Connections Blog

CLIC CEO Testifies on Capital Hill in Support of Broadband Opportunity for Localities and Public-Private Partnerships

On March 21, CLIC CEO Joanne Hovis testified before the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology in strong support of inclusion of broadband in federal infrastructure funding. Joanne also advocated for federal policy to support broadband public-private partnerships as a mechanism to enable and expand broadband deployment, particularly in rural areas.  We have provided excerpts of her testimony below and her full testimony can be found here.

An archived video of the hearing can be found here.

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My name is Joanne Hovis. I am the president of CTC Technology & Energy and CEO and co-founder of the Coalition for Local Internet Choice …

I make the case today for including broadband, particularly in rural areas, among the infrastructure categories in any infrastructure investment program, and recommend particular public-private partnership and related mechanisms that can be included to increase the likelihood of the necessary capital flowing to the areas with the greatest needs….

Broadband Gaps Align with Lower Income Levels and Lower Population Densities — These Are the Areas that Would Benefit Most From Broadband P3s

Broadband, like any other type of infrastructure, requires significant upfront capital for deployment of networks and services, and private capital will flow to areas where potential return is highest. In a number of densely-populated, higher-income areas, incumbent phone and cable companies have upgraded their networks to enable new services and high-speed internet access. A handful of these areas have also seen investments by new entrants seeking to outflank the incumbents in establishing 21st century broadband infrastructure.

In contrast, in less densely-populated areas and lower-income areas, the pace of progress has been much slower. Offering lower returns on private investment, these areas have seen their economies stagnate, their children move to more promising locations, their hopes for a better future ebb away. Fortunately, P3s and other collaborative public-private structures offer one promising solution.

Broadband Public-Private Partnerships Present Opportunities for Economic Benefit in Rural and Low-Income Ameria

State and local governments are increasingly motivated to incent private sector investment in next generation broadband networks,… with the public entity building the infrastructure but uninvolved in the private sector role of operations and service delivery to the public. Alternatively, the state or locality can partner with the private sector for shared investment in private networks that secure public sector goals (such as service in rural areas that seek to maintain economic viability and enable such critical practices as home-based business and home-schooling)….

Recommendations

Even a combination of tax credits and P3s alone would be insufficient to attract investment to rural areas. All things being equal, investors will go to where the market is strongest, the returns are highest, and the revenues are likely to be most robust.

As a result, unless tax credits are geographically targeted, investors will not generally take the tax credits to rural parts of the country. Instead, investors will likely use the tax credits in markets, including through P3s, where the potential for substantial revenues is greatest – well-to-do, densely-populated areas….

For this reason, based on my experience, I suggest that the strategies include some of the following recommendations to make the tax credits and P3s in rural areas more viable and more attractive to investors:

–>Create financing support mechanism to reduce P3 borrowing costs… thus making the P3s more viable at modest cost to the treasury

–>Enable use of tax-free municipal bonds to fund public infrastructure in P3 environments or for lease to private ISPs thus reducing municipal borrowing costs, enabling P3s, and increasing project viability at modest cost;

–>Enable transferability of tax benefits such that non-profits and public entities can sell tax credits or other tax opportunities on the market—thus making tax mechanisms more viable for areas that are of less interest for private capital;

–>Carve out funding and other support for areas where the local economy has been impaired by technology change and globalization—and where broadband could have a disproportionate impact (relative to cost) on improving economic opportunity;

–>Include Dig Once and construction efficiency strategies in other P3 projects, in order to capitalize on opportunities presented by construction in the rights-of-way

CLIC Announces Strong Support for Two TN Bills to Remove Restrictions on Municipal and Co-operative Broadband Networks

On March 6, 2017, CLIC and 14 prominent public and private-sector companies and organizations announced strong support for two Tennessee bills, HB970 (SB1058) and HB1410 (SB1045)  that will authorize municipal electric utilities and cooperatives to finally serve many currently unserved or underserved rural businesses and citizens. According to the CLIC letters of support, these bills will not only remove barriers, but will also incentivize public-private network deployments.

In separate letters to the House and Senate committees, CLIC and fellow co-signers note how municipalities and cooperatives in Tennessee have been subject to  legislatively imposed barriers for too long. These barriers have harmed both the public and private sectors by retarding or delaying economic growth, preventing the creation or retention of jobs around the State, particularly in rural areas, hampering workforce development, and diminishing the quality of life in Tennessee.

According to the signatories, “in many communities in Tennessee and across America, particularly in rural areas, the current communications service providers are unable or unwilling to invest in advanced communications networks rapidly enough to enable the communities to stay abreast of their peers elsewhere in America and around the world.  Communities should be free of artificial barriers to be able to do their part to help bring affordable high-capacity broadband connectivity to all Americans and to advance America’s global competitiveness.”

