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Washington Post Covers Pew Research on American Attitudes of Municipal Broadband
Washington Post - April 11, 2017
Most Americans want to let cities build and sell homegrown Internet service
Written by Brian Fung
With Internet providers ranking near the bottom of customer satisfaction surveys, 7 in 10 Americans say their towns or communities should be allowed to build new Internet networks that compete with large, established providers, according to new data from the Pew Research Center.
The latest findings add to a long-running battle over restrictions — often written by state legislatures and supported by telecom and cable companies — that prevent local governments from establishing homegrown rivals to ISPs such as AT&T or Charter. And, policy analysts say, the results underscore a gulf in attitudes about public infrastructure spending — although perhaps not the kind you may expect.
Where they are allowed to, other towns have increasingly moved to build their own independent networks. For example, the government of Colorado Springs, recently became the 100th jurisdiction in the state to vote to overcome the Colorado legislature's restrictions on municipal broadband, said Christopher Mitchell, a public broadband advocate at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minneapolis.
“In Colorado, we see liberal cities like Boulder, conservative cities like Colorado Springs, and many conservative counties putting, in some sense, their money where their mouth is,” said Mitchell.
Feasibility Study? How to Start a Community Network - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 246
After discussing this issue time and time again, with community after community, we finally recorded our thoughts on how communities should get started when considering a community network. Eric Lampland, the guy behind Lookout Point Communications, is our guest on Community Broadband Bits podcast episode 246.
We talk about common mistakes and the importance of developing a comprehensive vision when evaluating an investment or partnership to improve Internet access.
We also talk a little about the importance of some technical knowledge and having at least one person championing the effort. This is not something a consultant can do for you - someone in the community has to take ownership and responsibility.
These are very important considerations for any community considering what it should be doing in the modern era.
Eric has also been a guest on Episode 128 "Open Access and Incumbent Challenges" and Episode 84 "Justifying a Network with Indirect Cost Savings."
This show is 33 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 Break the Bans for the music. The song is Escape and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.
Wilsonville, Oregon: Survey, Analysis, Consideration
The city of Wilsonville, Oregon, is collecting information from businesses and residents to explore community interest in a municipal fiber network. So far, efforts to analyze need include two surveys and the first of several public meetings with businesses. The City Council anticipates considering the results of the study this summer.
This Is Wilsonville
Wilsonville is a densely populated city located in the Portland metro. Its seven square miles is home to about 20,000 residents and a handful of tech companies. The city has some existing fiber, which connects to neighboring Clackamas County’s broadband network and provides high-quality, low-cost service to Wilsonville’s police department, library, and schools. Wilsonville doesn't have a municipal electric utility, but does supply water and wastewater.
It's in the northwest corner of the state, primarily in Clackamas County with a section of the community located in Washington County. There are a number of large distribution centers in the community, including Coca-Cola and Rite-Aid, that require access to high-capacity connectivity. Clackamas County's Broadband eXchange provides fiber connectivity to public facilities and businesses across the county.
Wilsonville first considered improving Internet access last January, when the City Council authorized staff to work with a consultant to explore their options.
“It really goes to the concept of how competitive we think our city should be across business interests and across industry, as well as the financial addition and even the residential participation in that,” said [Mayor] Tim Knapp.
All Options On The Table
ICYMI Amazing Internet Service Second Only to Safe Streets
Thinking about moving? High-speed Internet service and safe streets probably top your list of desired new home features. High-speed Internet access was second only to “safe streets” in choosing where to live, according to a 2016 survey from Fiber to the Home Council (FTTH Council).
Nearly all the respondents (98 percent) valued “safe streets” as “very important”, while 91 percent of all the respondents considered high-speed Internet service as “very important” in choosing where to live. The survey also noted that respondents with Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) are far more satisfied than those with cable or DSL connections.
Connectivity Has Value
This comes as no surprise considering the value added by great connectivity. From accessing bank accounts to communicating with teachers, families need reliable, high-speed Internet service for many common tasks these days. FTTH brings fiber directly to the home, ensuring that everyone there has a fast, reliable connection.
FTTH Council’s 2015 report highlighted how FTTH increases home values by more than $5,000, nearly the same amount as installing a new fireplace. Broadband Communities magazine found that FTTH also improves the value of apartment buildings.
