The following stories have been tagged audio ← Back to All Tags

Colorado Conversation: New ILSR Podcast!

In early November, voters in 26 additional Colorado communities chose to opt out of SB 152. The state’s restrictive law took away local telecommunications authority in 2005. The results in many of the towns and counties were overwhelming majorities - loud and clear in favor of local authority. Now, 95 local communities across the state have reclaimed local authority.

We covered the election results in detail on MuniNetworks.org and what those results say about local communities’ desire for better connectivity. We spoke with local community leaders. As part of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Building Local Power podcast, episode #5, Christopher and I also discussed what those results say about the desire to make connectivity choices at the local level.

Beyond Colorado...

In addition to Colorado, we also talked about local publicly owned networks in other parts of the nation and how they are changing the expectations for Internet users in urban and rural America.

We also discussed the general election results that brought Donald Trump to the presidency, specifically noting the impact that his ascension brings to local communities’ ability to provide Internet connectivity to their residents. We pondered the implications of a Trump presidency on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s mission of working across partisan lines in local communities.

We invite you to check out episode 5 of the Building Local Power podcast and check out other episodes, all highlighting the work we do at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

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."

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 228

This is episode 228 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Fiber Infrastructure and Right of Way Manager David Young of Lincoln, Nebraska, describes the city's work with local Internet Service Provider, Allo Communications. Listen to this episode here. 

Listen to, or read the transcript for, episode 182 in which David Young, Mike Lang, and Steve Huggenberger discuss conduit policy in more detail.

 

David Young: Engaging your provider, engaging your community upfront and deciding what your model should be and then creating a plan and executing that plan is very important.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 228 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez . A number of states have laws on the books that obstruct local governments from directly providing high quality Internet access to businesses and residents, or even partnering with local providers. Nebraska happens to be one of them. In Lincoln the community found a way to work within the confines of the law by using publicly owned conduit and creating a welcoming environment for private Internet Service Providers. As a result, Lincoln has entered into an agreement with the local provider Allo Communications who will use the conduit to build its Fiber-to-the-Home network. David Young, Lincoln's Fiber Infrastructure and Right of Way Manager talks with Chris this week. David discusses the early days of the project and how it has evolved. He also shares more information about the franchise agreement and more about the partner Lincoln chose. Be sure to take a few moment and listen to Chris' interview with David and several of his colleagues in episode 182 from last December. Now here are Chris and David Young, Lincoln, Nebraska's Fiber Infrastructure and Right of Way Manager talking about the community's conduit network and how they are capitalizing on it to bring better connectivity and technology to Lincoln.

Chris Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell. Today I'm speaking with David Young the Fiber Infrastructure and Right of Way Manager for the city of Lincoln and the public works department. Welcome back to the show.

David Young: Hi Chris, how are you?

Chris Mitchell: I'm doing well. I'm excited to speak with you again. Last time we had you on the show was the day after my son was born because he came a little bit early and I really wanted to get that interview in. I'm a little less frazzled today, although once again some traumatic events this week as we're recording the week of the election.

David Young: Yes. I did enjoy seeing your son at the Broadband Communities conference, good looking kid. It looks like he's very healthy.

Chris Mitchell: Yes. Yes, he's doing well. Now I wanted to note that since we spoke you've become a bit of a trade show hopper. You were at the NTIA in Big Sky Missoula where we served on a panel together, and then I think you knocked them dead here in Minneapolis for the Broadband Communities conference. I hope that people will feel that you're a more seasoned, more a big get for us now.

David Young: I think you're being overly kind. How much can you talk about broadband in front of a group of people who know a lot about broadband?

Chris Mitchell: I just wanted to see if I could start off by making you blush and be modest. We're going to talk about some more details that I've learned about the franchise you have with a Fiber-to-the-Home provider in your community that results from your system of conduit. I think people should start by listening to that podcast that we had done previously, it was in December of 2015. For a quick refresher, for people who aren't familiar with Lincoln, what have you all done to supercharge Internet access in the community?

David Young: Starting in 2012 the mayor and Public Works Department came up with a broadband technology plan. Basically the goal was to attract new carriers to the market and have those be very specific carriers. We wanted Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 carriers to provide competitive access to broadband for businesses. Under state law, Lincoln, or any city in Nebraska, is not allowed to provide municipal broadband. Lincoln took stock and figured out that what we could do is put in conduit system and lease out those conduit to other providers. We initially put in five miles of conduit in our downtown area as part of a revitalization project and started looking around and found 80 miles of abandoned waterline, probably 40 miles of abandoned waste water lines. We repurposed those lines into conduit systems and traffic conduit, old electric conduit, old natural gas lines, basically any pipe we could get our hands on and turned it into a conduit system that now is over 350 miles. We've leased that out to seven carriers total. When we got down to the last space we started talking about, "Gee, this is pretty successful, maybe we ought to look at Fiber-to-the-Home." We started working with different carriers and financing professionals to build a Fiber-to-the-Home with that last space in the conduit system. In December of last year we signed that agreement. Can you believe it's already been a year? It's been very exciting on our side, very busy.

Chris Mitchell: Yes, I can imagine. How much did the city spend in creating this asset?

David Young: In total about $1.2 million over four years. There was about 600,000 upfront in conduit expense and then staff time and maintenance and a $600,000 CIP, so a little bit more than about 1.2 million.

Chris Mitchell: CIP, that's Capital Improvement Program?

David Young: Yes, I'm sorry. Yes. For all those in the government, CIP is the Capital Improvement Plan, which is a six year plan that is how you allocate your capital dollars across programs like streets, water, sewer, those kind of things.

Chris Mitchell: If we ignore the new businesses that have come to town using some of this fiber that these carriers are leasing from you and if we ignore the better competitiveness of some of the businesses that were already in town, what are some of the direct benefits the city has had in terms of raising revenue from that 1.2 million that they spent?

David Young: If you're only talk pure money from the system we make $475,000 a year in lease revenue.

Chris Mitchell: That's like a three year payback then, just from that alone from today.

David Young: Right, and we've been making money since 2013. 2013 is 55,000 and then we had two more leases in 2014 and really 2015 was our banner year. Right now we're at 475, with the Allo project we're expected to be in the neighborhood of two to two point seven million a year by 2018.