The letters state that SB1058 and SB1045 (HB 970 and HB 1410) “would be a step in the right direction.” They would be “good for Tennessee communities, particularly rural communities, good for the private sector, particularly high-technology companies, and good for America’s global competitiveness.”

SB1045 is set for a hearing in the Senate Business and Utilities Subcommittee today,  March 7, and HB970 has been placed in the House Business and Utilities Committee for review. The bills were sponsored by three different Republicans: HB970 (and its companion Senate Bill 1058) by Rep. Dan Howell (R-District 22) and Senator Janice Bowling (R-District 16) , and HB1410 (and its companion Senate Bill 1045), by Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver (R-District 40) and Senator Janice Bowling.

In a significant show of force, the 15 public and private organizations signing onto CLIC’s letters of support represent thousands of public and private utilities of all kinds; hundreds of municipalities and counties across the nation; the fiber industry, dozens of private-sector telecommunications equipment manufacturers, systems builders, and advisors, and major high-tech companies that benefit from the widespread affordable access to advanced broadband networks, including Amazon, Ebay, Etsy, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Pandora, Paypal, Reddit, Salesforce, Yahoo! and many others. Co-signers included: Atlantic Engineering, CTC Energy & Technology, Fiber to the Home Council, Google, Indeed, Internet Association, National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, Netflix, Next Century Cities, Nokia, OnTrac, Telecommunications Industry Association, Ting Internet, and Utilities Technology Council.

CLIC’s House Business and Utilities Committee letter can be found here; and the Senate  Commerce & Labor Committee letter can be found here.

CLIC Members Get Discount Rate at Broadband Communities Summit in Dallas: May 1-4, 2017

Attention CLIC members! Broadband Communities is offering a significant registration discount for CLIC members who are attending the “Fiber: Get in the Game of Gigs” Summit in Dallas this year, scheduled for May1-4, 2017.  Join us for CLIC’s pre-conference event on May 1st, then stay a few more days for one of the most instructive and well-attended community broadband conferences in the country.

CLIC’s pre-conference event, “Making Local Internet Choice Happen in a Changing Environment: Opportunities and Challenges in 2017,” will focus on how to overcome barriers that impede the development of advanced communications networks. We will examine the impact of the new federal administration on local Internet choice, new state legislative efforts both for and against local Internet choice, and innovative fiber deployment approaches in rural areas. Our interactive panels of experts will share best practices, experiences and strategies for developing robust, resilient networks — including a full range of public-private partnerships — and for overcoming political, legal, and financial barriers.

You can register as a CLIC member here. To receive the CLIC member discount, simply go to the “CODE” drop down menu and type in CLIC2017, for a conference rate of $350. If you are not already a member of CLIC, you can join here (It’s free.)

Make America First in Broadband Again

On Monday, Adrianne Benton Furniss, Executive Director, the Benton Foundation (and a member of CLIC’s Board of Advisors) sent the  following letter to President Trump, leaders in Congress, and at the FCC. The letter calls for federal leadership to create a Make America First in Broadband Again Plan, including by deregulating local broadband and respecting local internet choice.

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January 30, 2017

President Donald J. Trump
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Trump:

As your new Administration sets priorities for rebuilding America and restoring its promise for all Americans, we need to address how we will extend the benefits of broadband – and the opportunities it delivers – to all Americans.

Broadband and its applications – both wired and unwired – are unquestionably the dominant communications medium of the 21st century. We need investment in broadband infrastructure in rural and low-income America with a strong commitment to competition, accountability, efficiency, and oversight.

Our nation’s commitment to ubiquitous and affordable communications has never been more important. In the midst of the information technology revolution, we cannot and should not abandon or weaken our guarantee of universal, affordable communications access for all Americans no matter where they live. We must unleash the rivers of data and opportunity that broadband enables, and extend prosperity to every community.

Too many Americans have been left behind. Without access to high-speed broadband they are cut off from information, online job opportunities, and the skills training that other Americans have benefitted from. In short, these Americans are cut off from opportunity.

