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Local citizens and officials have been moving the needle on the Falmouth Community Network, completing a feasibility with the help of CCG Consulting in December and continuing to pursue public awareness and education efforts in the area. ILSR's Christopher Mitchell joined Cape, Coast, and Islands Radio on Tuesday to talk about the effort and the promises it holds for those who live in the area.
Other guests on the show include:
David Isenberg, Distinguished Member of Technical Staff at Bell Labs, Senior Advisor to the FCC's National Broadband Plan, and Board Member of FalmouthNet.
Marilois Snowman, CEO of MediaStruction, a media and marketing firm in the Boston area, V.P. of FalmouthNet, Inc.
Sam Patterson, Falmouth Select Board member and Select Board's Representative to the Falmouth Economic Development and Industrial Corporation (EDIC).
Earlier this week, Community Broadband Networks Director Christopher Mitchell joined the radio talk show 1A, distributed by NPR, to talk about poor connectivity in rural America and how the Covid-19 pandemic is exacerbating existing digital divides. U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger from Virginia and ranch owner Tiya Tonn from Kansas also called into the show.
Digging Into the Divide
Christopher and 1A’s other guests explained how rural Americans across the country, from the mountains of Appalachia to the plains of Kansas, struggle with inadequate Internet access. Broadband quality varies greatly, so some households must rely on spotty cell phone hotspots or fast food Wi-Fi networks while neighbors several miles down the road may have access to fiber optic connectivity.
The pandemic is heightening the impacts of the rural digital divide on students and workers who now aren’t able to access their usual connectivity stopgaps, such as public Wi-Fi at libraries and schools. Tiya explained how the shaky broadband connection at her family’s ranch forces her to drive into town for routine activities, and her son spoke to the difficulties he experiences trying to attend online classes now that college campuses are closed.
But poor connectivity isn’t only a rural issue — people who lived near Houston and Columbus, Ohio, called into the show to share how they also can’t access high-speed broadband. Christopher added:
Even just three miles outside Chapel Hill, there are stories in North Carolina about people that are stuck on a technology that hasn’t been upgraded since before the kids that are in high school were born.
How to Expand Access
For an in-depth discussion about connectivity in rural America, Public Rado WAMU called our own Christopher Mitchell who joined host Joshua Johnson on the 1A show. The conversation covered a variety of topics from technical points to policy. If you missed it, you can listen now and get caught up.
Other guests included journalist Jennifer Levits, who often reports on tech matters, and Matt Larsen who is the founder and CEO of a fixed wireless ISP, Vistabeam. His company serves subscribers in rural areas.
Examining Rural Connectivity
What is the best way to get high-quality connectivity to rural America? In addition to discussing the challenges of bringing Internet access to America’s less populated regions, the panel touched on a recent proposal by Microsoft to use TV white spaces to bring Internet access to rural areas. Libraries and schools have experimented with white space technology in recent years. The low-frequency spectrum used to be reserved for television prior to digitization; now that it’s not being used for TV, it’s been freed up. White space spectrum, or TVWS, is less likely to be interrupted by trees or walls then traditional fixed wireless signals.
Microsoft announced this spring that it would partner with the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation (MBC), a Virginia broadband cooperative, on a pilot project using white spaces in Halifax and Charlotte Counties. The project will allow households with school kids to access their school's network from home by using TVWS.
During the interview, listeners emailed and tweeted questions to the show. In addition to the audio of the show, check out some of the comments at the 1A website. Worth the time!
RS Fiber Cooperative, serving communities in central Minnesota, has received attention and awards for a collaborative approach to improve local connectivity. The project is bringing better Internet access to farms, businesses, and residents in rural Minnesota that had little chance of ever getting better service from the national providers.
In a recent edition of National Public Radio’s The Call-In: Rural Life, Winthrop economic development director Mark Erickson, who was one of the champions of the project, talks with series host Lourdes Garcia-Navarro about what better connectivity means for rural areas.
Remember to check out our extensive coverage of the RS Fiber Cooperative, including our 2016 report, RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperative.
Erickson’s interview begins at around 4:20. Transcripts for the show are available here.
Rio Blanco County, Colorado, is moving along nicely with its Fiber-to-the-Curb infrastructure investment. Readers will recall that two years ago, voters in the mostly rural county in the northwest corner of the state reclaimed local authority and soon after the community commenced plans to improve connectivity.
In a recent interview of KDNK’s Geekspeak, Rio Blanco County’s IT Director Blake Mobley described details of the project as it moves forward. He also describes how people in the county are hungry for better Internet access. The guys touch on local control and how several other communities in Colorado are voting on the right to make their own telecommunications decisions this election season. From the show website:
On this year’s ballot, voters in Carbondale, Silt, Parachute and Garfield County will decide whether or not to opt out of restrictions on local government control over high speed Internet. Blake Mobley is IT Director for Rio Blanco County. Blake talks with Matt McBrayer and Gavin Dahl about Rio Blanco’s own ballot initiative, and the county’s decision to invest in infrastructure that is now delivering gigabit fiber to homes and businesses in Rangely and Meeker.
