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Spotlight on Advantages of Open Access Networks at Broadband Communities Summit



DALLAS, May 5, 2017 – Open access networks are becoming more real for gigabit connectivity in the United States, according to panelists attending the Broadband Communities Summit here this week.

The conference was notable in having numerous, positive discussions of the “three-tiered” model: One entity owns the fiber infrastructure, a second entity operates the gigabit network, and a third entity sells retail internet access to customers.

Why split up ownership, network operations, and internet services?

Each of these three activities are fundamentally different. They are best served by different skill sets and different business models.

For example, financing fiber infrastructure can be realized more readily when it is understood as a long-term capital or real estate investment.

And network operations are utility-like. They are best served by government entities or by private-sector providers separate from actual internet service providers.

On such open access networks, there are generally multiple service providers offering a variety of packages of broadband services for business and retail customers.

Yet this concept of a three-tiered broadband network is still, panelists said, a bit of a novelty in the United States.

Unlike other places around the world, the vertically integrated giant can seem like the norm here. Incumbent communications companies generally own their own fiber, wireless and other assets. They operate their respective core network in their own proprietary fashion. And they try to provide customer service — internet connectivity, or the so-called “triple play,” or services like home security — to end users.

Recent marketplace developments have seen players like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon Communications seeking to integrate even further. They want to own “content” and entertainment. This development is likely to prove a detour on the pathway to the future of advanced broadband.

Indeed, bundling and vertical control are a remnant of the pre-fiber world. Telephone companies built copper network for the single-purpose telephone — and discovered they could add internet through DSL. Cable companies strung co-axial wires to sell television — and then realized that cable modems could squeeze out bandwidth for broadband.

Fiber-optic communication, however, unleashes a multitude of services and applications. But this flourishing can only happen if innovators fix the business model problems that limit ownership of and access to fiber utilities.

Ammon’s ‘Broadband Improvement District’

Ammon, Idaho (pop. 14,685), is one of those innovators. At the summit this week, Technology Director Bruce Patterson unpacked the elements of its own three-tiered network.

Residents opting-in to a “broadband improvement district” become a part of the gigabit network and pay an additional $17 a month on their property bill, over 20 years, to cover the approximately $3,000 cost of fiber infrastructure, he said. Ammon then bills customers an additional $17 a month for network operations. And the ISPs offer their service on the network, generally for an additional $20 month.

Patterson spoke on a panel of the Rural Telecommunications Congress on “Financing the Last Mile with an Essential Services Approach,” and others. Ammon’s working network may counter arguments that open access can only work in a large-scale urban market. Yet on the same panel, Sue Inches of Maine discussed how, on the Cranberry Isles, a community desperate for broadband was only able to entice an ISP to serve the community if it could guarantee exclusivity.

The United States ‘is completely different’ from Sweden

Another global broadband innovator is VenturaNext. The company is a large operator of gigabit networks in Sweden, where open access is the norm. Nearly 20 years ago, municipalities began investing in bringing fiber to homes and multiple dwelling units. The company began by partnering with lower-profile ISPs, and then larger and more prominent ones. VenturaNext operated the network, but consumers purchased broadband from a multitude of choices.

Now the company is expanding outside of Sweden. “Our biggest market is South Africa, where we are redefining broadband,” said Senior Sales Manager Robert Gure.

“We have 25,000 homes connected, and an automated provisioning system that is built into the network,” said Gure. “Because of the efficiency of the network, we can make money in a low-ARPU environment,” he said, referring to Average Revenue per User.

American communications companies tend to regard ARPU as a holy-grail metric for success. Yet Gure noted, ironically: “We are here trying to learn how to get this to work in the U.S., where it is completely different.”

Rio Blanco, Bozeman, and Kitsap lead the way

Gure was speaking on a session discussing open access in Washington State, in Rio Blanco County, Colorado, and Bozeman, Montana. The session was optimistic and future-oriented, including rhetoric about how some ISPS “see the tides changing” and will eventually begin to use networks like the Kitsap Public Utility District’s, according to its superintendent of telecommunications Paul Avis.

Agreed Brit Fontenot, director of economic development for Bozeman: “The service providers are part of the solution to the problem. We need to make sure we are educating them on the value” in becoming ISPs on fiber utilities.

The Rio Blanco broadband project is also a three-tiered open access network. The county is the owner of the network, and it is offering fiber to the home in the cities of Meeker (pop. 2,429) and Rangely (pop. 5,297), plus fixed wireless services for rural residents. The county put out a request for proposals for a private company to operate the network under a contract. It includes a sharing of 60 percent of the system’s revenues with the county.

Blake Mobley, the project’s information technology director, cautioned against imposing a rigid definition upon the advanced and open networks. He called his network a “hybrid” variant.

“We are a modified form of open access [in that] we have selected two small wireless internet service providers” to offer retail services over the fiber network, said Mobley. Additional ISPs may be allowed on the network in the future, but for now access is limited to two providers.

“Otherwise, you run the risk of watering the market down so that none of them can be profitable,” he said.

Bozeman’s network, by contrast, hasn’t yet been constructed. But this open network has already attracted six ISPs willing to offer services. Unlike Rio Blanco, “our network is smaller, and our efforts are concentrated” on Bozeman itself, said Fontenot.

“The fact that six providers came in very early in the process demonstrates the long-term potential” within even in a small community, said Andrew Cohill, president and CEO of Design Nine, and the panel’s moderator.  Cohill, who has worked on open access projects in Danville, Virginia, and Palm Coast, Florida, concluded that “there is no minimum scale for open access.”

Open access in the ‘middle mile’

Yet another entirely different session, on Thursday, centered on “History and Future of Open Access Networks in Michigan.” That session drilled into the efforts of the Merit Network, an open access research and educational network that provides “middle mile” connectivity, as well as a fiber to the home project in Holland, Michigan.

“We have six providers on our network today,” explained Pete Hoffswell, broadband service manager for Holland’s Board of Public Works. He also believed that other, more traditional ISPs “will come around and join our open access system.”

Open access for residential users in the U.S. is just beginning. But open access is much more prevalent on middle mile networks bringing backhaul connectivity to individual communities. This was encouraged by open access requirement in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program.

“We’ve been operating a collaborative, resource-sharing network for 23 years, but not until BTOP did we realize that we were open access,” said Elwood Downing, vice president of business development for Merit Network. As more and more people realize that “the infrastructure is there,” open access is likely to continue to expand, he said.

Breakfast Media LLC CEO Drew Clark has led the Broadband Breakfast community since 2008. An early proponent of better broadband, better lives, he initially founded the Broadband Census crowdsourcing campaign for broadband data. As Editor and Publisher, Clark presides over the leading media company advocating for higher-capacity internet everywhere through topical, timely and intelligent coverage. Clark also served as head of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, a state broadband initiative.


Fiber Industry Can Build Interest in Broadband Workforce By Catering to Student Interests: Experts

The BEAD program allows providers to use funds to deploy workforce development strategies.



Photo of Amelia De Jesus of Wireless Infrastructure Association, Lesley Liarikos of Tower Systems, Brian O'Hara of NRECA, Joshua Seidemann of NTCA, Craig Thomas of the Broadband Forum, and Mark Boxer of OFS (left to right) and

ORLANDO, August 22, 2023 – The fiber industry can stimulate interest in the broadband workforce by engaging with college students on platforms they frequent, such as online gaming, said panelists at the Fiber Connect conference Tuesday. 

Amelia De Jesus, vice president of workforce solutions at the Wireless Infrastructure Association, suggested that providers leverage the rising generation’s interest in virtual gaming and augmented reality to encourage them to engage in a career that they care about, namely the infrastructure that enables the applications that they use. She suggested that VR can be used to train new employees, and conduct drone inspections of broadband lines.  

Fiber skillsets open a variety of other career opportunities for people entering the workforce, said Brian O’Hara, senior director of regulatory affairs at electric cooperative trade association NRECA. He said that providers can capitalize on this benefit to enhance their workforce efforts.  

Once employees are trained and practiced in fiber technology and deployment, these skills can be used in many ways, O’Hara said, claiming that this will encourage young adults to be more engaged in learning these skills. He pointed to support for telehealth platforms, precision agriculture systems, schools, and hospitals, among other careers.  

O’Hara recommended that providers educate the rising generation on the benefits of internet connection to provide them with a mission and purpose that can drive their career. He added that younger generations are environmentally conscious, which can be leveraged by providers by educating the next generation of workers on how broadband can reduce emissions, facilitate faster deployment of renewable energy, and provide a more efficient electricity grid.  

The key point is that the industry encourages excitement in college students and help them develop core skillsets that can be taken anywhere they want, concluded O’Hara.  

“States are depending on providers and operators to build out these networks,” added De Jesus, referring to the $42.5 billion set to be available to states for broadband builds in 2024 through the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program. For the first time in the history of the internet, providers have the money available to find and train employees to expand the workforce, she said. The BEAD program allows providers to use funds to deploy workforce development strategies. 

There is no nationally trusted technician certification, especially for the more than 1,200 smaller fiber providers in the country, said Mark Boxer, technical manager for OFS, a fiber optic designer, manufacturer and provider. He warned that newer workforce knowledge is inconsistent and that industry memory of procedure is fading as previously deeper trained generations move on. 

Experts have raised workforce shortages as a looming concern for coming BEAD-funded projects. Many have suggested various mechanisms to address the shortage, including hiring ex-convicts, developing apprenticeship programs, and engaging students at an earlier age.

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Students Should Limit Screen Time, Panel Hears

Experts suggest a combination of active activities and group projects.



Screenshot of Eileen Belastock

WASHINGTON, August 17, 2023 – Students in K-12 and higher education should have a limited amount of screen time while enrolled in online courses, said digital education experts at a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event Wednesday. 

Eileen Belastock, CEO of online education consulting firm Belastock Consulting, said that students do not learn well when they are looking at a screen. Children need more time off screen with tech free options to work on school projects, she said.  

“Screen time is not good for students,” she said. “It lends itself to bullying, inappropriate conduct. I also think students don’t learn well when they’re looking at a screen. I think they need more personalized, off screen, tech-free projects to work on.” 

Belastock suggested that educators have students conduct online research and engage in real life projects that will switch up their day and help them accomplish something new. 

Jason Amos, director of communications at the National School Boards Association, added that educators can add variety into classrooms by assigning passive, active, individual, and group activities. “Sitting on a laptop for hours and hours and hours or sitting in a lecture for that long is not a great way for kids to learn,” he said. He said active group participation remotely can help engage students and provide “tremendous opportunity” for a greater educational impact on the students. 

Amos added that it is a concern for how much time children are spending online and not interacting with their peers, especially because students are inclined to relax by playing video games or watching television. 

While Charles Severance, clinical professor of information at University of Michigan School of Information, agreed, he added that technology can be more versatile for students enrolled in online courses. Educating technology can be with students while they are outside or on a walk, he said. He urged for educators to find new systems that cater to student’s needs. 

Severance added that the biggest mistake in the country-wide push to move all classes in person is that it overlooks that some classes may be preferable online. Some classes do not need close interaction for students to be engaged in learning while others do, he said.  

Experts said in March that digital learning is here to stay following the COVID-19 pandemic, claiming that it “opened a door that can’t be closed again” in terms of technology’s role in education. 

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. Watch the event on Broadband Breakfast, or REGISTER HERE to join the conversation.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023 – Remote Education and Online Learning

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned our world upside down, but it also ushered in a transformative era of education, wherein online learning has emerged as a powerful alternative avenue for academic development. The remarkable progress in virtual reality, metaverse, and artificial intelligence has been steadily dismantling traditional barriers to remote education, such as accessibility, efficiency, and engagement. Where does online learning go from here? How does technology factor into this field? Are there any pitfalls students, educators, and parents should be cautious of, particularly concerning online risks for children?


  • Jason Amos, Director of Communications, National School Boards Association
  • Eileen Belastock, CEO of Belastock Consulting
  • Dr. Charles Severance, Clinical Professor of Information, University of Michigan School of Information
  • Erik Langner, CEO, Information Equity Initiative
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Jason Amos has more than two decades of experience in education policy and communications, including several years as a congressional staffer. Currently, he is the Director of Communications for the National School Boards Association, a non-profit organization representing state associations of school boards and member school districts. NSBA’s purpose is to ensure that each student everywhere has access to excellent and equitable public education governed by high-performing school board leaders and supported by the community.

Eileen Belastock is the CEO of Belastock Consulting and an EdTech Leadership Specialist with the Mass. Office of EdTech. As a former K12 CTO, she has championed safety and security, encouraged student agency, and supported students with equitable access to their education. She is also a published writer, a national keynote presenter, and the 2020 top 100 Ed-Tech Influencer and 2022 Edtech Digest Leadership Award finalist.

Erik Langner is the CEO of Information Equity Initiative (IEI), an international nonprofit organization committed to ensuring everyone, regardless of geography or income, has access to high-quality, digital learning resources. IEI partners with government agencies, broadcasters, content producers, and funders to provide curated digital content to homes and facilities that lack broadband via a technology called “Datacasting.” Langner has worked in public broadcasting for two decades and was previously a corporate attorney in New York City and San Francisco, and worked at the United Nations in Geneva. Langner received his law degree from Northwestern University and his undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Dr. Charles Severance is a Clinical Professor and teaches in the School of Information at the University of Michigan. He teaches over popular Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) including Python for Everybody – the most popular online programming course in the world on the CourseraedX, and FutureLearn platforms. He is also a long-time advocate of open source educational technology and open educational resources to empower teachers. Previously he was the Executive Director of the Sakai Foundation and the Chief Architect of the Sakai Project. Dr. Severance has written several books including “Using the Google App Engine”, “Python for Informatics”, “High Performance Computing”, and “Sakai: Free as in Freedom.”

Drew Clark is CEO of Breakfast Media LLC. He has led the Broadband Breakfast community since 2008. An early proponent of better broadband, better lives, he initially founded the Broadband Census crowdsourcing campaign for broadband data. As Editor and Publisher, Clark presides over the leading media company advocating for higher-capacity internet everywhere through topical, timely and intelligent coverage. Clark also served as head of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, a state broadband initiative.

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As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.

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Anchor Associations Asking for Deadline Extension on Emergency Connectivity Fund Deployment

Associations say delays in getting fund approval and services/equipment means not getting full use of the program.



Photo of SHLB Executive Director John Windhausen Jr.

WASHINGTON, April 6, 2023 – A duo of anchor institution associations has requested Wednesday that the Federal Communications Commission extend the deadlines to implement funding from the Emergency Connectivity Fund, in part citing delays in getting and deploying equipment and services.

The Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition and the Consortium for School Networking have asked for a year extension to June 30, 2024 for the first two funding rounds if the applicant received a decision on or after March 1, 2022, and a six-month extension to the aforementioned date for the third and latest round to implement money from the program intended to keep students connected to the internet when away from school. Their request asks to waive a section of the program rules that have set those current dates in stone.

According to the waiver request filed Wednesday, funding recipients have either received a decision letter “with a narrow amount of time” to use the funding prior to the current delivery dates or have yet to receive their application approval.

“Certain factors, such as the amount of time between when an applicant received its [decision or revised decision letter] and the service delivery date, combined with the time necessary for a recipient to order, receive, and distribute equipment and services once they are procured, could inhibit an ECF recipient from fully using their requested funding prior to the service delivery dates,” the waiver request said.

The duo added that “many applicants” wait to enter contracts for the equipment and services until they get funding approval. Those that put the cart before the horse may find themselves having to renegotiate certain terms, for example in the case where services or equipment prices increased by the time they get the funding notice, the request said, adding the anchor institutions have been up against “any remaining manufacturing and global supply chain issues” from the pandemic that are contributing to delays.

The organizations gave several examples of problems faced by the anchor institutions where they would not be able to provide the 12 months of services provided by the program, including size and availability increases of buses in Georgia adding additional deployment time and a California education office that had to coordinate with multiple programs that delayed deployment.

“In these cases, even an applicant that received its [funding letters] exactly twelve months prior to the current applicable service delivery date would not be able to provide a full twelve months of ECF-supported service,” the request said.

The waiver request said if the commission does not extend the delivery dates, applicants won’t be able to use all their award funding, which will mean the regulator will have spent less than the full amount appropriated by Congress.

“It would be a far better policy outcome for the Commission to extend the deadline and allow applicants to utilize the full amount of their awarded funding rather than opening a fourth application window to award the remaining dollars,” the duo said.

The FCC has allocated just over $6.6 billion of the $7.1 billion from the ECF program, as it has been making periodic funding decisions over the months.

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