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Comcast Follows AT&T's Litigious Lead In Nashville

Comcast is the second Internet Service Provider (ISP) suing the mayor and metro government of Nashville, Tennessee (pop. 680,000) to stop a new ordinance to give streamline access to utility poles in the city, reports Cnet.com news.

Comcast’s October lawsuit over the Google Fiber-supported One Touch Make Ready ordinance (OTMR) comes on the heels of AT&T's legal action in late September. We wrote about AT&T’s lawsuit shortly after the filing.

Cnet.com reported that most of the utility poles are owned by Nashville Electric Service (NES) or AT&T, but Comcast has wires on many poles and has control over how these wires are handled. “When Google Fiber wants to attach new wires to a pole, it needs to wait for Comcast to move its wire to make room, and this is where the new ordinance becomes controversial.”

Comcast’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in the Middle District of Tennessee, contends the AT&T-owned poles fall under the purview of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and not the city, and that Nashville Metro Council lacked authority to regulate NES poles, according to a story in the Tennessean newspaper.  The telecommunications carrier is asking for a permanent injunction to stop enforcement of the ordinance. 

Comcast reproduces AT&T's argument in Nashville - that the poles are within federal jurisdiction so the city does not have the authority to enforce such an ordinance.

Reverse Preemption In Louisville

AT&T also filed a suit this past spring in Louisville, Kentucky, to stop the city from implementing a similar ordinance. As in Nashville, the city put the policy in place to encourage new entrants like Google by speeding along a cumbersome and time consuming make ready process.

In the Louisville case, however, the FCC submitted a Statement of Interest in late October addressing the issue of authority over poles. According to the document filed with the court:

BellSouth [AT&T] maintains in its motion for summary judgment that the Louisville Ordinance conflicts with, and is therefore preempted by, the federal pole attachment rules promulgated by the Commission under Section 224. That argument is wrong as a ma er of law. The federal pole attachment regulations do not apply in Kentucky because Kentucky has filed a certification invoking reverse-preemption under Section 224(c) and has thereby opted out of the federal pole attachment rules. 

The FCC exercises jurisdiction over pole attachments under Section 224 “only in states that do not so certify” that they regulate pole attachments…BellSouth is thus wrong to assert a conflict with the federal pole attachment rules in these circumstances. 

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As a result, the FCC has no jurisdiction over Kentucky’s poles. In fact, the Statement of Interest goes on to support OMTR policies, stating that: 

”As a general matter, promoting the deployment of competitive broadband infrastructure through one-touch make-ready policies is consonant with the goals of federal telecommunications policy, the Communications Act, and applicable FCC regulations.”

Nashville Leaders Press On 

Back in Nashville, officials expressed disappointment at Comcast’s lawsuit, but resolve at creating a better environment for competition.

In a statement, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry said:

“One Touch Make Ready has been litigated in the court of public opinion, and the public overwhelmingly supports this measure designed to speed up the deployment of high-speed fiber in Nashville. Now, we hope that this federal litigation is quickly resolved so that we can get on with the business of expanding access to gigabit Internet throughout Davidson County.”

Rural Electrics Solve Rural Internet Access Problems - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 229

Rural electric co-ops have started delivering high quality Internet access to their member-owners and our guest this week on Community Broadband Bits episode 229 is dedicated to helping these co-ops to build fiber-optic networks throughout their territories. Jon Chambers is a partner at Conexon and was previously the head of the FCC's Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis.

Jon is a strong proponent for ensuring rural residents and businesses have at least the same quality Internet access as urban areas. We talk about his experience and frustration at the FCC, which was content to shovel money at telcos for the most basic infrastructure rather than setting higher expectations to ensure everyone had decent Internet access. We talk about how Co-Mo rolled out fiber to its members without federal assistance, inspiring electric cooperatives around the nation to follow suit.