Christopher also interviewed Blake back in 2015 for episode #158 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.
Last week, Christopher was a guest on the Unanimous Dissent Radio Show. Sam Sacks and Sam Knight asked him to share information about the details on state barriers around the country.
The guys get into the nitty gritty on state level lobbying and anti-muni legislation. They also discuss how a growing number of communities are interested in the local accountability, better services, and improved quality of life that follows publicly owned Internet infrastructure.
The show is now posted on SoundCloud and available for review. Christopher’s interview starts around 17:00 and runs for about 15 minutes. Check it out:
On April 17th, FCC Commissioners voted unanimously to expand the use of spectrum previously reserved for U.S. Army and Navy radar systems. The FCC Report and Order creates the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) which establishes rules for shared use by licensed and unlicensed users.
This is a step forward to ensuring we are getting the most use out of the spectrum - by allowing different entities to share the spectrum when it is not being used in some geographic areas for the purpose it was originally allocated for. Milo Medin of Google explained this plan at Freedom to Connect - watch his presentation here.
According to the FCC Press Release [PDF], sharing will be managed with a three-tiered approach:
In addition to the protected incumbent tier, the Report and Order authorizes two commercial tiers of use in the Citizens Broadband Radio Service. The General Authorized Access tier, which allows any user with a certified device to operate without seeking any further Commission approval, will permit low-cost entry into the band, similar to unlicensed uses. A Priority Access tier will make geographically targeted, short-term priority rights to a portion of the band available through future spectrum auctions. One or more Spectrum Access Systems, operated by private commercial entities, will facilitate coexistence among the different user tiers.
Public Knowledge applauded the decision. Senior Vice President Harold Feld:
Today’s FCC’s actions lay the groundwork for changes in the very way we use wireless, allowing different levels of interference protection and network architecture that will make the wireless world of the future as radically different as the smartphone and the WiFi hotspot are from touchtone phones and the CB radios.
New America's Michael Calabrese, Director of New America's Wireless Future Project commended the FCC and pushed for more action:
The Center for Public Integrity has followed the local choice debate closely. Their team has travelled to Tennessee and North Carolina to talk to lawmakers, visited communities seeking high-speed networks, and dug deep into the source of influential campaign funds. Allan Holmes and his team have assembled a collection of articles and audio that offers the right amount of history, backstory, and anecdotes to properly understand these issues.
Holmes published an article last August that took a deep look at telecommunications laws at the state level. Along the way, he spoke with State Senator Janice Bowling from Tullahoma. MuniNetworks.org readers know that the community is known for LightTUBe, the fiber network offering an oasis of high quality connectivity in an otherwise broadband desert. At the time, the Wilson and Chattanooga petitions were still fresh but Tennessee communities had long dealt with the problem of poor connectivity from incumbents. From the August article:
“We don’t quarrel with the fact that AT&T has shareholders that it has to answer to,” Bowling said with a drawl while sitting in the spacious wood-paneled den of her log-cabin-style home. “That’s fine, and I believe in capitalism and the free market. But when they won’t come in, then Tennesseans have an obligation to do it themselves.”
Holmes wrote about economic development in Tullahoma, a factor that seems directly tied to the presence of its municipal network:
Employment in Tullahoma lagged statewide job growth before theLightTUBe was turned on. Since the recession ended in 2009, two years after the city began offering broadband, the city has outpaced job growth in Tennessee. The city added 3,598 jobs from April 2009 to April 2014, a 1.63 percent annual growth rate, about double the statewide rate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Ready ... set ... get local net!
Chris recently spoke to OEMG Occupy Radio about the hundreds of community broadband networks providing some of the best Internet service in the country. He encouraged citizens to look at municipal ownership, cooperative ownership, or non-profit models.
Listen to the conversation below. Chris's segment begins at 11:55. Enjoy!
Occupyeugenemedia.org describes itself as a non-violent, non-partisan, social-political movement for accountability and responsibility in government:
"We stand in solidarity with Occupy Movements around the globe and all people who will no longer sit back and watch corporate and special interests run their Government, and spoil the living Earth."
Monica Webb, long-time spokesperson and current chairman for Massachusetts' WiredWest, recently spoke with John Hockenberry on The Take Away. Monica briefly described why the coalition of local communities chose to take control of their own connectivity with a regional municipal effort.
Fittingly enough, Monica describes how she had to drive 20 minutes in order to access a connection that was reliable enough for the interview.
As we reported in January, WiredWest is currently working with specific communities to determine detailed cost estimates so they can assess their ability to deploy infrastructure with as much information as possible. As you will hear in the interview, funding is one of the primary hurdles facing smaller rural communities in western Massachusetts.
The interview runs a little over 4 minutes.
For a longer discussion on WiredWest, listen to Christopher interview Monica for Episode #2 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the summer of 2012.