Connections Blog

Why You Should Join CLIC’s Newest Chapter in Colorado

I am Todd Barnes. I was president of the Colorado Communications and Utility Alliance (CCUA) for 6 years and just stepped down in January. As such, I wanted to introduce you to CLIC’s newest chapter, CLIC-Colorado. A little over six months ago, CCUA voted to become an official chapter of CLIC. This alliance between the CCUA and CLIC was a natural fit because both CLIC and CCUA believe that the internet is an essential element of every community’s infrastructure and that each local community is best at determining if its broadband services are sufficient to meet current and future needs.

This natural partnership will weave CLIC’s network further into our state-wide efforts. For many years, CLIC has worked in unison with CCUA to support its legislative agenda both at the state and federal levels. Along with our legal counsel, Ken Fellman, and the other members of CCUA’s Executive Committee, we have  partnered with the Colorado Municipal League to educate Colorado elected officials about the intricate issues associated with broadband deployment and the challenges the industry has presented to local decision-making. Our partnership was most valuable during the last two legislative sessions in Colorado, when our organizations battled together to overcome a state law that prevents local governments from providing broadband services. While we have not yet repealed the law, our effort will likely continue because it is the natural outgrowth of  a popular movement in Colorado communities to gain local internet choice. Over the last few years, more than 95 Colorado communities have voted in referendum to exempt themselves from the state law that prohibits them from providing broadband networks, with vote margins being far from close.  An average of more than 75% of the voters declared that they wanted their community to have the right to choose.

In addition to broadband, CCUA, and now CLIC-Colorado, are big supporters of PEG operations and programming. I actually started my work with CCUA as a member of the video production committee. We started producing our own video program for members to use on their PEG channels. Today, CCUA produces its own video program called Connected Colorado. This commercial-quality production lets our communities showcase events, programs and people from their communities.

Please feel free to visit the CCUA’s website for more information at www.coloradocua.org or become a Colorado member of CLIC by clicking here, and your name will pass through to our chapter.

Professor Yoo’s Flawed Study Flunks Test on Municipal Broadband

By Jim Baller and Joanne Hovis

On May 24, 2017, University of Pennsylvania Law School professor Christopher Yoo and  student Timothy Pfenninger released a paper entitled “Municipal Fiber in the United States: An Empirical Assessment of Financial Performance”. Applying a Net Present Value analysis to data on 20 municipal broadband projects for the years 2010 to 2014, the paper concluded that 11 projects generated negative cash flow and that only two projects generated sufficient cash flow to pay off the debt incurred during the networks’ estimated useful life.

As with many past industry-supported attacks on municipal broadband, it will take some time for interested readers to dig into the details of the Yoo study and fully understand its strengths and weaknesses.[1] That will occur in due course. There are, however, a number of serious problems with this study that leap out at once.

For one thing, almost immediately after releasing their report, the authors issued a press release acknowledging that they had “erroneously stated that the bonds used to finance the projects in Chattanooga, TN; Lafayette, LA; and Wilson, NC; call for balloon payments toward the end of their bond terms.”[2] They say that they made this error because they were reading summary tables on page 2 of the relevant sources rather than “[t]he more detailed discussions contained inside the Official Statements.”[3]

While the authors claim that this error did not affect their financial analysis, one wonders how many other serious errors exist in the study—and how many other times the authors took shortcuts instead of reviewing the full available data. Perhaps if they had contacted the cities at issue to verify the data, they could have caught this mistake in advance. Apparently, they skipped that step as well.

A particularly important shortcoming of the study is that the choice of 2010 through 2014 as the study period introduced significant selection bias. This occurred for at least two reasons. First, at least three of the key projects studied—Chattanooga, Lafayette, and Wilson—all began service in 2009. Because city-wide projects take years to build (as do all substantial communications networks), none of these projects was fully operational throughout the 2010 to 2014 study period.  This may also have been true of several of the other projects included in the study.[4]

Second, amplifying this problem, during the 2010-2014 study period, the U.S. was slowly recovering from the 2008–2009 collapse of the global economy. This undoubtedly dampened demand for communications services relative to what it would have been in more normal times. Yet, the authors chose to base their projections on these unrepresentative data.