In our discussion, I reference Jon's blog post "FCC to Rural America: Drop Dead." In it, he cites some of the reactions in the FCC from his advocacy for real rural solutions rather than signing big checks to big telcos for delivering slow and unreliable Internet access. One of quotes from a Democrat: "Republicans like corporate welfare, so we’re going to give money to the telephone companies to keep the Republicans on the Hill happy."

Neither political party comes off looking very good when it comes to rural connectivity, which fits with our impression. But Jon confirms another of our experiences when he says that when he works with rural communities, politics doesn't come up. They just focus on solutions.

Read the transcript of the show here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 36 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to mojo monkeys for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Bodacious."

Estes Park, CO, Moving Ahead One Year After Opt Out Vote

Estes Park, Colorado, recently moved into the design engineering phase as it considers how to bring high-quality connectivity to businesses and residents.

One Step At A Time

With a $1.37 million grant from the Energy Mineral Impact Assistance Fund, the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) is providing the funding to proceed with the engineering phase. Larimer Emergency Telephone Authority (LETA) is providing additional grant funding to extend the project further to include a wider geographic area for 911 and public safety purposes.

This phase of the project should be complete by next summer and will result in a shovel-ready plan. At that time, the Town Board will consider the information and decide how to proceed. The goal is to develop a network to make Gigabit per second (1,000 Mbps) capacity available to the Estes Park Light and Power service area.

So Far, So Good

Last fall, 92 percent of those voting on the issue chose to opt out of SB 152, the restrictive state law that prevents Colorado local governments from offering telecommunications services or advanced services or partnering with private partners to do so. Since then, they have hired a consultant to draft a feasibility study and examine model business options.

The community’s municipal electric utility already has fiber in place, and has the personnel, knowledge, and significant assets to ease the operation and management of a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network utility. The consulting firm estimated that, if the city chooses to deliver services themselves, they should focus on Internet access rather than adding video and voice to the list of services. Estimates for the project are approximately $27 - $30 million.

For video of the community's Project Stakeholder Kickoff Presentations, check out their Broadband Initiative page.

Holland, Michigan, Releases RFI, Responses Due Dec. 20th

Holland, Michigan, continues to pursue better local connectivity and hopes to find a private sector partner interested in using publicly owned fiber.

Recently, the city released a Request for Information (RFI) to reach out to potential partners who might be interested in working with the city for a Fiber-to-the-Premises (FTTP) project. Responses are due December 20, 2016.

Developing Over Time

The community of approximately 33,000 people deployed fiber-optic infrastructure in the early 1990s for power smart grid capability for their municipal electric utility. Since then, Holland Board of Public Works (HBPW) has expanded the network to provide connectivity for local school facilities and wholesale Internet services to a few local businesses that require high capacity data services. Over the years, Holland has increased the network to about 76 miles of backbone fiber and more than 150 total miles, which includes laterals.

After engaging in a pilot project, HBPW released a study that analyzed possible business models and routes for a FTTP network designed to provide Gigabit per second (1,000 Megabits per second) capacity. Cost estimates for two separate options - one to provide service to all of HPBW’s service area and one only to premises within the city - came in at $63.2 million and $29.8 million respectively. The study assumed a “hybrid open access” model in which Holland would offer retail services but also lease excess capacity to private providers who also want to offer services to residents or businesses.

Looking At All The Options

Now that Holland has completed a study that provides one option, the community is interested in hearing what potential partners have to offer. The city seeks a partnership that:

  • Balances financial risk
  • Adopts an open access approach
  • Embraces a community wide FTTP deployment

They stipulate that there is to be no “cherry picking” because community leaders see high-quality Internet access on level footing with water and electricity - a utility that should be robust and affordable. From the RFI:

Citizens in low-income areas are particularly vulnerable, and broadband is important to help level the playing field. As the world becomes increasingly connected, broadband access is key to education, job training, and even access to one’s own medical records. We expect respondents to this RFI to be sensitive to this reality, and to be willing to work with the HBPW to develop creative solutions for supporting all members of the community. For the network to have the intended economic and quality-of-life impacts, we consider both cost and availability of service to be important. We encourage responses that address both to maximize service adoption. 