An Ongoing Trend
Comparing the FTTH Council’s recent survey results with the American Planning Association’s 2014 report, it is obvious that high-speed Internet access continues to grow in importance.
Erie County, New York, Take This Internet Access Survey
Forty-three percent of residents in Erie County, New York, do not have access to high-speed Internet access. That’s a drag on the local economy, but the situation could soon change. Erie County residents and businesses have the opportunity to comment on their needs by taking a survey on local Internet connectivity. Residents and businesses in Erie County, New York, can fill out the survey at eriecounty.crowdfiber.com.
An Ongoing Effort, State Support
The survey features a speed test and a few quick questions, which will be used to map where folks lack connectivity. Governor Andrew Cuomo’s half a billion dollar New NY Broadband Program funds the survey. In August 2016, the governor stopped at the University of Buffalo in Erie County to speak about the plan, saying, “Erie County is our first priority.”
This survey is the next step in an ongoing effort to bring 21st century connectivity to the county. In late 2015, Erie County started looking for an organization to study the feasibility of a countywide high-speed network. With the survey results, officials will be able to choose the best path forward. On December 5, county officials hosted a public meeting to discuss the survey and how they will use the results.
There are about 1 million people living in the far western county; approximately 260,000 of them live in the county seat of Buffalo. The community has considered the potential benefits of a municipal fiber network for some time and has been doing their research. Back in early 2015, they released a report that indicated a potential 1.1 percent increase in the county's GDP (approximately $450 million annually) with better connectivity.
"I Can Barely Do Anything"
Chatham County NC Share Your Connectivity Perspective in a Survey
With the release of our North Carolina report, it is important to remember that reports and maps are only as good as the underlying data. Although federal and state governments have collected information on deployment and access for several years, the accuracy and quality of that data is up for debate. Chatham County, North Carolina, wants to show the actual situation that local residents face.
Chatham County is encouraging every household or business to complete a survey this next month. The survey will enable communtiy leaders to move forward.
“It is up to us…”
Chatham County is home to just shy of 70,000 people. This rural county's population is spread out throughout the countryside with just 85 people per square mile. Darlene Yudell, the Director of Management and Information Systems for the county, explained the potential impact of the survey:
“It is up to us to show areas that are unserved or underserved. We also have to deal with the fact that several state regulations and laws restrict what counties can do to promote more broadband options in those areas.”
The federal data is based around Form 477. Internet service providers submit to the the Federal Communications Commission what their maximum advertised download and upload speeds are for each census block. This form, however, does not include information around pricing.
Although a census block may have high-speed Internet access, it may be unaffordable. According to the North Carolina Broadband Infrastructure Office, only 16 percent of North Carolina's population subscribe to broadband (25 Mbps/3 Mbps) speeds despite 93 percent of the state ostensibly having access to such speeds. Chatham County hopes residents will provide a more accurate picture of what is available.
If you live in Chatham County, North Carolina, we encourage you to take part in this survey.
Loveland On The Trail Of Better Connectivity
Loveland, Colorado, was one of nearly 50 communities that voted to opt out of SB 152 last fall. Ten months later, they are working with a consultant to conduct a feasibility study to assess current infrastructure and determine how best to improve connectivity for businesses and residents.
Examining Assets, Analyzing Options
According to the Request for Proposals (RFP) released in April, the city has some of its own fiber that’s used for traffic control. Loveland also uses the Platte River Power Authority (PRPA) fiber network but wants to enhance service all over the community, focusing on economic development, education, public safety, healthcare, and “overall quality of life.” Community leaders also want recommendations on which policies would encourage more and better service throughout Loveland.
The city has its own electric, water, sewer, wastewater, and solid waste utilities, so is no stranger on operating essential utilities. Approximately 69,000 people live in the community located in the southeast corner of the state.
They want a network that will provide Gigabit (1,000 Megabits per second or Mbps) connectivity on both download and upload (symmetrical) and 10 Gigabit (Gbps) symmetrical connections for businesses and other entities. The network needs to be scalable so it can grow with the community and its needs. Reliability, affordability, and inclusivity are other requirements in Loveland.
Loveland began the process this summer by asking residents and businesses to respond to an online survey. The city will consider all forms of business models from dark fiber to publicly owned retail to open access and public-private partnerships (P3). They should have results by early in 2017, according to the Broadband Initiative Calendar.