That using 2010-2014 as the study period was inappropriate becomes all the more apparent when one examines Chattanooga’s, Lafayette’s, and Wilson’s actual post-2014 experience.  For example, the Yoo study predicted that it would take Chattanooga 412 years to “turn positive.” In fact, Chattanooga’s post-2014 sales have soared, its fiber utility has already paid off its debt, and its net revenues from sales of fiber-based communications services are helping to keep Chattanooga’s electric rates down.[5]  At the same time, according to studies by Dr. Bento Lobo, professor of finance at the University of Tennessee (Chattanooga), Chattanooga’s fiber network has contributed to the creation of between 2,800 and 5,200 jobs—and to economic and social benefits to the community ranging in value from $865 million to $1.321 billion.[6]

Lafayette and Wilson have also had strong post-2014 experiences. Wilson has reduced electric rates by 22 percent, a clear sign of the strength of its utility,  LUS Fiber has already paid $600,000 to the City’s General Fund, and by 2020, it will be paying about $1 million annually, which support Lafayette’s fire and police forces.  LUS Fiber has also helped to create nearly 1,000 high tech jobs in Lafayette.

Indeed, all three cities have merited strong bond ratings from Wall Street.[7] So, one must ask, who has more credibility in assessing the strength of these municipal fiber projects, a law professor and his student—or professional bond rating firms such as Moody’s Investment Service, Fitch Ratings, and Standard & Poor’s Ratings?

Another problem with the Yoo study is that the boldness of its conclusions is undermined by the many caveats and qualifications set forth at various points in the study. For example, at one point, the report states, “[t]he high-level analysis presented in this study may overlook key details that can help explain the results in particular cases. In addition, the financial performance of these projects may improve in the future.”[8]

At another point, the study notes that the authors did not have certain data for seven of the 20 projects being studied, so they made projections based on data that they had for the remaining 13 projects.[9] This effectively made a small sample of projects even smaller.

Likewise, in the course of discussing their linear model for calculating discounted cash flows from 2010 to 2014, the authors candidly caution, “[c]are should be placed on attributing too much weight to the results of these models. The relatively small number of observations and the simplicity of the model prevent them from achieving statistical significance.”[10]

Nevertheless, despite these and other similar qualifications, the authors did not hesitate to draw broad conclusion and opine that “the overall results provide a useful snapshot of the nature and size of the challenges that municipal fiber projects face.”[11] Unfortunately, in reporting on this study, several media outlets have focused on the authors’ sensational conclusions and have missed the significance of these caveats.

The study also insultingly suggests that city officials are shortsighted in seeking to secure for their constituents affordable access to gigabit broadband: “[a]lthough some day people may need the download speeds that FTTH makes possible, the evidence suggests little need for such speeds today.”[12]

This breezy dismissal of the need for fast broadband demonstrates that the authors lack understanding of the goals of the local officials they seek to warn away from municipal fiber projects. Like electric utilities in the last century, fiber networks are multi-purpose platforms and drivers of simultaneous progress in just about everything that matters to communities. This includes economic development, education, public safety, healthcare, transportation, environmental protection, energy, government service, democratic discourse, digital equity, entertainment, and much more.

These critical community goals are why local government officials are eager to obtain the benefits of advanced communications networks—by working with willing incumbents, partnering with new entrants, building their own networks when necessary, or developing other innovative arrangements that work for them.

In any event, local governments are not alone in seeking broadband at gigabit speeds. Google Fiber, AT&T, Comcast, and many other entities have made the case for such robust networks—and have invested in building them in select areas, notwithstanding Mr. Yoo’s skepticism about the need for such networks.

Furthermore, throughout their report, the authors condescendingly treat municipal leaders as ignorant hayseeds.  Municipal leaders, the authors say, “should carefully consider all of the relevant costs and risks before moving forward with a municipal fiber program.”[13] Cities considering whether to initiate a municipal fiber project “should carefully evaluate the performance of prior efforts and assess whether differences exist that would likely lead to a better outcome.”[14]  In our experience, local government officials are well aware that capital-intensive infrastructure projects are costly and risky and actively seek  to learn from the experiences of other communities. They do not need a lecture on common sense from a law professor and a law student.