Unemployment is below the national average in Holland, where there is a healthy manufacturing sector. The city is trying to stay ahead of the curve, however, by taking steps now to ensure they retain the employers they have and establish and environment to attract new ones.

The HBPW has a long history of more than 130 years. The municipal utilities board provides electricity, water, and wastewater services. According to the RFI, they serve approximately 28,000 electric meters and 13,000 water meters.

Important Dates

  • November 1, 2016 – RFI issued
  • November 15, 2016 – Deadline for submitting letter of intent to respond to RFI
  • November 22, 2016 – Deadline for submitting questions 
  • December 6, 2016 – Responses to questions due (from the HBPW) 
  • December 20, 2016 – RFI responses due

Read the entire RFI online at the city website.

Wilson To Offer Greenlight To Pinetops At No Charge

The town of Pinetops, North Carolina, has a six-month reprieve.

On October 20, the Wilson City Council voted to continue to provide telephone and Internet access to customers outside of Wilson County, which includes Pinetops, for an additional six months at no charge. As we reported earlier, the City Council had been backed into a corner by state law, which would force them to discontinue Wilson’s municipal Greenlight service, or risk losing their exemption entirely.

In August, the Sixth Circuit for the U.S. Court of Appeals reversed the FCC decision to preempt North Carolina’s state law that prevented Greenlight from serving nearby Pinetops. When Hurricane Matthew struck Pinetops, however, the Wilson community could not fathom piling yet another burden - lack of high-quality Internet access - on the struggling rural community.

"We Cannot Imagine..."

After examining the law and reaching out to state leaders, Wilson’s elected officials chose to provide services at no charge while state legislators work to change the current harmful state law. Once again, a community that offers publicly owned connectivity proves that there is more to the venture than profit. From a Wilson press release:

"Our broadband utility has always been about bringing critical infrastructure to people, improving lives and communities,” said Grant Goings, Wilson City Manager. “We cannot imagine being forced to disconnect people and businesses that need our services. We are thankful that, in partnership with our phone service provider, we have identified a way to keep folks connected while Rep. Martin and Sen. Brown work to fix this broken State law."

For more on the situation in Pinetops, read about how high-quality Internet has improved economic development and how the Vick Family Farm, a large local employer, depends on Greenlight for operations. You can also hear from Suzanne Coker Craig, a local elected official and business owner, who described for us how the community quickly came to depend the service and how the state’s draconian law is sending them back in time.

More Time To Make A Change

The situation is not permanent, say Wilson's leaders, but it will give the community of Pinetops a chance to recover from Hurricane Matthew. It will also give Pinetops and Wilson the opportunity to organize local residents and businesses and to work with Sen. Brown and Rep. Martin who will pursue legislative changes in Raleigh.

The community has already started to get organized with a Facebook page and an online petition you can sign to show your support.

Read the rest of the Wilson Press release on the City Council decision here.

Blair Levin In Wilson For Nov. 4 Event On Greenlight

A North Carolina regional tech news publication will host a program on Greenlight, the publicly owned and built fiber optic network of Wilson, North Carolina (pop. 50,000) whose gigabit Internet service has helped transform the community’s economy. 

WRAL TechWire’s next Executive Exchange event titled “Building a gigabit ecosystem” will look at how Wilson built its fiber optic system, "turning the one-time tobacco town into North Carolina’s first Internet ecosystem." The event begins at 8 a.m. Friday, Nov. 4 at the Edna Boykin Cultural Center; broadband expert Blair Levin is scheduled to give the keynote address. Levin is former chief of staff at the Federal Communications Commission.

Levin has also been a guest on the Community Broadband Bits podcast, visiting us for episode #132 to discuss private vs. public ownership and episode #37 to talk about GigU.

Besides Levin’s keynote speech, the TechWire program also will include a live "fireside chat" about Greenlight with Wilson City Manager Grant Goings and panel discussions.

You can find out more about the program and reserve a spot online.

Lakeland, Florida, Takes Small Steps

This spring, Lakeland city officials began contemplating the future of the city’s dark fiber network with an eye toward making a firm decision on whether or not to expand how they use it. Rather than pursue a municipal Internet network, Commissioners recently decided to seek out private sector partners to improve local connectivity.

Too Much For Lakeland?

Kudos to Christopher Guinn of the Ledger for very thorough reporting on the issue. According to his article, the city will release a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a solution that provides Gigabit (1,000 Megabits per second) connectivity to replace the current speeds in Lakeland. Cable serves the community now with maximum speeds of 150 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and about 10 Mbps upload.

In addition to the difficulty of establishing an Internet access utility, City Commissioners appeared intimidated by incumbents:

“I look at us trying to develop and design a fiber-to-the-home (network), the marketing, the technical support and all that, and going up against current providers, and I don’t see it,” Commissioner Don Selvage said.

Pilot Won't Fly

One of the options the Commission considered was a pilot project in a limited area, but that idea didn’t catch on either. Commissioner Justin Troller advocated for the pilot project:

“I think we should have a test area. If that’s something that costs we can say we tried it, we invested in it, it didn’t work and we’re moving on and finding a private partner,” Troller said.

He added: “I’m not against going out and seeing what the private sector will offer us. I’m saying how do we know we can’t do it if we don’t do it?”

While a number of Commissioners agreed that high-quality Internet access is critical for both economic development and the residents’ quality of life, fear of facing off against incumbent Charter overcame any vision of how a municipal network could benefit Lakeland:

“For most of us there is not a philosophical problem with expanding utilities. This is a utility; we can pretty well justify it ... (and) when you look at the revenue possibility down the road to replace the hospital it makes good governmental sense,” [Mayor Howard] Wiggs said.

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But incumbent providers are not obligated to play nice with new competition, Wiggs said, and he worried an operation like Charter Communications could severely drop prices and erode the city’s market edge.

Not A Total Loss

While Commissioners chose not to pursue the municipal network plan, they did support a number of items intended to encourage better connectivity in Lakeland:

  • It will submit a bid for supplying internet access to Polk County schools when its current contract expires with the goal of making money from existing assets while reducing the cost of the School District’s services.
  • To address the “digital divide” between rich and poor, Lakeland will consider expanding its free wireless service, SurfLakeland, into neighborhoods. The service is currently available in municipal buildings and in Munn Park.
  • Wiggs recently made a pitch to other municipal leaders in Polk County to join forces in encouraging broadband expansion throughout the county.
  • The city will continue its “dig once” policy for all infrastructure work — that when roads are closed and crews dispatched for underground utility work, conduit that could be used for fiber optics is put in place.
  • The city’s “dark fiber” network, which provides intra-city connections for companies and organizations with multiple facilities, will be more actively marketed. Currently the program generates about $4 million each year.
  • The city will also look at fees and licensing costs to determine if they are discouraging private investment.

The Lakeland Regional Airport will deploy its own fiber infrastructure and will offer Internet access to tenants. The project had been considered as a business pilot and, according to the article, costs are now going to be covered in part with federal and state grants specifically earmarked for airports.

Citizens Want Action

Gigabit Lakeland, the grassroots organization advocating for a municipal network, expressed their dissatisfaction with the decision. Shane Mahoney, one of the group’s leaders, talked to the Ledger:

A partnership with a private provider has not been his favored outcome, Mahoney said, but his group intends to continue pressuring the city toward better internet infrastructure in the city, particularly for residents who do not have quality access because of price or location.

