Fact Sheet: Many Paths to Better Connectivity

View a pdf of this fact sheet here.


Next Century Cities: Many Paths to Better Connectivity

Our members have a shared goal of universal access to high-speed, affordable broadband. We know that there is no single pathway to achieving universal next-generation internet access. What matters is meaningful choice, dedicated leadership, and smart collaboration. Here are a few of the many successful initiatives from our members. 

 

Ammon, Idaho
Ammon is connecting residents using an open access model, which allows several different ISPs to offer service using publicly owned fiber infrastructure. Residents enjoy competitive internet access rates and the city has been able to develop innovative public safety services. Mayor Sean J. Coletti says, “Fiber has the ability to make our cities more connected, more educated, safer, and more creative and business driven.”   

 

Westminster, Maryland
Westminster decided to pursue a public-private partnership to improve local connectivity. They chose Ting, an independent ISP, to provide service over fiber infrastructure owned by the city. Westminster has seen improved economic development and a boom of innovative projects, including the Mid-Atlantic Gigabit Innovation Collaboratory (MAGIC), which provides technology training and fosters start-ups and new community partnerships. (Photo credit: Farragutful

 

Wilson, North Carolina
Local businesses in Wilson needed better connectivity, but existing private providers were not interested in upgrading services. The city took matters into their own hands and built a municipal network to provide high speed internet access to residents and businesses. Wilson has also prioritized digital inclusion programs, including subsidized internet access in public housing, which helps ensure that all residents enjoy the benefits of the city’s investment.

 

Gaylord, Minnesota
Gaylord is one of 10 small cities and 17 townships  in southern Minnesota that joined together to form RS Fiber Cooperative, the first internet access cooperative in the country. A new medical school is scheduled to open in the fall of 2020, thanks in large part to the RS Fiber. (Photo credit: AlexiusHoratius

 

 

Lincoln, Nebraska
Nebraska state law prevents municipalities from providing broadband service. Lincoln worked around this barrier by investing in a 350 mile conduit system, which they leased to ISPs at reasonable rates to encourage competition. Eventually they chose ALLO Communications, a locally-based independent ISP, to build and operate a citywide fiber network. 

 

Fort Collins, Colorado
Big ISPs spent more than $900,000 trying to prevent Fort Collins from amending its charter to pave the way for a potential community-owned broadband network. Local advocates fought back, and voters ended up approving the change. Fort Collins is now building a citywide municipal network, and is committed to network neutrality. The city has promised to ensure personal privacy and will avoid paid prioritization and content restrictions. (Photo credit: Citycommunications

 

Virginia Beach, Virginia
All of Virginia Beach’s municipal buildings, including libraries, police stations, and public schools, are connected to the city’s institutional network (I-Net). Owning their own network saves Virginia Beach hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in internet access fees. The network helps to maintain traffic lights, improve emergency services, and otherwise support municipal operations. 

 

San Jose, California
San Jose has used innovative public private partnerships to improve connectivity and close the digital divide. The city negotiated agreements with private providers to deploy small cells ubiquitously throughout San Jose, instead of prioritizing high income areas, and the fees these providers pay to attach small cells to city-owned infrastructure are dedicated to a Digital Inclusion Program Fund. San Jose is now on track to be home to the largest 5G deployment in the country. (Photo credit: Will Buckner

 

 

Next Century Cities supports mayors and community leaders across the country as they seek to ensure that everyone has fast, affordable and reliable internet access.
NextCenturyCities.org | @NextCentCit | info@nextcenturycities.org

Guest Blog: Monmouth Independence Network Expanding with Public-Private Partnership

We at the Monmouth Independence Network (MINET) are utilizing public-private partnerships to expand our broadband network into Dallas, Ore., following our success in Monmouth and Independence.

 

The cities of Monmouth and Independence — both in Oregon — began building out MINET over 12 years ago. As part of the buildout, the cities established a high-capacity, head-end facility that is capable of serving many more thousands of homes and businesses than exist in its legacy market. Despite its municipal pedigree, MINET is not an exclusive provider. Its business is conducted in a highly competitive environment.

 

The need for MINET came about due to Independence and Monmouth historically being left behind infrastructurally. In the late 1990s, Independence and Monmouth city officials asked their telephone and cable companies when they could expect to receive broadband service. The answer was, “in about 20 years, maybe.”

 

That wasn’t good enough for these small, rural communities of about 20,000 people. Independence and Monmouth had already been bypassed by the major freeways built in the 1960s — they decided they would not be bypassed by the digital highway. In 1998, the cities decided to take matters into their own hands and create their own task force to begin planning their own network.

 

By 2006, network construction was underway. The vision of MINET was expansive; instead of building a cable television network, a wireless network, or even an internal municipal service (as some other Oregon cities had done), Monmouth and Independence leapt to fiber optic connections all the way to every home, farm, and business located in both cities.

