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Organizing for Change in Kaysville, Utah - Episode 439 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast
This week on the podcast Christopher talks with Michelle Barber and Andre Lortz. Both serve on the Kaysville City Council and are members of the group Citizens for Kaysville Fiber, but today they join us to talk as regular citizens of the city of 30,000 in Utah.
Kaysville has been working to improve Internet access for years — some residents have good connectivity, but other parts of town are very poorly served. In 2019 it began considering a municipal network, and Michelle and Andre share the history of efforts to make forward progress as well as the moves made over the last twelve months. The city originally considered a model with a utility fee, but in the face of opposition ultimately decided for a bond approach which just saw a vote where the measure was defeated by less than 200 votes. Michelle, Andre, and Christopher talk about how it happened (including how major providers funded public relations campaigns to scare people away), and what the project’s continued support means for its future.
This show is 41 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed.
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.
West of Lake Placid, Tupper Lake is Tackling Monstrously Bad Service by Building Its Own Network
Residents in the village of Tupper Lake, New York, will soon enjoy a municipally owned broadband option to get online. With the awarding of a grant by the Northern Border Regional Commission matched by local funds, a hybrid Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) and fixed wireless network will bring faster speeds and more reliable service to homes and businesses in the northern part of the Empire State by the middle of next summer.
The village of Tupper Lake (which sits within the boundaries of the town of Tupper Lake) is located in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains not too far from Lake Placid. It’s an overwhelmingly rural area, and a little more than 3,500 people call the village home.
How San Rafael, California Built a Neighborhood Mesh Network That Turned into Something More
Marin County and the city of San Rafael, California, are demonstrating what happens when local government, a community nonprofit, and generous stakeholders come together to do something right. Over the summer they’ve built a Wi-Fi mesh network in the city’s Canal neighborhood to connect over 2,000 students and their families in anticipation of the upcoming school year. How the project unfolded shows what a thoughtful, committed group of people can do to respond to a public health crisis, close the digital divide, and make a long-term commitment to the vulnerable communities around them.
A Neighborhood in Need
The Canal neighborhood (pop. 12,000) was founded in the 1950s and sits in the southeast corner of Marin County, bounded by the San Francisco Bay to the east, the city of San Quentin to the south, China Camp State Park to the north, and the Mount Tamalpais Watershed to the west. It’s split down the middle by Highway 101 and Interstate 580.
Canal is populated by predominantly low-income workers, and remains one of the most densely settled areas in Marin County — one of the wealthiest counties in the nation. Its residents serve, according to San Rafael Director of Digital Services and Open Government Rebecca Woodbury, as the backbone of the area’s service economy. Those who live there are mostly Latinx residents, with a small but significant segment who identify as Vietnamese. A 2015 study highlighted the challenges the community faces. Its population grew by half between 1990 and 2013, while available housing units grew by just 15%. During the same period, median household income shrunk by nearly a third, and unemployment remains twice as high in Canal than in the rest of Marin. It suffers from the largest education disparity in the entire state. It’s also among the hardest hit in the community by the coronavirus pandemic: the Latinx population in Canal accounts for just 16% of Marin County but 71% of cases so far.
Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition Launches Statewide Speed Test Initiative
If you live in the land of ten thousand lakes, your help is needed. The Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition has launched a speed test initiative to collect much-needed data from everyone in the state so that lawmakers and stakeholders can better direct broadband expansion efforts now and in the future. Hop over to the speed test page and give them a hand.
Data, Data, Data
The Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition (MRBC) — which is made up of over a hundred utilities, cooperatives, regional development commissions, nonprofits, private companies, and rural and urban interest groups — has worked for years with local communities and in the state capitol to advocate for more funds and help local communities address Internet access imbalances across the state. The initiative is the latest mark of their efforts, asking Internet users to input their addresses and how much they pay their Internet Service Provider (ISP) to get a better sense of speeds, availability, and prices.
To date, they’ve gotten results from a little over 15,000 tests in 11,000 locations. There are predictable problem areas in the northeast part of the state, and according to the map just under 7% of locations are unserved so far. Saint Louis, Itasca, and Carlton Counties account for the bulk of the tests outside of the metro area, though Minnesotans in Scott and Le Sueur Counties south of the 169 corridor are also putting up a strong showing.
