“We Can’t Build It and Just Assume People Will Come”: Digital Inclusion and Equity Today — Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 422

Today on the podcast we welcome Angela Siefer and Craig Settles. Angela is the founder and Executive Director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, and a tireless digital equity and inclusion advocate whose has worked to connect communities for over two decades. Craig is a nationally recognized consultant who works with public- and private-sector clients to build and improve networks. He hosts Gigabit Nation and is the President of Communities United for Broadband.

Together, Christopher, Angela, and Craig untangle the long history of broadband subsidies and racial bias, and how that has come to influence who has affordable connection options today. They also talk about the current stage of telehealth and the ramifications of the Digital Equity Act since its adoption a year ago. Angela highlights the importance of having state digital equity plans to address unequal access in anticipation of disbursing funds to close the digital divide during the pandemic. The group also talks about the costs of not being connected — in healthcare, in employment searches and job training, and in k-12 education — and how to make sure that both rural and urban broadband plans address everyone who lives there.

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, 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.

Golden State Update: Broadband Subsidies and the Future of Rural Broadband in California — Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 421

This week on the podcast we welcome Ernesto Falcon and Steve Blum. Ernesto is Senior Legislative Council at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a powerhouse nonprofit organization defending civil liberties in the digital world. Steve Blum is President of Tellus Ventures Associates, which provides management and business development guidance for companies working in telecommunications. You can find him at tellusventures.com.

In this episode Christopher, Ernesto, and Steve talk about what’s going on with broadband in California. They discuss current legislation looking to make sure CA broadband subsidies result in high quality networks and don’t leave people behind. Then they talk about a competing bill, and the consequences of investing public dollars in old network technology destined to leave those on the wrong side of the digital divide stranded there for another generation. Finally, they talk about the impact of campaign donations and T-Mobile merger conditions on the future of broadband in the state.

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.

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, 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.

Selling Bandwidth to the Block with Althea Networks — Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 420

This week on the Community Broadband Bits podcast Christopher speaks with Deborah Simpier, CEO of Althea. Althea offers software and tools for communities looking to build and maintain sustainable networks. 

Althea works by installing custom firmware on the routers of its member-operators, connecting them all together in an ad hoc network that dynamically responds to the supply and demand of individual users on the network. That network is then linked to a commercial-grade backhaul connection, and users pay each other for bandwidth while configuring their own connection preferences and needs. Althea’s innovative software and staff help manage the connection in real-time. The result is a decentralized, flexible, privacy-focused community of devices. Althea exists in more that three dozen communities around North America, Canada, the Caribbean, and Africa.

Deborah reflects on how she came to the broadband space, and the origins of the first Althea network. Christopher and Deborah discuss what it means to play a central role in empowering communities to help create their own sustainable networks, and watching people put in Internet infrastructure themselves and take ownership. One example is Enfield, North Carolina, a state with some of the most onerous broadband restrictions which have resulted in poor connectivity options for that community. 

For related coverage of broadband efforts in North Carolina or mesh networks in action, search those tags at MuniNets.org.

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

Transcript coming soon.

This show is 32 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, 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.

Tackling the Digital Divide in North Carolina- Community Broadband Bits Podcast, Bonus Episode Nine

For the ninth episode of our special podcast series “Why NC Broadband Matters,” Christopher talks with Doug Dawson, President of CCG Consulting. Doug is a veteran advisor to small public and private telecommunications carriers and an experienced, thoughtful voice in the broadband space. During their discussion, Christopher and Doug give the various levels of government across the United States a report card for their connectivity efforts during the pandemic, and talk about how the coronavirus has brought into focus the two digital divides facing our communities today. They consider what the broadband gap looks like between rural and urban areas, and the problem of adoption versus access for North Carolina communities facing obstacles to high quality Internet access.

Christopher and Doug also talk about whether SpaceX or other satellite providers are a solution to North Carolina’s rural broadband challenge, which leads them to reflect on the problem of the FCC’s current minimum broadband speed definition as a baseline for disbursing funds to providers connecting communities over the next ten years.

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We produced this episode and the “Why NC Broadband Matters” series in partnership with NC Broadband Matters, a nonprofit organization advocating for better connectivity across North Carolina.

This show is 37 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or with the tool of your choice using this feed, or at the NC Broadband Matters page. We encourage you to check out other “Why NC Broadband Matters” content at the podcast feed so you don’t miss future bonus content that may not appear in the Community Broadband Bits Podcast feed.

Transcript coming soon.

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

Thanks to Shane Ivers for the Music: What’s The Angle? by Shane Ivers – https://www.silvermansound.com a Creative Commons Attribution (4.0) license.

Coon Rapids Municipal Utilities Hits a Fiber-to-the-Home Run in Iowa — Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 419

This week on the Community Broadband Bits podcast Christopher speaks with Brad Honold, General Manager at Coon Rapids Municipal Utilities (CRMU). Coon Rapids is a small town in west-central Iowa, and CRMU started there with a cable TV system almost 40 years ago. Today, it remains one of the smallest municipal fiber networks, especially of those that offer cable TV packages. 

Brad reflects on the experience of overbuilding their network three times. In 1982 the utility built a forty-channel cable television system. In the mid-1990s it upgraded to a hybrid fiber-coax system in order to add telephone and Internet services, with 87% of the community behind the decision. And in 2017 Coon Rapids Municipal Utilities began building a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, taking advantage of the density of the city to run a dedicated fiber from the utility’s operations center to every premises in town (known as a home run structure). 

Christopher and Brad talk about the evolution of the communications utility over the last four decades, from cable to fiber today.  As Coon Rapids has transformed from a one-employer town to having a younger, more diverse business scene, CRMU has risen to the challenge of providing reliable, fast, affordable broadband. Christopher and Brad discuss the importance of the network taking community concerns seriously, including engaging the community in discussions about what is needed. 

See our other coverage of the state of broadband in Iowa.

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

Transcript coming soon.

This show is 24 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, 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.

The Man Behind the Mask: Christopher Mitchell Reflects on Twelve Years of Progress in Broadband — Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 418

This week on the Community Broadband Bits podcast we flip the microphones around. Christopher gets interviewed by Isfandiyar Shaheen, also known as Asfi, an experienced thinker on all Internet-related issues around the world and longtime friend of the Community Broadband Networks initiative.  

Asfi and Christopher have a wide-ranging discussion, including how Christopher first got involved with Internet policy work and the changes he’s seen over the last decade in fiberization and rural broadband development. Christopher shares what three actions he’d take as (an unhappily and reluctantly appointed) FCC chair, from putting together real processes for publicizing actionable data about broadband access, speed, and price around the country, to supporting experiments in different network structures, to encouraging policies that foster the creation of many overlapping networks.

Asfi also asks Christopher about the Christopher Mitchell smell test in affordable connectivity initiatives and what he’ll do once everyone in the United States has more than one option for fast, affordable, reliable Internet. 

Asfi has been on the podcast before—he and Christopher talked on Episode 351 about the spillover effect of fiber networks in areas like public works and agriculture. They talked about how high-bandwidth connections can reduce municipal labor overhead, allow companies to do predictive maintenance on expensive machines, and give farmers way more information about how their crops are doing in the field. 

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

Transcript coming soon.

This show is 54 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, 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.

Zoom Doctors and Online Church: Staying Healthy, Safe, and Connected in Chattanooga — Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 417

This week on the Community Broadband Bits podcast, Christopher talks to Deb Socia, President and CEO, and Geoff Millener, Senior Program and Operations Officer of The Enterprise Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Deb and Geoff share the breadth and depth of the work they’ve been doing recently to advance digital inclusion efforts and respond to the Covid-19 pandemic in ways that help the local community.

They tell Christopher about The Enterprise Center’s three-prong approach: the Chattanooga Smart Community Collaborative, which works to ensure that smart-city infrastructure is responsive to the needs of citizens; their work in the innovation district to help entrepreneurs build networks and create opportunities for getting access to capital; and finally, their Tech Goes Home initiative, which offers digital literacy courses and discounted hardware in pursuit of lowering the barriers to Internet access and inclusion.

Restaurants and churches around the country have been hit particularly hard by stay home orders and the other public health responses put into place to combat the transmission of the coronavirus, and Deb and Geoff describe the approach they’ve taken in Chattanooga. By finding trusted partners in local communities and leveraging their expertise and relationships with entities like EPB Fiber (the city’s municipal fiber network) Deb, Geoff, and their colleagues have helped small restaurant owners and church leaders get online and get the word out so that the local economy better weathers the storm and people can continue their faith traditions.

Finally, in this episode Christopher, Deb, and Geoff discuss the strides being taken in telehealth and telemental health in order to ensure more equitable opportunities and outcomes. They talk about the advantages to vulnerable populations, the potential savings to Medicare and Medicaid, and the wealth of opportunities for medical care related to aging in place, addiction recovery, palliative care, and removing the stigma of seeking mental health services.

See earlier coverage on The Enterprise Center and the work being done in Chattanooga by EPB Fiber.

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

Transcript coming soon.

This show is 37 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, 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.

Spanish Fork Network Brings a Generation of Savings and Community to Utah- Community Broadband Bits Podcast 416

This week on the Community Broadband Bits Podcast Christopher talks with John Bowcut, Director of Information Systems and Network Director for Spanish Fork Community Network in Spanish Fork, Utah. As John approaches the end of his career he reflects on the network’s founding, its success over the last two decades, and the missed opportunities which stemmed from a 2001 law limiting municipal networks. 

That Spanish Fork has achieved an impressive level of success is revealed by the numbers. In 2013, the utility had already paid off the majority of its debt and enjoyed a take-rate of 60% of the community of 35,000. In 2015, it began a fiber buildout to replace the hybrid fiber-coax neighborhood by neighborhood. By refusing to take on any new debt and focusing on neighborhoods with the most interest, the network was able to spend about a million dollars a year over the last five years, and is close to completion. Today SFCN enjoys a take-rate of 78% on its Internet service in the city of 40,000, with some neighborhoods subscribing at a rate of almost 100%. It continues to save Spanish Fork over $3 million a year, adding to the tens of millions it has already saved the community.

To what does John attribute their success? Community. Finding qualified, passionate people to build a network dedicated to the needs of people and businesses in the surrounding area. He highlights the utility’s customer service and responsiveness to its users needs. Christopher and John consider the success of SFCN in the context of the the long-term consequences of HB 149, which in 2001 installed signficant new hurdles by preventing new municipal from providing services directly to residents and businesses like SFCN does. Finally, Christopher and John talk the importance of marketing, and using it as a way of forging community connections and creating messaging that fosters dialogue. 

Listen to Episode 60 or Episode 170 of the podcast for more on the Spanish Fork Community Network.

Transcript coming soon.

This show is 30 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, 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.

Colorado’s Qwest Law: A Decade and a Half Later – Community Broadband Bits Podcast 415

It’s been 15 years since Colorado passed SB 152, the state law intended to restrict communities from building and managing their own broadband networks. A great deal has happened since: more than 140 communities have voted to opt out of the law, and networks like Longmont’s NextLight have been success stories in municipal Fiber-to-the -Home (FTTH).

In this episode Christopher talks to Ken Fellman and Jeff Wilson. Ken and Jeff were at the heart of the story back in 2005. They describe how Qwest (now CenturyLink) along with Comcast used legislative allies to introduce their bill aimed at protecting their profits. They share how the monopoly Internet Service Provider’s (ISP) lobbyists helped push two false narratives that we’ve seen many times before: that the bill sought to “level the playing field” so that private companies could compete with municipally run networks, and that SB152 “protected” Coloradoans from irresponsible local governments.

Christopher, Ken, and Jeff unpack the nuance of such arguments, which monopoly ISPs have used time and time again around the country, that place prohibitive burdens on local actors. They also cover developments over the last decade and a half, and talk about how while SB 152 had a negative impact on the development of municipal networks and broadband infrastructure in the short-term, we might consider how the long-term has shown how so many Colorado communities were compelled to action.

We’ve covered Colorado’s SB 152 a number of times in the past. Recently, the first phase of middle-mile network Project Thor turned on, introducing redundancy and bringing cost savings with it. Glenwood Springs, the first community to opt out, is in the process of extended its own FTTH network citywide.

This show is 60 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, 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

Wireless Mesh in a Concrete Jungle: How Community Networks Build Local Ties – Community Broadband Bits Podcast 414

This week on the Community Broadband Bits podcast, Christopher talks to Scott Rasmussen, an organizer with the nonprofit, volunteer-run community network NYC Mesh. Scott shares his experiences connecting residential New Yorkers and local businesses across the city to fixed wireless, and the creative solutions they’ve taken to build a hyperlocal network in a cityscape of tall buildings.

Scott and Christopher also discuss the impact and potential of locally owned mesh networks. They talk about reliability and resiliency, and how the design and deployment of NYC Mesh meant that it was among the few to remain online after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. They talk about the power of self-determination and decentralization, and how owning the network offers opportunities to build neighborhood cohesiveness and empower the community. They talk about the power of a network that’s not artificially throttled to support price tiers, doesn’t fund big monopoly telecoms, and prevents its traffic from data mining for advertising efforts.

Scott describes NYC Mesh’s commitment to diversity, transparency, equity, education, and outreach, and how the network’s structure and financing — it’s entirely funded by voluntary recurring donations of $20 by member-owners — mean that no one loses connectivity during times of hardship. NYC Mesh also has a number of projects aimed at affordable housing, and he tells Christopher about the particular challenges to connecting old residential buildings.

We’ve covered mesh networks before, including those in Ponca City, OklahomaPoulsbo, Washington, and Mount Pleasant, Washington, D.C.

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 Stitcher to catch more great conversations about local communities, 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.