To make America greater, we need better broadband. Your Administration should advance a Make America First in Broadband Again Plan, one that can:

  1.  –>Extend broadband to Americans too long ignored and left behind.More than half (53 percent) of rural Americans lack access to high-speed broadband. The U.S.. ranks 12th in the world on average Internet speeds – behind countries like Latvia. If you want America to be first, we need to set a national goal of ensuring at least 100 million U.S. homes have affordable access to 100-megabit broadband by the end of your first term.
  2. –>Use broadband infrastructure investment as a catalyst for middle-class job growth.Broadband infrastructure investment is a proven economic dynamo and vital catalyst for middle-class job growth. As your Commerce Secretary designee Wilbur Ross put it, “Broadband is a path to the future” and “a very essential component of economic policy, altogether, including the infrastructure component.” Communities that get new access to broadband experience average job growth 6.4 percent greater than before they had broadband. In fact, studies show that every $1 billion in infrastructure investment creates 13,000 jobs. Broadband infrastructure investment can set the stage for a sustained period of innovation-driven growth, and advance a more prosperous middle class by opening up new job opportunities in its construction, and new jobs in its use.
  3. –>Giving school’s choice of broadband options to ensure no child is deprived of knowledge.Our students continue to lag behind their peers worldwide in knowledge gained – where we have let countries like China outperform us in reading, math and science.(1) One reason is that 21 million U.S. students lack access to the basic broadband infrastructure necessary to take advantage of digital learning, as Vice President Mike Pence notes, “By ensuring that high-speed Internet is available in every … classroom, we can connect Hoosier students to the latest digital learning tools and ultimately set our kids on a course to compete for the careers of tomorrow.” As United Nations Ambassador Nicki Haley has said, “Technology, connectivity, and digital learning are critical to unleashing our students’ potential. When we invest in them, we equip students with the skills their future employers will demand.” They are right. Each of these leaders have, as governors, embraced the E-Rate program to extend gigabit broadband to every school, Wi-Fi to every classroom, and opportunity to every child. But we can’t turn back the clock. I encourage you to oppose any effort that would in any way impede the E-Rate program or have the effect of not supporting public positions your Vice President and US Envoy to the United Nations have taken when it comes to enabling children to take full advantage of E-Rate enabled broadband infrastructure investments.
  4. –>Deregulate local broadband.We also need to ensure that broadband’s benefits don’t just go to Wall Street, but also extend all the way to Main Street. Too often, communities lack local broadband choices because they are saddled with state or other regulations that prevent the investment in and delivery of broadband. We should eliminate job-killing broadband regulations that stifle community broadband investment and local economic growth to enable every American, regardless of where they live, to take full advantage of local broadband investments and new community broadband options.
  5. –>Serve the veterans who have served America. As you have noted, we need to ensure “our veterans get the care they need wherever and whenever they need it.” There is no better technology for anytime anywhere delivery of services than broadband. As Congress unanimously recognized in December when it passed H.R. 6394 (the Improving Broadband Access for Veterans Act of 2016), we need to promote broadband Internet access service for veterans, in particular low-income veterans and veterans residing in rural areas. Broadband is especially vital to veterans as they transition from the armed services to civilian employment. The Federal Communications Commission’s Lifeline program has been providing veterans with crucial connectivity for over 30 years. An estimated 10-13% of current wireless Lifeline beneficiaries are veterans of U.S. military service. Too often, as you note, funding for veterans has fallen short. We should make sure that no one caps the Lifeline program benefits we give to veterans any more than we capped what we asked for them on the battlefield. We encourage you to champion veterans’ service to this country, and pledge not to harm the vital lifeline they need.
  6. –>Ensure big media companies can’t bias news by putting mainstream media in the broadband fastlane ahead of unaffiliated independent content.You complain about mainstream media bias and unfairness, which could be exacerbated if establishment, big media companies are allowed to give their own mainstream content and news preferential treatment over their own broadband pipes, instead of giving all content equal treatment. Many Americans want to freely, fairly, and openly choose which media they want to consume. With broadband increasingly becoming the primary way Americans access their news and other content, we would encourage you to oppose efforts that would allow media giants to give preferred access to their own affiliated news sources and programming. Some of your advisors may try and tell you that enabling users to openly and freely access the content of their own choosing is the equivalent of Obamacare for the Internet, but I suspect you are too smart to be fooled by such simplistic arguments.

On January 2, 2007, ten years ago this month, Benton Foundation Chairman Charles Benton sent President George W. Bush a letter asking him to create a national broadband strategy. You see, in a campaign appearance nearly three years before that date, President Bush had said, “We ought to have universal affordable access for broadband technology by the year 2007.” That was true then; it is true now.

Although great progress has been made in deploying broadband and encouraging adoption, Benton’s words still ring true: “We need broadband pipes that are bigger, faster, and extend into every corner, community, and city in America – and we need them right away.”

There are no easy solutions to the challenges of extending broadband’s reach to every American. But these challenges must be addressed based on the same principles that have always guided U.S. communications policy – a commitment to ubiquitous, affordable access to the most important technologies of the era.

