, advocates supporting the measure are expressing themselves with letters to the local media.
If ballot measure 2B is voted through, it would allow the city charter to be amended to include high-speed Internet as a municipal utility. It’s been two years since Fort Collins and other Colorado communities opted out of SB 152. And this November they’ll vote on whether municipal broadband should be an option for their community.
Talk of Muni Broadband Bubbles Up
Recent op-eds have raised the ballot issue and unflinchingly come down in support for municipal broadband. Zach Shelton, a Fort Collins dentist explained in his piece that
In order to continue to grow and facilitate healthy families and communities, we must have access to reliable and fast Internet that can connect our medical record system and servers between offices. Broadband is the glue that connects all of us in the medical field and has increasingly become an equally important tool in our doctor bag.
David Austin-Groen admits his initial apathy to the municipal broadband debate, but concedes, finding foresight, and gets right to the heart of the problem:
We simply cannot rely on the private sector to provide this service, if they ever do, and we certainly can’t live on hope that they will act in the community's best interest.
Community members and organizations have begun a lively debate over the issue. The Citizens Broadband Coalition is actively advocating for a yes vote on the ballot measure. Colorado State University recently hosted a presentation and panel discussion that shed light on both sides of the debate.
TN Broadband Bill Hits Local And National Media
When state legislators in Tennessee recently passed the Broadband Accessibility Act of 2017, tech writers quoted our Christopher Mitchell, who pointed out that the proposal has some serious pitfalls.
Christopher's statement appeared in several articles:
"Tennessee taxpayers may subsidize AT&T to build DSL service to Chattanooga's [rural] neighbors rather than letting the Gig City [Chattanooga] expand its fiber at no cost to taxpayers. Tennessee will literally be paying AT&T to provide a service 1,000 times slower than what Chattanooga could provide without subsidies."
Motherboard noted that the Tennessee legislature had the opportunity to pass a bill, sponsored by Senator Janice Bowling, to grant municipal electric utilities the ability to expand and serve nearby communities. Nope. Legislators in Tennessee would rather pander to the incumbent providers that come through year after year with generous campaign contributions:
To be clear: EPB wanted to build out its gigabit fiber network to many of these same communities using money it has on hand or private loans at no cost to taxpayers. It would then charge individual residents for Internet service. Instead, Tennessee taxpayers will give $45 million in tax breaks and grants to giant companies just to get basic infrastructure built. They will then get the opportunity to pay these companies more money for worse Internet than they would have gotten under EPB's proposal.
The Motherboard reporter quoted Bowling from a prior article (because, like the movie "Groundhog Day," she keeps finding herself in the same situation year after year):
"What we have right now is not the free market, it's regulations protecting giant corporations, which is the exact definition of crony capitalism," she said.
TechDirt Gets Personal
Local, National Media Eyes On HB 2108 In VA Legislature
When Delegate Kathy Byron introduced HB 2108, cheekily titled the “Broadband Deployment Act,” she might have not have expected so much attention from local and national reporters. Local media outlets, especially in areas directly threatened by the bill, are alerting constituents about threats to improve local connectivity. National news is also covering the story, describing how Virginia communities that can't get high-quality connectivity from national providers could fall victim to big cable and DSL lobbyists if HB 2108 [no-glossary]passes[/no-glossary]. Constituents are taking notice, but the legislative session is just getting started in Virginia.
Local Media Reaching Local Constituents
The Roanoke Valley is especially vulnerable to the perils of HB 2108. After a contentious process, the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA) completed an open access fiber-optic network to meet the needs of local businesses, schools and libraries, and other facilities. Byron’s bill would make it practically impossible for the RVBA to expand to nearby counties by preventing them from obtaining high-quality connectivity and the benefits that accompany it. Without the ability to serve more customers, the RVBA faces a tenuous future. Smith told WSLS TV 10:
“It hurts the area. It hurts us as the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority, but more importantly it hurts across the Commonwealth of Virginia, its ability to be able to serve and use technology to serve economic development,” said Frank Smith.
The Roanoke Times quickly reported on the bill when Byron introduced it, noting that it would stifle the RVBA’s attempts to encourage competition, an economic development driver:
Battle For Broadband In Bradley Top 2016 Newsmaker
Bradley County is the neighbor that time forgot in Tennessee. It sits adjacent to Hamilton County and just a short trek from Chattanooga’s EPB Fiber Optics, but state law forbids the utility from serving residents and businesses there. The Cleveland Daily Banner has followed the broadband struggles in Bradley County and ranked the “Battle for broadband” in the top 10 Newsmakers for 2016.
And So They Wait...And Wait...And Wait
“There are constituents in my district that have waited 20 years [for broadband access],” state Rep. Dan Howell said in February. “What if you had to wait 20 years to get electricity even when they had it next door? That’s what broadband is today.”
The editors and staff writers of the Daily Banner chose the Top 10 and in a recent article described how the fight started years ago and continues today. They review the FCC’s 2015 ruling that preempted state laws preventing EPB expansion into Bradley County and elsewhere and how the 6th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals reversed the decision, which crushed locals’ high hopes.