Chris Mitchell: Allo is a local company, it's in Nebraska. I know in people in Colorado are familiar with it. It's incredibly well regarded by its customers from what I can tell. Tell us a little bit more about Allo, I think it's in a unique position there in Lincoln.

David Young: Allo is a Western Nebraska company. It was started by, they like to say, Nebraskans for Nebraskans. The city was meeting and doing presentations on Fiber-to-the-Home and the value of the community to various local organizations, building that community support for the program. We were meeting with financiers and talking to them and Allo was brought in and offered to competitively bid on the Fiber-to-the-Home project in Lincoln. We had another company, Bluestem, also bidding on the franchise. Bluestem is still in operation, they are building one portion of the city. We actually have three Fiber-to-the-Home projects going right now. Allo won the citywide franchise, Bluestem is doing a small neighborhood in Northeast Lincoln and then our incumbent provider, Windstream, has announced that they will upgrade 5,000 homes over the next two years in Southeast Lincoln to Fiber-to-the-Home. It's been very successful from a community planning aspect of partnering with the private sector to build this infrastructure, but it is a lot of work. It's hard to believe that we're going on our fifth year of operation.

Chris Mitchell: I want to clarify something with the franchise, which is I think sometimes people think of franchises as being exclusive. Now you talk about offering a franchise because of the limited conduit space, that's the franchise to use that conduit. A company like Bluestem, there's nothing stopping them from building to the rest of the city, they just wouldn't be able to use the same asset that Allo is using. Am I getting that correct?

David Young: You are. We had one space left in the conduit system and I will tell you, sometimes that space isn't even there. The conduit system is getting very full. It's been very successful. The last guaranteed spot in the conduit system, what we said was we wanted somebody to provide Fiber-to-the-Home services and in order to do that we wanted to franchise for that last position. Allo and Bluestem both worked with the city very closely. It took us about 90 days to come to an agreement and Allo was ultimately chosen to do the project.

Chris Mitchell: Now when you say there's no more room in the conduit, I'm assuming that over time you'll fix that, you'll be putting in extra conduit or you might be doing something differently now because it's not like this is the end of the conduit forever.

David Young: Correct. No, no, no, there's nothing to prohibit the city from putting in additional conduit, and we are. The new conduit system as we're building it out is designed for six carriers occupancy. All extensions of the conduit system that are performed by private providers are deeded over to the city and owned by the city. All the additional expansion, all expansion construction is now under the new standard of six pack of conduit system.

Chris Mitchell: We did talk about that in the previous show so if people want more detail I invite them to go review that. The transcript's on our website at muninetworks.org. Before we get into the franchise, which is where I'm really excited about some of the things that you guys are doing with that, I wanted to make sure people understand, Allo is a little bit of a unique company that has I think more of a local focus than other companies. The reason that I think it's important is because other cities that might think, "We'll build our own conduit system," you may not get the same results. I hope that they would. I hope that they'll find firms that are interested but Allo has a direct relationship to another Lincoln company, Nelnet, which I'm hoping you can tell us a little bit more about in terms of how Allo's capitalized.

David Young: Nelnet is a Nebraska based student loan provider I believe, and a bank. They have been very successful, very community focused. They were one of the entities we were working with to build community support for the Fiber-to-the-Home program. Nelnet decided they would capitalize the entire project for Allo. They really believe in the community in Lincoln, Nebraska, and broadband as an infrastructure that is designed for 21st century cities. They wanted, Nelnet, their home town to have that infrastructure. It's my understanding they have given Allo $100 million loan to build the entire city.

Chris Mitchell: Right, I think from my perspective as someone who works at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we love seeing that kind of local focus, local businesses investing in the community. I think the city of Lincoln has really done a great job in terms of making it easier for that to happen and really facilitating that. In particular because you have this conduit system you have a little bit more leverage in negotiating with Allo for this franchise. If you didn't have the conduit system, do you think you would have had a different discussion with Allo?

David Young: Yes. I have talked to several communities in Nebraska and a few surrounding states about this project and I think your cautionary statement is very correct. Sometimes building a conduit system isn't the right model but I do think that engaging your provider, engaging your community upfront, and deciding what your model should be and then creating a plan and executing that plan is very important. We had the last space in the conduit system, we had a very successful model and we had a ton of community support for our program. When you put those three things together, yes we had a significant asset walking into the negotiations for the Allo project. I think that was born out in the agreement. I wouldn't describe it as leverage. Any partnership, what you bring to the partnership creates value for you and what the other party brings creates their value. We were just trying to maximize value for both parties. With a very successful system already in place we had a lot of value on our side of the table.

Chris Mitchell: Because you brought that value you could then make asks of Allo. One of the things I would start with is this idea of the SSIDs, which is I think we're using that as shorthand for virtual networks and SSID is the name of a wireless network that you see when your device is trying to connect to a WiFi network. Now tell us in terms of Allo's network how these virtual networks are involved.

David Young: Of course you're going to cause me to geek out and your listeners may want to fast forward to this next section.

Chris Mitchell: I think there's other people who might be fast forwarding to this section because we don't geek out enough.

David Young: Really?

Chris Mitchell: You never know.

David Young: One of the sections of the franchise, and this is a public document, anybody can have access to it, is called service to government buildings and facilities. A standard clause in many franchises but there's one section I'd like to read it to you. "The franchisee shall provide 15 Virtual Local Area Networks, VLANs, across the entire system. The public VLAN shall be provided free of charge to the city for non-competitive use. These VLANs shall be available at every connection and termination point on the franchisee's network." To those network engineers out there listening, they will have a big smile on their face because that means I have 15 virtual networks across the entire system that Allo deploys and at every termination and connection point, meaning wireless access points, I can have access to those VLANs. I can turn up my own SSID, Lincoln public school's access, health department access, those are a few of the ones that we're working on right now. A public VLAN access for education is in our library system, combining those two together so they're available on the entire system. It is very exciting. VLANs, if you really want to go to sleep late at night look up and read about VLANs. Basically it's an addressing system for the network and we have 15 of them.

