My comments to FCC supporting Chattanooga, TN & Wilson petitions to remove anti-muni net laws

It is way past time the FCC step in and put a stop to state legislative intrusion into the broadband affairs of Chattanooga and other local communities that are best able to make choices that are in their constituents’ best interests.

Over 400 public-owned networks operate in the United States, according to the Institute of Local Self-Reliance, including 89 fiber and 74 cable communitywide networks. Evaluating these networks’ impact on job creation, education and stirring innovation, as well as their financial sustainability, uncover hundreds of success stories that can be replicated once the barriers in Tennessee drop.

Some networks such as those in Cedar Falls, IA, Thomasville, GA, Santa Monica, CA and Bristol, VA have operated successfully for over 10 years. Danville, VA’s public utility’s network that launched in 2004 helped cut their unemployment in half, down from 19%, by directly enticing several large companies to the area, and driving a local technology industry that otherwise likely wouldn’t exist. Santa Monica, CA’s fiber network, launched the same year, reduced government voice and data communication by over $750,000 a year while building a $2.5 million surplus through the city’s savings plus selling fiber services to local businesses. Furthermore, community networks’ ROI often is not about revenue but benefitting the public good.

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Happy 3rd anniversary, Gigabit Nation! Check out the 10 most popular interviews

A humongous Thank you! to all of you listeners and supporters of Gigabit Nation.

Three years ago today, with a month’s worth of guests booked, one sponsor (Hiawatha Broadband Communications) and just a general idea of where this would end up, Gigabit Nation launched. The only radio talk devoted to helping organizations improve the sad state of broadband in these United States.

My first guest was Jim Ingraham, VP of Strategic Research for Chattanooga’s public utility and fiber network operator, EPB (Check out the interview). Tomorrow, I’m in Chattanooga to celebrate the show’s third anniversary in a special 90-minute live interview of some of the key leaders and stakeholders who have contributed to the success of the city’s now famous gig network.

We’ll highlight some of the major milestones the city has reached thanks to its network, as well as take a peek at Chattanooga’s gig future. I’ll also be review some of the high points in Gigabit Nation’s 3-year run.

My guests and I have created nearly 200 hours of solid advice, community success stories, broadband policy discussions and future outlooks. Monthly live and downloaded listens have gone from a couple of thousand to 15,000. When Gigabit Nation speaks, people listen: broadband project teams, elected officials, local broadband stakeholders, policymakers, vendors and service providers of all stripes.

Here in reverse order are the 10 most popular interviews since Gigabit Nation 2011 launch:

10.  16 Meg Muni WiFi Network – Chattanooga Continues to Rock!

9.  Gigabit Innovation Rises from Chattanooga’s Testbed

8.  Post-Sandy, the Future of Broadband and Smart Grid

7.  FTTH Conf, Tue: Smart Grid Economics, Kutztown Magic, UTOPIA

6.  The Big News about Google Fiber in Kansas City?

5.  Closing the Digital Divide in KC, One Neighborhood at a Time

4.  Maximize Broadband As An Economic Development Asset

3.  WISPs: Tips for Better Engaging These Broadband Stars

2.  $25 Million Broadband Success Story in Maine!

1.  Crowdfunding to Pay for Broadband Networks? Yes, Please.

I’m looking forward to another great year of awesome interviews, as well as your continued support and listenership.

Btw, you company execs who are trying to increase your presence in the community broadband market – you really should consider being a Gigabit Nation sponsor. Ping me! Let’s talk.

What This Year’s Survey Says About Broadband and Economic Development

Survey saysBroadband has consistently been described as a tool or asset to help communities improve local economic development. In the past few years, a lot of effort has gone into positioning broadband as our newest utility, vital as our mainstay electric, gas and water utilities. Every year I dig a little bit via a survey to learn how much the hype about broadband’s impact on local economies reflects the reality.

This year’s survey asks members of the International Economic Development Council (IEDC), the largest professional association of economic developers, key questions regarding broadband’s impact on local economies. These questions test some general assumptions made about outcomes that broadband produces, and also enables survey respondents to assess some of the value broadband brings to their communities.