Bradley County residents have not given up, however. They’ve met with outgoing FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and have pressed state lawmakers to remove the barrier that keeps them in the last century. A state bill, introduced by Rep. Kevin Brooks, could not get past the House Business and Utilities subcommittee, but the people in Bradley County press on because they have no other option.
And Wait Some More
Their experiences have left them a little jaded; when AT&T announced in August that it would begin serving parts of Bradley County with Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH), state legislators working on the issue scoffed. They’ll believe it when they see it; us too.
Rural Tennessee Economy: Digital Divide, Connectivity Chasm
Rural folks without fast, affordable, reliable Internet access face challenges with common tasks such as doing homework, completing college courses, or running a small business. Although Tennessee has an entrepreneurial spirit, a large swath of the state's rural residents and businesses don't have the connectivity they need to participate in the digital economy. A September article in the Tennessean looks deeper at the state's digital divide between urban and rural areas.
National Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have failed to make good on promises made over recent decades to bring high-quality Internet access to the entire country, both urban and rural. Several telephone cooperatives and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are already actively investing in better Internet access to improve rural Tennessee’s economy.
The Tennessean Perspective
The newspaper the Tennessean laid out much of the connectivity problem in the "Volunteer State." Tennessee may have excellent Internet access statewide, but the urban and rural divide remains. According to a Tennessee Department of Economic & Community Development's report, only 2 percent of all urban residents do not have access to broadband. The FCC defines it as 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download speed and 3 Mbps upload speed. That number climbs in rural areas, where one out of three residents does not have broadband access.
Speed Is Not The Only Problem
Some folks simply have no Internet connection. For example, Deborah Bahr drove 30 minutes for Wi-Fi at Bojangles (Chicken and Biscuit) or visited a friend’s house a few miles away. Bahr used to run a coffee shop, leaving the Wi-Fi on continuously so local community college students could work on homework overnight in the parking lot. Bahr’s town borders Cocke County, an economically distressed area where almost 30 percent of residents are below the poverty level.
El Paso County, CO, Commissioner Urges "Yes" On Local Authority
This has been a “loud” general election. The candidates, the campaign ads, and the supporters have all blasted their messages to voters in every state, drowning out some initiatives that are equally important. In Colorado, 26 local governments are asking voters to decide whether or not to opt out of SB 152, the state’s restrictive law [no-glossary]passed[/no-glossary] in 2005 that looted local telecommunications authority.
In addition to seven counties, 19 municipalities have the issue on the ballot. Most of them use similar language from years past, when dozens of Colorado local governments presented the same question to voters.
El Paso County
There are about 664,000 people in the county, with approximately 456,000 living in the county seat of Colorado Springs. Rural residents and businesses typically struggle to obtain Internet access. County Question 1A reads:
Without increasing taxes, shall El Paso County have the authority to provide, or to facilitate or partner or coordinate with service providers for the provision of, “advanced (high-speed internet) service,” “cable television service,” and “telecommunications service,” either directly, indirectly, or by contract, to residential, commercial, nonprofit, government or other subscribers, and to acquire, operate and maintain any facility for the purpose of providing such services, restoring local authority and flexibility that was taken away by Title 29, Article 27, Part 1 of the Colorado Revised Statutes?
Recently, El Paso County Board of Commissioners chairwoman Sallie Clarke published a guest column in the Colorado Springs Business Journal and the Gazette urging voters to support the measure. She noted that, even thought the initiative is important to the community, the local press has been quiet about the measure. With media filled by the Clinton/Trump race, there is little room for anything else, but she spells out why El Paso County needs to opt out of SB 152.
Major Media Outlets Cover 6th Circuit Decision Limiting Local Authority
Various Sources, August 10-11, 2016
A circuit court decision this week means the digital divide in Tennessee and North Carolina will be allowed to continue. This week, the 6th Circuit Court of appeals decided to dismiss the FCC's decision to encourage Internet investment by restricting local authority to build competitive Internet networks. In February, ILSR and Next Century Cities filed an Amicus Brief in support of the FCC's position. Here is a selection of media stories which cite ILSR.
MEDIA COVERAGE - "Court of Appeals Overrules FCC Decision"
Cities looking to compete with large Internet providers just suffered a big defeat by Brian Fung: The Washington Post, August 10
There are signs, however, that municipal broadband proponents were anticipating Wednesday's outcome — and are already moving to adapt. One approach? Focus on improving cities' abilities to lay fiber optic cables that then any Internet provider can lease; so far, only one state, Nebraska, has banned this so-called "dark fiber" plan, said Christopher Mitchell, who directs the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's Community Broadband Networks Initiative.
"We're pursuing strategies that are harder for the cable and telephone companies to defeat," said Mitchell.
Circuit court nixes FCC’s effort to overturn North Carolina, Tennessee anti-municipal broadband laws by Sean Buckley: Fierce Telecom, August 10, 2016
However, pro-municipal broadband groups like the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which filed an amicus brief in support of the FCC's position, said they are "disappointed that the FCC's efforts to ensure local Internet choice have been struck down.”
