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A New Municipal Broadband Advocacy Organization is Born
With an unprecedented opportunity for local communities to build their own ubiquitous high-speed Internet infrastructure, a new national organization has been formed to advocate on behalf of municipal broadband initiatives and to give local governments a seat at the table as federal and state officials craft legislation and grant programs to close the digital divide.
Today, at the Broadband Communities Summit 2022 in Houston, the group’s founding members held a press conference to announce the birth of the American Association of Public Broadband (AAPB).
“We were formed by a group of municipal officials in order to advance advocacy efforts for public broadband and to make sure they have a voice in Washington and in all 50 states,” said AAPB board member Bob Knight.
Knight went on to explain that while AAPB will be advocating for municipal solutions to local connectivity challenges, “we are model agnostic, whether you want to partner with a large ISP (Internet Service Provider), build your own network, or form a public-private partnership.”
A ‘Voice in the Conversation’
Noting that AAPB will work closely with ally organizations and industry groups, AAPB was founded primarily “because municipal networks didn’t have much of a voice in the conversation around broadband funding in the American Rescue Plan Act or the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act,” even as there was significant lobbying efforts on behalf of the big telecom companies.
AAPB Secretary Kimberly McKinley added that lawmakers are often assailed with stories about municipal broadband failures but that it was important for lawmakers to hear the whole story.
Collaboration Across the Commonwealth Advances State Broadband Goals
Across the Commonwealth of Virginia, local governments, county broadband authorities, cooperatives, and private Internet Service Providers are leveraging the influx of American Rescue Plan funds to reach the state’s goal of achieving universal access to high-speed Internet connectivity by 2024.
With $850 million in state appropriations for broadband connectivity and $1.15 billion in local government and private service providers’ funding matches, the state is on track to invest $2 billion dollars toward broadband expansion in the coming years, and is currently investing in broadband expansion projects at record levels.
In August, Gov. Ralph Northam and the Virginia State Legislature agreed to devote $700 million of the state’s $4.3 billion in American Rescue Plan funds to expand access to broadband. The $850 million investment the state has announced will consist mostly of American Rescue Plan aid. The funds will be administered by the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI), which distributes grants to public-private partnerships to extend broadband service to unserved regions of the state, or areas that lack access to Internet service delivering connection speeds of at least 25/3 Megabits per second (Mbps).
Public-Private Partnerships Deep in the Heart of Virginia
From the marsh grasslands making up Virginia’s Eastern Shore, across the three peninsulas carved out by the Chesapeake Bay, all the way to the Shenandoah Valley in the West, a diverse array of regional partnerships have formed between Virginia’s local governments, electric and telephone cooperatives, and private ISPs as broadband expansion efforts continue to advance in 2022.
Jim Baller Testimony Outlines the Consequences of State Preemption Laws
In September, we wrote about the elimination of significant state barriers in Arkansas and Washington as legislators at the state level pushed to overturn the laws protecting monopoly providers which prevent localities from building and operating their own broadband infrastructure.
The result of those moves is that the number of states which maintain barriers to community-owned networks fell to 17, heralding significant progress for the future.
The same week, Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC) President Jim Baller testified before the Missouri House of Representatives' Interim Broadband Development Committee to address the state of preemption across the U.S. There, he argued that the "Missouri Legislature should follow the lead of Arkansas and Washington State and repeal the restrictions in R.S.Mo. § 392.410, once and for all. It should also reject any proposed new restrictions on municipal, cooperative, or public-private broadband projects."
During the course of his remarks he makes a powerful case against "state barriers to municipal, cooperative, or public-private broadband initiatives":
[The] are not only bad for the communities involved, but they also hurt the private sector in multiple ways. They prevent private companies from making timely sales of equipment and services to municipal or cooperative networks. They impede companies from using advanced public or cooperative networks to offer businesses and residential customers an endless array of modern products and services. They thwart economic and educational opportunities that can contribute to a skilled workforce that would benefit existing and new businesses across the state. They also deny the community the economic and social benefits from which everyone in the community can benefit, including the private sector.
Something for Everyone at Broadband Communities' 2020 Annual Summit
Another year of the Broadband Communities annual summit is behind us, and it’s worth revisiting the most salient moments from the panels that touched on the wealth and variety of issues related to community broadband regulation, financing, and expansion today and in the future. We weren’t able to make it to every panel, but read on for the highlights.