When a locality considers the possibility of developing a municipal fiber network, months—even years—of intensive discussion typically occurs at the local level, during which every fact, every assumption, and every technological, legal, financial, social, and other relevant issue is examined from multiple angles. Incumbent service providers invariably participate actively in this process, as do local entrepreneurs and competitive providers. In the end, this process ensures that only those projects that meet a significant unmet need and have a high probability of success will go forward.

Finally, as former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell noted at the event where this problematic report was released, localities undertake broadband initiatives not for purposes of profit, but for public purposes such as education, economic development, healthcare, and civic engagement. These purposes are fundamental to the missions and obligations of local governments, and the value delivered by fiber networks in these areas goes far beyond income on a financial statement. As with so much else about municipal broadband, Mr. Yoo and his student fail to accurately understand that.

Jim Baller is the President, and Joanne Hovis is the Chief Executive Officer, of the Coalition for Local Internet Choice

[1]               The Yoo study was published under the auspices of Penn Law and its Center for Technology, Innovation and Competition. Among the Center’s supporters are AT&T, Comcast-NBC Universal, CTIA, NCTA, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon. https://goo.gl/oY1Ouv.

[2]               Steven Barnes, “Correction,” Press Release, University of Pennsylvania Law School, May 26, 2017, https://goo.gl/7XFWJ2.

[3]               Id.

[4]               Table V includes a column entitled “Age of Project as of 2010,” but the numbers listed in the column are unreliable.  For example, Chattanooga and Wilson are listed as two years old, and Lafayette is listed as three years old, even though the study elsewhere acknowledges that each began service in 2009.  According to Table V, at least five other projects were two or three years old as of 2010.

[5]               Colin Wood, “Report discredits municipal fiber financials — but experts balk,” Statescoop, May 30, 2017, https://goo.gl/cU6P1x.

[6]               Bento J. Lobo, The Realized Value of Fiber Infrastructure in Hamilton County, TN (May 2, 2017), https://goo.gl/g4vDDJ.

[7]               Dave Flessner, “EPB Readies $250 million bond issue with upgraded rating,” Times Free Press, https://goo.gl/Ait7w8, July 9, 2015 (Fitch and Standard & Poor’s upgrade EPB’s bond rating from AA to AA-plus); “Standard & Poor’s Upgrades LUS Fiber’s Bond Rating to A+”, https://goo.gl/YjASlL (April 2015); City of Wilson, NC, “Fitch Ratings upgrades City of Wilson bond rating,” https://goo.gl/CZbyxh December 30, 2016 (“The City of Wilson’s bond rating was recently upgraded by Fitch Ratings to AA+, a significant endorsement of the financial health of the city.”)

[8]               Yoo study, at 1. See also id., at 3.

[9]               Id., at 1.

[10]             Id., at 24.

[11]             Id., at 1.

[12]             Id.

[13]             Id., at 1.

[14]             Id.

Why a Dedicated High Speed Broadband Network to Connect the Unconnected is a Game Changer

by Lev Gonick, DigitalC

[Note: CLIC reprints here with permission this important guest blog from Lev Gonick, a member of our Board of Advisors]

Recently, DigitalC launched the Connect the Unconnected program. It has received strong media coverage in the Cleveland PlainDealer, WCPN (NPR)’s Sound of Ideas and in blog postings around the world. In this blog posting, I offer details on the technical design, the solution architecture, and our hopes for America’s first, dedicated gigabit network designed specifically to support the unserved and underserved members of our community.

The Connect the Unconnected network aspires to connect the 50% of Cleveland residents with no wired broadband access.

Why It Matters – The Center for Public Integrity notes that nationwide, families in neighborhoods with median household incomes below $34,800 — the lowest fifth of neighborhoods nationally — are five times more likely not to have access to broadband than households in areas with a median income above $80,700 — the top fifth.

