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Plans for Holston Electric Cooperative to offer television service as part of its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network deployment are on pause following allegations from the east Tennessee co-op that broadcasting company Nexstar Media Group refused to engage in “good faith” negotiations over retransmission consent agreements.
Holston Electric Cooperative established its broadband subsidiary, HolstonConnect, in late 2017 after a state law change removed restrictions on rural electric co-ops. Currently, HolstonConnect is in phase one of its FTTH project, which will bring high-quality Internet access to underserved communities in Rogersville, Surgoinsville, and nearby areas. Subsequent deployments will connect the remainder of the cooperative’s service territory, partially aided by federal funding from last year’s Connect America Fund phase II reverse auction.
From the start, the co-op planned to offer a “triple play” of broadband, voice, and video services. However, failure to come to an agreement with Nexstar, one of the nation’s largest station operators, over access to essential local channels has delayed the delivery of television services to HolstonConnect subscribers. In early March, Holston filed a complaint against Nexstar with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), arguing that the broadcasting company demanded exorbitant fees and unfair station tying arrangements during negotiations with the co-op.
“Failure to Negotiate in Good Faith”
To carry popular television programming, networks must sign cable retransmission consent agreements with regional station operators. The FCC requires that these companies behave in “good faith” and make tangible efforts to engage in negotiations.
Net Inclusion 2019 is happening in Charlotte, North Carolina, and if you aren’t there you can still watch the action online through the livestream from National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA).
In addition to bringing the live action, NDIA is providing a list of the livestreamed content directly below the video on the YouTube page. For a full agenda, check out the Net Inclusion website.
If you’re in North Carolina at the event, you can make Christopher’s panel, “Infrastructure Projects that Include Affordability, Digital Literacy, and Public Access.” He’ll be moderating a panel with Garrett Brinker from Neighborly, Deb Socia of Next Century Cities, Geoff Millener of the Enterprise Center Chattanooga, and Will Aycock, General Manager of Wilson, North Carolina’s Greenlight Community Broadband Network. The panel will discuss municipal network infrastructure and efforts to bring high-quality connectivity to people living in affordable housing.
Watch the livestream:
Missouri’s Bootheel is the ultimate southeast corner of the state, extending south and surrounded on three sides by lands in Arkansas, Tennessee, and a smattering of Kentucky. The area’s known for having fertile soil and vibrant agriculture but now that Pemiscot-Dunklin Electric Cooperative is deploying Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH), it's also becoming known for high-quality Internet access.
The Region and Lack of Connectivity
Jack Davis has worked in several fields. His tech career started when most people in the area reached the Internet via dial-up connections; at the time he worked as a network administrator for a local dial-up ISP in the 1990s. His second career was in agriculture and now he’s back in the tech field. Davis’s multiple work experiences have given him insight into the increasing broadband needs of rural residents who either farm or work in some other aspect of the agriculture industry.
When Davis went back into tech, he joined Pemiscot-Dunklin because the electric cooperative, which had never had IT staff before, needed to fill a long-existing personnel gap. With approximately 8,800 connected meters, the cooperative is a modest-sized organization. Approximately 20 percent of their load goes toward irrigation, revealing the important role agriculture plays in the region. Internet access in rural areas is limited to fixed wireless. Cooperative members who used to subscribe to the wireless service typically found top speeds were around 3 - 4 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and much slower upload speeds.
Time for an Upgrade
The Rio Blanco County Economic Development Department recently published their promotional video to share information about their Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. The video highlights some of the benefits the infrastructure is now bringing to the communities of Rangely and Meeker by offering interviews with people from different segments of the population. In addition to county administrators, people in the fields of education, real estate, and business leaders discussed how the open access network is positively impacting their fields.
Check out the video, that runs just under five minutes:
Getting Out the News
The video is an excellent tool to help Rio Blanco County spread the word about their publicly owned infrastructure that will help them stay competitive. One of the recurring themes in the video and from other rural communities throughout Colorado and elsewhere, remains the ability to live and work in an environment unspoiled by urbanization while still having access to connectivity that rivals or surpasses that in urban areas. As Rangely Town Manager Lisa Pierling states:
"You can have the best of both worlds. You can have all of the modernization you need to run your business, but you can still take a step back and just enjoy a little slower paced life than rush to work, rush home."
Learn more about the Rio Blanco County FTTH project by reviewing our coverage.
Our Christopher Mitchell and Katie Kienbaum are participating in Let’s Connect! speaking tours at several communities in North Carolina. The events, organized with NC Broadband Matters, NC Hearts Gigabit, and the North Carolina League of Municipalities, has been a chance for local residents in Albemarle, Fuquay-Varina, and Jacksonville to gather together and discuss rural broadband. While each community’s needs are unique, there are some common themes and the conversation can be valuable to anyone interested in learning more about ways to improve connectivity in their community.
Can't Make It? No Prob
In order to reach folks in different regions, organizers set up the events in towns across the state and schedule the meetings during evening hours. Nevertheless, there may be people who would like to attend, but aren’t able to due to work, transportation challenges, or other issues.
In order to make at least one event accessible to as many people as possible, folks in Jacksonville have set up a livestream, which will be presented via Jacksonville - Onslow Government Television. The event is scheduled for 6 p.m. local time on January 30th.
In addition to Christopher, confirmed speakers include:
- Greg Coltrain, Wilkes Communications/River Street
- Erin Wynia, NC League of Municipalities
- Beth Bucksot, Pamlico County
- Jonathan Bullock, Hotwire Communications
If you’d like to attend the free event, you don’t need to RSVP, but seating is available on a first come, first served basis. The Jacksonville event will be held at the Jacksonville Youth Council Youth Center at 804 Bridge St. in Jacksonville.
