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New Bill Could Make Colorado Friendly State for Municipal Broadband
Earlier this month, a new Colorado bill was introduced that, if passed, would rid the state of a law designed to protect monopoly Internet service providers (ISPs) from competition.
SB-183, titled “Local Government Provision Of Communications Services,” seeks to gut a law Big Telecom pushed state lawmakers to pass in 2005. That law, known as SB-152, prevented any of Colorado’s 272 municipalities from building and operating their own telecommunication infrastructure unless local voters first passed a referendum to “opt out.”
End of ‘the Qwest Law’?
Known also as “the Qwest law,” Qwest (now Lumen but more recently CenturyLink), with the help of Comcast, leaned on legislative allies to pass SB-152 to protect their monopoly profits. On our Community Broadband Bits podcast, Ken Fellman and Jeff Wilson, prominent telecom attorneys, recount how lobbyists for the monopoly ISPs were instrumental in pushing two false, but effective, narratives we’ve seen many times before: that SB-152 only sought to “level the playing field” so that private companies could compete with municipally run networks, and that SB-152 “protected” Coloradoans from irresponsible local governments, as if there were no such things as local elections.
But, if passed, the new proposed legislation (SB-183) – co-sponsored by a bipartisan-ish group of state legislators (10 Democrats and 2 Republicans) – would neuter SB-152 and allow local communities to decide for themselves if they wanted to pursue municipal broadband without needing special permission from the state.
Summit County, Ohio Building $75 Million, 125-Mile Fiber Ring
Summit County, Ohio says it’s making progress on a $75 million, 125-mile fiber-optic ring made possible courtesy of American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funds. The project will start by providing gigabit connectivity to all county first responders, after which county leaders say they’ll focus on shoring up lagging broadband access to long-neglected communities.
A 2017 report by an outside consultant found that Summit County, like so much of America, struggles with a dearth of affordable broadband access thanks to a heavily monopolized U.S. broadband market. The county’s fixed-line broadband market is dominated by two major incumbents, Centurylink and Comcast, and wireless access remains spotty across large swatches of the county’s more rural territories.
Introduced last year, Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro noted the network will first connect all 31 city, village and township governments to gigabit speed broadband and a data center. The network is expected to cost as much as $75 million. $35 million of that total will be pulled from the $105 million in ARPA funding received by the county.
Summit County’s interest in more affordable broadband extends back years. County leaders played a key role in beating back monopoly efforts in the state legislature to effectively ban publicly-owned broadband networks. Once those efforts were defeated, county leaders began formulating their broadband expansion plans in earnest.
IN OUR VIEW: City Cast Provides Good Lessons for Covering Broadband
City Cast Las Vegas recently aired back-to-back podcast episodes about Internet access in the region, "Why Does Our Internet Suck?" followed by "Who Can Fix Our Internet?" As an organization that both produces stories like that as well as stars on them, as our own Sean Gonsalves did in the first episode, we wanted to share why we think these are well done and should serve as good lessons for others covering these issues.
The interviewer, Dayvid Figler, is on point with questions and the show offers a concise description of the challenge and potential solutions. It turns out that Dayvid also worked as a trial lawyer though, so perhaps not many reporters will be able to simply summon that level of command to shape the conversation. Nonetheless, these two shows are wonderfully informative.
The first episode sets up the second, which is where I want to spend more time. Dayvid's questions help Sean explain what broadband is and why some neighborhoods are left behind - one of the more common questions we see on this subject. They discussed who owns existing networks and what fiber is and why we should care.
Dayvid lays the groundwork for the second show by asking why competition hasn't solved the problem of why people are frustrated with their Internet service and Sean explains that while there is no one-size-fits-all solution, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance believes communities need to take action to improve their service.
The second episode features Brian Mitchell, Director of the Nevada State Office of Science and Innovation. No relation to me, Christopher Mitchell, or my boss, Stacy Mitchell (none of us are related - there are just a lot of Mitchells, ok?).
Waterloo, Iowa Voters GO Forward with Municipal Fiber Network
After years of consideration and planning, Waterloo, Iowa is finally moving quickly forward with its plan to build a citywide municipal fiber network. Once complete, the network aims to provide the city’s 67,695 residents with an affordable, fiber-based alternative to local monopolized broadband options that have long left regional locals frustrated and disappointed.