In Cleveland, the average household salary of the 8,802 families living in public housing is $7,572 per year. Nearly a third of those with housing choice vouchers are working poor. Today, Internet access in the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority is measured in the hundreds of residents. Cleveland is the third least connected city in the United States behind Detroit and Brownsville, Texas. Twenty percent of the residents of the Lutheran’s Men’s Shelter, the largest homeless shelter in Ohio, are returning Vets. Without an internet connection, residents can not apply for public housing, a job, or a myriad of other VA, City, and County services. Dr. Adam Perzynski of MetroHealth in Cleveland has recently concluded that controlling for income and education, broadband access is the single most important social determinant of health and wellness. Students in Cleveland’s Metropolitan School District all take a battery of standardized tests online. Seven of ten teachers assign homework online and yet one in three students has no internet access at home. More than 3000 children are in some form of foster care or at risk of timing out support systems provided by the County in Greater Cleveland. Internet access is rare but for those youth in foster care who enroll in public universities so they can gain shelter instead of sleeping on the street or in a car.

This is the other America. More than 47 million Americans without Internet. 47 million Americans with real faces, circumstances, hopes and dreams. Nearly a third of African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans do not have Internet. Digital equity is our 21st century civil rights challenge, neither color blind, independent of class, age, ability, or location independent.

Designing America’s First Dedicated High Speed Network to Connect the UnConnected

There is no silver bullet, no elixir, no one-size fits all solution to connect the unconnected. For the past fifteen years, Cleveland has had an intentional effort to design, build, manage, and operate its own digital infrastructure. I do not mean the City of Cleveland. DigitalC is a non-profit spin-off of OneCommunity which in turn was a rebranding and scaling of OneCleveland that was launched in 2003 by a group of civically minded technology leaders in Cleveland. Conceived of as a catalyst for leveraging technology for community impact, we spent much of the decade between 2006-2016 designing, constructing, managing, and operating what became a large regional fiber optic network in Northeast Ohio connecting thousands of community anchor institutions. In November 2015, the Board of OneCommunity agreed to accept a $50m investment by MC Partners in order to accelerate and deepen the investments we sought for digital infrastructure through Everstream. As part of that agreement, we retained significant fiber optic capacity (through a legal arrangement known as IRUs) for our continued work in R&D, grants, and mission-related activities.

Our Connect the Unconnected network leverages community anchor institutions that have a presence on the fiber optic backbone.

The first ring pictured is a fully redundant network that was designed by engineers from Siklu, a leading provider of millimeter wave (mmWave) wireless technologies. Many of their more than 45,000 deployed antennas across the United States are the ‘kit’ for WebPass, the company recently acquired by Google Fiber. The backhaul for WebPass is a collection of commercial networks and drains to the Net. Not withstanding, the continuing debate about the future of the modernized lifeline service, there is relatively little leverage for the poor, elderly, rural, and disabled to assure their ability to access the Net. There is even less strategic opportunity to create new entrepreneurial opportunities to be serve and disrupt the substantial unserved and underserved marketplace. All over the global south and beyond, the Net is the platform through which better health, job opportunities, education and training, and other public services and delivered rather than a regulatory afterthought for the incumbent providers. Thus the opportunity to design and launch a dedicated high speed network to fill a demonstrable void and serve the unserved and underserved communities within the Greater Cleveland region.

Anchored to our fiber at the St. Vincent’s Charity Hospital, the antenna arrays for the Connect the Unconnected network in Cleveland have between one and three antennas per building allowing us to extend fiber-like services. All the buildings in the ring are connected at gigabit speeds. The installation team from Agile Networks tethered and calibrated the Siklu mmWave antennas and then connected the wireless antennas from the rooftops to the demarcation points in the respective communication rooms, typically in the basement of each of the residential towers.

DigitalC reached out to Sunnyvale-based Actelis Networks to design a solution to connect the internal wiring plant of the original 1950s copper wiring through their switching technology to the gigabit mmWave antennas via a fiber optic link. The team from Actelis terminated the copper wiring in every single apartment to customer premise equipment and a WiFi switch as well as to their own switches in the demarcation room in the basement of the residential tower. Not withstanding the promise of future technologies like G.fast, the Actelis solution turbo-charged the existing copper wiring to provide residents with a symmetrical service of, on average, 25-30 Mb/s down and up. A service offering I would be very happy with, could I receive it in the suburbs.

