Dark Fiber Will Bring Value to Huntsville for Decades to Come — Episode 433 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast

This week on the podcast Christopher talks with Stacy Cantrell, Vice President of Engineering at Huntville Utilities in Alabama. Huntsville’s (pop. 197,000) municipal utility serves well beyond the city boundaries, and its electric department built a major network that gets close to every house within the city limits. 

Stacy shares how the 1,100-mile fiber project unfolded, what it took to overcome challenges, and how things are going now that they’re nearly done. The utility uses its network for internal services to bring value to those living in the city, but providers, of which Google will be the first, can lease that network and attach homes to it. 

This show is 29 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

Transcript coming soon.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Subscribe to the Building Local Power podcast, also from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, on iTunes or Stitcher to catch more great conversations about local communities, the concentration of corporate power, and how everyday people are taking control.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Lessons Learned with Lyndon Township — Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 432

A little over three years ago in Episode 232 we heard from Lyndon Township, Michigan just after a ballot initiative passed to fund and build a municipal network. 43% of the community turned out for the vote, and the measure passed by a ratio of two to one. 

Today we revisit Lyndon Township Broadband, with Christopher joined by Ben Fineman, President of the Michigan Broadband Initiative, as well as Jo Anne Munce, and Gary Munce, both of whom were essential in the ballot campaign and who volunteer with the broadband initiative.

Christopher catches up with what’s been going on since, and what things look like now that the network has almost everyone hooked up. The township owns the network, with area electric cooperative Midwest Energy and Communications operating it on a day-to-day basis. The group talks about the network’s phenomenal 75% take rate, the current state of its debt, and how it just increased speeds on two of the service tiers with no additional fees. Lyndon Township serves as a great example of a community that decided to tax itself for a fiber network and are reaping the rewards. 

Transcript coming soon.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Subscribe to the Building Local Power podcast, also from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, on iTunes or Stitcher to catch more great conversations about local communities, the concentration of corporate power, and how everyday people are taking control.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

In Erwin, Tennessee, an Incremental Approach Has Brought Success — Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 431

This week on the podcast Christopher welcomes back Lee Brown, President and CEO of Erwin Utilities, to talk about what’s been going on since we last spoke with them more than three and a half years ago. Erwin is a town of around 6,000 and the county seat of Unicoi County, Tennessee, along the state’s eastern border. 

The two revisit the success Erwin has seen with an incremental Fiber-to-the-Home buildout over the last six years. The utility at this point has no debt, and covers the whole town aside from one remaining pocket to be complete early next year. It has expanded into the county, bringing affordable 25mbps and gigabit Internet access to residents, and enjoys a take rate of nearly 50% . 

Lee reflects on the benefits of Erwin’s strategic approach to building a fiber network and lessons learned. In 2019 it completed the transition to becoming the Erwin Utilities Authority, which will give it flexibility moving into the future, and in April of this year connected its 3000th customer. 

This show is 26 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

Transcript coming soon.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Subscribe to the Building Local Power podcast, also from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, on iTunes or Stitcher to catch more great conversations about local communities, the concentration of corporate power, and how everyday people are taking control.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Twelve Years After Launch, Wilson, North Carolina’s Greenlight Network Continues to Innovate — Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 430

This week on the podcast Christopher welcomes back Will Aycock, General Manager of Wilson, North Carolina’s municipal network Greenlight, and Rebecca Agner, Communications and Marketing Director for the city of Wilson.

Christopher talks with the duo about what it took for the city to be named one of the ten best small towns in the country to start a business in 2019, and the city’s efforts to use its municipal infrastructure to launch an affordable new ridesharing initiative which takes into account social distancing needs and user cost during the COVID-19 pandemic.

They also spend time discussing how Greenlight is spearheading efforts to make sure the county’s most economically vulnerable residents have options to connect in 2020, including a public housing initiative that makes sure low-income residents have an affordable, reliable connection and a flexpay program that gives residents the option to pay for small chunks of Internet access according to their means and needs. 

Finally, the group dives into the network’s future plans as it approaches paying off the last of its debt in the near future.

This show is 31 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed

Transcript coming soon.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Subscribe to the Building Local Power podcast, also from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, on iTunes or Stitcher to catch more great conversations about local communities, the concentration of corporate power, and how everyday people are taking control.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Whip City Fiber’s Next Phase: Connecting Hill Towns in Western Massachusetts — Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 429

This week on the podcast Christopher talks with IT Manager John Leary and Customer Experience, Marketing, & Communications Manager Lisa Stowe from Westfield Gas & Electric, the municipal utility for the city of 40,000 in the southwestern quadrant of the Massachusetts. The topic of the day is Westfield’s municipally owned fiber arm — Whip City Fiber — which is doing some wonderful things as it enters its next phase of life.

First, John and Lisa share their thoughts on the history of the network and what they see as key characteristics of its early success: Whip City embraced a model of incremental buildout in its early years, managing expectations and pursuing careful growth during its $2 million pilot project before transitioning, thanks to a $15 million municipal bond, to expanding so that today the network covers 70% of the city. 

The group then digs into Whip City Fiber’s next phase of life: bringing municipally owned gigabit Internet to twenty Western Massachussetts Hill Towns over the next few years, including (but not limited to) Alford, Ashfield, Chesterfield, Leyden, New Ashford, New Salem, Otis, Plainfield, Rowe, Washington, Wendell, and Windsor. With Whip City’s help now and eventual role as Internet Service Provider (ISP) and network operator, nine are already online, with the rest to follow by the end of next year. 

The group ends by talking about the future and getting to 100% coverage in Westfield, and the utility’s commitment to closing the digital divide.

This show is 35 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Subscribe to the Building Local Power podcast, also from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, on iTunes or Stitcher to catch more great conversations about local communities, the concentration of corporate power, and how everyday people are taking control.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

How Monticello, MN’s FiberNet Weathered the Storm and Brought Community Savings — Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 428

In this episode of the podcast Christopher talks with Jeff O’Neill, City Administrator of Monticello, MN, about FiberNet, which is owned by the city but operates in a public-private partnership with local telecommunications provider Arvig. 

Christopher and Jeff delve into the history and development of the network over the last fifteen years. They discuss how business leaders began calling for the city to look for a solution to poor Internet speeds all the way back in 2005, why the city ultimately decided to build its own network, and how FiberNet persevered in the face of an early lawsuit so that incumbent provider TDS could slow competition as it began its own fiber buildout. Jeff and Chris then talk about the network subsequently weathering a vicious price war with Charter Spectrum which contributed to the fracturing of its relationship with early partner Hiawatha Broadband, but which also brought significant savings and better customer service from incumbent providers to everyone in town.

They end by discussing the multitude of community benefits realized today by having three competing providers in Monticello — two offering Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) in the city of 14,000 — and what it means for community savings and economic development for the city moving forward. Jeff ends by sharing some of the work he’s most proud of being involved in and what he sees as important for FiberNet in the years ahead.

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

Transcript coming soon.

This show is 35 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Subscribe to the Building Local Power podcast, also from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, on iTunes or Stitcher to catch more great conversations about local communities, the concentration of corporate power, and how everyday people are taking control.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Connecting A Neighborhood in Need in San Rafael, California – Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 427

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed with stark clarity the impact of the digital divide across the country, and exacerbated the problem especially among the economically disadvantaged and in communities of color. With the onset of a new school year, school boards, city councils, and local governments have been distributing hotspots, equipping buses with Wi-Fi, and subsidizing subscription plans so that students can continue to learn over the summer. This week on the podcast Christopher talks with one community in California that took efforts to connect residents a step further.

Christopher is joined by Rebecca Woodbury, San Rafael Director of Digital Services and Open Government, and Air Gallegos, Director of Education & Career for the nonprofit Canal Alliance, who together worked with a coalition of dedicated people to begin building a neighborhood-wide Wi-Fi mesh network over the summer in response to the pandemic, and connect one of the city’s most vulnerable populations: those living in San Rafael’s Canal neighborhood. Christopher, Rebecca, and Air talk about how it all came together, the impacts it’s already having, and the forethought that went into the network. 

They discuss the city’s work and the participation of local volunteers who helped jumpstart the effort, and the pivotal role played by the Canal Alliance, which has been fighting digital divide in the neighborhood for decades. The group also discusses lessons learned, expanding the network to reach as many resident as possible, and the ways that the coalition has tried to ensure that San Rafael’s Wi-Fi Mesh network works not just for the Canal neighborhood now, but in the future.

For additional detail on the San Rafael project, see our earlier story.

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

Transcript coming soon.

This show is 46 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Subscribe to the Building Local Power podcast, also from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, on iTunes or Stitcher to catch more great conversations about local communities, the concentration of corporate power, and how everyday people are taking control.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

West Des Moines is Building a Citywide Conduit System and Google Fiber is First in the Door – Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 426

In July we wrote about West Des Moines’ announcement that it would build an open access citywide conduit system to spur broadband infrastructure investment, and how Google Fiber became the Iowa city’s first partner. 

In this episode of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast, Christopher is joined by Jamie Letzring, Deputy City Manager for West Des Moines, Iowa, and Dave Lyons, a consultant with the city, to discuss in more detail how things unfolded behind the scenes.

Together, the group digs into the how the city started with a long-term vision—called West Des Moines 2036—that, in part, brought local leaders together to discuss universal high-speed Internet access as a path to equity, economic vitality, and citizen engagement. Jamie and Dave share the challenges that came with a rapidly congesting right of way (ROW) landscape, and how that ultimately led to the decision to commit to a citywide conduit model that has attracted Google Fiber. Finally, Chris, Jamie, and Dave talk about what the citywide conduit system will do for business development and city residents once it’s complete. 

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

Transcript coming soon.

This show is 40 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Subscribe to the Building Local Power podcast, also from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, on iTunes or Stitcher to catch more great conversations about local communities, the concentration of corporate power, and how everyday people are taking control.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

How One City Came Together to Provide Free Broadband To Those Who Needed It Most – Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 425

This week on the podcast Christopher talks with Jill Levine, Chief of Innovation and Choice at Hamilton County Schools in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Evan Freeman, Director of Government Relations at the city’s municipal electric and fiber utility, EPB, and Deb Socia, President of the Enterprise Center.

Together, the group discusses the recent landmark announcement by Hamilton County Schools of HCS EdConnect, in which the schools, local government, EPB, and local stakeholders and philanthropic organizations have come together and made it possible to connect all school children on free or reduced lunch programs in the district to free 100 Mbps symmetrical Internet access for the next ten years. The initiative will include not only 32,000 students but their families as well, and is the first of its kind in the United States — a success story at using a city-wide network to bridge the digital divide for economically disadvantaged students, and a decisive move to respond to unequal Internet access during a worldwide public health crisis

Jill, Evan, and Deb discuss the challenges of setting up the partnerships that made it happen, overcoming obstacles — including dealing with tens of thousands of new customers with unique skills and needs — and how they managed to pull it off.

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

Transcript coming soon.

This show is 31 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Subscribe to the Building Local Power podcast, also from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, on iTunes or Stitcherto catch more great conversations about local communities, the concentration of corporate power, and how everyday people are taking control.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Is Open Access the Future? – Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 424

For communities looking to improve Internet access for their citizens but that might be wary of becoming full-fledged Internet Service Providers (ISPs) themselves, open access networks offer a practical model for the future. Like roads, open access networks serve as publicly owned byways that telecommunications providers can then lease bandwidth on and offer a wide array of information services. They ensure competition, provide local control of underlying infrastructure, and lead to economic growth.

This week on the podcast Christopher speaks with Jeff Christensen, President of EntryPoint Networks, a consulting and software company working with communities around the country (including Ammon, Idaho) on open access networks. Jeff shares with Christopher what’s been happening recently, including some of the software upgrades EntryPoint has developed over the last year and the impact they’ll have both for administrators and users moving forward. 

Christopher and Jeff then dig into the future of state telecommunications policy, and the vision that communities need to have to confront the realities of existing cable and telecom monopolies around the country. They talk about the potential of government policies that promote competition rather than restrain it, and the possibilities for network innovation if we were to reframe how we think about Internet access in terms of having separate infrastructure and service components. Finally, they spend some time discussing practical steps communities can take, including defining the problem and then making low-interest loans to build open access fiber networks in their regions.

If you’re interested in learning more about open access networks, we break down basic models, concepts, and advantages. Or, listen to Jeff’s TedX talks, The Internet Disruption Every City Needs and Modern Networks, Innovation, and Cities or read his recent Medium post, “We Need Our Internet Access Networks to Be Something They Are Not.”

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

Transcript coming soon.

This show is 41 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Subscribe to the Building Local Power podcast, also from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, on iTunes or Stitcher to catch more great conversations about local communities, the concentration of corporate power, and how everyday people are taking control.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.