Sincerely,

Adrianne Benton Furniss
Executive Director
Benton Foundation

(1 )In the latest Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) measuring math literacy in 2015, U.S. students ranked 40th in the world. The United States ranked 25th in science literacy and 24th in reading literacy, while China was among the top performing countries. (See https://www.donaldjtrump.com/policies/education and https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/on-the-world-stage-us-students-fall-behind/2016/12/05/610e1e10-b740-11e6-a677-b608fbb3aaf6_story.html?utm_term=.067cb432422e)

cc:
Chairman John Thune, Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
Ranking Member Bill Nelson, Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
Chairman Roger Wicker, Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet
Ranking Member Brian Schatz, Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet
Chairman Greg Walden, House Energy and Commerce Committee
Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr, House Energy and Commerce Committee
Chairman Marsha Blackburn, House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology
Ranking Member Michael Doyle, House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology
Chairman Ajit Pai, Federal Communications Commission
Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, Federal Communications Commission
Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, Federal Communications Commission

CLIC Organizes Opposition to Missouri’s SB186 As a Barrier to Local Net Choice

On January 23, 2017, CLIC and 14 prominent public and private-sector companies and associations opposed (again) a Missouri anti-community broadband bill, SB 186, that amounts to a virtual ban on local Internet choice. SB186 would impose additional restrictions on Missouri’s existing limitations on municipal provisioning of broadband service and would also impair the ability of localities to form public-private partnerships to bring modern broadband to underserved communities.

Described by the letter’s signatories as “ harming both the public and private sectors, stifling economic growth, preventing the creation or retention of jobs around the State, particularly in rural areas, hampering work-force development, and diminishing the quality of life in Missouri,”  SB186 is the third attempt in three years by various Missouri legislators to deny local Internet choice to the state’s local businesses and residents. In 2015, and 2016, Missouri communities, with CLIC’s assistance, derailed HB437 and HB2078 respectively.

CLIC’s letter of opposition was co-signed by: Atlantic Engineering, CTC Energy & Technology, Fiber to the Home Council, Google, Indeed, Internet Association, National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, Netflix, Next Century Cities, Nokia, OnTrac, Telecommunications Industry Association, Ting Internet, and Utilities Technology Council. Collectively, these organizations represent thousands of public and private utilities of all kinds; hundreds of municipalities and counties across the nation; the fiber industry, dozens of private-sector telecommunications equipment manufacturers, systems builders, and advisors, and major high-tech companies that benefit from the widespread affordable access to advanced broadband networks, including Amazon, Ebay, Etsy, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Pandora, Paypal, Reddit, Salesforce, Yahoo! and many others.

The central message of CLIC’s letter was that bills like SB186 are not only bad for communities, they are bad for the private sector, particularly the high-tech industry, and bad for the ability of America’s workers to be utilized in the global marketplace. It emphasized that local government entities in Missouri, like their counterparts across America, have a huge stake in ensuring that all Americans have prompt and affordable access to the benefits of advanced communications capabilities.

“These are fundamentally local decisions that should be made by the communities themselves, through the processes that their duly elected and accountable local officials ordinarily use for making comparable decisions. They should also be able to use their own resources as they deem appropriate to foster economic development, educational opportunity, public safety, and much more, without having to comply with the restrictive bottlenecks that SB 186 would impose.”

You can view the letter here.

CLIC Organizes Letter Opposing Virginia HB 2108

On January 19, 2017, CLIC distributed a letter to Virginia lawmakers opposing House Bill (HB) 2108.  The letter was co-signed by: Atlantic Engineering, Coalition for Local Internet Choice, CTC Energy & Technology, Fiber to the Home Council, Google, Indeed, Internet Association, National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, Netflix, Next Century Cities, Nokia, OnTrac, Telecommunications Industry Association, Ting Internet, and Utilities Technology Council.  The letter noted that HB 2108 would essentially ban public broadband networks and public-private partnerships and harm Virginia communities, especially rural communities, and businesses that operate in the state.

If enacted, HB 2108 would not only hurt Virginia’s localities and their residents, but it would also harm the private sector in multiple ways. Among other things, it would derail or unnecessarily complicate and delay public-private partnerships. It would interfere with the ability of private companies to make timely sales of equipment and services to public broadband providers. It would deny private companies timely access to advanced networks over which they could offer business and residential customers an endless array of modern products and services. It would also impair economic and educational opportunities that contribute to a skilled workforce from which businesses across the state will benefit.

Communities with data speeds limited to the HB 2108 target of 10/1 megabits cannot realistically hope to attract or retain modern businesses or provide their residents, particularly their young people, a reason to stay in them. These communities will be condemned to economic stagnation or worse – like the ‘ghost towns’ that died a century ago for lack of adequate electricity.

