Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
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Spanish Fork, Utah, was recently highlighted in a promotional video touting the successes of its municipal Internet service. The video, produced by the trade group Internet Association, is all about economic development and growth -- something this community of nearly 40,000 has seen since the municipality introduced the service back in 2001, and then subsequently upgraded to fiber.
As the mayor of Spanish Fork notes in the video, before the municipality established its own network, incumbent providers wouldn’t invest in broadband infrastructure in the city. Inadequate Internet access would have pushed out businesses in the community. A number of small business owners are featured in the video, and all emphasize how integral high-speed Internet has been not just for orders, but social media promotions.
The video also features U.S. Senator from Utah Mike Lee, who spoke to the business owners in the area. He concluded that an open Internet needs to be supported, not suppressed, by lawmakers such as himself:
“Our biggest most important task as lawmakers is don’t wreck the Internet, don’t interfere with the Internet," Lee said. "Leave it alone, allow it to be what it has been, what has made it such a wonderful thing, which is a free marketplace.”
Check out the video here:
We spoke to the network director for the municipal, John Bowcut, back in 2015. At the time of the interview, Bowcut said that the ISP had a take rate of about 80 percent, mainly because they were able to keep prices much lower than the incumbent Comcast. You can check out Christopher’s entire interview with Bowcut here.
Interest in broadband as a utility continues to rise across the country and in places where elected officials need a show of support, grassroots groups are stepping up. Recently in Portland, Oregon, a group of locals launched Municipal Broadband PDX, an effort to grow an already increasing momentum in the Rose City.
No Stranger to Fiber
The idea of better connectivity and local control over infrastructure is something that Portland has wrestled with for several years. With Comcast and CenturyLink controlling much of the market in the city of about 647,000 people, citizens have always struggled to get fast, affordable, reliable connectivity. The city failed at its attempt to provide free citywide Wi-Fi and the estimated price tag on a feasibility study more than ten years ago scared off the community. At one point, the city seemed about to get Google Fiber, but the plan never came to fruition.
Portland’s Integrated Regional Network Enterprise (IRNE) serves public entities with fiber connectivity and its leadership has been part of discussions on how to bring better access to businesses and residents. Back in 2012, we spoke with Mary Beth Henry with the Director of the Portland Office for Community Technology about early discussions. That was episode 7 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.
Sometimes best ideas are brewed up over a pint, and Michaelston-y-Fedw Internet proves that.
A citizen coalition in the 300-person town in Wales, fed up with its crawling 4 Mbps speeds, decided to stop waiting around for fiber to come to them and established their own Community Interest Company (CIC), a UK designation that describes an organization whose primary purpose is community benefit to place it themselves. Entrepreneurial community leaders of Michaelston-y-Fedw hatched the plan in a pub last year, and began it in earnest by establishing their not-for-profit in October 2017.
By the People, For the People
According to the ISPs website, it is the first rural community-built gigabit Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service in Wales. An interactive map of fiber implementation efforts on Michaelston-y-Fedw Internet’s website shows that a long strip of fiber is already complete, with dozens of premises connected. Thousands of hours of volunteering from locals — school teachers, farmers, retirees, you name it — made the build out possible. They already have around 15 miles of trenches dug.
We’ve covered a previous effort in the UK. A community-oriented provider, Broadband for the Rural North (B4RN, pronounced “barn”), facilitated an effort to lay fiber in agricultural land, often by landowners themselves who, if they decided to volunteer for the dig effort on their property, received B4RN shares.
Besides being a well-executed plan with some top-notch volunteer efforts — including an expert knitter-come-fiber splicer nicknamed the “Splice Queen” for her nimble hand work — the dig represents some strong local self-reliance. It’s rural areas, such as Michaelston-y-Fedw, that often face the choice between either taking swift action or waiting for a provider that may never bring the infrastructure they need.
If you couldn’t make it to Pittsburgh for “Making Connections” with Next Century Cities in July, you can still almost be there. The Internet Society has now archived the video footage of the event — speeches and panels — and made them available online.
Among the videos, we recommend Blair Levin’s keynote and the panel moderated by our Christopher Mitchell. In Blair’s speech he speaks about the importance of local authority as communities across the U.S. try to find the best way to deploy high-quality Internet access. Blair’s speech focuses on how smart cities and smart policy depend on learning and how the FCC’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Council (BDAC) is earning a failing grade. Through its imbalance in membership, misconceptions about the power of the telecommunications industry, and inability to negotiate properly it's placing too much power in the hands of already powerful ISPs.
The results won’t bring broadband to those who need it, won't facilitate smart city technologies, and seems designed only to confirm what they want to believe, which is that local communities should not have control over their own connectivity solutions.
You can check out all the videos from the event here.
Read the text of the speech or watch video of Blair’s speech and the panel that follows:
The City of Westfield in western Massachusetts recently launched a new marketing initiative designed to attract business and promote sustainable growth. The GoWestfield campaign features a website and promotional video that focuses on showcasing the many incentives for businesses that the small city of around 41,500 offers, including an environment where businesses can thrive. As the city points out in the video, one of Westfield’s largest selling points is its high-speed fiber optic Internet network.
Check out the video:
Improvements at Home and the Office
Westfield’s locally owned municipal gas and electric company, Westfield Gas & Electric (WG+E) began using fiber optic connections to monitor substations and municipal facilities about 20 years ago. In 2015, the City launched a fiber optic Internet pilot program to about 300 homes and businesses using the existing network. The public Internet service, dubbed "Whip City Fiber," has since expanded its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to more neighborhoods and is taking applications in other areas of the city.