Eugene Encouraged: Expanding Fiber Project

For the past year, Eugene has worked on a pilot project to bring high-quality connectivity to businesses in its downtown core. Now that community leaders and businesses have seen how a publicly owned network can help revitalize the city’s commercial center, they want to expand it.

The Proof Is In The Pilot

The project is a collaboration between the city of Eugene, the Lane Council of Governments (LCOG), and the Eugene Water and Electric Board (EWEB). As we reported last year, each entity contributed to the project. EWEB owns the infrastructure and uses its electrical conduit for fiber-optic cable, reducing the cost of deployment. EWEB also has the expertise to complete the installation, as well as manage and operate the infrastructure. They lease dark fiber to private Internet service providers (ISPs) to encourage competition over the shared public infrastructure. 

The pilot project brought Gigabit (1,000 Megabits per second) connectivity to four buildings in the pilot area. Vacancy rate for those four building is at zero while typical vacancy rate in Eugene is 12 percent. Matt Sayre of the Technology Association of Oregon (TAO) notes that speeds in one of the buildings, the Broadway Commerce Center, increased by 567 250 percent while costs dropped by 60 40 percent. TAO joined the other pilot project partners in 2015.

The Search For Funding

The expanded project will cost approximately $4 million to complete. In June, the City Council approved a measure to make the project eligible for Urban Renewal Funds. Urban Renewal is another label for what is also known as Tax Increment Financing (TIF), which has been used in other places for fiber infrastructure. Bozeman, Montana; Valparaiso, Indiana; and Rockport, Maine, all used Urban Renewal or TIF to help finance their builds.

Eugene provides a helpful explanation for Urban Renewal on their website; they describe it in three steps:

Step 1 - The District is created . The value of ALL the properties inside the district is calculated. This becomes the frozen base amount of property tax for the area.

Step 2 - Redevelopment and Improvements. Public and private investments generate improvements. As property values increase, all new tax revenue above the frozen base amount go to the urban renewal fund to reinvest in the area.

Step 3 - District is retired. Once the City Council is finished investing in the area and the debt of the district has been repaid, the district is retired. Property taxes are distributed among the taxing districts.

Eugene offers more information about Urban Renewal and how the city applies it to help revitalize strugging areas. They also provide this illustration:

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The city will also apply for federal Economic Development Assistance Program Investment grant funds from the U.S. Department of Commerce. The grant they pursue requires a 50 percent match which will include Urban Renewal Funds and the value of EWEB’s existing electrical infrastructure. In July, Eugene and its partners submitted a pre-application and the EDA invited them to submit a full application; they hope to obtain approximately $2.1 million.

Residents, Too!

Businesses are not the only ones expected to benefit form the community investment. The expanded project area also includes several multi-dwelling units (MDUs), and the network will help improve the city’s free Wi-Fi:

Anne Fifield with the city of Eugene says three low-income housing projects are in the service area, and she has been in communication with the building managers. One of the goals of Eugene’s broadband plan, she says, is to “bridge the digital divide” and bring internet access to low-income households. An added bonus, she says, is users of the city’s free wifi should eventually see an increase in speeds.

If all goes according to schedule, the project will be completed in late 2017 or early 2018.

"We Just Can't Go Back In Time": Pinetops Calls For Repeal Of State Law

In a September 22nd press release, the community of Pinetops, North Carolina, called out their Governor as they lose access to high-quality Internet access. Read the full statement here:

A state law is forcing the termination of Gigabit Internet service to the small rural town of Pinetops, NC. Last week, members of the Wilson, NC City Council expressed their deep regrets as they voted to approve the city attorney’s recommendation to disconnect Wilson Greenlight services in Pinetops under the North Carolina law commonly known as H129 (S.L. 2011-84).

Wilson was able to bring fiber-to-the-home Gigabit service to our town in April 2016, after the FCC preempted H129 on the grounds that it is anti-competitive and creates barriers to the deployment of advanced telecommunications capacity. Under Governor Pat McCrory, North Carolina challenged that ruling in May, 2015 in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and won a reversal last August.