Given the well documented challenges of leveraging the pervasive legacy copper plant in cities like Cleveland, this pilot programs provides proof positive that there are technology solutions with relatively modest investment requirements to provide all customers with copper with an FCC-defined and acceptable source of high speed bandwidth, at least for now.

More than 1000 men and women live in homeless shelters in the City of Cleveland. As noted above, 20 percent of the men are returning Vets. Another 60 percent are men re-entering the community from being incarcerated in prisons. These men and women are demonstrably interested in gaining access to the Internet for digital literacy training, keeping in touch with loved ones, seeking workforce training opportunities, digital up-skilling as well as opportunities to look up their healthcare records.

The Lutheran Men’s Shelter, the northerly most node on ring one, brought their connection from the rooftop to their computer lab via a fiber optic connection. A group of 30 men immediately signed up for training. As the first set of computers were connected to the network, a speedtest.net was performed at each station and access at the homeless shelter is now among the fastest Internet connections in the entire City of Cleveland.

Build It And They Will Come — NOT

Over the past 25 years, the experience of community technology centers and their advocates have consistently demonstrated that making Internet access available is a necessary but insufficient condition to onboarding those excluded from the digital economy. Digital isolation can only be overcome by direct and contextually relevant engagement work with those unserved and underserved members of the community.

Connect the Unconnected attempts to be such a wholistic end-to-end program. DigitalC is the catalyst but the entire program is delivered by and through our partnership network.

Every city in the United States has an e-waste stream eco-system. In Cleveland, RET3 has long been a partner supporting the recycling of computers to support the needs of the community. The forward leaning leadership at RET3 not only provides a certified solution for recycling e-waste for corporate and enterprise Cleveland businesses, they have long been engaged in supporting certified workforce development programs. RET3 offers A++ certification, Cisco network certifications, and a host of internship, re-entry, and work study opportunities. RET3’s gently used PC and Apple laptops and mini-towers come with TechSoup certified software licenses.

Another key part of the Connect the Unconnected program is to tie the distribution of computers and software to successful completion of 8 hours of certified training. Delivered by community partners like the Ashbury Seniors Community Computing Center (ASC3). Digital literacy trainers with decades of experience and credibility in the community are critical resources to raise the prospects of success. The empirical evidence bears out the value of this approach. Academic research conducted in 2012 and 2013 affirms that investments in digital literacy training bears strong positive support for employment prospects, greater responsibility for health information, social engagement, and sense of personal self-worth. The data also show that once the once digitally isolated get connected, they overwhelmingly see the value of investing in their own futures and paying for access and prioritize the Internet near the very top of their needs.

Scale – What Comes Next?

I continue to believe that the need for digital equity is as compelling as it is urgent. The danger for failing to act in a timely manner will only lead to dystopian futures with the threads of our social contract fraying further still as the divide continues to widen. There is no doubt that a national framework for connecting the unconnected has always been a desired end-state. Even a strong set of templates for statewide efforts to connect the unconnected would prove valuable in having positive impact on individuals, families and whole communities. There is little to no prospect of a national policy move in this direction. Likewise, there is little prospect for statewide initiatives. American exceptionalism in broadband has meant that the action to connect the 47 million Americans with no Internet is happening in our cities and with our rural utility coops and other more locally defined authorities. We can wait for enlightenment or we can continue to work on connecting the unconnected as a local issue.

The technical architecture of the Cleveland Connect the Unconnected program is scalable and replicable. There are hundreds of community anchor institutions on our network geographically dispersed around the Greater Cleveland geography. That said, there are several technical constraints to such efforts including the laws of physics as they relate to line of sight, a requirement for the mmWave fiber extension project. We are already designing hybrid approaches to solve for these constraints. Our available fiber footprint will allow us to plan and cost out the extension of fiber to advance connectivity. We are actively engaged with the R&D community and industry leaders here in Cleveland to position our region for a strong, research-led engagement on bringing 5G wireless test beds to the Greater Cleveland area. Our Connect the Unconnected initiative is a good exemplar of the foundations for a meaningful civic IoT to advance the quality of life in our community and serve as a reference architecture for others. Likewise, we anticipate G.fast pilots and several other emerging technologies to join the mix. We have begun design work on rings 2-4 building off the work in the midtown campus district as we anticipate offerings both east and west of the downtown. We have also been asked to model extending gigabit connectivity to geographies around the Greater Cleveland area where poverty is quickly encroaching, bringing with it the downward spiral of economic and social challenges.

