Connections Blog

Broadband Public/Private Partnerships Are Working in North Carolina

Clic Guest Blog by Kathy Scheller, Director, Government Relations, MetroNet

As the fastest growing 100% fiber company in the nation, MetroNet continues to prove that collaboration is the key to successful fiber optic deployment in over 100 communities across 9 states.  Most recently, the cities of Fayetteville and Greenville, North Carolina announced MetroNet’s intention to construct a fiber optic network providing high-speed internet, television, and phone in their cities with a combined investment by the company of $110 million.   How does that happen? 

Enter the Public/Private Partnership.

When MetroNet comes into a new city with a fiber optic deployment of this magnitude, it is critical that there is a willingness to work together on a successful implementation.  Both Fayetteville and Greenville stepped up to the plate to do the work on their part while keeping the level playing field for their cities at the forefront. 

Leadership, not only from the cities, but also from their respective municipal electric utilities, strategized with MetroNet early in the process regarding necessary staff requirements, permitting, city/state ordinances and a continual construction communication process. The result is a solid plan to work together to bring in a world-class fiber optic infrastructure that will be a game changer for residents and businesses alike in both Fayetteville and Greenville.  For MetroNet to make the investment, it is critical that this effective public/private partnership is achievable.

In evaluating potential communities for the fiber optic deployment/investment, MetroNet goes through an extensive due diligence process.  While it was determined that both Fayetteville and Greenville were underserved in their broadband capabilities, the city leadership in support of the initiative from both communities proved to be a determining factor in MetroNet’s entrance into North Carolina.

As MetroNet’s fiber optic network begins to light up both cities, the impact will be immediate.   Homes will be able to access symmetrical broadband speeds (currently up to 1 Gig) that will support multiple devices utilized for school and work, streaming, video conferencing and more.  Businesses will be able to customize their fiber access and utilization as well.  As we have learned through the pandemic, this infrastructure is essential.  From an economic development perspective, MetroNet’s presence will create jobs not only for the company, but also within Fayetteville and Greenville.  Finally, with broadband funds becoming available at the federal and state level to insure digital equality, MetroNet will have a seat at the table in both Fayetteville and Greenville to discuss future initiatives to address the digital divide as public/private partners.

To learn more about MetroNet:

CLIC Endorses federal Community Broadband Act (HR 1631)

The Coalition for Local Internet Choice endorses H.R. 1631, the “Community Broadband Act of 2021,” which Reps. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Jered Golden (D-Maine), and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), introduced on March 8, 2021.  This legislation will remove state roadblocks to community broadband initiatives and public-private broadband partnerships while at the same time safeguarding incumbent service providers from discriminatory local regulation.  It mirrors language found in H.R. 2, passed last year by the full House of Representatives.

Nineteen states have laws that restrict local communities from developing their own advanced communications networks or from entering into partnerships to obtain them. These restrictions shield incumbent providers from competition and tie the hands of communities that want to improve their broadband options, particularly in unserved or underserved areas.

CLIC President, Jim Baller, said: “The pandemic has made it unmistakably clear that state restrictions on local broadband options are bad for the communities involved, bad for the private sector, and bad for America’s global competitiveness.  The nineteen existing state barriers should never have been enacted, and when H.R. 1631 passes, these laws will be no longer be able to thwart local decision-making involving this essential infrastructure.”

CLIC CEO Joanne Hovis added: “While the resulting harm of these inhibiting state laws to local communities is obvious, the injury to the private sector may not be. These state prohibitions hurt the private sector in multiple ways. They prevent private companies from making timely sales of equipment and services to public networks. They impede private companies from using advanced public networks to offer businesses and residential customers modern and innovative products and services. They thwart economic and educational opportunities used to build a skilled workforce that benefit existing and new businesses across the state.  They also discourage private companies from entering into creative public-private partnerships that offer local internet choice.”

As Senator John McCain said on the US Senate floor in 2005 in the course of introducing a predecessor of H.R. 1631, “As a country, we cannot afford to cut off any successful strategy if we want to remain internationally competitive.”  