Members of the Pinetops community are particularly distressed because the Gigabit service Wilson was delivering enabled Pinetops to compete with urban areas of North Carolina that get such Gigabit services from Google Fiber, AT&T, and Frontier. In Pinetops, in contrast, other sources of Internet service don’t meet the federal definition of broadband and are insufficient to support small business, home-based telework needs, and homework for students. The Gigabit network enabled the Town to begin developing new economic development plans to attract knowledge workers from nearby Greenville and Rocky Mount. That strategy is now impossible in light of the imminent disconnection of Gigabit services.

Town Commissioner Suzanne Coker-Craig operates a small screen printing business that depends on Wilson Greenlight’s hyper-fast upload speeds.  Commissioner Coker-Craig, with her colleagues in Pinetops government, passed a resolution in early September detailing the devastating economic impact this disconnection will have on their rural community. “H129 is now only hurting North Carolina’s rural communities.” the Commissioner stated. “Our urban areas are getting their Gigabit from the likes of Google. This is not a positive move forward for Eastern North Carolina in any fashion and we must lay the blame and the resolution at the feet of our Governor and state legislators” who are responsible for the anti-Gigabit law.

Pinetops Mayor Burress met last week with Governor McCrory’s staff, and handed them the Town’s letter and a Town resolution asking for repeal of the law that is forcing the Wilson City Council to cease service to Pinetops.  

Commissioner Coker-Craig reported that she has set up a Facebook page ​called “NC Small Towns Need Internet Access,” that directs residents on how to call their legislators and candidates who are running against them. “We are holding the Governor and our state legislature responsible for keeping this law in place, by challenging the FCC and knowing this would be the effect of a win. This law is not about protecting taxpayers, it’s about preventing competitive choice, and now it’s only hurting our rural areas where those monopoly companies could care less about bringing us 21st Century Internet.”

“We just can’t go back in time,” said Coker-Craig. “That does not represent sound social or economic policy,” the Mayor’s letter states.

​The Wilson Times reports that the Town's fiber network will be disconnected by Halloween.​

Designing A Faster Anacortes Starts With NoaNet

Anacortes, Washington, is officially on the road to better connectivity via publicly owned infrastructure. Community leaders voted on September 19th to collaborate with the statewide middle mile network, Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet), to get the project started.

One Piece At A Time

Public Works will be the first to use the fiber backbone to monitor and control its facilities; the community’s current radio-based system is prone to frequent failure. Water and sewer utility funds will pay for the design and construction of this section of the network. Officials estimate the fiber backbone will cost around $3 million.

Turning To Experience

The city approved $175,000 in design fees to nonprofit NoaNet, in part because it is funded and managed by several public utility districts. It brings high-quality Internet access to local government facilities all across the state. NoaNet’s fiber-optic network spans Washington with more than 2,000 miles through metro and rural areas. Its open access model encourages multiple service providers to offer services to more than 2,000 schools, libraries, hospitals, and other community anchor institutions in over 170 communities. The network has served the state for 15 years.

The Anacortes plan would connect its network to the Internet and then to local businesses and homes in a later phase. For now, the city’s priority is the utilities upgrade:

“Every day my guys are telling me we have (communication) failures,” Buckenmeyer said. “A fiber telemetry system is arguably the best system you can have. Our current system is outdated and we need to do something about it.”

Buckenmeyer said the first phase of the network could be finished within 18 months.

An Island Community

Anacortes, home to about 16,000 people, is located on the northern half of Fidalgo Island. Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands surround it on the north; Skagit Valley and Mount Vernon, another community with its own municipal network, are east on the mainland.

Island communities are often plagued by poor connectivity. Often they are hard to reach and large Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can't justify the cost to bring high-quality Internet access to places that are not densely populated. Places like Islesboro, Maine, and Doe Bay, which is also in Washington, have taken to finding their own solutions to improving Internet access.