Chris Mitchell: Let's talk about one use case that I'm very excited about. I've been in some ways evangelizing for this type of approach. The intricate technology is not as important to me as the sense of what you can do with it. I like to imagine, I have a child in the public school system, they have a device likely from the public school system. This is hypothetical of course, Jackson is almost one year old. What happens is wherever he goes with that device as long as those VLANs are there, that device could just log in. If he's at a friend's house or even if maybe I'm a low income family, if then he goes out to a public access point or perhaps the neighbor's signal is there and if the neighbor has consented to this, then his device will just connect. Effectively he will be at school on his device.

David Young: With all of the school's network security policies and access to all of the public school's resources, the public library resources. It would be as if seamlessly he was inside school on the same network. Yes, that is one of the most exciting use cases for us as well.

Chris Mitchell: The nice thing is, is that if you're a parent who's really worried about your child being on the open Internet, where they might find material that they're not even seeking and would be inappropriate, the fact that even in your home you wouldn't even have to worry about managing that connection -- Because I think a lot of parents are worried that their kids are going to be more tech savvy than they are, or they're worried that they won't have it set correctly, but now even in your home own your kids is using that device behind the filters and using all those resources. To me that seems like it's a very good solution.

David Young: We were very excited about it. It was one of those conversations, it's like, "What could we do with this? What would be the actual cost of providing this?" It's not a lot because there's some version of over 9,000 VLANs on a particular network so what does providing 15 cost? Not a lot from the provider, other than willingness and creativity of thought. By building this network as a public/private partnership there was a higher level discussion than just a dollar here or a dollar there, it's what could we do together. The Virtual Network, Virtual Local Area Network, VLAN project is actually my personal favorite part of the agreement. As we go forward we're connecting all the traffic signals in the city as they're building it out. We have a new program called Green Light Lincoln, which is upgrading out entire traffic system to the 21st century. We'll be putting in a new ATMS, Advanced Traffic Management System, next year to leverage all these new connections. Over the next three years every street light in the city will be connected to this new ATMS system.

Chris Mitchell: Let me suggest that perhaps your traffic engineers haven't seen Die Hard Four. It's a little bit concerning.

David Young: Technology should be treated cautiously I agree. Die Hard Four was a wonderful movie.

Chris Mitchell: Yeah, especially the part where the car flies up to take the helicopter out, but it's not something I've seen more than ten times, I assure you.

David Young: If you think about commute times and public dollars and impacting people's daily life, if we can make the system more efficient, that impacts everybody's life every day, whether you're riding the bus or whether you're driving your own car.

Chris Mitchell: Right, you can do a prioritization for public transit. As you said if everyone spends less time in congestion you're not only saving them time, you have less pollution. There's tremendous benefits to this.

David Young: On that, and then the other piece what if we don't have to widen the road? To widen the road costs us -- A road widening project for one mile is $10 million. What if we can just upgrade the infrastructure and allow more cars to travel through faster? We don't have to spend that public dollar there, we can spend it on maintaining that road instead of widening it and impacting those properties that are adjacent to it. It is really exciting for us. It's an exciting time to be in Lincoln working with the Public Works Department. Fiber-to-the-Home, the Fiber-to-the-Business project, the Green Light Lincoln project, there's a lot of technology projects going on right now in Lincoln.

Chris Mitchell: We talked about a couple of different aspects with the franchise. Is there anything else that you see that you are doing in Lincoln working with Allo that others aren't doing where you're getting ahead of the curve?

David Young: Defining the characteristics of service is something we do in our franchise. Basically, in most franchise you provide service to the city, great but we go a little further and we say that all residents and subscribers shall be provided service under non-discriminatory rates, terms and conditions. Meaning everybody gets the same price, no more negotiating for price. We also say that there are no residential contracts for service allowed, so if you don't like the price you're receiving you're not locked into a contract. We also do not allow installation fees, except for in very unusual circumstances. You can't get charged to have it installed, there is no contract and you're paying the same rate as your neighbor. We think these are actually very good things to put in a franchise because it creates a very competitive marketplace for the carrier, they have to compete on customer service and quality of service, not on contracts and the fact that you negotiate better than your neighbor about price. I think that's important. I think that other communities should consider doing that. I'm staff for the telecom advisory board for the city and a lot of the complaints we get are, "My service isn't great from X carrier," and, "I pay too much," but there is no competition. That was the single most, the highest complaint that we received. The highest number of complaints that we received was “there's no competition.” When you're building out a new infrastructure you're going built to every home ensuring that those competitive roadblocks are not institutionalized in your franchise agreement. It was very important to us, and I think other cities could look at that.

Chris Mitchell: I want to talk briefly about Rights of Way management, which is a part of your title. I'll telegraph that you're going to be back for a show later this year, in I don't know maybe another 10 episodes, in which we are going to be talking about some small cell deployment type stuff that your approach is enabling you to do. One of the things I feel like you've done in Lincoln is that you have simplified permitting in ways that both Allo and Bluestem may find it easier to pull permits and to build than they would in my city, in St. Paul, Minnesota perhaps. Do you have any advice for communities in terms of dealing with Rights of Way?

David Young: One of the major initiatives we had in 2013 was how to make our system more business friendly. Permitting was the number one area of conversation with every carrier we talked to. We did a little reorganization project and a study inside of public works and identified every staff position that was associated with managing the Right of Way, inspections, plan review, private development, public development, and we put them into one team called the Right of Way Construction team. That team is responsible for all public facing Right of Way construction projects, meaning if it's a natural gas project, if it's the waterline project, if it's a sewer line project, if it is not a CIP project, so not a capital project, then this group manages that and works with the public to ensure a fast, safe, and affordable project. As part of that program, as part of that program, we created an electronic permit system where carriers or franchisees can upload their plan set in a very simple permit. Our goal is to have that approved in two business days or less. Sometimes we get a little bit longer than that but most of the time we get it approved in about two business days.

Chris Mitchell: One of the things you had told me before was that when it comes to dealing with these companies, many of which I think local governments are frustrated with because they don't feel like they can get enough out of those companies in return for use of the Right of Way, I think you've said those companies are much more willing to negotiate on terms that would be viewed as favorable to the community if the community can turn permits around quickly. That's the thing they really care about.