Enjoy listening to CLIC’s Supersession #3: Broadband Partnerships and Federal and State Incentives: A Force Multiplier

The third conversation in CLIC’s 2020 Broadband Supersession series deals with “Broadband Partnerships and Federal and State Incentives: A Force Multiplier.” As COVID continues, we seek advice on how local communities have been working with private partners and maximizing sometimes scarce resources by combining funds at the federal, state and local levels to deploy critical broadband services. Join CLIC’s CEO and moderator of this session, Joanne Hovis, as she interviews representatives from these sectors about their creative approaches, lessons learned, and their predictions about the future. Speakers include Lisa Youngers, then Executive Director, Fiber Broadband Association, Kenrick Gordon, Director of the State of Maryland Governor’s Office of Rural Broadband, Charlotte Bewersdorff, Vice President for Community Engagement at the MERIT Network in Michigan, and Darrell Maynard, CEO of Eastern Telephone & Technologies from Kentucky.

Supersession #3 can be watched here, downloaded here, or just listened to here.

Arkansas State Legislature Significantly Expands Local Broadband Options

by Jim Baller, CLIC President

As the Arkansas General Assembly recently found in enacting SB74, “without access to voice, data, broadband, video, and wireless telecommunications services, citizens of Arkansas also lack access to healthcare services, education services, and other essential services; and that this act is immediately necessary to allow government entities to provide high quality voice, data, broadband, video, and wireless telecommunications services to their citizens.”  As a result, the Arkansas Senate voted 35-0 and the House voted 94-0 to give government agencies substantial new powers to help accelerate the deployment, adoption, and use of advanced communications services and facilities across the State. 

Designated as emergency legislation, SB74 moved quickly through the legislature and the Governor’s office.  It was introduced by five Republican sponsors – Senators Ricky Hill, Breanne Davis, and Missy Irvin, and Representatives Brian Evans and DeAnn Vaught – and it had the strong support of Governor Asa Hutchinson, who signed the bill into law — as Act 67 — on February 4, 2021.  As a result of the enactment of SB74, Arkansas now –

 ·       Allows government entities that own electric systems or cable television systems to provide communications services or facilities, now or in the future, directly or indirectly, with the exception of basic local exchange service;

·       Allows government entities to provide telecommunications services or facilities to support a wide range of emergency management, law enforcement, education, and healthcare activities; 

·       Allows government entities and their private partners to apply for and use grants or loans from programs that focus on extending services to unserved areas;

·       Allows government entities to “acquire, construct, furnish, equip, own, operate, sell, convey, lease, rent, let, assign, dispose of, contract for, or otherwise deal in facilities and apparatus” used to provide any or all of the following services: voice, data, broadband, video, or wireless telecommunications services;

·       Allows government entities to issue  general obligation bonds or impose special taxes to acquire or construct communications facilities, provided that the government entities (1) “partner, contract, or otherwise affiliate with” an entity that is experienced in such matters; (2) conduct due diligence in accordance with industry standards for such projects and in compliance with legal requirements for the kind of funding involved, (3) hold a public hearing, after giving at least 10 days prior public notice; and (4) afterward the hearing, “cause an election to be held as required by law.”  These requirements do not apply to government entities that qualify as owners of electric or cable TV systems; as providers of services relating to energy management, law enforcement, education, or health care.; or as providers of services pursuant to grants or loans under programs focusing on unserved areas.

Let’s hope that this big step in the right direction in Arkansas will be a harbinger of similar legislative actions across America to remove restrictions on local internet choice.  

Start 2021 by Listening to CLIC’s Broadband Partnership Conversation #2: Identifying and Selecting Your Broadband Partner

The second conversation in CLIC’s Broadband supersession series deals with “Identifying and Selecting Your Broadband Partner.” As COVID continues to disrupt school and work, local communities are stepping up to catalyze the deployment of this critical infrastructure, often with private partners. To learn how other communities are approaching this task, we invite you to watch, or simply listen to, the second of our highly regarded supersessions from the Broadband Communities conference, moderated by Catharine Rice, CLIC Project Director, on September 22.

