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On Wednesday, some of us joined Broadband Breakfast to talk about the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Community Broadband Network approach to infrastructure funding. It was a lively and fun conversation, touching also on the new Treasury Final Rules for the Rescue Plan funding, affordability challenges, the value of competition, and how we hope these funds shape up.
On the panel was DeAnne Cuellar, Sean Gonsalves, Ry Marcattilio-McCracken, Christopher Mitchell, and Drew Clark. Watch the session here, or below.
The Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s (ILSR’s) Community Broadband Networks initiative is honored to be recognized as one of the top 100 fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) leaders by Broadband Communities magazine.
Broadband Communities publishes its annual Top 100 FTTH list to acknowledge the contributions that companies and organizations have made to the fiber optic industry. “‘Building a Fiber-Connected World’ is the tagline of Broadband Communities magazine, and each year the FTTH Top 100 list recognizes organizations that lead the way in this endeavor,” the publication explained. In addition to ILSR, awardees include fiber vendors, network operators, business consultants, and broadband engineers.
MuniNetworks and Community Networks Make the Mark
In the list entry for ILSR, Broadband Communities said:
ILSR’s publications, including its MuniNetworks.org blog, toolkit and weekly podcast that covers broadband and more . . . have been instrumental in showing communities that controlling their broadband destinies is feasible and has the potential to improve local economies and quality of life.
Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Community Broadband Networks initiative, commented on the award:
Broadband Communities was among the first to recognize the benefits of fiber optics for everyone and we are honored to be again named to their list of top 100 FTTH leaders.
Broadband Communities recognized a select few community broadband networks in the FTTH Top 100, including UTOPIA Fiber, an open access fiber network serving more than a dozen Utah communities, and Co-Mo Connect, the broadband subsidiary of Missouri electric cooperative.
We’ve been having a lot of conversations with cities and communities recently looking for solutions to bridging the digital divide. If you’re new to the broadband space and looking for guidance on short- and long-term results, here’s a good place to start. Christopher joined the Michigan Moonshot's Community Education series recently with a presentation titled “A Community Guide to Solving the Digital Divide.”
It breaks down in an accessible way the key concepts, options, and costs to consider. Communities across the country face an array of situations in bridging the broadband gap, including city size, the scope of the problem, available infrastructure, existing ally organizations, and funding avenues.
Christopher covers all of these, as well as inventorying local resources and talent, energizing community officials, and how important it is to define success early on in the process.
His presentation also includes as examples a lot of the gap-network successes we’ve seen over the last year, including San Rafael, California, Providence, Rhode Island, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Tucson, Arizona. Read about those stories to learn more about the goals set, challenges faced, and successes by local officials, nonprofit leaders, and residents in those cities.
Watch the webinar below, and be sure to stay tuned for the questions at the end.
With the end of the federal Keep Americans Connected pledge and the failure of Congress to pass comprehensive broadband aid, it’s clearer than ever before that local governments are the last line of defense against the digital divide, which has been exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic.
Some communities have already taken steps to connect their residents, during the global health crisis and beyond. For example, the public school systems in San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, decided to cover the cost of broadband subscriptions for low-income students. In Chattanooga, Tennessee, the city’s municipal broadband network is partnering with local schools to provide free Internet access to all students that receive free and reduced-price lunch.
However, in 21 states, legal barriers — often enacted at the behest of corporate telecom lobbyists — prevent local governments from investing in community broadband solutions to close the digital divide.
To help local governments that want to improve connectivity navigate the various opportunities and obstacles, we at the Community Broadband Networks initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) have teamed up with the Local Solutions Support Center (LSSC) to produce a number of helpful resources. We previously shared a step-by-step guide for establishing local broadband authority during the pandemic. Now, local officials and community advocates can access two more resources: a guide for local governments to act in the context of the pandemic, and an interactive state broadband preemption map.
On the September 30, 2019 edition of NPR's "All Tech Considered," Paul Flahive of Texas Public Radio reports on the way rural electric cooperatives are using their resources to develop broadband networks in rural Texas communities.
Flahive visits Bandera, "The Cowboy Capital of the World," where Bandera Electric Cooperative is deploying Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH). Read more about how cooperatives are connecting rural communities in our 2019 updated report, Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model For The Internet Era. Visit our Rural Cooperatives page, and listen to the story from NPR News.
As the threat to network neutrality seems imminent, an increasing number of local people are organizing grassroots groups and are looking for the best steps to start local initiatives. When you decide that your community needs to make a change that isn’t happening organically, it’s time to nudge that change along. Starting a grassroots movement with like-minded citizens will help educate the community, build support, and generate ideas as you all consider what is the best solution for your unique situation. We’ve talked with local folks over the years who have shared lessons learned with us and we’ve gathered together some of the best grassroots stories with resources to share.
Seek Out The Masters
Of course, there’s nothing better than getting tips from some one who’s already climbed the mountain. John St. Julien from Lafayette passed away in 2016, but his voice and work lives on. We interviewed him in the early days of the Community Broadband Bits podcast for episode 94 in 2014and he had some great advice on engaging other people in the community and keeping the momentum positive.