While Westfield hopes that their new fiber network will attract more businesses, their new video highlights how existing local business are already experiencing positive impacts from the fiber. The co-owner of Westfield’s Circuit Coffee, Ted Dobek, said that people can now more easily come work at his coffee shop because his business connects to Whip City Fiber. Similarly, Al Liptak, the lead video producer at Kirby Productions, can now upload content at his studio ten times faster than with his old ISP. The production manager of Advance MFG, Co., Jeff Amanti, also has experienced the benefits, stating that the fiber has greatly helped the rate of data transfer at his precision manufacturing facility.
In North Carolina, no other rural community embodies the rural struggle for high-quality Internet access as well as Pinetops. At a recent hearing in D.C., one of the leading voices in Pinetops, Suzanne Coker Craig, testified before a legislative committee assembled to delve into the issue. During her short five minutes at the Communications and Technology Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Coker Craig described her town's rescue by the local municipal network and subsequent betrayal by their state legislature.
Coker Craig is the owner of the small business CuriosiTees and former Town Commissioner of Pinetops; she has the ability to examine the community's situation as a resident, a business owner, and an elected official. In her testimony, she tells the story of how the once-fading Pinetops was revitalized when its neighbor, Wilson, did the neighborly thing and provided Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to the small town.
In 2016, Pinetops worked with a nearby municipal provider, Greenlight, to bring high-speed Internet services to its 1,300 residents, giving local businesses like CuriosiTees the connectivity they need to thrive in the modern economy. The expansion was only made possible after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) preempted a restrictive state law that benefited large telecom companies. However, the State of North Carolina appealed the FCC preemption and the court reversed the ruling within the year.
On Independence Day, Americans celebrate the ingenuity, grit, and fortitude that led us to now. We’ve chosen this day to remember the decision to establish the United States as an independent country. Like other civilizations that have come and gone, America will always have times of honor and unbecoming moments in history, but its citizens have learned self-reliance — it’s in our DNA.
In this video from Motherboard and CNet, we have the chance to see a group of citizens from several Detroit neighborhoods take charge of their own digital future through local self-reliance. The people of the Equitable Internet Initiative (EII) are taking advantage of dark fiber in the city to provide connectivity to residents in areas of the city sorely needing Internet access and better services. The group is composed of several organizations and, in addition to deploying high-speed wireless technology to serve residents and businesses, they’re heading up programs for young people to increase adoption and provide training.
When the framers of the U.S. Constitution declared their independence, they did so based on economics, social justice, and the desire for autonomy. Diana Nucera and her group, the Detroit Community Technology Project, express a similar motivation as they declare their independence through local self-reliance.
“We risk our human rights if we don’t take ownership and control over the Internet in a way that is decentralized.” - Diana Nucera, Director, Detroit Community Technology Project
If you're inspried by this story, you can donate to the project.
A new video from Foresite Group describes the benefits and potentials of publicly owned open access networks. The company describes how a hypothetical rural town could use an open access network to provide better connectivity for residents and businesses and develop a revenue stream.
Check out this short video and take a few minutes to review our resources on publicly owned open access networks.
You may have missed Cannes this year, but we have something even better — the Fiber Film Festival! This new site will feature superior films that educate viewers about community broadband networks and inspire them to consider the need for universal high-quality connectivity.
Broadband access is now a necessary service and there is a shockingly high number of Americans still stuck with slow technologies, such as DSL or even dial-up Internet access. Filmmakers are telling these stories and documenting how communities contend with poor connectivity, overcome it, and the benefits they reap through local self-reliance. We've created an online movie house where you can view some of the best films out there.
We’ve made several of these films and collaborated with other organizations to bring out stories of local power. As the collection grows, we will continue to add works from other filmmakers. We encourage you to share the Fiber Film Festival and check back for updates. For more resources on community broadband networks, subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
If you have fast, affordable, reliable Internet access, there’s a good chance you don’t live in rural America. With the exception of areas served by local municipal networks, cooperatives, and a few small independent ISPs, businesses and residents in rural areas suffer along with aging, slow, and often expensive connections. In a docu-series by Maria L. Smith, titled “Dividing Lines,” viewers get the opportunity to hear firsthand what it’s like for people who live in places where there is no high-quality connectivity.
The docu-series uses the situation in Tennessee to focus on how big corporate ISPs like AT&T, Comcast, and Charter, heavily influenced the state legislature to revoke local telecom authority. The state is still subsidizing the big incumbents, but their not keeping their promises for better connectivity in rural Tennessee.
Smith describes her project and its purpose:
The online world is no longer a distinct world. It is an extension of our social, economic, and political lives. Internet access, however, is still a luxury good. Millions of Americans have been priced out of, or entirely excluded from, the reach of modern internet networks. Maria Smith, an affiliate of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society and Harvard Law School, created Dividing Lines to highlight these stark divides, uncover the complex web of political and economic forces behind them, and challenge audiences to imagine a future in which quality internet access is as ubiquitous as electricity.
This four-part series is being deployed by organizations and community leaders across the country, from San Francisco to Nashville to Washington, DC, in an effort to educate stakeholders and catalyze policymaking that elevates the interests of the people over the interests of a handful of corporations.
Watch the trailer:
If you are interested in hosting a screening of the capstone video, email Smith@DividingLines.org
Visit the website for a second trailer and to learn more.