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ETI Software Solutions sponsored an event to help untangle the set of considerations facing communities discussing what route they want to take to improve Internet access for families and businesses in the community.
Heather Gold (HBG Strategies) presided over the panel which included ILSR's Christopher Mitchell as well as Ben Fineman, President of the Michigan Broadband Cooperative, Steve Lang, IT Manager for the city of Wadsworth, Ohio and its CityLink Fiber, and Will Aycock, General Manager of the Greenlight Network in Wilson, North Carolina. They cover a lot of ground, from the different models worth considering, to the phases of planning, to financing, construction, and customer service.
Watch the video at ETI's YouTube channel, or below.
Big cable and telecom lobbyists managed to locate a legislative vehicle for the components of last December's bill to fund rural broadband, locking out some of the state's most promising opportunities to bring better connectivity to those who need it the most. There’s still time for Michiganders to express displeasure and the result and possibly influence change. You can file a public comment online through February 15th.
When we reported on Michigan’s HB 5670 in December, it was set to appear before the House Communications and Technology Committee. Prior to the hearing, however, Chair Michele Hoitenga removed it from the agenda. Regular readers will remember Hoitenga, whose support from cable and telecom companies has inspired her to introduce anti-muni legislation in the past.
The bill, dubbed the “Broadband Investment Act,” established a fund to provide grants for infrastructure deployment, but specifically locked out municipalities and other government entities from eligibility. Consequentially, local ISPs that might want to provide services via publicly owned fiber were also stifled from projects because this provision essentially ended the possibility of public-private partnerships or any competition with large incumbents.
According to the language of HB 5670, “broadband” was defined as 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload. While we have seen state broadband legislation from several years ago falling back upon this outdated definition of “broadband,” Michigan condemns rural residents to slow, unreliable, last-century technology. It indicates a thinly veiled attempt to hand over state funds to telecom companies with no interest in providing anything better than what they already offer in rural Michigan — DSL or satellite Internet access.
On May 8th, voters in Sharon Township, Michigan, will decide whether or not they want to pursue an initiative to invest in a publicly owned fiber optic network. People in the community of less than 2,000 people don’t expect the national ISPs to bring them the connectivity they need, so they will decide if they should take another approach to connect every one with high-quality Internet access.
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Sharon Township residents and businesses find themselves in the same type of situation Lyndon Township faced before they decided to take action to develop a network. There is limited wired Internet access in the community, but it’s almost always slow DSL from Frontier or AT&T. Many people must rely on expensive and unreliable satellite for service. Comcast also claims to have a small presence in Sharon Township.
When township supervisor Peter Psarouthakis tried to connect with representatives from incumbents to talk about improving services, he couldn’t reach anyone who could make decisions. Next, community leaders asked smaller companies to serve their areas, but "They told us they have no plans to operate in our township because we don't have enough people, and the return on investment isn't going to be there for them.”
When residents and business owners completed a survey in 2013 as the community considered what route to take, 70 percent of respondents said that their current ISP did not meet their needs; 95 percent expressed an interest in alternative choices for Internet access. Since then, community leaders have hired a consultant to develop a feasibility study and Sharon Broadband Yes, a grassroots group advocating for a fiber network, has formed to educate the public.
This is the transcript for Episode 272 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Christopher Mitchell sits down with three local leaders in Lyndon Township, Michigan, to discuss how the community decided to pursue a Fiber-to-the-Home network. Listen to this episode here.
Gary Munce: We had a voter turnout of 43 percent of the Township residents. That is by far and away the largest turnout for any August election in the history of voting in Lyndon township.
Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 272 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. In August, the small community of Lyndon Township, Michigan voted to raise property taxes to fund publicly-owned fiber optic infrastructure. Marc Keezer, Gary Munce, and Ben Fineman from Lyndon joined Christopher to talk about the vote, their proposed network, and how they spread the word about improving connectivity in their rural community. Our guests also describe the work of Michigan Broadband Cooperative that's working on the Lyndon project. Now, here's Marc, Gary, Ben, and Christopher.
Chris Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcasts. I'm Chris Mitchell, and today I'm speaking with a cohort of folks from Lyndon Township in Michigan. I'll start with introducing Marc Keezer, Lyndon Township Supervisor. Welcome to the show.
Marc Keezer: Thank you, Chris.
Chris Mitchell: We also have Gary Munce who led the Lyndon Broadband initiative ballot campaign and is also a board member of the Michigan Broadband Cooperative. Welcome to the show.
Gary Munce: Thanks, Chris.
Chris Mitchell: And our third guest is Ben Fineman who volunteers as president of the Michigan Broadband Cooperative and is someone that I know has been working on this for a long time. Welcome to the show.
Ben Fineman: Thank you very much for having us, Chris.
Michigan's Lyndon Township set a local election turnout record in August when voters supported a measure to build a municipal fiber network by 2:1 margin. The initiative was largely organized and supported by the Michigan Broadband Cooperative, a local effort to improve Internet access in the community.
To better understand their approach, organizing, and future plans, we have three guests on episode 272 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Ben Fineman volunteers as the president of the Michigan Broadband Cooperative, Marc Keezer is the Lyndon Township Supervisor, and Gary Munce led the ballot campaign and is also a board member of the Michigan Broadband Cooperative.
We discuss a variety of issues around their approach, including how the increased property tax to pay for the network will work. We also discuss the education campaign, next steps, and their hopes for helping other communities avoid at least some of the hard work they went through.
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.