Catharine interviews representatives from three different companies involved in broadband partnerships around the country and one local community: Google Fiber (David Finn), TING (Monica Webb), C-Spire (Ben Moncrief) , and the City of Fresno, California (Byron Horn). She asks them to describe their company and their role at their company, one of their favorite broadband partnerships and why that is their favorite, and what their local community partner did to make that partnership happen and endure.

Supersession 2 can be watched here, downloaded here, or just listened to here.

Start 2021 by Listening to CLIC’s Broadband Partnership Conversations

As COVID continues to disrupt school and work, and as a new Congress and president take office, we expect the country’s broadband gaps to receive heightened attention—and funding.

Local communities will continue to play a critical role in infrastructure deployment, often with private partners. With this in mind, we are devoting our next three blog posts to issues related to identifying and attracting suitable partners, as captured by our September BBC workshops.

As a starting point, we invite you to watch or listen to the first of our highly regarded supersession moderated by CLIC President Jim Baller on September 22. That session featured speakers who covered a range of important topics:

·       Digital C describes how the non-profit called One Community created a fiber physical network, then sold it to the private sector;

·       Allo Communications is looking for communities that “want fiber”;

·       MetroNet is looking for communities who want to work with them, across the board, so that its complex fiber construction can go smoothly;

·       Facebook wants to replicate the model it used in North Carolina to lease the excess fiber capacity along its data center routes to nonprofits or local communities.

Supersession 1 can be watched here, downloaded here, or just listened to here.

Taking the Field: North Carolina can wait no longer for broadband solutions

Paul Meyer, Executive Director, NC League of Municipalities

CLIC Guest Blog by Paul Meyer

Roughly a year ago now, I spoke to the members of Gov. Roy Cooper’s broadband task force and noted how, from the viewpoint of anyone looking objectively at the issue of broadband access, the public-private partnership model advocated by NCLM is a “no-brainer.”

Obviously, a lot has happened in the world since then. The legislation that our organization backed, the FIBER NC Act, did not pass this year largely based on opposition by the larger incumbent telecommunications companies. At the same time, yet another of the major internet providers in the state, Frontier Communications, declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and on Wall Street there has been growing speculation that another, CenturyLink, will be selling its residential business after several years of retail home business contraction.

Even more recently, AT&T announced that it would be pulling back serving a thousand households or more in the state where it now provides aging and slow DSL service, meaning those homes could be left without service at all.

And, of course, these developments have occurred against a backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic that has forced students and employees to learn and work at home.

If allowing local governments to bring their assets to bear in addressing the critical infrastructure issue of our time was a no-brainer in December of 2019, it is even more of a no-brainer in December of 2020.

It has simply become unacceptable and unconscionable that a handful of companies stand in the way of allowing this to happen almost a decade after banding together to block municipalities from building and operating their own systems, and proclaiming as they did so that they would address the digital divide in the state.

Despite taking hundreds of millions of dollars in FCC grants, they haven’t.

The implications are dire, not just for individuals, but for whole towns and their economic future.

What makes this public-private partnership model even more of a no-brainer is that there are small, home-grown companies in North Carolina that would love to be on the private side of these partnerships, connecting homes and businesses and running the retail service. To make the business model work, they need the fiber backbone or existing infrastructure that municipalities can bring to the table.

And let’s be clear. These types of partnerships would be fully open to the same companies in this state that don’t want them. They could participate. In fact, in Missouri, CenturyLink has partnered with the City of Springfield to bring lightning speed internet to residents there.

So, what’s the big deal?

It is that these larger telecommunication companies don’t want competition, even in the places that they poorly serve and are potentially walking away from. For some—loaded down with debt and left with aging technology—they do not have the financial wherewithal to make the investments that are going to close the digital divide and bring reliable, fast internet to all of North Carolina.

The time has come to recognize this reality. Doing so, the North Carolina General Assembly should make its first priority upon meeting in January passage of legislation that incorporates the principles of the FIBER NC Act and takes another substantial step in closing our digital divide.