Susan Crawford has published the right book at the right time. Fiber: The Coming Tech Revolution -- And Why America Might Miss It, makes a compelling case for local organizing around better Internet networks upon which the future will be written.
The book revolves around several communities that will be familiar to anyone following community networks - cities like Chattanooga and Wilson, many of whom are members of Next Century Cities. Even people with only a casual interest in how to achieve the best Internet access will recognize some of the community names in Susan’s latest book.
As someone who has tracked these networks closer than most, several of the anecdotes were new to me and sufficiently powerful that I - literally - had to restrain myself from cheering while finishing the book on a flight. So it works well both for someone unfamiliar with the technology or movement as well as for those of us who have worked from within it for many years.
Susan dives right into the tech and marries it to the purpose:
Those hair-thin fiber strands, capable of carrying billions of phone calls simultaneously, plus advanced wireless communications that depend on that fiber extending into the last mile, will make possible virtually unlimited, cheap communications capacity wherever you are—which in turn will give rise to new businesses, new transport capabilities, new ways of managing our use of energy, new forms of education and health care, new ways of earning a living, and new forms of human connectedness. For these things to happen, both fiber and advanced wireless technologies need to be widely and competitively available. Without these basic pieces of open infrastructure in place, your country will be missing out on the future being lived and built elsewhere.
Speaking of purpose, this next paragraph is the type of prose that I think sets Susan apart from other writers on these issues.
Today, the U.S. pauses to remember one of the greatest people in our modern history, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His work to inspire and organize civil rights warriors changed the path of our country and bettered the lives of countless Americans living during his time and moving forward.
The Internet wasn’t a thing in 1963, and we wonder how such a tool might have changed his work. He passed many years ago, but he’s still able to use the Internet as a tool to spread his message. Today that message of ending division seems just as relevant.
In honor of Dr. King, the people who marched with him, those who continue to work to advance civil rights and social justice today, we want to share the full audio of his “I Have A Dream Speech” from August 28, 1963.
If you’d like to read the speech, you can access it in the National Archives.
On January 16th, Next Century Cities (NCC) launched a resource that will help communities of all sizes prepare themselves for the future. NCC's Becoming Broadband Ready: A Toolkit for Communities combines best practices and experiences from places across the country to assist local communities as they begin broadband projects.
Ready, Set, Launch
In order to celebrate the new resource, learn about the content, and discover how the toolkit can be relevant to a range of projects, NCC hosted a launch event on January 16th. In addition to providing a demonstration that revealed the ease of using the toolkit, NCC brought community leaders to the event for a panel discussion. Dr. Robert Wack from Westminster, Maryland; Dan Patten from MINET in Oregon; and McClain Bryant Macklin from Kansas City participated on the panel hosted by ILSR’s Christopher Mitchell.
Panelists discussed the unique challenges they had encountered in their communities and how they overcame them along with the ways they addressed those challenges. In addition to issues that surrounded how they educated the community, panelists also talked about matters that influenced their choices of model, financial problems, and other issues. Below, you can watch the panel discussion, which include conversation on collaboration, information sharing, and other matters.
Becoming Broadband Ready: A Toolkit for Communities is a comprehensive resource that covers considerations from early in the process to determining success throughout implementation. In addition to offering guidance with examples from across the country, the toolkit offers links to other resources, such as model ordinances, reports, podcasts, and organizations laser-focused on specific and relevant issues.
Despite the ongoing saga of what has become the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, elected officials and policymakers still managed to gather at Google’s Washington, D.C., office yesterday for the Opportunities for Bipartisan Tech Policy conference. The half-day conference, hosted by Next Century Cities, the American Action Forum, and Public Knowledge, aimed to identify areas of bipartisan consensus in the issues of rural broadband, data privacy, and spectrum policy and to discuss potential priorities for the new Congress.
Read about some key takeaways from the conference below. For the full experience, watch the video archive of the event.
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel’s opening conversation with Deb Socia of Next Century Cities touched on many of the topics that would be discussed throughout the day, including rural and tribal broadband access, data privacy and consumer protections, and efficient allocation of spectrum. Commissioner Rosenworcel also pointed out the importance of working with states and localities to improve the accuracy of federal broadband availability data in order to better direct resources to underserved communities. (Learn more about how the FCC data overstates broadband access.)
In the second keynote discussion, moderated by Will Rinehart from the American Action Forum, Robert McDowell, former FCC Commissioner and Partner at Cooley LLP, and Blair Levin, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, spoke about the future of 5G and how to measure the success of broadband subsidy programs. When asked what his priorities would be if he were an FCC Commissioner, Levin replied:
“What I would do is free up the cities . . . I do think that city officials — they know more, they have the right incentives, and we’ve got to free them up. And the FCC is doing exactly the opposite"
Panelists Find Some Common Ground
Ever since the term “5G” came on the scene, the big ISPs have dedicated themselves to expanding hype about what the technology will accomplish, especially in rural areas. In a recent NBC News Signal segment, Dasha Burns took a look at rural and urban connectivity, the digital divide, and considered the demands and limitations of 5G.
She provides a simple explanation for why 5G can only have a limited impact in rural areas. She also touches on some of the issues that create parallels between the situation for people in urban areas who might not have access to 5G when it finally arrives. To address the urban component of digital equity, Burns went to Newark, New Jersey, and met with students who, due to economic limitations, rely on public access to the Internet.
Burns visits rural Minnesota to check out RS Fiber and talks with one of the many local people in the agriculture industry, a crop consultant, that needs high-quality connectivity from the broadband co-op. We get a peek inside the RS Fiber headquarters. For more on the rural Minnesota cooperative, download our 2016 report, RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperative.
Check out the 5:25 minute video: