Our weeklong virtual conference, Ars UNITE, kicked off today with an examination of how city and town governments are going the extra mile to improve residential broadband.
After our feature on the topic—“Fed up, US cities take steps to build better broadband”—we hosted a live discussion with four experts: Blair Levin, a former FCC official who oversaw the development of the National Broadband Plan under President Obama and is now executive director of the Gig.U fiber initiative; Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance; Will Aycock, operations manager of Greenlight Community Broadband in Wilson, North Carolina; and Ted Smith, chief of the Civic Innovation office in Louisville, KY.Further ReadingFed up, US cities take steps to build better broadbandIncreasingly, cities control their broadband future—with both low- and high-tech methods.Further ReadingUNITE live: A discussion on cities revolutionizing broadbandJoin Ars and industry experts at 12ET to discuss how cities are taking control of broadband.
To wrap up day one, let’s take a look at what readers and experts had to say. After a summary, we’ll post a lightly edited transcript of the live discussion.
“I personally believe that municipalities should create the infrastructure, but not sell the service,” macromorgan wrote in the comment section of our feature. “It should be open for any and all companies (even including the incumbents) to provide service over the publicly owned fibers.”
During the live discussion, several readers wanted to know what can be done to improve rural broadband.
Jean-Luc asked, “How long does the panel feel it's going to take for Telecoms, including Cable companies, to wake up and see how far behind they are in the data services they provide when compared to the rest of the world, or at least realize that capping data is only going to hurt them in the long run?”
“In my experience, they are very good at seeing and acting on of behalf of their own self-interest,” Levin answered. “What is interesting is that the telcos have changed their point of view of the benefits of upgrading to fiber, or at least it appears so. Of course Google Fiber and city efforts have a lot to do with that. The next couple years will be telling.”
We also discussed whether municipal fiber networks are generally profitable. Mitchell noted that “a few networks generate far more revenue than expenses—Thomasville, Georgia and Spanish Fork, Utah are prime examples. The norm is for a network's revenues to be roughly in balance with expenses after accounting for depreciation. The overwhelming benefit of community networks is not from monetary profit though—it is from having a stronger business climate, keeping more money in the pockets of residents through lower bills, having much better customer support, and keeping more money in the community rather than sending millions of dollars to Philadelphia or New York or Dallas [the headquarters of Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T].”
One reader asked what keeps public broadband networks from deteriorating as some water and sewer networks have. “Data networks, unlike sewers, are generally profitable if done right in the first place,” Smith replied. “The money to upgrade flows from the growing demand for the service.”
Greenlight in Wilson, NC was created after the community was unable to get what it needed from private Internet service providers.
“We initially reached out to incumbent providers in our community to explore ways we could partner to bring this infrastructure to our citizens,” Aycock said, when asked if Wilson pursed other options. “Unfortunately, we were unable to find a model that worked at the time so we had to build it ourselves.”
The challenges of improving broadband in rural America and hard-to-reach areas came up repeatedly. “I think cooperatives—both rural and electric—are the best opportunity to serve those areas,” Mitchell said. “Or a county that commits to serving everyone with a muni network. The alternative is to subsidize a provider like Frontier or CenturyLink that has refused to invest in their networks or provide good customer service.”
“Many municipal electric providers also have infrastructure in surrounding rural areas,” Aycock pointed out. “This is true in Wilson and we have begun the process of expanding the fiber network out of the City into these more rural areas of the County.”
Although plans for many fiber networks have been announced, Levin said it’s far too early to declare success. “I am very excited about the fiber announcements but no one should uncork the champagne,” he said. “If Google changes its mind, if cities don't focus on the long-term (which is hard), or if the fundamental economics shift, due to, for example, mergers changing the economics of related businesses, like multi-channel video, the competitive picture could change and the announcements could end up never becoming real. But we are in much better position than we were a year ago.”
The complete transcript
As promised, here’s a full transcript of today’s discussion with the experts. It has been lightly edited for clarity, and questions from Ars and Ars readers are bolded for easier browsing.
Jon Brodkin: Hello Ars readers, welcome to our expert panel on how cities and towns are working to make broadband better.
Today we're going to have four panelists: Blair Levin, a former FCC official who oversaw development of the National Broadband Plan under President Obama and is now executive director of the Gig.U fiber initiative; Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance; Will Aycock, operations manager of Greenlight Community Broadband in Wilson, NC.; and Ted Smith, chief of the Civic Innovation office in Louisville, KY. I’ll be asking the panelists questions but feel free to ask questions of your own.
I live in a small community in the heart of Wisconsin where there is very little broadband infrastructure actually developed. If a community wanted to develop their own municipal broadband offerings how should they go about doing it in places with poor infrastructure? Additionally, what do you believe should be done to increase broadband availability to citizens living in rural areas? I live 5 miles outside of town and my only Internet offerings are Dial-up, Satellite or a 3G based service. I'm currently using the 3G service and it's very good for what I need, but as time goes on the service won't be able to meet my bandwidth needs. Who do you think should be driving providers to reach out to those of us with such limited options? (via Sam N.)
Christopher Mitchell: Sam N - I'm familiar with Wisc and I'm sorry to say that the state has barriers to municipal networks. I hope you are able to let your elected officials know that the existing providers aren't meeting your needs. If you have rural electric or telephone coops (already there or nearby) then you can approach them. Many coops are offering fiber service in rural areas across the U.S.
Blair Levin: As to Sam N's question about rural, there are a number of federal programs that loan money to or subsidize rural deployments. While these are useful, I also think we should be doing more to experiment with using a lot of unused spectrum in rural areas, such as with white spaces, to upgrade the bandwidth offerings.
Rural telcos have successfully used federal programs to offer much better connectivity in some areas. There is still a lot to do with anchor institutions, such as schools and libraries. While we need a lot more fiber to those locations, we can also expand the high quality coverage with spectrum, as West Virginia did with a white spaces experiment.
Mitchell: @Sam M - you can also encourage your local government to begin investing in some fiber and conduit because the barrier is not total in Wisconsin. As in most places, the barriers discourage investment but often do not totally prevent it.
Ted Smith: Rural communities have some great advantages in that they can often leverage mechanisms like cooperatives to act as the financial and customer service facility to provide service. Of course working out rates will be the trick but the flexibility and lace of commercial resistance should be a plus.
Brodkin: Here's a question for Will Aycock. Operating a fiber network must be a complicated task. Was there a big learning curve and how did Wilson gain the tech expertise needed to pull it off?
Will Aycock: Although we were among the first municipalities to launch a FTTH [fiber-to-the-home] network, there were many who came before us and many FTTH networks were well established before we even got started. Organizations such as Pulaski, TN and BVU shared information and provided an example to guide the way. We have also been very fortunate to have many highly talented team members who have helped us learn as we go and make Greenlight a success.
What keeps these public broadband networks from deteriorating over time due to use of public funds? Water and sewer have deteriorated through out cities for the last couple of decades. What makes this public utility any different? (via Sandwichman)
Smith: Data networks, unlike sewers, are generally profitable if done right in the first place. The money to upgrade flows from the growing demand for the service.
Mitchell: @Sandwichman - Municipal electric utilities have over 100 years of evidence showing that local governments can maintain this infrastructure. Look at the privately owned telephone networks - the use of public funds has little to do with whether an infrastructure continues to meet community needs. The question is whether the infrastructure owner is accountable to residents and businesses.
Brodkin: Here's a question for Ted. Louisville recently awarded fiber franchises to three companies, including two that plan residential deployments. What is the current status of these projects and how is the city helping them forward?
Smith: In Louisville, we have made the initial decision to attract private telco's and open access operators. This means we have interested parties but the timeline is theirs since they bear ALL risk.
How long does the panel feel it's going to take for Telecoms, including Cable companies, to wake up and see how far behind they are in the data services they provide when compared to the rest of the world, or at least realize that capping data is only going to hurt them in the long run? (via Jean-Luc)
Levin: As to Jean-Luc's question about when will cable and telco's wake up to the benefits of upgrading their networks, in my experience, they are very good at seeing and acting on of behalf of their own self-interest. What is interesting is that the telco's have changed their point of view of the benefits of upgrading to fiber, or at least it appears so. Of course Google Fiber and city efforts have a lot to do with that. The next couple years will be telling.
Brodkin: Question for Chris: How are community broadband networks generally financed and do they often turn a profit for municipalities that run them?
Mitchell: @Jon - re: financing - Networks are generally financed using a handful of methods. Citywide networks are often financed used revenue bonds or some combination of bonds and inter-departmental loans. Fiber networks that are built incrementally are often financed using avoided cost models or short-term bonds. We created a fact sheet on this very subject - http://muninetworks.org/fact-sheets
The question of profit is more complicated. A few networks generate far more revenue than expenses - Thomasville, Georgia and Spanish Fork, Utah are prime examples. The norm is for a network's revenues to be roughly in balance with expenses after accounting for depreciation.
The overwhelming benefit of community networks is not from monetary profit though - it is from having a stronger business climate, keeping more money in the pockets of residents through lower bills, having much better customer support, and keeping more money in the community rather than sending millions of dollars to Philadelphia or New York or Dallas.
What's the current balance between city-owned broadband projects that have worked vs those that have failed or are failing? (via Nate A.)
Mitchell: @Nate A: We are tracking over 400 muni networks. About 150 are citywide. Most are successful and some have so many challenges that they are considered failures. But this is a snapshot in time - may not be failures in 10, 15 years.
Smith: I think it is a mistake to lump all communities under one generality. Smaller communities (given a cooperative state regulatory frame) are in a position to move more quickly on municipal BB. Large cities generally have more choice and a municipal solution probably does not make sense. Mid-sized cities like our have some hard work to figure this out. It is not black and white.
Do you think that there is a political possibility of legislation requiring ISPs to allow leasing of their infrastructure (as is done in other countries)? (via Albert R.)
Brodkin: I was also going to ask about local loop unbundling (requiring leasing of infrastructure) so I'm looking forward to answers on that. Some would argue that it's the best way to promote local competition.
Mitchell: I like the idea of loop unbundling - but until we unbundle cash from elections, I cannot imagine such a policy working. Even if it were proposed, would be gutted by big carriers in 5 years, just like 1996 Telecom Act.
Brodkin: "Unbundling cash from elections." I'm sure politicians will get RIGHT on that.
Mitchell: @Jon - we have Lessig on it!
Are any (or most) of the municipal/community networks also making their local loops available for competing ISPs (big, small or otherwise)? (via Greggles)
Mitchell: @Greggles some munis make local loops available (or equivalent policy called open access) but not most. Nearly every community with residential deployment needs to pay for itself with revenue from subs and unbundling makes that all but impossible in current situation. If we built networks like roads though - not expecting network to pay 100% of its own costs - then unbundling has some promise.
Good examples of unbundling/open access are Danville (VA), Washington state Public Utility Districts, and a number of others - Palm Coast (FL), Fast Roads (NH) - most are small but growing. Also, keep an eye on Westminster in Maryland.
Aycock: @Greggles we currently lease fiber to a few national providers and also work in partnership with a local WISP to bring value added services to our community and are always open to such discussions.
Local ISPs I've spoken with are concerned about right-of-way fees and minimum provision requirements imposed by municipalities. Municipalities need to prevent a digital divide and recoup maintenance costs, but local ISPs face a high barrier to entry. Are small local providers typically successful in getting these requirements waived until they have established revenues that allow them to accommodate these costs? (via Sean F.)
Mitchell: @Sean F - local requirements for citywide build have tradeoffs. Hard for new entrants but the alternative is also scary. Who wants to build only to areas in Kansas City that Google is avoiding? Policy decisions today may make connecting everyone much harder in the near future.
Brodkin: Question for panel: Incumbent ISPs have often filed lawsuits against smaller companies to prevent them from competing in the incumbents’ territory. Is this still a big problem and has anyone figured out a good way to fight these lawsuits?
Levin: As to the question about lawsuits, the best answer in my view is to have a critical mass of cities articulating a desire for more bandwidth; in that way, the companies have to answer with bandwidth, not lawyers. But it takes a lot of cities to make it so.
Mitchell: Regarding lawsuits, most communities do not face them. Those that have generally win - the setback is time/cost. But as time goes on, I would expect fewer lawsuits as the grounds are even more frivolous than they have been. I think the negative publicity is starting to scare carriers (yes they worry about that sometimes).
Brodkin: Separately, here's a question for Smith and Aycock. What kinds of initiatives would you like to see from state and federal governments to boost local broadband?
Smith: State and Feds need to really "get" that this is infrastructure. It drives economic development. Our governor has a great middle mile fiber project which is a public private partnership/open access network - all states need to be investing more into regional connectivity - especially in the midwest and south where regional economies are the name of the game. I think the feds should better leverage EDA and Commerce more broadly to consider business activities that are in the "traded economy" online as part of our national export investment.
Aycock: We would like to see both state and federal government take steps to insure all options are on the table for local governments as they work to address the infrastructure needs of their communities.
What kind of federal programs are available for Rural Telcos? How are Rural Telcos defined as well under such a program? (via Alex K.)
Levin: As to Alex's question about rural programs, the Rural Utility Service of the Dept. of Agriculture provides low-interest loans to rural telcos and the Connect America Fund, administered by the FCC, provides several billion every year to subsidize deployments in rural America.
Many cities are doing a great job reducing regulations. Fiber to the Home organization has put together guidelines that include: dig once/open up rights of way, reduce regulatory fees to build. Many of these are about removing government barriers to builds not municipal builds. Why not wait to see how they are working? The experience of Kansas City seems to suggest this is a good course, no?
Google fiber is definitely introducing more competition in to cities. But this is not necessarily helping unserved or underserved rural areas as far as wired connections go. Isn't that why the incumbents have carrier of last resort requirements? (via Katie)
Mitchell: The problem I fear with Google Fiber is that we don't know what Google Fiber will be called in 5 years. It could be Google Fiber... could be Verizon, could be Comcast, could be spun off into independent company. Kansas City, others, have no say over it. Who knows what will motivate Google in the future? And if it keeps expanding, I fear another monopoly.
Cities like Wilson, Lafayette, Longmont (Colorado) and many more have 100 years and more proving they can put community needs first (providing reliable low-cost electricity - which was even more complicated 100 years ago than building a fiber network is today - read the history of how often people died working the lines).
What about hybrid public-private systems? Wouldn't that get over the oppositional hump? More public than today, but not entirely? Still a role for the current providers? (via Bob Jacobson)
Mitchell: @Bob Jacobson - partnerships have some promise, but can be hard to implement with powerful opposition from cable/telcos. They put so much stress on the relationship, it can fracture.
Bob Jacobson: @Christopher Partnerships at least get the muni side of action off the ground. Franchise owners are a perhaps unfortunate fact of life. Pushing them out is harder than pulling them in.
Brodkin: Question for any of the panelists. Should public Wi-Fi networks be an important part of municipal planning? I assume that’s a lower priority than getting fiber to every home, yet it also might be easier to implement and fill some of the gaps for low-income residents.
Levin: Wi-Fi should be an important part of any city planning. There are a number of key areas (parks, airports, tourist areas, innovation zones) where Wi-Fi can generate great economic and social returns. And having fiber deeper into the network improves the performance of the Wi-Fi.
Mitchell: Wi-Fi is a nice amenity. But (particularly up here in MN) we need technologies that allow kids to do their homework INSIDE their houses. Going to a park is a solution for some and better than nothing but just a step in the direction of a more all-encompassing solution.
I think we need to do something regarding the laws about broadband in apartment complexes. My landlord manages 6 properties with as many as 30 units each, and he has a billing dispute with Time Warner, and thus his tenants except for one complex are forbidden to have cable. That limits hit tenants to getting service from AT&T or Cincinnati Bell, whoever has the local line at a max of 4-6mbps, instead of the 15-50+ that Time Warner provides. 4-6mbps really isn't fast enough to work from home anymore as I do. I live in the one complex with Time Warner service. Apartment residents need to be able to get service from Cable or satellite without being blocked by their landlords. (via Aslan7147)
Mitchell: @Asian7147 - You are exactly right. It is far too easy for landlords to prevent competition, to stop new ISPs from offering a choice. FCC, gov should act.
Brodkin: On the theme of low-income residents, here is a question for Ted: Do you have special plans for low-income areas, such as cheap service or public Wi-Fi networks?
Smith: In Louisville, we see strong interest in demonstration level work. In low-income areas, institutional philanthropy is willing to make multi-year commitments to specific buildings in low-income areas - some of that will drive gentrification but some will also help reduce reliance on very expensive wireless data plans.
Brodkin: here is one for Will: Wilson officials have asked the FCC to preempt a state law that prevents you from offering Internet service in surrounding communities. Assuming you’re allowed to expand, do you think the multi-community approach will work better than each municipality going alone?
Aycock: Communication and collaboration between communities is absolutely preferable to going it alone, as was indicated by the way we learned from others before building our network and in the example of the North Carolina Next Generation Networks group. The exact nature of multi-community approaches will be varied as there are no one size fits all solutions to the issue of deploying next generation broadband infrastructure.
Brodkin: Will, how many communities have asked Greenlight for service?
Aycock: @Jon, off the top of my head 6 communities have explicitly asked if we could assist with bringing this infrastructure to their communities within the last few months. Also, this does not include the numerous communities who have reached out to simply learn more about how we were able to bring this service to our citizens.
This is my question, and I worry there's no good answer but here it goes: if broadband is infrastructure (and I think it is in this day and age), should it really be a municipal thing? It seems as though it should really be a state-level issue. Otherwise, won't things like White Flight end up leaving poorer city communities disadvantaged? (via James C.)
Mitchell: @James C - I think we need an all-hands-on-deck policy. Want to see local governments act but not exclusively. We don't need a strict monopoly. But having a private cable co and muni fiber network competing could be a very good approach.
Mitchell: People who are interested in this discussion should be aware of Next Century Cities - a great new org that launched one week ago today - www.NextCenturyCities.org (as it turns out, each of us on the panel is either a part or has advised it).
@Blair do you think the new city deregulation approach should be pursued first before municipal builds? (via Katie)
Levin: Katie, I believe that cities should have the right to pursue whatever model is in its own best interest. If I were on a city council, I would tend to favor changes in policies that improve the economics of private deployment over municipal ownership and operation but I would not take any options off the table as a starting position.
Are those subsidies provided by the FCC and Dept of Agriculture available only for private companies operating in rural areas, or can they can also be used for the benefit of Municipal build-outs? (via Alex K.)
@Alex K Universal service fund, which are fees on monthly phone bills at both the state and federal level, should be going towards connecting unserved and underserved population. I read that as rural. Does the panel know how efficiently these resources are being allocated? (via Katie)
At a society level, building a brand-new, from-the-ground-up fiber network is redundant - a waste of money. We're just wasting money on redundant infrastructure. Instead, local government should use Eminent Domain to purchase the existing in-the-ground assets from private companies like Comcast and Verizon, upgrade it to fiber-to-the-home, and not waste money building a complete third broadband network to citizens homes. What stands in the way of this happening? (via Siromega)
Mitchell: @Siromega: I disagree. The vast majority of these networks are new infra - fiber to the home. Big providers have some fiber in the core, but I think we need fiber to the home. And having 2 networks providers a slice of market discipline even if a regulator fails to do its job.
How future-proof are these municipal broadband technologies? Are we going to run into a similar infrastructure problems in a few decades when Gigabit fiber isn't enough anymore? (via Sam Johnson)
Mitchell: @Sam Johnson - Fiber networks are expected to last decades and that is more than sufficient to pay off the cost of building them. If we have new breakthroughs, I expect we would at least be able to reuse conduit or overlash to existing aerial if we had to - so the costs will not be as prohibitive to upgrade (in 2035)
Aycock: @SamJohnson we have already seen the scalability of fiber networks as we have made multiple upgrades to the bandwidth provided based on user demand. For example, in 2013 we began providing Gigabit service to the community.
Unbundled or municipal-owned fiber and municipal broadband sponsorship or partnership make a lot of sense -- i.e. the "hybrid" approaches -- but I worry that municipal-owned broadband stifles innovation just as much as a private monopoly. Agree / disagree? (via John E.)
Mitchell: @John E - I think there is a lot of promise to unbundling - if communities are willing to subsidize. Most muni networks have used ZERO tax dollars. But then they are built closed. If we want open, would we pay an extra $10, $20 per month in property taxes for instance? I think many would and I think our bills would go down more than our taxes would go up to help pay for an unbundled infrastructure. But elected officials are afraid people don't even want to have that conversation.
As regarding unbundling, the economic literature is not completely sold on its benefits. See http://mason.gmu.edu/~thazlett/pubs/hazlett_et_al_RNE_dec08.pdf & http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/articles/2004/4/business%20crandall/2004042 (via Will Rinehart)
Mitchell: @Will Rinehart - I would take care in referencing studies by supposedly independent academics that just happen to align perfectly with industry talking points, year after year. That said, there are real challenges to unbundling.
Albert R: @Will - In regards to that first paper, just from the abstract I see a glaring flaw -- comparing the growth of DSL over some period of recent history with cable is bound to be unfavorable to the subscriber growth of DSL.
Brodkin: Here's another question for Blair. There have been a lot of announcements recently about cities getting gigabit fiber networks. Do you think there are any potential roadblocks that could stop this momentum?
Levin: I am very excited about the fiber announcements but no one should uncork the champagne. If Google changes its mind, if cities don't focus on the long-term (which is hard), or if the fundamental economics shift, due to, for example, mergers changing the economics of related businesses, like multi-channel video, the competitive picture could change and the announcements could end up never becoming real. But we are in much better position than we were a year ago.
Mitchell: @Jon - There are roadblocks aplenty - I worry most about people like Rep. Blackburn in Congress that are trying to revoke local choice.
Brodkin: Question for Chris: When is it a good idea for communities to build their own broadband networks as opposed to taking steps that encourage private ISPs to improve service?
Mitchell: Most of the communities that have built their own networks have also tried to encourage private ISPs to improve service or to encourage new ISPs to enter the market. So I wouldn't view these options as mutually exclusive.
But I think local governments should definitely examine their ability—at least—to build and potentially operate fiber networks serving key anchor institutions - schools, libraries, public safety, municipal facilities, etc. These networks should be built with plenty of excess capacity that could be used to connect businesses or even serve as a backbone for a citywide network. Could also be used to lease fiber / conduit to independent ISPs.
@Will what deregulatory approaches have been pursued in Wilson before the fiber build/expansion was discussed? (via Katie)
Aycock: we initially reached out to incumbent providers in our community to explore ways we could partner to bring this infrastructure to our citizens. Unfortunately, we were unable to find a model that worked at the time so we had to build it ourselves.
I often visit family members who live outside city limits. They're on those long, winding roads out in the unincorporated areas of the county. They have electric and phone, and crappy DSL. Water wells and septic systems. What's the most promising way to get broadband to customers like these? (via Adminfoo)
Mitchell: @adminfoo - I think cooperatives - both rural and electric - are the best opportunity to serve those areas. Or a county that commits to serving everyone with a muni network. The alternative is to subsidize a provider like Frontier or CenturyLink that has refused to invest in their networks or provide good customer service.