CLIC, along with its co-signers, encourages the Virginia legislature to reject this harmful legislation.

View the full letter here: JointOppVirginiaHB2108(1-19-17)

CLIC Commends Outgoing FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler for his Unwavering Support for Local Internet Choice

fcc-chairman-tom-wheeler

On the day that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced his resignation from the Commission, the Coalition for Local Internet Choice thanks him for his unwavering support for local Internet choice and for his efforts to remove barriers that prevent rural, urban, and tribal communities from enabling new broadband deployment. As FCC Chairman, Mr. Wheeler gave voice and support to the principle that all communities deserve access to modern broadband infrastructure, which is essential for 21st Century economic competitiveness, educational opportunity, democratic discourse, and quality of life. Mr. Wheeler was a hero in the FCC’s effort to enable localities in the states of North Carolina and Tennessee to serve their rural neighbors with state-of-the-art fiber networks. We honor him for his years of leadership on behalf of the principle that America is built on great local communities and that local broadband initiatives have an essential role to play in removing our country’s urban-rural broadband divide.

Blair Levin Keynote in Wilson, NC “Make America Great — with Great Broadband”

CLIC is delighted to share this guest blog posting from Blair Levin, one of the members of CLIC’s board of advisors, which is based on a speech he delivered on November 4, 2016, in Wilson, NC, for Wilson’s first GigEast event: “Growing the Gigabit Ecosystem.” In his keynote, Mr. Levin notes North Carolina’s urban/rural broadband divide and the need for everyone to have “faster, better, cheaper broadband” infrastructure to keep our country great. 

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“Make America Great—with Great Broadband”

Wilson, North Carolina, November 4, 2016

blair-levin-speaks-at-gigeast

Thank you.

We come together at the time of the final at bats in what feels like both the longest and most painful presidential election in our collective memory.

I’m not here to make a partisan statement.  But I’ll start by agreeing with 75% of an assertion of one of the candidates: that it is time—because it’s always time–to Make America Great.

Indeed, I’d like to suggest the real topic of today’s conference is how we make America great with great broadband.

Let’s step back to consider the source of America’s greatness.  While it might seem odd to start a talk on next generation broadband by going back a four centuries, I don’t, but then as an American Studies major, I have a bias for such things.

The bedrock of American greatness can be found in John Winthrop’s sermon, “A Model of Christian Charity,” that he gave in 1630 to his fellow Puritans as they sailed from England to their new home in the Massachusetts colony.  Winthrop, playing off of Matthew’s version of the Sermon on the Mount, admonished his compatriots to create a “shining city on the hill”, one bonded together in love, compassion and hard work, for “the eyes of all people are before us” and—consciously echoing arguments in Exodus of Moses rallying the Israelites wandering the desert–failure would mean of failure of God’s mission for humanity on earth.

Consider how different that mission statement was from the Spanish mission in the New World.  It was not about extracting gold.

It was about creating a model to inspire, and as President Reagan described it in his farewell address, to build a city “teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.”

A few centuries later, one can see the impact of Winthrop’s entreaties in how the French writer Alexis de Tocqueville chronicled American culture.  He described us—and not just those of us who descended from those early New England towns–as building on the ‘seed’ of Puritan thought, and developing the “habits of mind” that characterized American democracy, including township democracy and a pragmatic ability of Americans to organize themselves in voluntary ways to cooperatively improve their lives.

He compared the American vitality favorability with, ironically, Europeans who whose inhabitants thought of themselves “as colonists, indifferent to the fate of the place they live in….unconcerned with the fortunes of their village, the safety of their streets, the fate of their church and its vestry. They think that such things have nothing to do with them, that they belong to a powerful stranger called “the government.” They enjoy these goods as tenants, without a sense of ownership, and never give a thought to how they might be improved.”

As Tocqueville noted, Americans faced many challenges but our sense of ownership and ambition to make things better gave us a better ability than Europe to mold our future.

So it has been as Americans faced many challenges: a Civil War, industrialization, world wars, hot and cold, an information economy, and soon, an economy built on Artificial Intelligence.

And so it is how you, here in Wilson, have addressed the challenge you faced: how to make sure you have the table stakes for economic growth and social progress in the 21st Century Global Information Economy: a fiber based communications network providing abundant and affordable bandwidth.

You are building that shining city on the hill that inspired our earliest days and has inspired communities in our country and communities around the world.

And you did so with the values that have served this country well throughout our existence, with a local solution developed with local support.

It is not surprising that a nation built by immigrants honors risk and change.  Our ancestors may have been scared of leaving but were more scared by staying where they were, of accepting the status quo.