Why Local Communities Should Pay Attention to the West Des Moines Broadband Project

After years of a community visioning project, and driven by the value of wanting equal access throughout the community, West Des Moines, Iowa has made the major decision to build an open conduit system  to every address in its 65,000-population community, and to then lease conduit access to fiber ISP providers. Google Fiber will be its first tenant.

Enjoy CLIC’s October 14 interview with representatives of West Des Moines and Google Fiber in this 20-minute chat, including Jamie Letzring, Deputy City Manager, David Lyons, a key city consultant on this project, and David Finn, Director of Corporate Development for Google Fiber. We delve into the why and how this project is unfolding, and reactions it has generated.

To watch the conversation, click on our Zoom cast here.

To listen to the chat (and maybe exercise at the same time), click here.

For a full transcript, click here.

How Can America’s Communities Secure the Benefits of Fiber-Optic Infrastructure?

A new CLIC white paper on innovative broadband strategies, Public Infrastructure/Private Service: A Shared-Risk Partnership Model for 21st Century Broadband Infrastructure, was published this morning by the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society.

We at CLIC thank Benton for this terrific collaboration and we’re cross-posting below the summary and introduction to the report from Benton’s Digital Beat column:

Broadband networks rank among the most important infrastructure assets of our time—for purposes of economic development and competitiveness, innovation, workforce preparedness, health care, education, and environmental sustainability. In the brief 25 years since the advent of the commercial internet, broadband access has become foundational to the American economy and participation of everyone in the U.S. in our democracy.

The criticality of broadband was illustrated when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the U.S. economy. Households with fast connections were able to continue working and attending classes online. Unconnected households found themselves more cut off than everIf there were ever any doubt about the centrality of broadband to the national interest, the devastating pandemic erased this doubt. Yet the United States faces persistent gaps in broadband availability and affordability—as well as a troublingly noncompetitive broadband ecosystem in which most communities are served by only one or, at best, two high-speed broadband providers.

The persistence of these gaps demonstrates that private-sector investment alone is not closing our digital gaps. In rural areas of the country, in particular, there exists insufficient return on investment for private capital; as a result, broadband deployment does not emerge absent some form of public support. In less rural areas, competition is rare because return-on-investment challenges deter new investors from competing against existing monopolies and duopolies.

Given these difficult economics, even the most optimistic estimates are that only a third of American homes have access to all-fiber-optic networks. Fiber represents the holy grail of communications infrastructure, recognized as a future-proof technology for facilitating the bandwidth needs of homes, businesses, schools, libraries, institutions, and government agencies—and a necessary platform for advanced wireless services that require fiber to deliver high speeds.

How, then, can America’s communities secure the benefits of fiber-optic infrastructure?

Public-Private Collaboration

Our answer is that local governments need not accept a binary option of waiting for the private sector to solve the problem—which the private sector already would have done if it made business sense—or taking on the challenge entirely as a public enterprise. Rather, public-private collaboration can disrupt this binary and give communities options. Indeed, in recent months and years, a range of collaborative public-private models—involving various levels of risk-sharing—have emerged and proved worthy of emulation.

In some of the most promising of these partnerships, the public entity funds, builds, and owns the underlying communications infrastructure and the private entity does the rest: It provides the electronics and service over that infrastructure and deals with the complexities of running a broadband business. This Public Infrastructure/Private Service model puts the locality in the business of building infrastructure, a business cities and counties know well after a century of building roads, bridges, and utilities. The model leaves to the private sector most aspects of network operations, equipment provisioning, and service delivery.

The level of risk (and potential reward) can be calibrated under the partnership terms to suit local conditions and community goals.

The Public Infrastructure/Private Service Model

Dark fiber is fiber-optic infrastructure that is not yet “lit” or put into use by a service provider.

Public Infrastructure/Private Service” is shorthand to describe this model, and in most cases the public infrastructure is dark fiber. But in some cases, the infrastructure might be conduit for housing the fiber; in others, fixed-wireless technologies might supplement the fiber if local conditions warrant. In rare cases, the public fiber infrastructure might include the electronics, forming a public “lit” network over which partners can provide services over virtual circuits.