David Young: The old adage, time is money, is very important. From the time a sales person goes into a business and says, "I would like to provide you with next generation broadband," to the time the company can actually deliver that broadband, is a very sensitive topic. The faster they can do it, the better they look to their customers, and, when they go slow, they point the finger at the city and say, "We can't get through permits, blah blah blah." If you can align your interest with the company, which is the city wants that customer turn up on broadband, we want them to be a happy customer, they're our customer too. Streamlining the permit process, it takes a little insight into why you're a community, why you're a service provider in the community and what your values are as an organization. For Public Works, it was providing good customer service that means providing good customer service to our corporate clients as well, and permits is how we do that. Establishing a goal, making that goal known, putting a goal in the contract, that gives the carrier comfort, allows them to forecast a little bit better. It gives them a better level of customer service, a better sense of partnership in the agreement instead of a one-sided agreement. It has paid off with us, all of our contracts have 15 minimum day turn times permits and we try to do it in two.

Chris Mitchell: Great. I want to ask if there's any last words of wisdom you might have from your entire lifetime working on this conduit project?

David Young: You know this is the second conduit project I've worked on, getting out there and talking to the community is critical.

Chris Mitchell: Let me ask you about that for a second, because I just imagine me going out and trying to talk to people in the community about conduit. I imagine people rolling their eyes and being like, "I'm bored," or, "I'm not interested." What does that mean?

David Young: I don't talk about conduit.

Chris Mitchell: Okay.

David Young: I talk about the Internet. We open with a couple of jokes and everybody laughs and we have a good time. Then we talk about the Internet and why it's important in their lives. The access to a trillion dollar marketplace, the competitiveness with other cities to attract and retain young people, young workers. We talk about the highest paid IT jobs, network engineers, database administrators, and architects, server engineers. You don't get those jobs unless you have a good robust broadband infrastructure. People get excited about that. A lot of people still don't understand truly what the Internet is, there's a feeling in some circles that it's a nebulous thing. Why is it important to me? My presentations generally are 10 slides and 15 jokes, and then we talk about what's really important to them, how their business can leverage the Internet to make more money, be more customer-focused. I'm done in about 30 minutes and then we talk, answer questions for 30 minutes. It's a great time, people feel like you're actually talking to them about what's important to them. We don't really talk about conduit. Usually I bring a piece of conduit, a piece of fiber and pass it around the room and let everybody touch it and feel it so they get an idea. When I first started here in 2012 almost every group that I went to that I took this piece of conduit and fiber to loved it. People wanted to see it, they had never seen and heard about fiber their whole life. They'd never seen it, they'd never touched it. Giving them that tactile sensation of handing around a piece of hard conduit in your hand and somebody says, "What happens if somebody digs into it?" You bang the conduit on the table, "It's pretty tough stuff." They laugh, and it's a good time. You have these visions, and I've been to these meetings where it's long and painful and slow. It doesn't have to be that way, but it takes a lot of work building a presentation that's fun and exciting and really talks to what people care about, not what you care about. I care about conduit but most people really don't care about that, they just care about the Internet, how it impacts their life. Talking about that is the best advice I can give people because people get excited about that and then you get to ask for support, asking for help in the community to prioritize budget money for that project. It's a finite pool. People want to support projects that they like so you have to get out there and market your project to the community so that the mayor and city councilors hear from those groups, to say, "Yes, we want this. Yes, we want to support this. This is a good thing."

Chris Mitchell: I think that's a great note to end the show on. Thank you so much for coming on.

David Young: Chris thank you very much.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Chris talking with David Young, Lincoln, Nebraska's fiber infrastructure and Right of Way manager. As the network unfolds we will bring you more news. Remember we have transcripts for this and other Community Broadband Bits podcast available at MuniNetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email us at podcast@muninetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter, his handle is @CommunityNets. Follow MuniNetworks.org stories on Twitter where the handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and all of the podcasts in the ILSR podcast family on iTunes, Stitcher or however else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research by also subscribing to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. We want to thank the group mojo monkeys for their song, Bodacious, licensed through creative commons and we want to thank you for listening to episode 228 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

City of Lincoln Conduit Spurs FTTH, School Network Innovation - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 228

When we last spoke to people from Lincoln, Nebraska, about their innovative conduit program to improve Internet access, we focused on how they had done it - Conduits Lead to Competition, podcast 182. For this week and episode 228 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, we focus more on the community benefits their approach has led to.

We are once again joined by David Young, Fiber Infrastructure and Right of Way Manager in the Public Works Department. We offer a shorter background about the history of the project before focusing on the franchise they developed with local ISP Allo. Allo is building citywide Fiber-to-the-Home and has agreed to provision 15 VLANs at every endpoint. We talk about what that means and implications for schools specifically.

We also touch on permitting issues for local governments and David explains his philosophy on how to speak to the community about potential projects in an engaging manner.

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 30 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."

Voices From Colorado's Local Authority Sweep On PRX

Colorado voters overwhelmingly reclaimed local authority in 26 counties and municipalities on Tuesday, November 8th. The total number of Colorado communities that have now reclaimed local authority is 95.

Citizens chose to opt out of state law SB 152, which prevented local governments from offering telecommunication services or advanced services to the general public. The law also bars them from partnering with the private sector and since 2008, a growing number of communities have put the question on the ballot. 

We reached out to Sallie Clarke, County Commissioner in El Paso County and Brian Waldes, Director of Finance and Information Technology in Breckenridge for comment on their communities’ ballot measures; both passed with hearty margins. We also touched base with Virgil Turner who is the Director of Innovation and Citizen Engagement in Montrose, which passed a similar initiative in 2014.

We’ve put together their comments and some information about SB 152 in audio form. The story runs for 4:37.

Hear the story on PRX...

Read more about the recent election results and how all 26 communities chose to opt out, as well as see a map and details on the results.

Aspen Public Radio Digs Into Local SB 152 Ballot Measures

On November 4th, Aspen public radio news featured a story about local ballot initiatives to opt out of state law SB 152 in Aspen, Carbondale, and Garfield County. The western communities are three of 26 that have the measure on their ballots this election. El Paso County, Montezuma County, and the small town of Dolores are only a few others.