Iowa Update — Pella Finances, Vinton Goes Live, Fort Dodge Studies, and More
Iowa is home to many community networks, from co-ops to muni cable, fiber, and other technologies. Three communities in the state have just recently made important announcements about their plans, and several others are moving forward with networks. There is so much happening in Iowa right now that shows potential for other states that don't limit competition.
There is a long history of local broadband excellence in Iowa for new networks to draw on. Cedar Falls Utilities was just recognized as the fastest ISP in the nation by PCMag. It has well over 20 years of success, but recent years have seen it sharing its expertise and facilities to lower the cost for other communities to build networks without reinventing the wheel. Local private Internet service provider ImOn is also a partner for these networks, offering voice services.
Many of these networks being built will be able to share services and lower their costs by being on the same ring to get some scale benefits despite being smaller communities. I remember many years ago when Eric Lampland of Lookout Point started pushing for this ring, and I am dumbfounded why we don't see more of this cooperation among munis and small providers in other states. Thanks to Eric and Curtis Dean of SmartSource Consulting who helped me with background for this Iowa update.
We have a brief mention of West Des Moines's recently announced partnership with Google Fiber in here, but we're finishing a longer post that solely examines their approach. Between this, that, and our Coon Rapids podcast this week, it is officially Iowa week on MuniNetworks.org!
Vinton's new municipal fiber network has just started connecting subscribers, leading to a memorable testimonial in the local paper, Vinton Today:
Unbelievably High Customer Satisfaction Helps FairlawnGig Grow Local Economy
While large Internet service providers routinely face some of the lowest customer satisfaction rates in the country, municipal broadband networks, like FairlawnGig in Fairlawn, Ohio, have set themselves apart by offering superior customer service to residents and businesses.
Case in point: recent subscriber surveys from FairlawnGig revealed that 94% of residential respondents were satisfied with their service from the community-owned network. Businesses in Fairlawn also appreciate the municipal fiber provider. A similar survey given to businesses showed that about 700 jobs — at least — can be directly ascribed to the FairlawnGig network.
“Our customer service revolves around our building a strong and diverse network to our residents and businesses,” Fairlawn Deputy Director of Public Service Ernie Staten said in a press release. “We have the extremely high customer satisfaction scores to prove it.”
Numbers Don’t Lie
FairlawnGig conducted its survey of residential subscribers at the end of April and found an astonishingly high rate of satisfaction among those surveyed. Overall, 94% of respondents said they were satisfied with the service and 77% reported that they were “very satisfied,” which is impressive even with an accuracy range of plus or minus four percentage points. Another three quarters of survey takers said that FairlawnGig’s customer service is “excellent.”
In addition, about half of respondents said that FairlawnGig was “extremely important” in their choice to live or stay in the community. And the survey found that activities like working from home and streaming movies and other entertainment increased after residents started subscribing to FairlawnGig’s Internet access.
Survey Supports Network Feasibility in Falmouth
Early survey results confirm the potential for a community broadband network in the coastal town of Falmouth, Massachusetts, reports The Falmouth Enterprise. Responses suggest wide dissatisfaction with service from the town’s current providers. Out of 378 respondents, 70 percent want better Internet access in the Cape Cod community; 92 percent want more competition.
Falmouth Economic Development and Industrial Corporation (EDIC) commissioned the survey as part of a feasibility study examining the potential for municipal broadband in the town of 32,000 people. With the initial results in hand, EDIC decided to continue with the second portion of the feasibility study to be completed later this year, moving Falmouth closer toward its own community network.
Community Support Grows
Municipal buildings and community anchor institutions in Falmouth already have Internet access through a local open access network operated by nonprofit OpenCape, resulting in significant cost savings. However, residents also want better connectivity for the rest of the community. Support for a municipal network grew throughout 2018 and 2019, culminating in EDIC issuing an RFP for a community network feasibility study in July.
Community Broadband Networks Director Christopher Mitchell travelled to Falmouth in the Fall of 2019 to discuss the community’s efforts on local television. During the program, he spoke with community leaders about the benefits of locally owned connectivity, the examples set by other municipal networks, and the unique opportunities that Falmouth has.