Get the full report here. Some of this year’s findings include: Continue reading

Putting Radar O’Reilly’s Hometown on the Broadband Map, Pilot Project Starts

RadarEveryone who remembers M*A*S*H and its zany cast of characters remembers the quirky, lovable and oh so efficient Corporal “Radar” O’Reilly who hailed from Ottumwa, IA. Radar likely would be very pleased with recent developments in Ottumwa to bring highspeed broadband and higher levels of efficiency to businesses, healthcare facilities and various local institutions.

Ottumwa began its journey in 2012 toward faster, better Internet access that has been deliberate, inclusive and thorough. Initially led by the Ottumwa Economic Development Corporation, project leadership shifted this year to the Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation, which last month retained Pinpoint Services to begin engineering design for a pilot project.

The Ottumwa project offers valuable lessons in needs assessment, consensus building and informed decision making. I was brought in to conduct the needs assessment, lead several workshops and a couple town hall meetings, compile a technology inventory and create a roadmap forward.

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The Broadband-Driven Economy: How to Plan It, Fund It, Measure It

My annual survey of IEDC members and other economic development professionals regarding how broadband impacts local economies closes Tuesday (April 1), so get on the stick if you’re in the profession but haven’t completed the survey (click here). This year, I’ve changed up a few things to focus more on applications than technology. And as you can read below, I also received some feedback about the role of econ dev pros in maximizing broadband’s benefits.

The first section of the survey asks members to report on the current state of highspeed Internet access in their jurisdictions. The second poses questions about how respondents see broadband being used to impact business development, healthcare delivery and education.

The third section asks them to assess various options for funding broadband networks, and models for communities to own and operate the business of broadband, even if the community isn’t becoming an ISP. The fourth section addresses key broadband policy issues such as facilitating competition and providing consumer protections.

I’m presenting the survey results next week during a keynote session I’m sharing with IEDC’s Chair of the Board, Bill Sproull, at the Broadband Communities Summit in Austin, TX. In going through the surveys responses so far, I read some of the answers to the open-ended question, “What are two things economic development professionals such as yourself need to do to help the network impact specific outcomes?”

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Tennessee Legies Go Into Pro-Public Broadband Frenzy

While broadband advocates were fighting fierce battles to defeat anti-muni network bills that were eventually won in Kansas and twice in Utah, Tennessee legislators were quietly ushering through not one but FOUR bills to un-do some of the restrictions previous legies put in place several years ago.

This kind of reversal is practically unheard of in the 19 states that clamped lids on muni nets. What’s more surprising? Republicans lawmakers, typically the party that leads the charge against public-owned networks, are taking the lead on many of these bills in Tennessee!

TN legiesActually what’s happening is full bi-partisanship in dual-chamber drives. A rather impressive display, really. Each bill has a state senate and state house version, there are Republican and Democratic sponsors of the bills and most of the bills appear to have several co-sponsors from both parties. Yowsah! This is sort of like Santa Claus making a second post-Christmas delivery for community broadband advocates when you consider the muni net wins in very conservative Utah and Kansas, and now this Tennessee waltz.

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Utah State Senators, Let the Market Decide on Broadband

Text of letter sent to Utah state senators opposing SB190, Amendment 2

Dear Senators:

Let the market – your constituents – decide on broadband!

SB190 was supposed to codify a routine municipal accounting procedure designed to advance a local broadband decision by Utah communities, but instead it has been poisoned with an anti-free market amendment – Amendment 2. As champions of smaller government, shouldn’t you be rushing to kill Amendment 2, and proceeding with the bill as written when it passed committee?

Macquarie Capital has come to Utah’s with over $100 billion in assets, much of which they want to invest in Utah communities to move broadband forward. This is a huge potential investment in Utah on which Amendment 2 of SB190 slams the door. How fiscally irresponsible is that?

Broadband is one of the best economic engines that communities large and small can harness. Over 300 communities across the U.S. successfully own and operate broadband networks that are transforming their local economies. Rational people would expect Utah state legislators to welcome the opportunity to replicate these successes.

Battle flag

Utah senators say they believe in the market. Well, the market is comprised of those individuals, local businesses and organizations in a city or county that pay for broadband, or pay the price for not having adequate broadband.