Justification

Reporter Wyatt Orme spoke with Jim English, head of IT at Colorado Mountain College (CMC) who described how, because of lack of redundancy, a single fiber-optic cut a year ago left the community isolated. "It took down all services between South Glenwood to Aspen, including 911 in Aspen. [It] got people’s attention," he said.

When English had the opportunity to ask the incumbent why they had never deployed another line for safety's sake, he was dismayed by the answer: “Well, how do we justify that to our stockholders?”

Freedom Found

CMC presented the opt out issue to voters last year, who handily supported the measure, giving the college the freedom to explore working with partners or on their own. SB 152, passed in 2005, was heavily lobbied by national incumbents and designed to prevent competition. It prevented CMC and any local government that had not opted out from tackling the problem of poor connectivity on their own with Internet infrastructure investment or seeking a private sector partner to solve the problem. To English - and to many of the local governments that have voted to opt out of the restrictive state law - choosing to opt out is a matter of local control and freedom:

[H]e thinks there’s historical precedent for local governments getting involved. "They built the interstate to move services and to move goods. And that’s sort of what the Internet really is. It’s...basically the new interstate," English said.

Listen to the entire story at Aspen Public Radio.

Pinetops Threatened by Hurricane and NC Legislature - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 226

Pinetops, a town of about 1,300 outside Wilson, North Carolina, is suffering a double calamity as Hurricane Matthew has left floods and incredible damage in its wake. Less natural but no less frustrating is the unforced error by the North Carolina Legislature in effectively prohibiting municipal broadband networks.

This week, we have a doubleheader interview with Will Aycock, the General Manager of Wilson's fiber-optic Greenlight service, and Suzanne Coker Craig, a local business owner and town council member. They talk discuss the devastation from the hurricane and the threat from the town's only broadband provider being forced to leave town by an ill-conceived state statute.

We often talk about how important modern Internet networks are, but the Pinetops reaction to this storm is a stirring reminder of how true that is. Whether it was as the hurricane approached, hit, or left town, local leadership had to continue fighting to retain Wilson's Internet service because it is that important to them.

Fortunately, Wilson has announced that it will not cut off Pinetops as expected. Instead, it will offer free service, which is not prohibited by current law. Wilson is generously giving the state six months to fix the law so Pinetops is not economically harmed by losing high quality Internet access.

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 28 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."

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 225

This is episode 225 of the Community Broadband Bits. Representatives of Midwest Energy Cooperative discuss their project to bring high-speed connectivity to rural southwest Michigan. Listen to this episode here.

Dave Allen: I really see this as a re-lighting of rural America.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 225 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. There's a project taking shape in rural southwest Michigan and the nearby regions of Indiana and Ohio. It's headed up by the Midwest Energy Cooperative. At the recent Broadband Communities Economic Development Conference in Minneapolis, Chris ran into Bob Hance, President and CEO of the cooperative, and Dave Allen, the cooperative's Vice President of Regulatory Compliance. Naturally, we wanted to hear more about their project and share the details with you. They provide some history and how access to high quality connectivity has positively impacted a number of their rural members. Chris, Bob, and Dave also have some interesting thoughts on federal funding programs, project standards, and the different rules for cooperatives and big corporate providers. Learn more about the project at teamfiber.com, where you can also discover more about the cooperative. Now you may notice some background noise. We apologize in advance. While we advocate for local choice and access to technology, sometimes technology is just not on our side. We had a little trouble with the mic that day. Also, Chris is suffering from allergies, and until winter sets in, he may sound a little like the late Howard Cosell, but never fear, it is our Christopher. Now, here with Chris are Bob Hance, President and CEO, and Dave Allen, Vice President of Regulatory Compliance for Midwest Energy Cooperative.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell. Today, I'm speaking with two folks from Michigan. Bob Hance, the President and CEO of Midwest Energy Cooperative. Welcome to the show.

Bob Hance: Thank you.

Christopher Mitchell: And Dave Allen, the Vice President of Regulatory Compliance for the Cooperative. Welcome to the show.

Dave Allen: Thanks, Chris. Good to see you out in Minneapolis.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes, Dave, it was terrific to run into you and to learn more about your approach.

Bob Hance: Not many people say that, Chris.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I'm happy to be the one. Now your cooperative is really leading Michigan, in terms of delivering high quality Internet access. Can you tell us about your regions that you serve?

Dave Allen: I can touch on the areas that we serve and set that up. Bob does a great job of talking about our history in the communication space. Midwest Energy serves twelve counties. Eight of those in Michigan, three in Indiana, and another two in Ohio. We have two distinct service areas. One in southeast Michigan, and one in southwest Michigan. The area we’re really focusing on, in terms of our initial phase of this project, is the southwest Michigan district. That scenario's characterized by Notre Dame, down in Indiana and South Bend, and you can go in a northeasterly direction toward Kalamazoo and southwest Michigan. We're those counties that fall in between that space. The area is really kind of identified by Whirlpool's world headquarters. Kellogg world headquarters is nearby in Battle Creek. We've got Pfizer up in Kalamazoo. A lot of industry that is in the area but not in our direct service footprint. The areas we serve are more rural areas, more characterized by seed corn industry, and perhaps to the south, the RV industry. My point being is that we are extremely rural. We probably serve about eight members per mile, but we do have large industry that's in the area that lives in our service footprint and really have a need for access to high speed broadband.

Christopher Mitchell: I have to point out that after talking with some of the telephone cooperatives here in Minnesota, eight people a mile is a positive luxury in some cases.

Dave Allen: In terms of municipals are 60-some-odd customers per mile. Investor on utilities run on the 30 members or customers per mile range. So at eight customers per mile, that's still pretty rural.

Christopher Mitchell: I think that a rule of thumb has been that you make money when you have eleven people per linear mile or more with a private sector business plan, but not if you have less than eleven people per mile. But let's talk about your history of offering communications services.