That is what you all did by not accepting the status quo with the broadband you had.

And so you took it upon yourself to improve your situation.

Like the voyage of the Mayflower, it is likely to be regarded as a wise move.  While our country is still in the early innings of next generation broadband, we have already seen great signs of progress.

In the last 3 years, North America has experienced record growth in fiber, now reaching about 30 million homes, with expected 2016 year over year growth of 16% tying the previous record.

The accelerated growth rate is not surprising given the value people place on quality broadband.  A recent study showed that more than 90% of respondents said quality broadband was “very important” in choosing a community in which to live — second only to “safe streets.”

They are right to do so.  Because while most people don’t know the underlying data, that data confirms the importance of great broadband for thriving as a place to work and live.  The data indicates that improved broadband leads to improved metrics on a number of fronts, including:

  • Economic growth and better jobs. A 2014 study showed that communities with widely available gigabit access enjoy per capita GDP that is 1.1 percent higher than communities with little to no availability of gigabit services.  In dollar terms, the 14 gigabit broadband communities studied enjoyed approximately $1.4 billion in additional GDP. Conversely, the 41 communities in the study that didn’t have widely available gigabit broadband likely experienced forgone GDP of as much as $3.3 billion.   A more recent study concluded that it is particularly important for the fast growing segment of home businesses, where fiber averages about $73,000 in revenues, significantly higher than the second place cable with $43,000.  And there is all kinds of anecdotal evidence that the early gigabit adopters, like Chattanooga and Kansas City are enjoying all kinds of growth in entrepreneurial activity and jobs associated with their networks.
  • Increased property values. A recent study showed that very high speed broadband has been shown to add nearly $10,000 in value to a $300,000 single-family residence.  It is the number one amenity sought by MDU homeowners and the number two amenity sought in single-family homes.
  • Lower prices for broadband services. A recent study found that in areas where gigabit service is introduced, the cost of slower tiers drops significantly. When gigabit is available, tiers of 100 Mbps or faster drop in price by as much $27, while pricing for the lower-priced 25 Mbps service decreased between $13 and $18 monthly.

But this is just the beginning.

In the years to come we can expect that Wilson can be the community that brings the gigabit revolution to other rural communities.  Following my talk, we will hear from others who will talk about how the impact of high-speed networks and related new technology, such as drones and the Internet of things will affect agribusiness, as well as a panel on industrial innovation.

These are the kinds of discussions our country should want to have in many places but the truth is, it takes a network to bring such discussions to the fore.

The challenge for you is to take advantage of your lead and expand that advantage by expanding the broader ecosystem.

How do you do that?

There are many paths up the mountain.  I suspect many in this room have better ideas than I would when it comes to how Wilson should proceed.  But let me offer a couple of thoughts based on my experiences with other communities.

First, get everyone on.  Adoption is a vexing problem, combining elements of affordability, literacy and relevance.  But it is also viral; the more members of a community who are own, the greater the incentives for others to get on.  And once universality is achieved, it opens the door to all kinds of community improvements not available to those communities half on and half off.  The FCC’s reform of its Lifeline program and many successful community adoption programs create new opportunities and models for achieving this goal.

Second, use the platform to better deliver public goods and services.  All large enterprises are moving off the old analog platform and moving strictly to the digital platform.  If you want to sell them something, if you want a job, if you want information from them, you have to be on line.  They don’t do this because they are nerds.  They do this because it improves their ability to constantly improve how they deliver goods and services.

Government, because it has to serve everyone, cannot migrate as easily, another reason it is important to get everyone on.  But government should also aspire to constantly improve how it delivers goods and services.  That means ending the era of lines and paper and making all government services web based, providing greater transparency, always on, and above all, using more reliable data to improve performance.

Third, help every enterprise to become a networked empowered enterprise.  Amazingly many small businesses are still not online.  This not only undercuts their ability to sell, it makes it more difficult to improve efficiency in buying, operating and accounting made possible by cloud based services.  Not every company needs to be a web-based company.   But every company can benefit from the services now available on the web.

Fourth, be a laboratory for all the communities that resemble Wilson more than they resemble Silicon Valley.  In Silicon Valley, VC’s advise start-ups to “build things people need.”  But what we have seen in the last few years is a focus on building things that people who live in Silicon Valley need.  As will be discussed in the next several panels, you bring to the table an understanding of needs that Silicon Valley will have trouble understanding.  Make that work to your advantage.

Fifth, partner with the incredible resources of the Research Triangle Park area.  You are lucky.  You are the only community fiber network I know of so close to a large-scale fiber build where soon residents will have the most competitive gigabit market in the country.  Moreover, you have access to the incredible resources of three world-class universities and a world-class tech hub.

