Connections Blog

See you Monday at CLIC Day in Dallas!

We look forward to seeing everyone on Monday in Dallas at CLIC’s pre-conference event, “Making Local Internet Choice Happen in a Changing Environment: Opportunities and Challenges in 2017.

We 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 still 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.)

Why Rural Broadband Matters: Silicon Holler Rises Up from Old Coal Country

“Could a coal miner really code?”  “Yes” was the answer from a small group of ambitious former coal miners who knew if their town did not diversify its economy, their only other choice was moving. “Hillbillies,” they answered,  “can code!”

According to a recent article in the Guardian, more than 600,000 U.S. tech jobs go unfilled every year, jobs that end up being shipped overseas but which could be filled by Americans if only we had the skills. These jobs pay the same as those $70K a year coal mining jobs.

So in a coal mining town called Pikeville, Kentucky, a new “Bitsource” company was founded from the fingertips of 11 former coal miners. After two years, it has blossomed into the dream of carving a new Silicon Holler out of the mountain’s resources. “We’re nerds now” according to one of its 55-year-old coders.

To make their new on-shoring a reality, Pikeville City Manager, Donovan Blackburn, faces two large barriers: 1) access to modern broadband and 2) getting access to the federal funds that will help Pikeville connect to Kentucky’s unfolding fiber backbone. The Trump Administration’s 2018 budget eliminates the Appalachian Regional Commission and the U.S. Economic Development Commission which are tasked with helping Kentucky recover from the collapse of the coal industry. If Pikeville doesn’t get broadband very soon, they know they will be cut off from the modern economy despite their newly retrained coal workforce.

“In the mines, if you messed up, you could either kill someone or cost your company millions of dollars,” according to the 55-year-old coder quoted by the Guardian. This is why coal miners make good coders. “Failure for us was just not an option.”

We encourage you to come hear Pikeville’s City Manager, Donovan Blackburn, speak at CLIC Day in Dallas on May 1st, about Pikeville’s effort to transition away from coal and into a hi tech world for his mountain community. CLIC members qualify for a deep conference registration discount.  See here.

Pew Study Says 70% of Americans Support Municipal Broadband

“A majority of Americans across a wide range of demographic groups are in favor of local governments being able to build their own high-speed networks,” according to a new Pew study conducted between March 13-27, 2017.  Seventy percent (70%) of the public believe “local governments should be able to build their own broadband networks if existing services in the area are either too expensive or not good enough.”

Reflecting a trend we are seeing across the country, support for local Internet choice crosses party-lines. According to Pew, solid majorities of Democrats (74%) and Republicans (67%) favor the right of communities to make their own decisions about municipal broadband networks. With the growing importance of the Internet for job applications, for education, for healthcare, for public safety, and more, Pew found that almost half of Americans are saying home broadband is “essential.”

 The full Pew study can be found here.

A hat -tip to Kevin Taglang at the Benton Foundation for alerting us to this new research.

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.