I want to end where I began. Designing and launching a reference architecture for a dedicated high speed broadband network and all the attendant wrap around services and support is my definition of civic technology. Connect the Unconnected is about making a small contribution to a simple idea. When history is written, our ability to extend access to the digital economy and all of its opportunities is the surest way to bet on a future of prosperity for all of us. Connecting the Unconnected is the promise of supporting those unserved and underserved to restart their dreams and hopes for a better tomorrow.

[The original of Lev’s blog post can be found here.]

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.

NC Legislators Should Encourage, not Disconnect, Modern Rural Internet

Background: A tiny, rural town in North Carolina has gigabit internet from a community-owned fiber provider, Wilson Greenlight, and the big cable and telephone companies want it disconnected. Today a local newspaper printed an editorial from an industry front group (just like the one these monopolies used in 2010 and 2011). Titled “City-Owned  Broadband Squeezes Taxpayers” the “American Taxpayers Alliance” in essence suggested that NC legislators should disconnect gigabit internet service in rural Pinetops because “municipal broadband poses a significant threat to taxpayers.” The real story of what is happening in Pinetops is found in a local letter to the editor from a Pinetops Town Commissioner, reprinted below . While it is not true that Greenlight uses taxpayer money to run their network, it is true that Centurylink is getting more than $40 million in public funds through the federal Connect America Fund with which they are building old internet technology (10Mbps/1Mbps) to their NC rural customers. Having no internet choice and access to only old internet for your community — that sounds like the death knell for local rural economic growth — and the real “significant threat” to taxpayers.

~~~~>

Legislators Should Help Promote Internet Access, 

by Suzanne Coker Craig, Pinetops Town Commissioner

Every one of the 600 homes in rural Pinetops – in economically struggling Edgecombe County – has access to symmetrical, fiber-to-the-home, gigabit internet service. Not even Raleigh has that. So why are state legislators trying to disconnect us and take away the biggest economic and education advantage we have had in decades? Why are they siding with big telecom corporations rather than their rural constituents whose livelihoods are being crippled by antiquated internet service?

In 2011, the telecom industry pushed the NC Legislature to pass a law limiting the City of Wilson’s internet service area to Wilson County, even though Wilson is a long-time utility provider to Pinetops and other small towns in neighboring counties. The Federal Communication Commission ruled in 2015 to preempt this law, which allowed Pinetops to invite Wilson to bring its fiber internet service (“Greenlight”) to the town in March 2016. In May, the State challenged the FCC decision and won, which will force Greenlight to disconnect Pinetops. Rep. Susan Martin (R-Wilson), Rep. Shelley Willingham (D-Edgecombe), and Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield (D- Wilson), Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram (D-Martin) and Sen. Deanna Ballard (R-Watauga) introduced legislation to keep Pinetops connected, but the bills appear to be stalling because of intense lobbying by the big telecoms. Rep. Jeff Collins (R-Nash) has even introduced a bill that would force Greenlight out of Pinetops by a specific date.

We hear that the big telecoms are telling legislators that they  are “upgrading” our little town with modern, even fiber based internet. Our residents (their customers) tell a different story. Their “high speed” internet (sometimes 10Mbps/1Mpbs) buffers and crashes regularly and customer service is a joke. Our overworked regional technician serves from Fayetteville to north of Greenville. Greenlight by comparison provides us fiber-to-the-home symmetrical gigabit internet if we want it. Their customer service is hyper-responsive and was even in town the day after Hurricane Matthew, hooking up and servicing lines for emergency responders. The other providers were nowhere to be seen in hard-hit Pinetops.

Access to modern internet is vital our town’s future. Legislators need to give us the freedom to choose internet partners we can depend on to improve our economy, educational opportunities and quality of life. Pinetops should be able to keep Greenlight and legislators should be encouraging, not disconnecting, modern internet access for our rural communities.

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.

——————-

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.)