When a market in Utah says it is not getting the broadband services it needs or wants, that market has spoken. When the duly elected local governments and their constituents decide that the community should own the network, in whatever partnership or other arrangement that best benefits them, that market has decided.

If Utah senators oppose big government intrusion and believe in the market, then let the Utah markets choose what they believe is their best solutions and the best way to pay for those solutions. Let the markets decide. Please reject SB190.

Craig Settles

Broadband industry analyst and advocate

Click here to email the entire Senate body and voice your opposition! They need to hear from you.

Postmortem on Kansas, Utah: What Anti-Muni Net Bills Say about Broadband Competition

A month ago tomorrow the telco/cable lobbyist machine launched an unprecedented assault on communities’ ability to determine their broadband future by attacking the private sector. Twice! Luckily, community and national broadband activists unleashed a swift strike-pivot-strike counterattack that proved effective and seemingly successful.

post mortemNo one believes these battles are done, but broadband advocates feel communities are better prepared for future challenges that are sure to come from incumbents. It is wise to assess what was done in these last 30 days to beat the bills, but more importantly to look at incumbents’ changing behavior in the face of a changing competitive landscape in community broadband.

Incumbents are in a box

Ignore the rhetoric that the public sector should not be spending taxpayer money to enter the broadband business. It’s a diversion to hide who’s really wasting tax dollars. The combine taxpayer dollars invested in all of the community nets don’t even begin to rival the tax dollars local and state governments have subsidized telcos and cablecos to deliver fiber broadband WE HAVE NOT SEEN (as described in this interview)!

The real issue here is competition. Not unfair competition. Any competition is something to be destroyed, in the eyes of large incumbents. They are single-minded, relentless and ruthless in that pursuit. Think Mongo. In Kansas on January 27 and a couple weeks later in the Utah statehouse, three bills reared their ugly heads in a dramatic change in strategy that aligns with the real motive – a drive to nuke competition.

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State Legislators Becoming Weapons of Mass Obstruction Against Broadband Competition?

An ALEC-inspired, lobbyist-written anti-municipal broadband bill introduced in the Kansas state legislature – Senate Bill 304 – is threatening all broadband in the state, even from private-sector challengers to existing incumbents. Dropping in seemingly from nowhere on January 27, the bill was tracked for swift near-silent passage.

Battle flag

Save for the swift, fierce counterattack by Kansas communities across the state, the bill likely would have passed and then been trafficked to other states. Yet even before Kansans could catch a breath after winning their first skirmish (this bill ain’t dead yet!), here comes an anti-muni broadband attack that the state legislature dropped on Utah yesterday. The lesson for the rest of the U.S. is that 1) more attacks are coming from state legies frontin’ for lobbyists,  and 2) Kansas is an inspiration and model-in-progress for how communities can beat down some of these attacks. Among other tactics, a statewide petition is demanding Kansas legies “put voters before lobbyists!” 

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Community Broadband and the Changing Free Market

Earlier today, my Gigabit Nation radio show tackled the source of many of our broadband woes – the lack of sufficient  broadband competition in the U.S. despite incumbents’ fairy tales to the contrary. The flip side of the same counterfeit coin of “robust competition” is the claim that the free market can meet all of our broadband needs and local governments cannot. Pul-leaze!

Last week I had to lay out the facts of broadband life to dispel this “free market” myth. Someone who clearly did not listen to my interview with Loma Linda, CA about their muni-owned network tried to make the case, “The free market insures that a provider delivers the services the market demands at a fair price or competition steals the business..[broadband]..should be left to market players who know the business best, understand the risks, and who risk their OWN money or that of investors willing to risk their own.”

However, his conclusion about government’s inability to succeed and the state of competition are proven not true. How’s that? First, take Loma Linda. As everyone who listens to the interview will learn, the City started their network specifically because the incumbents wouldn’t or couldn’t provide services to meet individuals’ and companies’ needs, and no free market competitor was there to fill the void. So the City filled it. FURTHERMORE, the City runs a multi-product/service  broadband business that breaks even. Meaning the business is paying all of its bills. Has been for some time. 

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