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hb 282 2013
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Chattanooga continues to receive attention because of the incredible community owned network they built for themselves. We recently came across an article from Tom Baxter of the Atlanta SaportaReport. In his article, Chattanooga: Eating our lunch in liveability, Baxter expresses the envy he feels as an Atlantan as he considers the way Chattanooga has transformed itself. From the article:
Yes, Chattanooga. Seldom do we think of our neighbor across the Tennessee line as much of a competitor. When they built an aquarium, we just built a bigger one. But for nearly three decades, since a group of civic leaders got together in 1984 and committed themselves to doing something about Chattanooga’s image as the dirtiest city in America, and in the view of some the dullest, they have been eating our lunch on the playing field of liveability.
Baxter mentions Georgia's HB 282, a bill we are following closely, and notes how its passage would drive more distance between livability in Georgia and the increasing quality of life in Chattanooga:
Chattanooga’s broadband system, the fastest in the Western Hemisphere, could run at a gigabyte a second, if anybody could really use that kind of speed. Meanwhile, in Georgia, there’s a bill currently proposed which would prohibit public broadband carriers like the one in Chattanooga from expanding into any area if even one consumer in an entire census block has private broadband service of 1.5 megabytes a second or larger. (A gigabyte is equal to 1024 megabytes.)
Having a fiber-optic broadband system like Chattanooga’s in 2013 is like having an airport like ours was in 1963. And in 2057, given recent climate projections, having several decades of experience in energy efficiency and green growth will be priceless.
We ignore this at our peril. Cities we used to ignore, like Chattanooga and Greenville, S.C., have made enormous strides over the past few decades because they’ve tried harder. That’s what they used to say about Atlanta.
We are glad to see that Tom gets it, but we had to offer a gentle correction in that network speeds are typically measured in megabits, not megabytes. His analysis is spot-on, just a bit of word confusion.
As the Georgia legislature considers HB 282, a bill that will restrict local governments from investing in telecommunications networks, we are continuing coverage of the communities that will be harmed by passage of the legislation.
Should the restrictions become law, existing networks will not be able to expand. No expansion means fewer opportunities to reap the benefits that flow naturally from community networks. While this means few residents will receive access in places like Thomasville and Moultrie, it also means fewer businesses will receive access in places where networks exclusively serve commercial customers and government offices.
LaGrange's IT Director, Alan Slaughenhaupt, told us a little about its municipal network that began in 1996. The community decided to build its own network when no private provider would. The first goal was to get the K-12 schools connected. Bonds funded the network build out and were paid off within five years. At the time, the city partnered with ISN (Later Earthlink) to get the schools connected. LaGrange now partners with Charter Communications to bring connectivity to students.
The LaGrange network now connects hospitals, most city, county, and state government facilities, and provides connectivity for businesses. Alan describes how a T1 connection cost local businesses $2,300 per month in 1996. Now, thanks to competition created by the community owned network, local businesses can pay just $100 for a connection with better capacity. The municipal network serves about 400 commercial customers.
Alan explained that the automaker Kia moved a manufacturing facility near LaGrange in 2009 that used Just-In-Time inventory control. It needed a high-speed connection between the main plant and suppliers that LaGrange could deliver.
Recently on Gigabit Nation, host Craig Settles visited with Mayor Max Beverly from Thomasville, Georgia. As our readers know, the Georgia General Assembly is again considering a bill to limit municipal efforts to bring connectivity to local residents and businesses. That bill is currently scheduled to be heard on Tuesday afternoon, 2/26, but many people have already expressed their anger at it in Facebook comments on the bill page.
HB 282 sets a very low bar for what is considered "served" - 1.5 Mbps - and prohibits municipal networks from serving those areas while also imposing a new heavy cost on investing in unserved areas.
Mayor Beverly discusses how he and other Georgia community leaders are fighting HB 282 through education. Speaking from first-hand experience, he finds that elected officials often turn from support to opposition when they hear about the incredible success of Thomasville.
Mayor Beverly finds himself sharing the story of Thomasville's victories that are all tied with the network, created in 1999. In Thomasville:
In 2011, MSNBC reported on Thomasville, Georgia. The small community beat the odds to nourish a vibrant downtown. At the time, local independent businesses in the U.S. disappeared as quaint main streets lost mom and pop ventures to the economy.
Such was not the case with Thomasville. MSNBC's report, a little over 2 minutes and embedded below, looked at how Thomasville had managed to created a thriving downtown economy filled with independent businesses. Thomasville leaders partnered with the private sector, concentrated on preserving its historic identity, and built a next generation fiber optic network. Thomasville's ability to merge yesterday and today worked.
Thomasville began construction of its own fiber optic network in 1995 to serve schools, libraries, businesses, and hospitals. At the time, the private sector was not interested in serving the area. Several other communities in the region began similar projects and, in 1997, those communities joined together to form the South Georgia Governmental Services Authority (SGGSA). In 1998, Cairo, Camilla, Moultrie and Thomasville created Community Network Services (CNS) through the Authority in order to offer services to residents. Since then, the collaboration has expanded from telecommunications services only to also providing high-speed Internet and television.
As Georgia mulls over HB282, this video shows how a next generation network is vital in similar communities. The legislation will strip local authorities of the ability to build their own next-generation networks as long as the private sector is providing some below-basic level of service. If the bill passes, many Georgia communities that need the benefits of a local network will never get the opportunity. From the CNS website:
The best part about CNS is that it is funded locally, by the cities which it serves. This means if you are a CNS customer, you are investing in your own communities, not a corporation headquartered across the country.
Municipal broadband has been under steady attack nationwide by incumbent broadband providers like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon. They contend that networks built by cities and counties that also offer subscription options for residents amount to unfair competition. They won this fight in North and South Carolina, but, following more coverage of the issue, fights in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Georgia have been harder to win.Ars Technica's Timothy Lee also covered the bill, including common pro and con arguments. But he gets something that many other reporters don't notice,
Moreover, limiting which parts of town a municipal fiber network can serve might make it impossible for that town to cost-effectively reach under-served sections with broadband service. It's often more cost-effective to deploy fiber to an entire town than to deploy fiber selectively to only certain parts of town. The neighborhoods being served by an incumbent are likely to be the wealthiest and densest parts of town.
The fundamental question is rather simple, does Georgia want local leaders to determine the economic and investment strategies for their communities or do we want those decisions to be made solely on the business plan of companies based outside of the state?And they go on to quote the former City Manager of Adel:
After much deliberation and public demand, the City of Adel launched our wireless internet system, Southlink, in 2003. There were NO INCUMBENT, HIGH-SPEED PROVIDERS at that time with no indication of interest by anyone. The City of Adel did what no investor-owned company would consider, yet the citizens and businesses in Adel deserved the service just as much as those citizens of Atlanta, Macon, Augusta or Savannah. The business plan worked and we gained customers. Within four years of our launch, both Alltel and Mediacom launched true high-speed service to the area. With our original intent served, we then dismantled the wireless system in 2009 and 2010 and the citizens had service options. We did not launch the service to compete with incumbent providers and we gave them every chance to provide the service. Did our positive action create the impetus for other providers to bring in their service?