Bob Hance: Technically, we've been an active ISP since the mid-90's. That was all brought upon by a relationship we had with Trans World Network. We provided third party long distance, as well as ISP services through dial-up. As the Internet progressed, and people became more and more in tune with all things related to the electronic world and personal computers and the mobile devices that we have today, obviously dial-up service was just not going to be the thing of the future. So over time, we've had many, many folks who have left that to go to other options, including satellite, which we've entered in to providing terrestrial broadband, thinking that that was going to be a possible solution to the rural space that we were in, and a good replacement for dial-up. Unfortunately, we ran into problems such as limited band availability in the service territories that we were trying to serve. We had numbers of people who had signed up for that service but were let down because the capacity of the satellite just was not going to reach the demand. And even though they launched the second satellite, we ran into the same problem with that and eventually moved on to phase number three, if you will, with trying to provide rural America with some semblance of broadband. And that was broadband over power line. We were one of nine co-ops that were involved with a company called IBEC that was a single source provider of equipment and a process that would provide a signal across the power line. So an injection on our current equipment that sounded very promising as well. Unfortunately, we were two years into it and finally started to get past some of the technical issues that came with broadband over power lines when IBEC announced that they were bankrupt. That was back in December 2011. So here we have a few hundred people who had been hooked up with satellite and broadband over power line, and instead of abandoning them entirely, we just went back to the drawing board and said, "What's next?" Interestingly enough, at the same time, separate from communications, our utility folks, which includes me, were kicking around what we were going to do with respect to our needs in communications for the electric space. We have an active SCADA system. We know what's going to happen with the further smartening of the grid. So clearly utilities have been using various forms of communications between substations and their corporate offices at headquarters to get data back from the field. Eventually the light comes on and we say, "If we put in this fiber system, we take care of our utility needs, and at the same time, we can leverage that with the opportunity to replace what we've been trying to do by providing a true broadband to our membership, which married quite well together I can say."

Christopher Mitchell: Well, it's interesting because I think almost all electric utilities are involved in communications for internal needs, but there is a split between those who see themselves purely as an electricity co-op and not interested in doing anything externally, and then those that see themselves as more technology driven and bringing the technology of the day to their members. Is that your experience?

Bob Hance: I think you're spot on. I think those are the conversations that have been had across the country. I like to see it as we're doing what is required to continue to serve our membership in a relevant way. I'll just exercise that a little bit by saying that if not for the insistence of them for the last several years that we look at ways to provide them this service, I don't know that we would have. I think our principle responsibility and our duty is to our membership, and if the membership is asking us to consider other products and services that make being part of the rural landscape more enjoyable, more affordable, more reasonable for them, that's what we ought to do.

Christopher Mitchell: Dave, do you have anything to add on that?

Dave Allen: Yeah, just to add to that, we don't have an annual meeting per say, but we have district meetings where Bob goes out and engages our membership. And over the course of probably the last three or four years, the questions trended away from anything having to deal with electricity and more toward can you provide a broadband solution. We have a lot of folks out here that are on air cards. I think there are still some people on dial-up and folks utilizing satellite ... frustrations with usage allowances, with costs, with reliability, all these things that enter into the equation. They are just tired and fed up with that, so increasingly they have asked us to enter that communication space, where in all honesty, we were comfortable remaining an electric co-op. So we're a little bit of a reluctant participant. But there are a lot of things going on with respect to energy too, and Bob touched on some of the smart grid things we're doing. We have to do a better of helping people manage their energy use better, so this is one component of that.

Christopher Mitchell: I understand that you are not alone. There are other cooperatives in Michigan that are interested in working together to improve Internet access?

Bob Hance: We are working in conjunction with the other electric co-ops in Michigan. There are nine of us, specifically. A number of them are going through this process of evaluating from a conceptual standpoint. Maybe moving forward they are doing their due diligence. There are some surveys that have been presented to the memberships. At least three of them are fairly active in this process, but of course it takes a little bit of time for them to walk through that. I think it's promising. I think they understand that we're here to help in any way. We're the example that is on their way with already building a project, so we're a ready resource, and a valuable resource in their process. We'll see where it goes.

Christopher Mitchell: Thanks, Bob. I'm also curious if there is a difference in your members across different states in terms of appetites for delivering broadband or if the interest is pretty similar.

Bob Hance: Chris, I think there is interest from all kinds of areas. Even those co-ops that are serving closer to the suburban areas. What everyone understands, and you get this firsthand, is when Google showed up with this whole idea of Google-fying a city, or Google-fibering a city, and that whole contest that went on for the better part of two years, raised the specter of what does this mean, fiber, and what can this provide versus what we already have. This notion of this being like the technology that passes every other technology easily and to the extent that you can say it is future-proof, it just seems like there isn't any end to the desire of folks, even beyond our memberships, that would really like to get connected to fiber. If you look at who is signing up on our website, it is probably three to one right now. So for every three members that we have signing up to take service from us, we have a person signing up that is not an electric member of ours but is close enough to see what we're doing and hoping that they can get connected as well.

Christopher Mitchell: Interesting. You're getting pressure to expand even to people who are not members of the co-op at this point then.

Bob Hance: Yes, very much so. It's probably one of the hardest things for us to manage toward is this demand that is outside or external to our current footprint. And the strong desire for all these other people to get connected too.

Christopher Mitchell: I think that there are two key questions that come up. And Dave, I'd like to direct this to you first. In terms of a project like this, how do you finance it? There is a context here that rural areas have too little demand, and if you wanted to deliver high quality Internet access to them, it would be too costly. So how do you make it work?

Dave Allen: Well, in terms of your first question, our financing the project through member equity. We reached out to USDA, RUS, the Rural Utility Service, because as Bob mentioned earlier, we were looking at our need for better communications utilizing fiber. So we talked with the RUS about improving communications, utilizing fiber through our substations, through our facilities, and ultimately to the member home, and they agreed that that was a good purpose for us to pursue. You're looking at the clean power plan in the very near future in terms of what the ramifications might be to the users of electricity. Also in the state of Michigan, looking at a new energy bill, and our need really to help people manage their energy use better going forward. So that did resonate with the RUS, and ultimately, we're financing this project through an RUS work plan loan through the electric side. That provides us with the equity to pursue this project, which is going to be deployed over five years, running about 400 miles of fiber a year. As we're connecting homes, looking at those folks that would enjoy a voice or a data drop. So it's kind of an integrated project. Again, smart grid communications first and foremost for utility purposes, and then voice and data drops beyond that.