Waterloo expects that it will cost somewhere around $115 million to build the necessary fiber backbone and connect all Waterloo residents and businesses to the fledgling network. City officials expect the first customers to go live sometime later this year at up to gigabit speeds, though it will take roughly three years for the entire network to be built.
Much like the rest of the country, Waterloo leaders and residents received a crash course in the importance of affordable broadband during the Covid crisis, when the country’s spotty, sluggish, and expensive broadband networks were on full display due to a massive rise in telecommuting and home education.
Voters Declare GO Time on Muni Broadband
Fueled by frustration, Waterloo voters in September overwhelmingly approved the city issuing general obligation bonds to fund the start of construction for a city-wide municipal fiber network.
Wave of Wireless Connectivity Crests in Enfield, North Carolina
Historically, Enfield was known for its tobacco and peanuts. Today, there’s a new wave cresting in this small rural community in eastern North Carolina.
Thanks to a recent $350,000 investment from Connect Humanity, a start-up Internet service provider (ISP) – Wave 7 Communications – is now expanding its fledgling fixed wireless network to bring high-speed Internet service to nearly a quarter of the town’s 2,300 residents.
“This is in direct response to the need we identified,” Wave 7 CEO and Founder LaShawn Williamson told ILSR this week.
“We were finding customers who had Internet service before, but couldn’t pay the bill. We wanted to help people stay out of broadband debt," Williamson said. "There is an older population here and lots of industry has moved out of town so there is a challenge with poverty. But everyone deserves access to the Internet.”
Creating a Wave of Affordable Connectivity
Before Wave 7 came along, the choices were either SuddenLink, CenturyLink, or nothing. But, as Williamson explained, a number of residents were “paying a lot of money for a little bit of Internet and going into broadband debt.”
It was a recipe for financially-strapped households to be cut off from service and left on the wrong side of the digital divide.
Initially, Williamson wanted to launch Wave 7 in Greensboro where she lives with her husband. In 2018, a tornado hit the city. “The tornado tore through here and knocked out the Internet. It was taking a long time to get back up and running and even when they did the service was frustrating,” she recalled. “So I began to wonder what it would take to start our own Internet company.”
Study: Low Income LA County Neighborhoods Pay More for Internet Service Than Wealthier Neighborhoods
While a racially-charged controversy swirls loudly around the Los Angeles City Council, a new study lays bare how low-income communities of color are impacted by the quiet business decisions of the region’s monopoly Internet service provider.
Slower and More Expensive/Sounding the Alarm: Disparities in Advertised Pricing for Fast, Reliable Broadband details how Charter Spectrum “shows a clear and consistent pattern of the provider reserving its best offers - high speed at low cost - for the wealthiest neighborhoods in LA County.”
Authored by Digital Equity LA, a coalition of more than 40 community-based organizations, not only highlights how economically vulnerable households in LA County pay more for slower service than those in wealthy neighborhoods, it also provides evidence for how financially-strapped households are also saddled with onerous contracts and are rarely targeted by advertisements for Charter Spectrum’s low cost plans.
A leading voice behind the Digital Equity LA initiative – Shayna Englin, Director of the Digital Equity Initiative at the California Community Foundation (CCF) – notes that higher poverty neighborhoods (which tend to be mostly made up of people of color) pay anywhere from $10 to $40 more per month than mostly white, higher-income neighborhoods for the exact same service.
Siloam Springs, Arkansas Is Weighing Its Options For Citywide Fiber Build
In 2012 the residents of Siloam Springs, Arkansas voted against building their own fiber network after some misleading electioneering by the regional cable monopoly Cox Communications. A decade later and local residents are still frustrated by high prices and a lack of competition, as city leaders are still contemplating what exactly they should try to do about it.
In June, the city released a new report by Finley Engineering and CCG Consulting showing the width and depth of the city’s broadband issues. That report was formally presented at an August city meeting before the city’s recently-formed Broadband Advisory Committee.
Survey Said …
The survey showed that 11 percent of Siloam Springs residents still lack access to broadband, 77 percent of city residents want greater broadband competition, and 88 percent say they’re paying way too much for broadband service. While residents also complained about sluggish upload speeds and outages, the biggest consistent complaint was high prices.
“The number one issue that came through loud and clear in the surveys is broadband pricing – practically every resident we heard from thinks current broadband is too expensive,” the study authors noted.