And sixth, make sure your network accommodates the next technology shifts.  The next two great networks to be built are the 5G next generation mobile network and the civic Internet of Things, bringing intelligence to the infrastructure underlying our communities, improving water, sewer, electricity and transportation grids.  Both these new platforms will share a need for, and operate over, the fiber network you already have.  Now is the time to start adopting the network to those emerging needs.

You are not alone in having future proof networks in your community.

But you are ahead.  And the recent news from Google—that it is pausing its fiber efforts in all but a few communities and will look to provide abundant, affordable bandwidth through a fiber wireless combination—will keep you ahead longer.

That is a mixed blessing for you.  One on hand, you will continue to have a competitive advantage over otherwise similarly situated communities.

On the other, the more others enjoy those gigabit speeds, the sooner the market will develop applications to take advantage of those speeds.

In light of the fact that Google will continue to build out in the Research Triangle and Charlotte areas, you all have the potential to become the largest and most diverse area with next generation internet.

Other North Carolina communities may wish to do the same.

But they may find it difficult.  Unfortunately the values of community self-help are not always well represented in the halls of power.

I speak, of course, of the unfortunate law, H.129, that prohibits others in North Carolina from doing as you have done, and prohibits you from helping others by expanding.

To me, it is simple.  The primary objective of broadband policy ought to be to stimulate faster, better, cheaper broadband.  There is no evidence that that law does so.  There is evidence that that law makes broadband in North Carolina slower, worse and more expensive.

Exhibit A is the fact that as a result of a court decision upholding that law, you have had to stop offering Pinetops faster, better, cheaper broadband and it is only by your generosity that the service was not cut off.

So when the newly elected General Assembly returns to Raleigh, I hope your community, Pinetops and many others speak with a unified voice and tell the Assembly: Tear down the law that prohibits you from providing faster, better, cheaper broadband.

And if they need further information, show them a recent report that offers some critical insights into North Carolina’s broadband situation.

It finds, among other things:

  • North Carolina’s private providers are building their fiber-optic networks in a couple metro areas but none in rural regions.
  • Only 12 percent of North Carolina’s rural population has a choice in broadband access. The rest have no option or only one option.
  • All of North Carolina’s telephone cooperatives are investing in fiber for members in their service territory.
  • While North Carolina has 26 electric cooperatives capable of bringing fiber-to-the-home to rural residents, a 1999 state law limits the co-ops’ access to capital for telecommunications projects.

Surely the General Assembly should have better things to do than stifling those who want to bring world-class broadband to underserved communities.

I do not want to suggest that having a gigabit network will solve all our problems.  Addressing other challenges —from climate change to quality of education to the ability to attract an educated and diverse workforce—must be part of the mix.

But at some point in the near future the kind of network you have today, one that thousands of communities wish they had, will be the new table stakes for addressing both the challenges and opportunities of this century to build a better life for ourselves, our children, and the generations to follow.

And when those generations arrive, I hope that America is still great.  I hope its residents and the world will see it as a shining city on the hill that we have aspired to be since our earliest days, that Reagan so eloquently described.

Predictions about the future, as Yogi Berra usefully reminded us, are always tricky.  But this prediction is safe: America will not be great if it does not have great broadband.

Many thanks.

(photo credits to Brie HandGraff/Wilson Times)

To Supporters of Local Internet Choice

Dear Supporters of Local Internet Choice:

In the wake of the election, our friend Mark Erickson of RS Fiber in Minnesota shared with us some of his thoughts about how, even in a partisan community in a partisan time, the issue of local broadband transcends partisanship. This is exactly what CLIC has been stressing for a long time – that communities have a huge stake in obtaining affordable access to advanced communications networks; that they should be free to do so in whatever way works for them; that this is not a partisan issue at the local level; and that this should not be a partisan issue at the federal or state level either.

Mark agreed to let us share his thoughts with all of you, and they follow this message. Please read and enjoy—and let’s all work for a better broadband future in this new political era.

Happy Veteran’s Day, from all of us at CLIC

—->

To all:

In very rural Sibley county, in Minnesota, where I live, the vote was nearly 3 to 1 in favor of Donald Trump.

Our incumbent Republicans were re-elected with ease.

Yet in this very conservative county, 10 city councils and 17 of 21 rural townships have come together to support putting their tax dollars at risk to build a fiber optic network to everyone in those communities and to all area farms. (By means of an update, the four townships that voted not to participate in the project have indicated they might want back into the project.)