Last Mile Infrastructure and the Limits of CARES Funding
The first day of the program saw some heavyweight sessions from Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC) on last mile digital infrastructure. For communities at all stages of broadband exploration and investment — whether exploring an initial feasibility study, putting together an RFP, or already planning for the future by laying conduit as part of other projects — partnerships dominated the discussion, with timing and debt also serving as common themes.
ILSR’s Christopher Mitchel helped kick off the conference by moderating the first panel in the Rural/Editor's Choice track, and was joined by Peggy Schaffer from Maine's Broadband Office (ConnectME), Monica Webb from Internet Service Provider (ISP) Ting, and Roger Timmerman, CEO of Utah middle-mile network UTOPIA Fiber.
The group discussed the open access models to start, and the benefits that could be realized from two- or three-layer systems. UTOPIA Fiber has seen some explosive growth and spearheaded significant innovation recently as it continues to provide wholesale service to ISPs that want to deliver retail service on the network. Ting, which recently signed on to be one of two providers on SiFi Network’s first FiberCity in Fullerton, California, also acts as an example of what can happen when we break away from thinking about infrastructure investment and Internet access as one-entity-doing-it-all.
Broadband Communities Summit 2020 Goes Virtual, Running September 22-24
This year’s Broadband Community Summit has gone digital to adapt to the ongoing public health crisis, but will still offer a wealth of information on and seasoned experts speaking to all sorts of topics relevant to community broadband networks. It runs this week from Tuesday to Friday, and interested parties can register here.
Something for Everyone
Note that the Coalition for Local Internet Choice program has two panel sessions on partnerships of all colors and one on federal and state incentives on the first day of the summit. Other topics include:
- Public-Private and Public-Public Partnerships
- Funding Opportunities
- Broadband Mapping
- Deb Socia — President CEO, The Enterprise Center
- Roger Timmerman — CEO, UTOPIA Fiber
- Jim Baller — President, CLIC
- Dorothy Baunach — CEO, DigitalC, Cleveland, Ohio
- Matt Dunne — Founder and Executive Director, Center on Rural Innovation
- Ben Fineman — President & Co-Founder, Michigan Broadband Cooperative
- Nancy Werner — General Counsel, National Association of Telecommunications Officers Advisors
- Dr. Christopher Ali, PhD — Assistant Professor, Department of Media Studies, University of Virginia
What is Chris Up To?
Our own Christopher Mitchell will be moderating two sessions — one on last-mile infrastructure, and another on municipal broadband success stories. The first, on Tuesday from 11:20a-12:15p:
“Broadband Competition Matters” Says Former FCC General Counsel
In a recent article, “Tell The Story We Know: Broadband Competition is Too Limited,” Jonathan Sallet laid out the case for robust broadband competition as a necessary step in expanding high-quality connectivity nationwide. “Academic research tells us that more broadband competition matters: pushing rivals to up their game, saving money for consumers, increasing the quality of service,” explained Sallet, a current Benton Institute Senior Fellow and former General Counsel at the Federal Communications Commission.
The article, co-published by the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society and the Coalition for Local Internet Choice, identified greater broadband competition as one of the four “building blocks” needed to reach the goal of connecting all Americans to modern Internet access by 2030. Sallet has expanded on this goal in the report, Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s, which we covered last year. In addition to creating more Internet choice, the report cited the need for continued efforts to deploy broadband infrastructure, increase affordability and adoption, and connect community anchor institutions.
Christopher Honored at October Broadband Communities Event
This past October at the Broadband Communities Economic Development event, Christopher returned with all sorts of news from different places around the country where people are taking control of local connectivity. He also returned with an award from the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC). The nonprofit organization champions the right for local communities to decide for themselves the best course of action when expanding broadband to their residents, businesses, and institutions.
CLIC honored Christopher with the organization's "Indispensable Contributor Award" and described their decision to recognize his work:
You have been chosen for this singular award in recognition of the indispensable contributions you have made to local Internet choice during the last decade, for your tireless opposition to barriers to local decision-making, and for your creation of a huge and immensely valuable body of knowledge about community broadband initiatives.
As a clever symbol of Christopher's "indispensable" work CLIC's President Jim Baller presented him with a special travel mug to add to his awards shelf:
In a follow-up email, Jim added:
“If Chris Mitchell and his team at ILSR did no more than tell the evolving story of community broadband in real time, their work would be invaluable. But that is far from all they do. They often write high-quality analyses and reports. They address countless audiences in person and through electronic means. They participate actively in our fights against state barriers to public broadband initiatives. They communicate regularly with the media to debunk industry myths and falsehoods. This list could go on and on. Chris and his colleagues have truly earned CLIC’s recognition for their indispensable work."