Court Deals FCC a Big Blow in Municipal Broadband Ruling by Alex Byers: PoliticoPro August 10, 2016 (subscription needed)
BBC World Service Visits Chattanooga
Over the past few years, a number of media outlets have spotlighted Chattanooga’s rebirth from “dirtiest city in America” to a high-tech economic development engine. Recently, the BBC World Service produced “Chattanooga - the High Speed City” an episode in its Global Business Podcast series.
Peter Day presents the 27-minute story, described by the BBC as:
Chattanooga has been re-inventing itself for decades. In the late 1960s Walter Cronkite referred to the city as "the dirtiest in America." Since then heavy industry has declined and, to take its place, civic leaders have been on a mission to bring high-tech innovation and enterprise to Chattanooga. In 2010 the city became the first in America to enjoy gig speed internet following an investment of a couple of hundred million dollars from its publicly-owned electricity company, EPB. What economic and psychological benefits have super-fast internet brought to this mid-sized city in Tennessee? Has the investment in speed paid off?
In the podcast, Day interviews a number of people who describe how access to the fast, affordable, reliable network offered by EPB Fiber Optics has benefitted the community. The story includes interviews with business leaders, artists, entrepreneurs, and others who recount how the community’s Internet infrastructure has influenced their decision to locate in Chattanooga. The Times Free Press covered the BBC podcast in detail and reprinted an excerpt from Mayor Andy Berke:
"The city that I grew up in in the mid 1980s was dying," Berke told the BBC. "We held on to our past for too long. We're not the best at something and that's really important for a community. When you are the best, that changes how you look at things and allows you to take advantage of and utilize your resources. Chattanooga was a community that didn't have a tech community."
You can listen to the podcast on the BBC World Service Global Business website.
MPLS Park Board Obstructing FTTH: More Coverage
After our article earlier this month on US Internet’s problems obtaining permission to install conduit under Minneapolis Park Board boulevard property, several other articles appeared in local media.
TV station KARE 11 ran a piece on the issue and interviewed Julie Stenberg, who observed, "Technically it's park land, but people are not playing Frisbee, they're not picnicking here.” (Watch the video below.)
The Star Tribune also ran an article noting that people like Julie, who live adjacent to park owned boulevards, may never have the opportunity to take Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service from the local provider. If US Internet wants to obtain a permit to bury conduit along the parkway in order to get to Julie's house - the only option available - they will have to shell out $27,000 in fees. People around the corner from Julie are already getting FTTH service from US Internet.
According to the Strib, Commissioners denied a permit for boulevard placement and for placement under Minnehaha Creek in South Minneapolis because it lacked the detail they required. The Park Bard is concerned about damage to trees during both conduit placement and any maintenance:
“We’d directional drill, and we’d be 12 to 14 feet under the creek bed,” [US Internet’s Vice President Travis] Carter said. “You will not see anything when we’re done. It’s just a pipe deep underground that nobody will see.”
US Internet has no access to Comcast and CenturyLink poles, so an underground network is its only option. Alleys are too tight to safely use the boring and maintenance equipment, especially in the winter, but the Park Board is not convinced, “It’s really important for USI to demonstrate that there’s no alternative,” [Assistant Park Superintendent Michael Schroeder] said.
Caught Behind A Boulevard And A Creek
Parker Lecture Scheduled for October 20th; Honoring Everett Parker
The United Church of Christ Office of Communications, Inc. (UCC OC), will hold its annual Parker Lecture on October 20th at 8 a.m. in Washington, D.C., at the First Congregational Church. This year's lecture will be especially meaningful because on September 17th, Rev. Dr. Everett C. Parker, known for his groundbreaking work with public rights in broadcasting, [no-glossary]passed[/no-glossary] away at the age of 102.
This year's honorees are:
- danah boyd, founder, Data & Society Research Institute and “activist scholar” on the social and cultural implications of technology, will give the 2015 Parker Lecture on Ethics and Telecommunications.
- Joseph Torres, senior external affairs director of Free Press and co-author of News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media, will receive the Parker Award which recognizes an individual whose work embodies the principles and values of the public interest in telecommunications.
- Wally Bowen, co-founder and executive director of the Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN), will receive the Donald H. McGannon Award in recognition of his dedication to bringing modern telecommunications to low-income people in rural areas.
Parker is most widely known for his work in the 1960s, when he fought to establish the right for citizen groups to be heard before regulatory agencies such as the FCC. In 1962, WLBT from Jackson, Mississippi, refused to broadcast Thurgood Marshall who led the Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ at the time. Parker was already known for his work on human rights and freedom of speech and, having worked as a reporter, broadcasting executive, and advertising agency leader, black leaders asked him to take up the issue. The outcome revolutionized broadcasting as stations immediately began serving their entire diverse audiences. Read more about Parker's many contributions to the public interest on his online obituary at UCC OC.