Study and Next Steps
RVBA Expanding to Residential Fiber Connectivity in Virginia
The Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA) in Virginia recently announced that they are now ready to begin developing residential Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connections in Roanoke and Botetourt Counties and the cities of Salem and Roanoke.
The Next Logical Step
Since 2016, the open access network has provided services to businesses, public facilities, and community anchor institutions in the region. In 2017, the Authority connected one multi-dwelling unit in the city of Roanoke and began working with a private Internet access company to provide service. Now, the RVBA is determined to connect every premise with high-quality Internet access.
The Roanoke Times reports that:
The process begins with a survey of residents in the Roanoke Valley the municipal broadband authority announced Monday morning. The survey, available on the RVBA website, will help determine where the highest demand for the service is, but with a mind to reach wide areas of the region.
“We’re changing the game,” said RVBA President and CEO Frank Smith. “We’re changing the infrastructure, allowing us to differentiate ourselves across the region and across the country.”
The municipal authority’s mission “has been to be an economic development engine, drive competition, bring more choice in … but also to serve the geographically and economically underserved,” Smith said. “We want to make sure we build in places that make sense economically but make sure we do not ignore those that are economically disadvantaged.”
Eight Pennsylvania Counties Join Forces to Improve Regional Connectivity
Local officials in eight mostly-rural counties in southwest Pennsylvania are combining efforts to determine first, what connectivity is available and, second, what can be done to improve it.
Seeking Updated Information
Westmoreland, Fayette, Cambria, Somerset, Blair, Bedford, Huntingdon, and Fulton counties have been working with consulting firm Design Nine to develop a survey to share with residents in the region. The Regional Broadband Task Force, established by the Southern Alleghenies Planning & Development Commission (SAP&DC), gathered limited data in the past. They estimate that six percent of folks in the region live in places without wired broadband Internet access.
An earlier study determined that:
...2.3 percentage of the 354,751 residents fall below that level of service [25 Mbps upload and 3 Mbps download]. About 1.6 percentage of Blair County’s 123,842 population and 2.2 percentage of Cambria County’s 134,550 population are lacking that basic level of connectivity. At the other end of the spectrum, 55.2 percentage of Fulton County’s 14,506 residents are without the service.
Funding for the study comes from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). The Task Force received $50,000 from ARC and the member counties contributed a matching $50,000 for the study. They began looking for a firm to help develop the study last fall and chose Design Nine hoping to determine:
- Level of service being provided; the needs of local businesses and the reliability of the current services being provided;
- An inventory of broadband assets already in place;
- An assessment community broadband requirements for bandwidth needs;
- Determine best technologies to meet the coal impacted community needs; and
- Cost estimates for different deployment strategies
Businesses Want More in Westmoreland
Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation Consider Community Network in Oregon
In October, the East Oregonian reported that the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) are planning to develop a broadband network.
From the East Oregonian:
Ryan DeGrofft, an economic planner for the CTUIR, said the tribes are planning the project in three phases.
The first would create a fiber loop between the CTUIR’s government facilities and tribal enterprises like Wildhorse Resort and Casino. The second phase would connect the reservation to Pendleton’s fiber infrastructure.
The final phase would see the tribes becoming its own Internet service provider for residential customers living on the reservation.
DeGrofft cautioned that the plan was still in its early stages, and even if all phases came to pass, there still might be some remote parts of the reservation that might not get the service.
At this point, DeGrofft said the CTUIR is conducting a survey to get a sense of where Internet speeds are across the reservation. Anecdotally, even some locations in Mission are experiencing slow and spotty internet service.
DeGrofft said the project is dependent on obtaining funding through grants and other sources, so there isn’t a definitive timeline for it yet.
CTUIR is asking community members to run a speed test and submit their results. They also want to know where there is no service and encourage people to contact Tribal Services.
The tribes live in the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Umatilla County in northeast Oregon. Three tribes - Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla - make up the CTUIR. There are about 2,900 people as registered members with approximately half living on or near the reservation, which is about 290 square miles. People from other tribes and non-Native Americans also live on reservation land.