We also obtained permission to archive and preserve some of the writings on the Lafyette Pro Fiber Blog, John’s brainchild he developed as Lafayette struggled against the many challenges by incumbents who wanted to preserve their monopoly.
Hanging’ With Buds
"Byron’s Bad Broadband Bill" has been criticized from City Council meeting rooms, at Boards of Supervisors meetings, and from Mayors’ offices across the state. Last Wednesday, January 18th, opponents of the bill took their grievances to Richmond for a press conference hosted by the Friends of Municipal Broadband. In addition to several Delegates and Senators opposed to HB 2108, local officials and a representative from an Internet Service Provider appeared to describe why they believe the bill is bad for Virginia.
The News & Advance covered the press conference in which Del. Sam Rasoul described missed opportunities:
Some businesses pass on Roanoke Valley locations because company officials discover they can’t get internet service, Rasoul said. Then, there are other Roanoke businesses like the software company Meridium that want access to multiple service providers.
“Internet and access to high-speed internet is a basic human right now because it’s just that link to education, it’s that link to information, it’s that link to peoples’ livelihoods and that’s why we’re so passionate about it,” Rasoul said.
Nicholas Pascaretti, Executive Director of Eastern Shore Of Virginia Broadband Authority, described how municipal networks attract providers to rural areas where national companies won’t invest:
Scott Robertson, Executive Director and Secretary of the Rockbridge Area Network Authority (RANA), described incredible savings and access to unprecedented capacity in local schools in Rockbridge County:
When Delegate Kathy Byron introduced HB 2108, cheekily titled the “Broadband Deployment Act,” she might have not have expected so much attention from local and national reporters. Local media outlets, especially in areas directly threatened by the bill, are alerting constituents about threats to improve local connectivity. National news is also covering the story, describing how Virginia communities that can't get high-quality connectivity from national providers could fall victim to big cable and DSL lobbyists if HB 2108 passes. Constituents are taking notice, but the legislative session is just getting started in Virginia.
Local Media Reaching Local Constituents
The Roanoke Valley is especially vulnerable to the perils of HB 2108. After a contentious process, the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA) completed an open access fiber-optic network to meet the needs of local businesses, schools and libraries, and other facilities. Byron’s bill would make it practically impossible for the RVBA to expand to nearby counties by preventing them from obtaining high-quality connectivity and the benefits that accompany it. Without the ability to serve more customers, the RVBA faces a tenuous future. Smith told WSLS TV 10:
“It hurts the area. It hurts us as the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority, but more importantly it hurts across the Commonwealth of Virginia, its ability to be able to serve and use technology to serve economic development,” said Frank Smith.
The Roanoke Times quickly reported on the bill when Byron introduced it, noting that it would stifle the RVBA’s attempts to encourage competition, an economic development driver:
Various Sources, August 10-11, 2016
A circuit court decision this week means the digital divide in Tennessee and North Carolina will be allowed to continue. This week, the 6th Circuit Court of appeals decided to dismiss the FCC's decision to encourage Internet investment by restricting local authority to build competitive Internet networks. In February, ILSR and Next Century Cities filed an Amicus Brief in support of the FCC's position. Here is a selection of media stories which cite ILSR.
MEDIA COVERAGE - "Court of Appeals Overrules FCC Decision"
Cities looking to compete with large Internet providers just suffered a big defeat by Brian Fung: The Washington Post, August 10
There are signs, however, that municipal broadband proponents were anticipating Wednesday's outcome — and are already moving to adapt. One approach? Focus on improving cities' abilities to lay fiber optic cables that then any Internet provider can lease; so far, only one state, Nebraska, has banned this so-called "dark fiber" plan, said Christopher Mitchell, who directs the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's Community Broadband Networks Initiative.
"We're pursuing strategies that are harder for the cable and telephone companies to defeat," said Mitchell.
Circuit court nixes FCC’s effort to overturn North Carolina, Tennessee anti-municipal broadband laws by Sean Buckley: Fierce Telecom, August 10, 2016
However, pro-municipal broadband groups like the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which filed an amicus brief in support of the FCC's position, said they are "disappointed that the FCC's efforts to ensure local Internet choice have been struck down.”
Court Deals FCC a Big Blow in Municipal Broadband Ruling by Alex Byers: PoliticoPro August 10, 2016 (subscription needed)
Press Release: The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals decided to dismiss the FCC's decision to encourage Internet investment in Tennessee and North Carolina
The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals decided to dismiss the FCC's decision to encourage Internet investment in Tennessee and North Carolina
Minneapolis, MN - The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals decided today to dismiss the FCC's February 2015 decision to encourage Internet investment in Tennessee and North Carolina. Tennessee and North Carolina had both restricted local authority to build competitive networks.
"We're disappointed that the FCC's efforts to ensure local Internet choice have been struck down," says Christopher Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. "We thank the FCC for working so hard to fight for local authority and we hope that states themselves will recognize the folly of defending big cable and telephone monopolies and remove these barriers to local investment. Communities desperately need these connections and must be able to decide for themselves how to ensure residents and businesses have high quality Internet access."