And alternative emerging approaches among other kinds of entities confirm the model, demonstrating the wisdom of the separation of function according to the partners’ capabilities and the most efficient allocation of responsibilities. For example, the collaborators could be private-private, public-public, and even cooperative-cooperative—but playing the same basic roles, with one providing infrastructure and the other providing service.

The Public Infrastructure/Private Service model leverages the best capabilities of the public and private sectors. In this model, cities and counties do what they’ve always done: finance and build basic infrastructure, manage rights-of-way, and maintain that infrastructure over long periods of time—ensuring that the entire community benefits from the infrastructure and that government functions can happen over fiber that connects municipal offices, libraries, public safety agencies, and schools.

At the same time, private entities do what they traditionally do well: run a business, engage in sales and marketing, handle customer service, and adapt to changing technologies and customer preferences. In some cases, public or cooperative entities ably perform these service roles in a partnership with their infrastructure collaborators.

This emerging model presents a scalable option for communities that lack the expertise or interest to operate communications networks or act as internet service providers themselves but want to own and control the core communications assets in their community as a means of securing the benefits of the broadband internet.

It should always be the prerogative of local community leaders to make their own decisions about whether and how to address the need for broadband in their communities. The Public Infrastructure/Private Service model is an option to add to their menu of choices: a pragmatic, community-driven, pro-market, pro-business approach to advancing broadband in communities where solutions have not already emerged.

CLIC represents a wide range of public and private interests that support the authority of local communities to make the broadband Internet choices that are essential for economic competitiveness, democratic discourse, and quality of life in the 21st century.

A new paper—authored by the Coalition For Local Internet Choice (CLIC) and published by the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society—defines and describes the model (and related variations, such as private-private and public-public) from both a business and a technical standpoint, and it summarizes case studies across the country of partnerships solving problems today. We provide a strategic overview of the basic Public Infrastructure/Private Service model and its variants, together with a framework for public-sector entities to consider as they evaluate potential technical approaches and levels of risk-sharing. And we address the key legal issues that arise in public-private partnership deals.

Fiber Now For America’s Future

Fiber optics represent the most scalable long-term broadband infrastructure option. For purposes of capacity, reliability, and scalability, fiber-to-the-premises is superior to all other broadband technologies. Despite some industry marketing claims, fiber-to-the-premises is superior to even the best of all theoretical wireless technologies. Fiber infrastructure represents a long-term, prudent investment for a public entity with significant potential use and impact.

But fiber will not reach everywhere unless communities actively pursue it. Rural regions, other low-density populated areas, and low-income areas of cities have seen far less investment in 21st-century broadband networks than have more densely populated, higher-income areas of the United States. This is part of the reason the economies of these areas can stagnate, young people depart for more promising locations, and communities decline.

We know that fiber is America’s future. Public Infrastructure/Private Service: A Shared-Risk Partnership Model for 21st Century Broadband Infrastructure is a guide for communities that are ready to start shaping their digital destiny.

CLIC Board Advisor Matthew Rantanen Honored with Renowned IP3 Award

CLIC warmly congratulates Matthew Rantanen, Director of Technology at the Southern California Tribal Chairmen’s Association, and CLIC Board Advisor, for being selected as the co-recipient of the IP3 Internet Protocol award. Matt will share this award with Geoffrey C. Blackwell (Chickasaw, Choctaw, Omaha, Muscogee Creek) who is Chief Strategy Officer & General Counsel for AMERIND and former founding Chief of the Federal Communications Commission’s Office of Native Affairs and Policy. Public Knowledge hosts the IP3 awards ceremony each year to honor those who have made significant contributions to technology and tech policy in the categories of Intellectual Property, Information Policy, and Internet Protocol. Matthew and Geoffrey are being recognized with the Internet Protocol Award for steadfastly fighting for broadband deployment and access on Tribal lands.

This year’s ceremony will be hosted online on September 24, from 6:30 – 8:00 pm. Tickets and more information on the event can be found here.