Rural Georgia, Here's A Survey For Ya!
Georgia has a few areas where businesses and residents can obtain high-quality Internet access, usually from munis, but most of the rural areas of the state are still lacking when it comes to connectivity. In order to find out exactly how big the problem is, state lawmakers are asking rural Georgia residents to complete an online broadband survey.
Asking Rural Residents
State Sen. Steve Gooch told the Gainesville Times, the results will be used by a joint committee of lawmakers who will then make recommendations to the General Assembly next year. “One of the biggest problems I have gotten complaints about from my constituents is the Internet,” he said.
Incumbent Windstream has promised to upgrade in areas of the state, but U.S. Representative Doug Collins from northeast Georgia has fielded calls from constituents that leave him wondering if they will ever live up to those promises:
“It is my hope that this survey truly demonstrates what the broadband experience is like for users in Northeast Georgia. It is one thing to hear promises from the internet service providers, but the truth will lie in the responses of real consumers,” Collins said in a statement to The Times.
“I welcome the state to the fight for rural broadband and look forward to working with them as I continue the effort on behalf of my constituents to get the best service possible. Reliable broadband is critical to growing our economic footprint and the day-to-day functioning of our citizens.”
Take The Survey!
If you are a Georgia resident living in a rural area, take a few moments to fill out the survey here, to let lawmakers know how difficult it is for you to obtain good connectivity. Unless they know the scope of the problem, they will never take steps to fix it.
Trust In Government: Strongest Close To Home
We have recently covered state laws preempting local control, especially in North Carolina and Tennessee. State governments are supposed to be “laboratories of democracy” and municipalities are sub-parts of the state. Preemption is ostensibly to prevent problems, but instead these state laws limit local governments’ solutions for ensuring better connectivity.
At the same time, people trust their local government more than their state government to handle problems. That’s the latest finding from Gallup’s most recent Governance Poll, and that makes sense for all of us following community networks.
It's no surprise that trust starts with local community leaders. We have spoken to a number of public officials that acknowledge that when you know your elected official - perhaps live down the street from them or run into them at the grocery store - it's much easier to know that they share your hopes for the community.
Polls, Trends, and Republicans
Gallup’s September 7th-11th Governance Poll found that 71 percent trust their local government to handle problems, but only 62 percent say the same about their state government. This continues a fifteen-year trend of people putting their faith in local government more than in state government.
Seventy-five percent of Republicans stated that they have a "great deal/fair amount" of trust in local government. (Compare to only 71 percent of Independents and 66 percent of Democrats.) This corresponds with what we found in January 2015 while analyzing our data. Most citywide, residential, municipal networks are built in conservative cities. They trust local governments to solve connectivity problems when the big providers can't or won't deliver.
Image of the graph on trust in local and state governments from Gallup
Connectivity's Community Impact: Looking At The Numbers
People rave about next-generation connectivity’s possibilities in rural economies, but what does that mean for locals? A recent survey quantified the actual impact of a reliable high-speed Internet connection in an underserved area.
Central Minnesota telephone cooperative, Consolidated Telephone Company (CTC), released the results of an impact survey on their newest fiber Internet service customers. CTC had extended their Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to an underserved area south of Brainerd, with funding from a 2015 state broadband grant.
A Positive for Small Businesses and Farms
The survey of the CTC customers in the grant footprint highlighted the importance of connectivity for the community. Forty percent reported that they could not live in a home without a reliable high-speed connection. At the same time, fifty-six percent of the CTC customers currently use their home Internet connection for work purposes.
The new connectivity had a positive impact on small businesses and farms. More than twenty percent of the CTC customers maintain a home-based business or farm, and thirty-six percent of them reported that Internet service reduced their overall operating costs. Meanwhile, nine percent of all the CTC customers surveyed stated that they plan to start a home-based business in the next few years.
These results are especially refreshing for the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant program. CTC received more than $750,000 from the program in 2015 to improve connectivity for telecommuting and home-based businesses in the area.
The previously underserved area sits south of Brainerd and extends to Fort Ripley. To encourage survey responses, CTC offered the chance to win an iPad and sent reminder postcards and emails to their customers. Twenty-eight percent of CTC’s customer base in that area took the survey either online or over the phone
The Co-op Perspective