I’m with adminfoo, what can be done to get broadband out to 'the sticks'? I'm one of those people out there (30 miles east of Seattle). I get a whopping 3mbps SSL along with my neighbors. Short of a small number of households coming up with the $30-50k to get a line put in ourselves, it seems that we don't have other options beyond 'deal with it’. (via Oly884)
Mitchell: @Oly884 - Minnesota just passed a $20M fund to help expanding border to border broadband. I want to see more states creating these funds for one time capital grants/loans and offering them preferentially to coops and munis - the providers that are rooted in the community.
More on rural - the Sibley-Renville (counties in Minnesota) Cooperative - RS Fiber - is a great example of how a community can organize to find a solution for fiber in rural areas. They are seeking funding. We wrote about them in a recent report http://www.ilsr.org/all-hands-on-deck-mn/
Oly884 Thanks Christopher, it's good to see communities pulling together to get proper internet service.
John E: @adminfoo and @oly884: Right now, fixed terrestrial wireless platforms are gaining a lot of ground. Maximum bandwidth available over medium and long distances is going up, and prices are coming down. Current wireless technology does have a ceiling but we haven't hit it yet. The acronym "WISP" was coined to describe local wireless operators that buy from a fiber provider and sell wireless access, and you can get a better experience with the right wireless technology than you can with DSL.
Oly884: John E. I'll look into that, I had a similar service when I lived in Montana and had good experience. Thanks for the info!
Curious what Blair Levin in particular thinks about the NBP. (National Broadband Plan)… has it had measurable positive impacts? If so, what are the top successes he would point to? (via Bill Garfield)
Levin: As to the NBP, we did an event on the 4th Anniversary at ITIF that examined areas where it led to progress and others where the progress was not as much as we had hoped. It is probably too complicated to go into here but I strongly believe the NBP demonstrates the wisdom of the saying 'plan beats no plan.' but look to the ITIF sight for a lot more details.
Good Afternoon! I am wondering: How do you see municipalities working with non-ISP service providers (Such as Netflix or Amazon), if at all, to build municipality-owned infrastructure? Do such service providers even have an incentive to work with these communities? (via Scott M.)
Mitchell: @Scott M - I'm curious about those partnerships as well. Starting to see some interesting pairings. DataShack with North Kansas City and a provider of business services in Monticello, MN (I forget name). Starting to see some non-ISP private companies partner with muni networks. Curious to see what happens.
Brodkin: We've gotten several questions about rural access. What sorts of creative things are rural towns doing to bring their residents Internet service that can match what’s available to people in big cities?
Aycock: Regarding rural access, many municipal electric providers also have infrastructure in surrounding rural areas. This is true in Wilson and we have begun the process of expanding the fiber network out of the City into these more rural areas of the County.
Mitchell: Agree strong with Will Aycock - Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin have all had muni networks start to expand into totally underserved areas surrounding them
For anyone in the panel; Do you see a lot of municipal entities making it by only providing Internet alone instead of the triple play? (Nathan C.)
Levin: Nathan, in the near term, it is very tough to make the economics of fixed broadband work without offering a multi-channel video distribution service.
@ Panelists @Albert R are you saying that DSL should not be counted as a high-speed connection? @Blair do you believe that should be the case? (via Katie)
Brodkin: For what it's worth on DSL, even FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has said it's not really competitive. He sees fiber as the best competitor to cable: http://arstechnica.com/business/2014/09/most-of-the-us-has-no-broadband-competition-at-25mbps-fcc-chair-says/
Levin: Katie--as to whether DSL counts as a high-speed network, that depends on what is the nature of the analysis. I would not allow Comcast to buy a DSL competitor in a Comcast area though in that way, kinda. But I agree with what Chairman Wheeler said (cited by Jon) that we need competition to offer bandwidth much higher than the current offering of the cable competitor.
Brodkin: All right, I think we're about ready to wrap up. Thanks to everyone who joined and asked questions and especially to our panelists. Have a great day!
Mitchell: I want to thank everyone for joining in. I love Ars. Have been a "subscriber" for many years. Thrilled to be here. Happy to continue conversation forever on Twitter - I'm @communitynets.
Levin: Jon—thanks for hosting and your excellent coverage of these issues.