Thanks, Jim and CLIC, from all of us at the Community Broadband Networks Team at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. We are truly thankful for the work you've done to lay a strong foundation on which we can build more support for local communities.
Folks Gather for Fiber, Film, and Fiddle in D.C.
In an evening filled with art and broadband policy, folks gathered in Washington D.C. to attend a screening of the film Do Not Pass Go, a documentary that examines the efforts of Wilson, North Carolina, to expand high-quality connectivity to rural neighbor Pinetops, and how big monopoly providers and the state legislature blocked their attempts.
Next Century Cities, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, the Coalition for Local Internet Choice, the National Association of Regional Councils, and the National League of Cities hosted the event, which included a panel discussion on relevant state laws, the value of local authority, and possible solutions at the federal and local levels to bring everyone high-quality Internet access. In addition to our own Christopher Mitchell, Terry Huval, Former Director of Lafayette Utilities System and Suzanne Coker Craig, Managing Director of CuriosiTees in Pinetops LLC and former Pinetops Commissioner spoke on the panel moderated by Deb Socia, Executive Director of Next Century Cities.
Attorney Jim Baller, President of Baller Stokes & Lide and President and Co-founder of the Coalition for Local Internet Choice also took some time to discuss specific state barriers that interfere with local authority for Internet network investment.
After the panel discussion, attendees and panelists mingled and enjoyed music supplied by Terry Huval and his fiddle:
It’s just like I’ve always said, broadband policy and Cajun fiddle music are a match made in heaven. Thank you to Terry - former manager of Lafayette, LA’s utilities system - for sharing your talents! #LocalChoice pic.twitter.com/AZZd0wNtoU— Cat Blake (@cat_hannah_b) March 26, 2019
Host A Screening in Your Community
Christopher's Plans for Broadband Communities Summit All Set...What About Yours?
Are you still considering whether or not to attend this spring’s Broadband Communities 2019 Summit in Austin on April 8th, 9th, and 10th? We thought we’d share more information about Christopher’s panels so you can see what you will be missing if you decide to stay home.
Register online for the Summit.
Lessons Learned and Shared
Learning about what communities did that worked and what didn’t work is one of the most valuable aspects of the Summit. On April 10th, at 10 a.m., Christopher heads up a discussion with folks from four different communities across the U.S. to discuss what they learned in deploying their publicly owned fiber networks. Each of these communities faced adversity and found a way to change course to turn difficulty into positive outcome:
One of the challenges of evaluating capital-intensive local broadband projects is that they typically lose money in their early years. Come learn from four communities that have overcome significant challenges – and learned invaluable lessons along the way.
Participating on the panel will be:
- Dan Patten from MINET
- David Post from Salisbury, NC
- Roger Timmerman from UTOPIA Fiber
- Angela Imming from Highland, IL
More From Christopher
D.C. Screening and Discussion Rescheduled: "Do Not Pass Go" on March 26th
Winter has not been kind this year. In addition to interrupting our kids’ learning with numerous snow days, stranding the Minnesota office in our homes due to dangerously cold weather, and interrupting our typically prolific workflow with day after day of shoveling, minor ice related traffic accidents, and sick kids, there’s one other unforgivable offense that rests square on the shoulders of Mother Nature: the cancellation of the D.C. screening of Do Not Pass Go. An impending winter storm forced the cancellation of the event, which was scheduled for February 20th. The organizers are ready to try again, however, and the new event date is March 26th, 2019, 5 - 7 p.m. The venue will be the same — the offices of the National League of Cities/National Association of Counties at 660 North Capitol Street NW.
Register for the free screening and the discussion.
The Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC), Next Century Cities, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), and the National League of Cities (NLC), will lead the discussion about the film and the policies that influence the events of the film and the people living in Pinetops, North Carolina.
Do Not Pass Go, a documentary by Cullen Hoback, tells the story of Pinetops, where the community finally obtained high-quality Internet access when their neighbor, Wilson, connected Pinetops to Greenlight. The Greenlight community fiber optic network later had to disconnect Pinetops, however, when the state chose to protect incumbents from competition. Hoback’s film tells the Pinetops story and examines how lack of competition has negatively impacted rural communities.
After the screening, the group will discuss regulatory and legislative barriers, and actions that local and federal government can adopt to help communities that consider municipal networks an option.
The panel will include: