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.

When Three Isn’t Enough: What Rural Connectivity Options Look Like in North Carolina – Community Broadband Bits Podcast 413

This week on the Community Broadband Bits podcast, Christopher talks to Tanna Greathouse, a Boone, North Carolina, resident operating an online business, Your Favorite Assistant, from home. Tanna shares her struggle with the lack of connectivity options in the area and what it means to have to sign up for three expensive, overlapping services — DSL, satellite, and mobile — for unreliable, slow, and high-latency Internet connections.

Tanna and Christopher talk about the struggle to perform even basic cloud-based productivity work and how this struggle has been amplified by the coronavirus pandemic. They talk about what things might look like if there were more local Internet choice and how the rise of telework will likely change how large and small businesses operate in the future.

We’ve covered North Carolina’s efforts at local Internet choice many times before. Find our “Why NC Broadband Matters” podcast series, co-produced with NC Broadband Matters, on the Community Broadband Bits podcast index. Episode topics include the homework gaptelehealth, and broadband mapping. Check out our other coverage of broadband in North Carolina.

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

This show is 16 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.

How Telecom Monopolies Killed Competition in North Carolina With HB 129, Part 2 – Community Broadband Bits Podcast, Bonus Episode Eight

For the eighth episode of our special podcast series “Why NC Broadband Matters,” Christopher and his guests, Catharine Rice and Jack Cozort, continue their conversation on HB 129, North Carolina’s restrictive law that prevents local governments from investing in broadband infrastructure. The first half of their discussion focused on the years leading up to the passage of HB 129 in 2011. Today, Christopher, Catharine, and Jack talk about the bill itself, the influence of the telecom industry over the state legislature, and how HB 129 has impacted connectivity in North Carolina today.

Catharine and Jack explain that local broadband authority became a partisan issue after the 2010 election, which flipped control of the North Carolina legislature to the Republicans. They share their experiences advocating against HB 129, explaining how legislators restricted public comments on the bill by limiting speaking time and constantly rescheduling hearings and meetings. Jack tells Christopher that there were as many as 25 lobbyists representing telephone and cable companies at the state legislature at the time pushing for HB 129. Catharine relates how corruption and a lack of transparency in government are the reasons why the telecom industry got the bill passed.

Christopher and his guests also run through some of the provisions of HB 129, dissecting the telecom monopolies’ misleading arguments for the bills.

This is the second half of a two part discussion. For part one, listen to episode 412 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

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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 48 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or with the tool of your choice using this feed, at the Community Broadband Bits page, 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 for this episode 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.

How Telecom Monopolies Killed Competition in North Carolina With HB 129 – Community Broadband Bits Episode 412

We’ve written a lot about North Carolina’s HB 129, the anti-competition law that prevents communities in the state from investing in broadband infrastructure. This week on the Community Broadband Bits podcast, Christopher dives deeper into the history of HB 129 with guests Catharine Rice, co-founder of NC Broadband Matters and project manager at the Coalition for Local Internet Choice, and Jack Cozort, a government relations consultant who has worked with the City of Wilson. In this first half of a two part conversation, Christopher and his guests discuss the years leading up to HB 129, which was passed in 2011, speaking frankly about the sway telecom lobbyists held over state legislators.

To start, Jack describes how Wilson decided to invest in its own broadband network Greenlight, after incumbent providers refused to partner with the city to upgrade the community. He goes on to explain how Wilson’s decision led the regional broadband monopolies Time Warner Cable (now Charter Spectrum) and AT&T to advocate for legal restrictions on municipal broadband at the state legislature.

Catharine and Jack review some of the early bills ⁠— written by telecom companies and handed off to state legislators ⁠— that the monopoly providers introduced in an attempt to stop broadband competition. They share their involvement in those legislative fights and explain how difficult it was to counter the influence that the telecom industry had over politicians in both major parties. However, Catharine points out that there were also Democratic legislators during this time who defended local broadband authority and kept anti-competitive legislation from being passed.

In the November 2010 election, the North Carolina legislature shifted control to the Republican party. Christopher and his guests end the podcast by talking about how that set the stage for HB 129, which would be introduced the next year.

Today’s episode is part one of two. Check back on Thursday, May 28 for the second half of this conversation on North Carolina’s HB 129.

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This is a special episode of the “Why NC Broadband Matters” podcast series, created in partnership with NC Broadband Matters, a nonprofit that’s working to bring high-quality Internet access to all communities in the state. Previous epsiodes in the series touch on telehealth, the homework gap, and broadband mapping, among other topics relevant to connectivity in North Carolina.

This show is 56 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.

Transcript coming soon.

Broadband Bits logo

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.

Fiber-to-the-Schoolbus: Ozarks Electric Connects Students During the Pandemic – Community Broadband Bits Episode 411

Ever since the Covid-19 pandemic pushed schools online, rural cooperatives and other local broadband providers have been coming up with innovative ways to connect students during this difficult time. Ozarks Electric Cooperative, with its broadband subsidiary OzarksGo, is one of the co-ops that caught our eye over the past few weeks with its creative solution.

This week, Christopher speaks with Steven Bandy, General Manager of OzarksGo, about the history of the co-op’s fiber network and its new efforts to expand broadband access during the pandemic. They discuss the beginnings of Ozarks Electric’s Fiber-to-the-Home network and the co-op’s plan to connect all of its members in growing Arkansas and Oklahoma communities. OzarksGo has even expanded into a nearby city where it doesn’t offer electric service after seeing that the community needed better quality connectivity. Co-op members are extremely enthusasitc about the co-op’s fiber network, and Steven explains how people moving to the area target the Ozarks Electric service territory in their home search.

Christopher and Steven also talk about the effects of the pandemic on the co-op’s fiber network, which has seen an increase in interest. Steven shares how the cooperative is partnering with a local school district to connect Wi-Fi hotspots on busses and in community buildings with fiber optic backhaul. In addition to bringing broadband access to students in response to Covid-19, OzarksGo has also increased speeds at no cost to subscribers.

This show is 19 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.

Why Wi-Fi is Polite and Where It’s Going Next – Community Broadband Bits Episode 410

In this episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, we get an introduction to what this week’s guest calls “the most Southern of protocols” — Wi-Fi. Here to guide us is Heather “Mo” Williams, Manager of Solutions Engineering at Ruckus Networks, Wi-Fi engineer for Black Hat conferences, and co-host on the podcast This Week in Enterprise Tech.

During her conversation with Christopher, Mo shares her background with Ruckus Networks and her family’s personal experience with poor connectivity in rural Texas. Then, Mo and Christopher discuss the history of Wi-Fi, the basics of how it functions, and what it means to operate over unlicensed spectrum. Mo explains how network congestion and the proliferation of Wi-Fi-enabled devices challenge engineers.

Christopher and Mo talk about the overblown hype around 5G technologies. They also dig into the Federal Communications Commission’s wireless policies, and Mo commends the agency for it’s recent decision to open up more spectrum for Wi-Fi, calling it a “game changer.”

This show is 51 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.