I don’t even find it ironic that in the middle of this Trump heartland the overwhelming majority of voters believe broadband is so important that it transcends local, state and national politics.

Why? Because they get it. They understand they will need bigger and better broadband to survive and grow.

And I suspect, from information I’ve gathered at national and regional conferences around the country the past several years, that the rest of “Donald Trump Heartland” feels the same way.

I believe the time is right to press the advantage for rural broadband efforts at the national and state levels.

I’m going to tell people when I’m in Washington later this month that Trump voters in my conservative county strongly support efforts by communities and government entities to grow fiber networks to their homes and farms.

I was in Maine two weeks ago talking to rural communities and counties about broadband. Rural Maine is much like rural Minnesota. They are conservative. They are suspicious of government. They tend to frown on government involvement in private sector affairs.

But broadband is a different issue. When folks in Maine understood how far behind they are, how bleak the prospects are for incumbents to make the necessary investments and how important it is they catch up . . . and catch up quickly, they looked to local governments for a possible solution.

In Maine, as in Minnesota, when people realized providers are unable to make the necessary investments in their communities, they began to advocate for solutions that involve local government.

Like rural voters across the nation, they understand the only real way to ensure timely (in their lifetime) access to ultra high speed broadband networks is to take the initiative and make something happen.

I am convinced that sentiment is common throughout under- and unserved rural America.

Let’s take the opportunity this sea change in national leadership presents and raise our voices even louder about the need for effective solutions to what I believe is a growing rural broadband crisis.

Let’s make the point very clearly that the people of rural America deserve and are beginning to demand access to fiber networks.

The issue of growing broadband networks and the need to collaborate and find common grounds to effectively solve this critically important issue, is at the top of my list because I truly believe that growing fiber networks will help this country grow and prosper for decades to come.

And, by the way, I don’t care who owns and operates them. If we can move the incumbents to action, everyone wins. If the only solution is a new cooperative or a municipal network, I’m on board because the results are the same. Just as long as the networks get built!

I tell legislators in Minnesota that every metric they are charged with monitoring can be made better, can be improved upon, if their constituents have access to ubiquitous ultra high speed symmetrical broadband networks. Health care. Education, Jobs. Manufacturing. Public Safety. Transportation. Senior Citizens. They will all benefit.

I believe the same is true at the federal level as well.

The politicians to whom I tell that usually get it. They understand the opportunity but they don’t know what to do to take advantage of the opportunity.

The fact is that fiber networks are transformative and rural America desperately needs and wants access to those networks.

We need to educate the incoming administration and the Republican Congress to that point so they can understand the consequences of not meeting the needs of the people who just put them in office—and that needs for advanced communications are central to the needs of rural America. Most importantly, this issue transcends party affiliation or partisanship, and should be recognized as what it is—a priority for action at the state, local, and federal levels.

Mark Erickson -Winthrop, MN Economic Development Authority and RS Fiber Cooperative

CLIC Day: Gigi Sohn on The Future of Local Internet Choice

gigi-sohn

Yesterday in Minneapolis, CLIC awarded Gigi Sohn, Counselor to FCC Chairman, Tom Wheeler, the 2016 Local Internet Choice National Champion award. What follows are Ms. Sohn’s keynote luncheon remarks following that award, on the topic of the Future of Local Internet Choice:

Thank you, Jim and Joanne.  It’s great to be here with all of you today.  Just for the record, even though we’re in Minnesota and he’s now a Nobel Prize winner, I won’t be quoting any Bob Dylan lyrics.  Frankly, if I were going to quote a musician from this state it would be Prince…because, of course, I prefer the genius who was 5 foot 2.

Seriously, I am honored to receive the National Champion for Local Internet Choice Award.  And I am humbled to be recognized alongside the other award winners, each of whom have been remarkable leaders in the nationwide effort to give communities the power to decide their broadband futures.

Special congratulations to the honorees – and all of you – who wrestle with this issue at the state and local levels.  Yes, it’s important that lawmakers and public servants like me try to make good policy.  But you, my friends, are working every day in the trenches – in state legislatures, city council rooms, comptrollers’ offices and in actual trenches building gigabit networks that serve your communities.   You are the heart and soul and muscle of this movement. I share this award with all of you working day to day to ensure that all Americans can benefit from what high-speed broadband enables.

It’s been an amazing three years at the FCC, and with the election just three weeks away, it’s a good time to reflect on what we’ve accomplished.  So in keeping with the theme of the day, I’d like to talk about how far the movement for local Internet choice has come and where I see it going in the future.  It is indisputable that during these three years, enormous progress has been made. But even so, we have a long way to go to until all local communities have the authority to make their own broadband Internet choices.

See her full speech here.