Bob Hance: You know our financial modeling bears the fact that we'll be cash positive after three years of building on our project, so we're very confident that despite the fact that we're in rural areas, there is an ability to realize a profit for the entity, so that beyond the five years, we can begin looking at those areas that are not an immediate part of our service footprint. It's been a very good and very positive project for us, and certainly resonates with members and non-members alike.

Christopher Mitchell: Let's clarify though Rural Utility Service financing. This is loan financing, right?

Dave Allen: Yeah, correct. We did receive a small, rural broadband experiment through the FCC. Bob has been very engaged in the past, advancing the notion that non-traditional providers of broadband services should be considered in the Connect America Fund, and as part of that, we applied for that rural broadband experiment, received a little more than $200,000. Probably the better part of that was just becoming eligible for the CAF phase 2 options, which will hopefully happen some time in 2017. But for the most part, yes, we are doing this through member equity, but there is an opportunity to engage CAF phase 2 and receive some funding that will really help us build out a little bit faster and perhaps consider some of the folks in those census blocks that we build out to that are not part of Midwest Energy.

Christopher Mitchell: Bob, I really want to make this very clear for everyone, that even though it took a tremendous amount of investment to take electricity to everyone, I don't think it really cost the American tax payers very much.

Bob Hance: I'm not trying to mix things together too much here. We have roughly $120,000,000 of plant that took us 80 years to build. What's interesting about this project is that although we are telling people that we're going to build 2,000 miles of fiber from scratch, and we're going to do it in five years, it doesn't seem to be fast enough. And the fact that it's nearly a $60,000,000 investment. So it can be done with the help of RUS, with respect to seeing the need and the opportunity, as Dave was projecting, the notion of smart grid and getting connections all the way to the home so that we can deal with in-home devices at some time in the future is invaluable.

Christopher Mitchell: That's right. The point that I really want to hit on is that when the federal government is giving out loans, the budgetary impact is quite small compared to other programs. The electric co-ops receive billions of dollars of loans, followed by billions of dollars in repayments over many years and over decades, so the interest rate may have been subsidized, but overall, this type of program seems like a very reasonable investment.

Bob Hance: When you think about bang for the buck, I can't imagine that there is another federal program that you could point to that has been as successful, or as deeply successful as the REA RUS program, bar none.

Christopher Mitchell: That's what I want to hear.

Bob Hance: You think about this over time and what was accomplished with loan dollars as you pointed out may be subsidized a little bit with respect to the interest rates, but when you see what we've accomplished and what we continue to accomplish with those loan dollars, and now carrying on the position as we did with the electric systems now with another product that is becoming more and increasingly important in the mix with respect to services to folks, we're just repeating what we did back in the 30's.

Christopher Mitchell: You mentioned the CAF 2 dollars. That's one of the ways that the federal communications division is giving out these grants, but as we move into the final question of this show, I want to talk about the response from your members to this service. But first, let's just finish the CAF 2 discussion by noting that the FCC has just given, without any hope of repayment, these are just grants, billions of dollars to the biggest private telephone companies so that they can build out to the obsolete 10 Megabit down, 1 Megabit up standard. You all got $200,000 to deliver much faster connections. Do your members appreciate the difference between what you're doing, versus what that 10 Megabit by 1 Megabit minimum is?

Bob Hance: Chris, I think unfortunately most folks don't get it. Most folks don't really understand what's really happening with Universal Service Fund and now CAF. I think there would be a country-wide outcry! I think you would have pitch forks and other things arriving in our nation's capital if they knew what we know. Dave and I, having gone to the FCC for the last almost four years now and seeing firsthand how quickly it is to throw $30 billion through the fan without ever giving a second thought to what we are getting for the $30 billion other than second class citizenry for our folks getting 10/1 when the rest of the country is moving toward these other standards. It's close to being criminal. I fashion it to be like you just shoved one of those metal objects into the sore part of my mouth. It's just crazy. Even with CAF 2 and the struggles we've had to help them get rules in place so that you have this stupid auction in the first place. And all the restrictions on $2 billion that they never put on the $30 billion. It's just crazy. It's ludicrous.

Christopher Mitchell: Dave, let me jump in quickly before you respond. I just want to make sure the people understand that making loan guarantees to co-ops requires a 10% budget hit. That is to say that doing $30 billion in loan guarantees requires budgeting only $3 billion. The $30 billion that is being misused from the CAF, from the Connect America Fund, that could have wired the entire country if it was spent in co-op loan guarantees. So now, Dave, can you please pile on?

Dave Allen: My only point in talking about the $30 billion, which has gone out the last 15 months to the price cap carries and rate of return carriers, is to point back to a conversation I had with Danna MacKenzie, who is the chief of Minnesota's broadband office, and they've set an appropriate benchmark of 25 download and 3 up, state-wide in terms of what they are promoting in the state of Minnesota, which is a national broadband standard. But of course that $30 billion went out with the only expectation that they build out to a 10/1 standard. So I had that chat with her, "Are you frustrated, are you disappointed?" And she said, "Immensely so." If the FCC from a policy standpoint had the intestinal fortitude to set that standard at 25/3, they essentially would have realized their goal well ahead of the date they had set, which I think was 2020 to hit that standard. Our frustration in going in and chatting with the FCC is, let's not set it at 10/1, let's at least set it at the broadband standard of 25/3 so that we can incent people to build out better networks like fiber going forward.

Christopher Mitchell: It's worth noting that the Minnesota requirement is not only 25 Megabits by 3, but that you also have to be using a technology that can scale all the way up to a 100 Megabits. I think that's a really good approach.

Bob Hance: Chris, I think that's consistent with the New York standard now too.

Christopher Mitchell: I think it's important to make sure that we're wisely investing so that we don't have to spend more in three more years for a new round of upgrades on networks that we've just subsidized. But I want to end on a more positive note. Dave, can you give us a testimonial from your members explaining why this is so important?