 

Over time, MINET’s speed increased, rarely with additional fees. Beginning in 2006 with 2 Mbps, MINET’s common speed was raised to 5, 7, 20, 30, 50 and finally 60 Mbps. Today, residents can receive up to a gigabit and higher speeds of broadband service in their home or business.

 

The initial effects of MINET were impressive; small businesses have relocated here because of MINET. Telecommuting is not just a hope, it’s a reality for those who wish to enjoy small town life and big city work. The splash made by MINET’s presence is palpable. Conservative estimates show that there are 350-400 new area jobs, all because of MINET.

 

Despite MINET’s initial success, the network needed to work to keep citizens engaged. Don Patten — who took the general manager position for MINET in 2013 — noticed the network had hit a wall and wanted to bring new life to it. Competition had offered the citizenry faster speeds and cheaper prices, but the offers were barbed and thorny with contracts and conditions.  

 

Meanwhile, the debt undertaken to create MINET had become an issue in a local economy just coming out of recession, and complaint about MINET became the stuff of coffee shop discussions.

 

In 2014, MINET sent a delegation to Next Century Cities’ Gigabit Summit in Kansas City, Mo. That delegation was asked to make a presentation detailing the impact and economic advantage of a fiber optic system. They told the MINET story and got an unexpected reaction — wonder.

 

“You built a system yourselves? Two little towns?”  

“How did you do it? What’s the formula?”

 

MINET became a celebrity at that conference. It was the beginning of an opportunity to remind locals back home that they had done something extraordinary in building MINET and to remember their digital advantage.

 

At that time, the penetration rate — the percentage of users who are MINET customers — stood at 49 percent when Patten came to MINET. Under his leadership, he and his team have pushed MINET’s penetration in Monmouth and Independence above 85 percent and held it there.

 

However, debt required MINET to grow; there was not enough local market to adequately service the debt. Thus, MINET had to find a new way to expand.

 

This is where Willamette Valley Fiber comes into our story — the public-private partnership serves to expand the fiber network that MINET will power and operate. Dallas, Ore., will be the lucky community receiving the service.

 

Willamette Valley Fiber was born without municipal ties. With the blessing of MINET’s Board of Directors and owner-cities, MINET will connect its power and deliver quality product and service to the Dallas market. MINET is ready for this opportunity to expand via partnership into Dallas.

 

Willamette Valley Fiber has begun building the network and will light up first customers by the end of this year. Patten says that Willamette Valley Fiber will pair the speed and capacity that Dallas users want with high quality local service, a combination not available from any other provider.

 

Unbundled Network Elements

What is an Unbundled Network Element (UNE)?

Think of a UNE as a “broadband bridge.” This bridge allows network builders to supplement their networks by leasing (at a favorable rate) network elements — telecommunications infrastructure such as copper wire and fiber — where they do not have available infrastructure. It helps them fill in the “holes” in their network by providing them the opportunity to lease parts of the incumbent network. The provider can use this mix of owned and leased assets to build in places that might not otherwise be economically viable.

The reason to create this bridge is to allow a competitive ISP access to some parts of the network built by incumbents because the big incumbents have a significant advantage in the market after having built much of their infrastructure with a government monopoly.

What changes are being proposed?

Under consideration at the Federal Communications Commission is a change in the way unbundled network elements (UNEs) are made available for lease to small and regional providers. The trade association USTelecom, representing large incumbent providers like AT&T, is lobbying the FCC to cut off competition from smaller broadband providers serving local communities.

Currently, under Section 251 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, providers are required to provide wholesale access to UNEs and to offer certain resale arrangements. The availability of UNEs offer an important means of competitive entry in the market and spur new fiber building and innovation – especially necessary in small to mid-sized communities. Originally introduced two decades ago, this bipartisan policy has spurred competition and has helped to speed the growth and availability of broadband in areas where that would likely not have seen such investment — especially the small business market.

Why do large providers want this change?

  • It would allow them to stifle competition – especially with regard to smaller and more regional providers.
  • It would allow them to significantly increase the cost to lease these assets, effectively pricing smaller providers out of the market and preventing new entrants.

How might this change impact consumers?

  • It could slow the deployment of new fiber networks, keeping more Americans from being able to experience the opportunities and benefits of high speed access.
  • It could cut off broadband for many rural Americans.
  • It will increase prices on consumers, small business, schools, libraries, and public safety organizations.
  • It could strand networks, meaning those consumers in the region would lose coverage.
  • In areas where the networks were either stranded or the cost increase is significant, it could result in the loss of jobs – work from home, entrepreneurs, precision farming, and high tech.

How might this change impact small and regional providers who rely on this bridge to provide service?

  • Their networks could be left unconnected, effectively eliminating any opportunity to make a return on their already expended investment.
  • It would make it harder or impossible to raise capital to invest in their networks.
  • They would likely have to pay significantly more for access to the bridge, resulting in higher costs to consumers.

What can communities do to express their concern?

Communicate your concerns with the FCC. Follow Next Century Cities’ guide to commenting to the FCC here. The relevant docket number for this issue is 18-141.