Siloam Springs is heavily dominated by a duopoly of just two providers: Centurylink and Cox Communications. But even calling it a duopoly is generous; the city’s survey found that Cox enjoys a 92 percent broadband market share within city limits. The lack of competitive threat reduces any real incentive for the cable giant to lower prices or expand service.
Waterloo Set to Vote on Funding for Municipal Fiber Network
The City of Waterloo, Iowa has been flirting with the idea of building a municipal fiber network since 2005 when voters approved the creation of a municipal utility service. Voters said yes to the concept then but were not asked to put any money behind it.
"We were so excited we passed it, and then nothing happened. (The plan had) been gathering dust for 16 years," at-large Councilor Sharon Juon, a member of the city’s broadband committee in 2005, told the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier when the city council unanimously approved a $2.5 million contract with Magellan Advisors to design and engineer a fiber network last fall.
This is something our city needs so desperately. We've lost businesses because we don't have the broadband needed.
Now, officials in this northeast Iowa city of 68,000 residents (the eighth-largest city in the state) are ready to take the next step, going back to voters with a ballot question that seeks approval for the city to borrow $20 million to build the network backbone.
Voters will head to the polls to decide the question on September 13. It will need 60 percent approval at the ballot box for the measure to pass.
The ‘Time is Here’
Characterizing the effort to build future-proof fiber infrastructure as “good for the long-range interest of this community,” Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart told The Courier:
For the past 15 to 20 years, the city has done a lot of talking of needing to do this and to work for our own fiber network, and the time is here.
Should the ballot measure pass, the funds would be used to build a 100-mile fiber backbone to support the city’s sewer, storm water, traffic, and water systems. Consultants to the city have said that general obligation bonds are not required, but would be used to lower the cost of financing the overall project.
Superior, Wisconsin Takes Substantial Step Toward Municipal Fiber
Just a year after city leaders of Superior, Wisconsin (pop. 26,000) passed a resolution declaring fiber optic cabling critical infrastructure, officials are beginning to put the city’s money behind an action plan. In August, a majority of City Council members voted to adopt a plan to develop a city-owned fiber network and Superior Mayor Jim Paine proposed to reserve the bulk of the city’s American Rescue Plan federal relief funds to back the project.
The recent 8-2 City Council vote gave the green light to move forward with Connect Superior – a plan to construct open access, fiber optic broadband infrastructure reaching every resident, community anchor institution and business in the city.
As Mayor Paine plans to budget no less than $10 million of the city’s $17 million in Rescue Plan funds to finance the project, Superior’s legislative and executive officials are largely united
behind the decision to pursue the path laid out in a Broadband Master Plan [pdf] developed for the city by EntryPoint Networks.
City Councilors’ adoption of the Master Plan is a significant step forward, even as there are still numerous motions the City Council will need to approve in order for municipal fiber to become a reality.
The next phase of the project involves designing and planning the network and hiring the contractors who will build it. City Council members will have to approve every contract with every consultant, design, and engineer firm along the way; as well as the Mayor’s American Rescue Plan budget in order to award the funds necessary to get the project rolling.
Vinton, Iowa’s Municipal Fiber Utility Hits 1,000 Subscriber Mark
Vinton, Iowa’s municipal communications utility, iVinton, connected its 1,000th subscriber with high-speed fiber optic Internet service this week.
Demand for fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) connectivity across the 4.74-square-mile Iowa community (est. pop. 5,100) is so substantial that iVinton, governed by the Vinton Municipal Electric Utility (VMEU), is having to schedule installations a month out as requests for residential service have surpassed the manpower available to complete them as quickly as they had hoped.
As the telecommunications utility transitions out of its start-up phase – from working with external consultants to bringing all operations in house and limiting outside vendors – the biggest challenge iVinton has had to overcome is not having enough employees to take on the necessary roles, Matt Storm, iVinton’s Municipal Communications Manager, told ILSR in a recent interview.
Still, the utility is plugging away to keep up with requests for residential installations as iVinton is eager to meet the surge in demand. “We’re supplying a service that’s needed for the community, and the community has responded,” Storm told ILSR.
Just over a year into the municipal fiber network being operational, 1,000 of 2,450 residential and business premises, or 41 percent of the available premises in Vinton have made the switch. They've been lured by increased bandwidth, a higher quality of service, and the benefit of iVinton being a local provider with service technicians in town. Today, iVinton offers three symmetrical speed tiers to residents: 100 Megabit per second (Mbps), 250 Mbps, and 1000 Mbps connections for $70, $90, and $120 per month respectively.