Dave Allen: I mentioned that when we were out in Minneapolis. We've actually taken over 100 pages of testimonials in to the FCC and left them with commissioner offices because they do resonate. They hear from us, but to hear from our members, our customers, folks in the rural space, really resonates with those folks. And even now, when we go back out there, they ask if we've updated that because we get these testimonials daily. My favorite, and I'll let Bob chime in with a couple of his, but this person from Metridgeberg said, "We're so pleased with Midwest, as we thought this service would never come down our dirt lane off of a dirt road." I think that really explains what we're doing. We're not going out to the urban areas, areas of high density. We came down a dirt lane off of a dirt road to provide this person with gigabit-capable fiber.

Christopher Mitchell: And Bob, do you also have one that you would like to share?

Bob Hance: The one that's striking to me is this one. Another customer that's hooked up now says, "When you live out in the country, you learn that not all things are easy. Not all things are accessible at a moment's notice. The country teaches you patience and understanding. Today, with the blink of an eye, something that I was told would never happen to the rural people, we have Internet. Not by tether of a phone or an air card with an astronomical price tag on it. Thank you Midwest Connections for being the stand up people that you said you were. I cannot tell you thank you enough."

Dave Allen: I'd just add too, it's interesting how life-changing this is for people in our area. They have been used to poor service, dial-up service, and to have fiber optic available to them has been just amazing for them. It's taken me by surprise in all honesty.

Bob Hance: There is a certain class of people though who live in cities and might be thinking, "What do I get out of it if they have better Internet access out there in the country?" My answer is a thought experiment. What if we did not electrify the country with the REA, the Rural Electrification Administration, and we thereby save a few billions of dollars in federal budgeting over many decades, maybe, we don't even know that we would save that much. But if we did, we would also end up with smaller markets. We wouldn't have people being as productive in the rural areas, and they would not be buying things that other people are producing. And my point is that this is not charity. It's in my self interest, as someone living in St. Paul, to make bigger markets everywhere because we're going to have a better economy.

Dave Allen: We're seeing for the first time in our nation's history the fact that rural areas are losing population. As they continue, births aren't keeping up with the rural out-flight. As people move back to cities and urban centers to avail themselves of services like broadband, that's going to tax those urban centers from an infrastructure standpoint. That should be a concern to urban areas in terms of how to maintain roads, sewer systems, and things like that as people move back to cities.

Bob Hance: I'd like to remind folks, but for rural electrification and now this new valuable service with respect to particularly how farms operate today, we have the food out here. We're the producers!

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, the food doesn't just magically appear in Kansas then, I guess! That's a good reminder. I'm excited about your project, and I really want to thank you for joining us on the call. Thank you very much.

Dave Allen: Chris, we have reminders of our past scattered throughout our office of when this co-op was constructing the lines back in the 30's. And one that's really striking to me is a lady who is reaching up to turn on that light bulb for the first time. And that's exactly what this feels like to all of us, and it's really helpful to get the kind of affirmations that we're getting from members. I really see this as a re-lighting of rural America.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes, I'm with you. I think sometimes people say that this isn't as big as electricity, but when electricity was first rolling out, people didn't know where that was going to go either. So I think you're doing the right thing. What we have to do is make wise investments, and then let time do its thing.

Dave Allen: I like to think that we spend once. Build once, spend once.

Christopher Mitchell: Thank you so much.

Dave Allen: Thank you, Chris!

Bob Hance: Thanks, Chris!

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Chris talking with Bob Hance, President and CEO from Midwest Energy Cooperative, and Dave Allen, Vice President of Regulatory Compliance from the cooperative. Remember, we have transcripts for this and other Community Broadband Bits podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/broadbandbits Email us at podcast@muninetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. Follow MuniNetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and all of the podcasts in the ILSR podcast family. You can do it on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research. You can also subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. Thank you to the group Mojo Monkeys for their song "Bodacious," licensed through Creative Commons. Thanks for listening to episode 225 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Midwest Energy Cooperative Connects Rural Michigan - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 225

Telephone and electric cooperatives are making strides in bringing high-quality connectivity to rural areas while national providers stay in the city. This week we speak with two gentlemen from rural southwest Michigan’s Midwest Energy Cooperative: President and CEO Bob Hance and Vice President of Regulatory Compliance Dave Allen.

The electric cooperative has embarked on a project to bring fiber-optic connectivity to its members within its electric distribution grid. The multi-year project will bring better functionality to electric services and high-speed Internet access to areas of the state struggling with yesterday’s technologies. Bob and Dave describe the cooperative’s commitment to it’s members and discuss the deep roots of the cooperative in the region. They also touch on how the project is already improving lives in the areas that are being served.

Bob, Dave, and Chris, also spend some time discussing the difficulties that face rural cooperatives, especially regarding federal funding and its distribution. Serving sparsely populated areas is a challenge. Federal funding is often distributed more favorably to big corporate providers that promise to deliver much slower speeds than cooperatives like Midwest Energy. Co-ops are delivering better services, and building better networks with less federal funding; they also face higher hurdles to obtain that funding.

Why do they do it? Because they are invested in the future of their communities.

Read more about the project at the Midwest Connections Team Fiber website.

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 28 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."

H.R. Trostle On Co-ops, Munis, Connectivity In North Carolina - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 224

In June, North Carolina released a report pronouncing that 93 percent of the state has access to broadband speeds. At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, our Research Associate H.R. Trostle, who has been examining reporting data in North Carolina for the past year, came to some very different conclusions. In episode 224, she and Christopher talk about the report they co-authored, which gives a different perspective on the connectivity situation in the Tar Heel State.

In their report, North Carolina Connectivity: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, Trostle discovered that, while urban areas have been well served by the big private providers, those same national companies have shunned rural areas. Instead, rural cooperatives and municipal networks are attempting to serve their residents and businesses with high-quality Internet access. It isn’t easy, however, when state laws discourage investment and access to federal funding.

Trostle gets into her analysis of the data, its limitations, and what we can learn from both. She and Chris go through some of the recommendations they provide to the state of North Carolina as it moves forward. The obvious first step is to repeal the state’s barrier on municipal network expansion, which has caused real harm in Pinetops, North Carolina. They also offer advice on how to facilitate telephone and electric cooperative investment and what that could mean for rural North Carolina.

For more, take a few minutes to download the report, which offers useful maps of where to find various connection speeds in the state.

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 23 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."