This guide to UNEs is available as a PDF here.

Next Century Cities Hosts Masterclass at Smart Cities Week Silicon Valley

Yesterday, Next Century Cities hosted a masterclass at Smart Cities Week Silicon Valley in Santa Clara, California. The masterclass, entitled “Broadband 101: Infrastructure for the Next Century City,” focused on the building blocks a city must have in place in order to pursue smart city technologies, including fast, affordable, reliable broadband and collaborative 5G permitting processes.

 

Next Century Cities members spoke at the masterclass, offering unique perspectives and critical advice for other municipalities hoping to pursue smart city applications.

 

 

The first panel, Broadband 101, explored the variety of models for broadband deployment, such as open access networks, public-private partnerships, incremental builds, institutional networks, municipal networks, and more. The panel was moderated by Next Century Cities’ Policy Director Christopher Mitchell, and featured Tony Batalla, Information Technology Manager for the City of San Leandro, Calif.; Kate Garman, Smart City Coordinator for the City of Seattle, Wash.; Christy Batts, Broadband Division Director for the City of Clarksville, Tenn.; and Tom Mullin, Chief Data Officer for Riverside County, CA.

 

Panelists discussed the importance of taking small steps to ready a city for deployment. “We should not discount incremental steps toward a solution,” said Batalla. “We should ask ourselves – what are the small changes we can make that over time lead to significant outcomes?” For example, Riverside County implemented a dig once policy to encourage investment, said Mullin. Garman also brought up the importance of encouraging digital literacy across entire communities. 

The panelists all emphasized the importance of partnerships — Batts specifically addressed the value of collaborating with utilities.

 

 

The next panel discussed how cities can best prepare for 5G networks and small cell deployments. The panel was moderated by Next Century Cities’ Executive Director Deb Socia, and included insights from Courtney Violette, Chief Operating Officer, Magellan Advisors; Mayor Jill Boudreau of Mount Vernon, Wash.; Rebecca Hunter, External Affairs and Strategic Communications, Corporate Development and Strategy, Crown Castle; and Zach Friend, County Supervisor for Santa Cruz County, Calif.

 

Each panelist offered next steps for communities hoping to pursue 5G deployments:

 

“This is both a challenge and an opportunity,” said Violette. “Reach out to your peers; they have a lot to share.”

“Keep an eye on what Next Century Cities is working on,” said Mayor Boudreau. “And develop relationships with your state legislators, so that they clearly understand the impact of their decisions on local communities.”

Hunter offered four specific recommendations: “Know what assets you have as a municipality. Convene a working group within your city, because this involves everyone. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel; there are already things working – find them. Finally, know your state laws.”

“Define what your needs and wants are first,” said Friend. “Then work to create something together to address them.”

 

Next Century Cities was pleased to have the opportunity to bring together community leaders to explore how municipalities can prepare for smart city opportunities. Read more about Smart Cities Week Silicon Valley here.

 

Municipal Funding Programs Help Bridge the Digital Divide and Build Community Connections

Local-level digital inclusion funding programs can not only provide support for community initiatives, but can also help inform and complement city-led digital inclusion efforts and city online service delivery. In 1997, Seattle became the first city to establish such a funding program, and several municipalities have since followed suit.

  

Seattle’s Technology Matching Fund
Seattle’s Technology Matching Fund was the first of its kind at the local level, and has served as an example for many communities. As it currently exists, the fund provides awards of up to $50,000 for digital equity and inclusion projects. 

The program was established in 1997 when city leaders realized that more and more information was going online, and it was critical that all Seattle residents have the ability to access information as well as post it. The city designated cable funds to invest in community-driven projects designed to help close the digital divide. The new program was modeled after the city’s Neighborhood Matching Fund, which provides matching dollars for neighborhood-improvement and community-building projects.

The fund launched with a budget of $100,000. More than two decades later, it has a budget of $320,000 and funds roughly 12 organizations each year. Recipients are required to provide a 50 percent grant match, though volunteer labor, materials, professional services, and cash are all eligible to count toward the match. The core goals of the fund include increasing access to free and low-cost broadband, empowering residents with digital literacy skills, and ensuring access to devices and technical support. Recipients may use funds for equipment, staffing, and other project-based needs. 

All projects serve historically underrepresented communities and leverage existing partnerships and resources. In designing the program, the city made a conscious decision to support a broad range of organizations through an open, competitive process. A volunteer Community Technology Advisory Board helps staff evaluate project proposals. 

The Technology Matching Fund supports community-led initiatives while also helping shape the city’s digital inclusion strategy, says David Keyes, Seattle’s Digital Equity Program Manager. “The program has enabled us to build trusted relations and exchanges with community groups. This helps the city better understand their needs and program impacts, as well as share resources and important city information for residents on topics like low-income internet options or safety,” he said. It’s not just handing out money, but part of a broader strategy to build a learning and connected community.” We are also able to pass along knowledge of community needs and best practices to other practitioners and investors.

From its inception through 2018, the fund has provided over $5 million to 300 projects. This year, the Millionair Club Charity expanded a computer lab to help people experiencing homelessness and poverty find stable jobs and housing. Fifty-eight participants graduated from the charity’s tech training program, and 62 percent have found full-time jobs or are in temp-hire positions. “This grant is empowering people with job opportunities and tools to become self-sufficient,” said Delia Burke, who manages the city’s Technology Matching Fund. “It’s giving them a way out of their situations.”

 

Austin’s Grant for Technology Opportunities Program (GTOPs)
Seattle’s program served as direct inspiration for Austin’s Grant for Technology Opportunities Program, which was created in 2001 to support smaller, grassroots organizations doing digital inclusion work in Austin. The program’s specific vision is to help create “a community where all citizens have access to the internet, devices and knowledge needed to fully participate in digital society.”

GTOPs makes awards of $10,000-$25,000 available to about 7-9 programs per year, and as of 2019 also makes retired, refurbished city computer devices (desktops and laptops) available for award. There is a one-to-one match required from awardees, though the match may include in-kind volunteer labor, donated professional services, donated materials specifically related to the project, or cash. Awardees must be Austin-based non-profits, and organizations are encouraged to apply as consortia when common interests align.

There are no specific requirements attached to the funds, and awardees have leveraged the program to develop a gamut of initiatives, including:

  •     The Austin Speech Labs provides communication therapy for stroke survivors
  •     The Housing Authority’s Free-Net computer labs offer free digital literacy and information technology workforce training programs
  •     Texas Folklife Resources create audio documentation and radio productions about community tradition and family history
  •     Latinitas Inc.’s Gigabit Girls program empowers Latina youth and other youth of color through digital media, coding, and robotics

The open-ended nature of the grants has also allowed different community needs to be met over time. Rondella Hawkins, Austin’s Telecommunications and Regulatory Affairs Officer, says that while the program’s core goals have remained the same throughout its 18-year tenure, it’s flexible enough to stay current and ensure the community has access to emerging technologies. 

GTOPs’ mission is to help create digital opportunities and promote equity in innovative ways. In that way, says Hawkins, “it helps build the foundation” for city priorities.

  

Boston’s Digital Equity Fund
Boston’s Digital Equity Fund began in 2017 when the city first offered $35,000 in total to local community organizations via a selective application process. The first awardee was the Castle Square Tenants Organization, which used the money to provide paid internships and an audio/visual college course in partnership with the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology.

The current fund is used to support projects that advance digital equity in Boston by increasing digital resources available to residents. In 2019, the fund will award three to five grants of $20,000-$35,000, totalling $100,000. There are no matching requirements.  

The fund is designed to support local projects and communities. In order to be eligible, organizations must be Boston-based and serve Boston residents, and one of the core principles of the grant is to support projects that make decisions based on the needs of their community.

  

San Jose’s Digital Inclusion Fund
San Jose announced the creation of its Digital Inclusion Fund in February 2019, and plans to allocate $1 million to city programs and community organizations with the first set of grants in the fall. The fund includes five program streams: access, devices, awareness campaigns, building digital literacy skills, and innovation pilots. The fund’s current goal is to connect 50,000 San Jose households with devices and broadband connectivity of at least 25/3 Mbps over the next ten years.

 San Jose’s fund is innovative in that it’s supported by the revenue from fees paid by wireless carriers who deploy small cells in the public rights of way. The city and the California Emerging Technology Fund, a state nonprofit that will manage the Digital Inclusion Fund, will also raise private funding for the program.

 

Local digital inclusion funding programs can help target support to impactful projects, and can also be a tool for local governments to engage with and more deeply understand community needs. Seattle’s Keyes encourages municipalities that are interested in starting their own funds to think of the program not just as a way to hand out money, but as part of a larger equity effort: “Access to affordable broadband and skills training should be at the foundational level of city strategies for services and inclusion.”

Guest Blog: Monmouth Independence Network Expanding with Public-Private Partnership

We at the Monmouth Independence Network (MINET) are utilizing public-private partnerships to expand our broadband network into Dallas, Ore., following our success in Monmouth and Independence.

 

The cities of Monmouth and Independence — both in Oregon — began building out MINET over 12 years ago. As part of the buildout, the cities established a high-capacity, head-end facility that is capable of serving many more thousands of homes and businesses than exist in its legacy market. Despite its municipal pedigree, MINET is not an exclusive provider. Its business is conducted in a highly competitive environment.

 

The need for MINET came about due to Independence and Monmouth historically being left behind infrastructurally. In the late 1990s, Independence and Monmouth city officials asked their telephone and cable companies when they could expect to receive broadband service. The answer was, “in about 20 years, maybe.”

 

That wasn’t good enough for these small, rural communities of about 20,000 people. Independence and Monmouth had already been bypassed by the major freeways built in the 1960s — they decided they would not be bypassed by the digital highway. In 1998, the cities decided to take matters into their own hands and create their own task force to begin planning their own network.

 

By 2006, network construction was underway. The vision of MINET was expansive; instead of building a cable television network, a wireless network, or even an internal municipal service (as some other Oregon cities had done), Monmouth and Independence leapt to fiber optic connections all the way to every home, farm, and business located in both cities.

 

Over time, MINET’s speed increased, rarely with additional fees. Beginning in 2006 with 2 Mbps, MINET’s common speed was raised to 5, 7, 20, 30, 50 and finally 60 Mbps. Today, residents can receive up to a gigabit and higher speeds of broadband service in their home or business.

 

The initial effects of MINET were impressive; small businesses have relocated here because of MINET. Telecommuting is not just a hope, it’s a reality for those who wish to enjoy small town life and big city work. The splash made by MINET’s presence is palpable. Conservative estimates show that there are 350-400 new area jobs, all because of MINET.

 

Despite MINET’s initial success, the network needed to work to keep citizens engaged. Don Patten — who took the general manager position for MINET in 2013 — noticed the network had hit a wall and wanted to bring new life to it. Competition had offered the citizenry faster speeds and cheaper prices, but the offers were barbed and thorny with contracts and conditions.  

 

Meanwhile, the debt undertaken to create MINET had become an issue in a local economy just coming out of recession, and complaint about MINET became the stuff of coffee shop discussions.

 

In 2014, MINET sent a delegation to Next Century Cities’ Gigabit Summit in Kansas City, Mo. That delegation was asked to make a presentation detailing the impact and economic advantage of a fiber optic system. They told the MINET story and got an unexpected reaction — wonder.

 

“You built a system yourselves? Two little towns?”  

“How did you do it? What’s the formula?”

 

MINET became a celebrity at that conference. It was the beginning of an opportunity to remind locals back home that they had done something extraordinary in building MINET and to remember their digital advantage.

 

At that time, the penetration rate — the percentage of users who are MINET customers — stood at 49 percent when Patten came to MINET. Under his leadership, he and his team have pushed MINET’s penetration in Monmouth and Independence above 85 percent and held it there.

 

However, debt required MINET to grow; there was not enough local market to adequately service the debt. Thus, MINET had to find a new way to expand.

 

This is where Willamette Valley Fiber comes into our story — the public-private partnership serves to expand the fiber network that MINET will power and operate. Dallas, Ore., will be the lucky community receiving the service.

 

Willamette Valley Fiber was born without municipal ties. With the blessing of MINET’s Board of Directors and owner-cities, MINET will connect its power and deliver quality product and service to the Dallas market. MINET is ready for this opportunity to expand via partnership into Dallas.

 

Willamette Valley Fiber has begun building the network and will light up first customers by the end of this year. Patten says that Willamette Valley Fiber will pair the speed and capacity that Dallas users want with high quality local service, a combination not available from any other provider.

 

Guest Blog: Community Broadband & Telehealth — A Symbiotic Partnership Made In Heaven

What’s your marketing mission?

What? You mean “take-rate,” right?

No. Take-rate is another way of saying “sales goals.” The marketing mission has a different kind of value than sales targets.

In the 20 years I did marketing for high-tech companies, a lot of us in that role had a marketing mission to establish for products’ certain market positions in the minds of customers, journalists, investors, and so on.

For community broadband networks, their marketing mission should be to establish a particular position for the network within the minds of their respective audiences. The right positioning campaign leads to more sales, faster close rates, partnerships, and other benefits for the community.

Now is an excellent time to start positioning your network in your market as a delivery vehicle for telehealth. The FCC announced last week they’re launching a $100 million Connected Care Pilot Program to support telemedicine for low-income and rural Americans as well as veterans. Congress has several bipartisan initiatives that support telemedicine.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicare Services (CMS), the Federal agencies that manage these programs, also last week indicated they planned to reverse themselves and start reimbursing patients for telehealth services. 90 percent of seniors recently surveyed by HealthMine said they either don’t have access to telehealth through their Medicare plan or they don’t know if they have it.

Cities revving up telehealth engines

Partnerships are key to effective positioning strategies.

Chattanooga is aggressively exploring telehealth options. “We’re very interested and committed to participating in this telemedicine market, and are evaluating our options,” says Katie Espeseth, Vice President of EPB Product Development. “We’ll soon reach 100,000 subscribers, and having partners that provide innovative products and services is how we plan to maintain our competitive edge in this market.

Danville, Virginia’s public utility is nDanville. “The healthcare argument was always understood, but it wasn’t the one of the drivers network at the time,” states Frank Maddux, MD and co-founder of Gamewood, Inc, an ISP that joined nDanville. Except for the economic development group, “People didn’t understand how important the network would become and what healthcare applications there would be. They see it now.”

Recently the city’s medical center leveraged the gig broadband network to dive into telemedicine. Sovah Health – Martinsville’s emergency department has partnered with the Duke TeleStroke Network in North Carolina to get real time access to Duke Medicine’s neurologists, stroke care specialists, and tele-stroke technology.

The better quality broadband a community has, the more effective will be the telehealth applications and services. These vendors can prosper through aggressive marketing relationships with municipalities, co-ops, wireless ISPs, and other Internet providers that grow their subscriber rolls. Everybody needs healthcare.   

On the flip side, over 750 municipal and co-op community broadband networks currently exist, and new projects begin each month. These networks can cost a lot to build, so owners have to get and keep has many subscribers as possible while fending off competitors. Nothing grows a subscriber base like innovative leading edge technology, of which telehealth has an abundance.

Bottom line – both the vendors (particularly start-ups and medium sized companies) and broadband owners share a mission – the need for plenty of customers and marketing clout. In addition, many of these organizations are committed to serving communities’ disadvantaged and the low-income residents, so there’s a shared social as well as marketing mission.


Craig Settles is an industry analyst with CJ Speaks.

PA TIMES – Policymaking in the Public Right of Way: Preemption and Push-back

Originally printed in PA TIMES Online, a media outlet of the American Society for Public Administration

Under the American federal system, local governments are creatures of the state with no constitutional identity. In many respects, local governments exist only as vehicles for delegated authority.

As discussed previously though, land-use authority has historically been the province of local government. People in the United States expect their neighborhoods to reflect their values and their culture. But what happens when a national priority intersects these values and cultures in the public rights-of-way that comprise our communities?

The tension between these needs is one of the features of American federalism and provides some of the dynamism in our policymaking. But this only happens when stakeholders are offered the opportunity to collaborate.

Federal preemptions are generally made without input from local governments. This is in some ways understandable: local needs may not reflect national needs, and vice versa. The public good of a contiguous high-capacity telecommunications network, for example, can’t account for the fact that nobody wants a cell tower in front of their house. But this is precisely why local governments need a voice in policymaking: so that the granular interests of local communities are not truncated by federal laws.

The Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee was established by the FCC in 2017 to stimulate broadband infrastructure development. By most accounts though, this committee was designed to provide industry representatives occasion to affect federal telecommunications policy at the expense of local government authority. In fact, committee member San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo quit and in his resignation letter argued that, “It has become abundantly clear that despite the good intentions of several participants, the industry-heavy makeup of BDAC will simply relegate the body to being a vehicle for advancing the interests of the telecommunications industry over those of the public.” Implicit in his statement is that local governments best represent the interests of the public in matters relating to rights-of-way, and that there was no federal interest in such concerns.

The FCC’s ruling in October 2018 —which went into effect in January —was the product of this committee, and explicitly strips local authority from decisions regarding the siting and installation of small wireless telecommunications facilities, affirming Mr. Liccardo’s concerns.

How Local Governments Can Affect Change

In such an environment, local governments have only a few options for asserting local priorities.

Local governments can themselves assert some limited authority in siting telecommunications infrastructure and assert some aesthetic considerations in project designs.  Creating rules for attachments to public infrastructure, like street lights and traffic signals, is a good way for local governments to ensure that their assets aren’t degraded by antennae or other attachments.  They can also create detailed technical manuals and one-stop permitting to funnel applicants in a preferred direction.  Finally, clear zoning regulations on broad categories of utility infrastructure can be used to prevent encroachments from telecommunications facilities. These policies must be utility-agnostic, though, and cannot specifically restrict telecommunications equipment.

Some local-government advocacy organizations are attempting to reassert local prerogatives in the policymaking process.  The National Association of Counties Telecommunications and Technology Steering Committee has developed a series of policies that militate against local authority preemption and assert the value of local voices in telecommunications policymaking.  Their document describes local governments as, “Stewards of substantial amounts of public rights-of-way,” and as vital to serving local interests.

Next Century Cities is an organization that’s helping local governments share and develop policies to support broadband while also advocating for local government.  Their work to organize and promote local government has helped elevate local broadband projects, and has also helped local jurisdictions develop policies and ordinances.

The Local Solutions Support Center is likewise positioning itself as both an advocate and resource for local governments pushing back against preemption. Their work is focused on clearly defining the problem of federal preemption and highlighting its effects on our communities.  While their aegis extends beyond telecommunications infrastructure, their policy prescriptions are a clear indictment of federal attempts to quash local government authority.

There are also some Congressional efforts to claw back some authority for local governments. Congresswoman Anna Eshoo’s HR 530, for example, would completely nullify the FCC’s October 2018 decision.

Conversely, California’s AB 649 was intended to do much of what the FCC’s order ended up doing nationwide.  It had provisions for limiting local zoning authority, restricting fees that could be charged, and asserted by-right access to public infrastructure.  Governor Jerry Brown vetoed the measure soon after it passed, noting that, “The interest which localities have in managing rights of way requires a more balanced solution.”

What Now?

Local policymakers frequently find themselves in fraught conversations with residents who demand that their interests be represented in these matters, but the federal intent has consistently been to divest locals of their regulatory authority.  The move against local authority has been comprehensive and is not bound by political affiliation.  We live in an era of aggregation and commodification, and the tapestry of communities that comprises the nation is being forced to conform to national priorities over their own individual, local interests.

Until a national interest in local government rights manifests, this homogenization will only continue.

 


Patrick Mulhearn, MPA is a public policy analyst for the Santa Cruz County, California, Board of Supervisors.  He focuses primarily on policies relating to telecommunications and transportation infrastructure and may be reached at Patrick.Mulhearn@santacruzcounty.us

PA TIMES — Policymaking in the Public Right-of-Way: Home Rule

Originally printed in PA TIMES Online, a media outlet of the American Society for Public Administration

 

Our 21st Century media-consumption appetite is creating strange new chimeras. AT&T merging with Time-Warner, Comcast merging with NBC Universal, and a (rumored) merger between Verizon and Charter represent an inflection point for policymakers. We now live in an era defined by conglomerate entities marrying content and delivery, one which represents the end of a world where our various modes of transmitting information—telephony, data, video, music, games—are managed by separate entities on separate infrastructures. These mergers represent the beginning of an era of “tubes” where the only distinction between services is who puts those tubes in the ground.

In response to this, the regulatory systems that governments once used to modify and control the information landscape are themselves becoming more centralized at the state and federal level. From the perspective of local governments, this represents a threat to local control – an idea which seems increasingly anachronistic in our modern, global economy.

Home Rule

Home rule assumes that there are indeed some matters that are best managed by local governments. As John Nolon notes in his 1993 article “The Erosion of Home Rule Through the Emergence State-Interests in Land Use Control” from Pace Environmental Law Review, it is the transference of authority from state government to a local agent, providing limited local autonomy.

The concept of home rule is an ancient one, which seems to predate the Magna Carta, in which we first find references to specific authorities granted to the City of London.  According to Nolon, the concept of home rule “was a logical expression of the desire to establish some limitation upon the state’s power over local affairs.” And we still see the remains of this preference in local zoning authority and control over the public right-of-way.

The Issue Today

But now we’ve entered an era of globalism with few of the temporal and topographical barriers that once restricted our interaction with the wider world. The advent of a global economy founded in Internet communications has spurred state and national governments to exert their authorities to support development of the infrastructures these communications rely upon – most of which reside in public rights-of-way overseen by local governments. For many, the private sector’s need for simplified regulatory processes and broad, unfettered access to new markets is best served by central rather than local regulation.

There is a convergence of the technologies once used to transmit this data, along with the converging corporate entities vying for public spaces in which to install their transmission infrastructure. This infrastructure is no longer content-specific, with digital technologies permitting any type of data to be transmitted across an agnostic network.

Consequently, the distinctions between these different networks are disappearing. This has far-reaching implications for regulatory policymakers who must now find ways to protect the public interest while at the same time cultivating what is increasingly becoming vital infrastructure for economic growth.

There is a national interest in facilitating the deployment of these technologies in a consistent manner under a central authority. And although access to local rights-of-way is fundamental to placing the antennae, poles, and fiber conduits needed for data transmission, this access is increasingly becoming a non-local decision.

For authors such as Kyle Dixon and Phillip Weiser “access to [public rights-of-way] is an essential predicate to entering a particular market and is often a gating factor” – an “entry barrier” for companies that operate in many jurisdictions. But from the perspective of local governments control of this resource is necessary to avoid damage to expensive public infrastructure while local policies are often the only means they have in asserting local preferences for the siting and appearance of obtrusive equipment.

The data convergence heralds the further departure of local authority to state and national players and represents the dissolution of the historical distinction between interstate and intrastate services has long rooted policymaking at the federal, state and local levels.

There’s More Work to be Done

For the most part, this conversation has been driven at the national level through the Obama Administration’s ConnectHome and Connect America policy initiatives, and the Trump Administration’s Sustainable Spectrum Strategy. But local government voices have generally been left out of the policymaking.

It is important to remember that infrastructure placed in public rights-of-ways has an impact on communities, families, and individuals, and that these voices are best represented by local governments.  As the sites needed for this infrastructure vary wildly at the most granular level, there should be opportunities for local citizens to be involved in establishing the best locations for the tubes they rely upon for accessing the global economy. Organizations such as the National Association of Counties and the League of Cities—and jurisdictions around the country—are working on responses to these issues, and in future columns we will discuss the feasible, practicable solutions such local policy problems demand.


Patrick Mulhearn, MPA is a public policy analyst for the Santa Cruz County, California, Board of Supervisors.  He focuses primarily on policies relating to telecommunications and transportation infrastructure and may be reached at Patrick.Mulhearn@santacruzcounty.us.

Next Century Cities Files NTIA Comments with Open Technology Institute

Next Century Cities signed comments submitted to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) along with New America’s Open Technology Institute and others. The comments were in response to a request by the NTIA for comments on their efforts to improve the accuracy and quality of broadband availability data.

 

The other signatories included Access Humboldt, the Benton Foundation, the Center for Rural Strategies, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, Public Knowledge, and X-Lab.

 

The NTIA requested comments on broadband availability data — especially in rural areas — to comply with Congress’s Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018. The law allocated $7.5 million to the NTIA with the purpose of updating the national broadband availability map.

 

We recommended that the government monitor broadband performance using factors such as price, speed, and congestion. The comments cited Measurement Lab as a good model for the government to follow for broadband availability data. Measurement Lab has partnered with member cities Seattle, Wash., Louisville, Ky., and Alexandria, Va., as well as the Center for Rural Pennsylvania to deliver data. One aspect of the Measurement Lab’s data-gathering technique that we suggested the NTIA could adopt is ensuring that servers are located outside of ISPs, ensuring that that the gathered data can be more representative of the consumer experience.

 

We also suggested that the government collect data on the barriers to broadband adoption such as pricing, perceived lack of relevance, and faulty service. The high costs of broadband access prevent low-income individuals from having a home internet connection, which leads them to rely upon mobile connections that often have data caps and can also be costly. We encourage the NTIA to put resources towards monitoring pricing to gain a more accurate idea of broadband availability.

 

Another suggestion was for the NTIA to build upon the Community Connectivity Initiative, which began in March 2016 as part of President Barack Obama’s ConnectALL Initiative. The Community Connectivity Initiative aims to give communities the resources to create and improve local broadband efforts. Our comments suggested that the NTIA put more money back into the Community Connectivity Initiative because empowering local communities would allow them to better determine their broadband needs.

 

NCC members Ammon, Idaho; Arvada, Colo.; Baltimore, Md.; Boston, Mass.; Charlotte, N.C.; Kansas City, Mo.; Kenmore, Wash.; and Seattle, Wash. are among the cities and towns that signed on to partner with the Community Connectivity Initiative program.

 

An additional recommendation made in the comments suggested the NTIA could better ensure quality broadband availability data by working with stakeholders that already have third-party data sets.

 

The NTIA can draw upon the examples set by their past work and third-party organizations to create better broadband data-gathering practices. We hope that the NTIA implements these recommendations in order to ensure better data is available, leading to more successful local broadband efforts.

 

Find the full comments here.


Anna Higgins is a 2018 summer intern for Next Century Cities and a candidate for a master of public policy at the University of Virginia.

Unbundled Network Elements

What is an Unbundled Network Element (UNE)?

Think of a UNE as a “broadband bridge.” This bridge allows network builders to supplement their networks by leasing (at a favorable rate) network elements — telecommunications infrastructure such as copper wire and fiber — where they do not have available infrastructure. It helps them fill in the “holes” in their network by providing them the opportunity to lease parts of the incumbent network. The provider can use this mix of owned and leased assets to build in places that might not otherwise be economically viable.

The reason to create this bridge is to allow a competitive ISP access to some parts of the network built by incumbents because the big incumbents have a significant advantage in the market after having built much of their infrastructure with a government monopoly.

What changes are being proposed?

Under consideration at the Federal Communications Commission is a change in the way unbundled network elements (UNEs) are made available for lease to small and regional providers. The trade association USTelecom, representing large incumbent providers like AT&T, is lobbying the FCC to cut off competition from smaller broadband providers serving local communities.

Currently, under Section 251 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, providers are required to provide wholesale access to UNEs and to offer certain resale arrangements. The availability of UNEs offer an important means of competitive entry in the market and spur new fiber building and innovation – especially necessary in small to mid-sized communities. Originally introduced two decades ago, this bipartisan policy has spurred competition and has helped to speed the growth and availability of broadband in areas where that would likely not have seen such investment — especially the small business market.

Why do large providers want this change?

  • It would allow them to stifle competition – especially with regard to smaller and more regional providers.
  • It would allow them to significantly increase the cost to lease these assets, effectively pricing smaller providers out of the market and preventing new entrants.

How might this change impact consumers?

  • It could slow the deployment of new fiber networks, keeping more Americans from being able to experience the opportunities and benefits of high speed access.
  • It could cut off broadband for many rural Americans.
  • It will increase prices on consumers, small business, schools, libraries, and public safety organizations.
  • It could strand networks, meaning those consumers in the region would lose coverage.
  • In areas where the networks were either stranded or the cost increase is significant, it could result in the loss of jobs – work from home, entrepreneurs, precision farming, and high tech.

How might this change impact small and regional providers who rely on this bridge to provide service?

  • Their networks could be left unconnected, effectively eliminating any opportunity to make a return on their already expended investment.
  • It would make it harder or impossible to raise capital to invest in their networks.
  • They would likely have to pay significantly more for access to the bridge, resulting in higher costs to consumers.

What can communities do to express their concern?

Communicate your concerns with the FCC. Follow Next Century Cities’ guide to commenting to the FCC here. The relevant docket number for this issue is 18-141.

This guide to UNEs is available as a PDF here.