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Neighborly Launches its Broadband Accelerator with 35 Cities, Stoking Momentum for Open Access Fiber

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November 16, 2018 – With the launch of a group of communities in a “broadband accelerator” launched by the municipal finance portal Neighborly, the momentum behind open access broadband networks is continuing to build.

On Thursday, Neighborly announced that it had selected 35 cities, including sizable communities of Cleveland, New Orleans and Richmond, as its first class to participate in this broadband accelerator. These communities will receive instruction from industry experts and service providers, as well as being able to access “Neighborly financing at a competitive, below industry rate cost.”

According to Thursday’s press release from Neighborly, “more than 100 communities, through local broadband advocates and government officials (CIOs, CTOs, CFOs, Mayor’s, City Council members) applied to supercharge their local broadband ambitions; we had such an overwhelming response, we expanded the class size to accept 35 communities in this cohort.”

Communities that participate in the program will be guided through the process of establishing community broadband networks.

Neighborly identifies, as its “key principles for open access community broadband”:

  • Communities own their broadband infrastructure
  • ISPs compete to serve the community
  • Access is universal and affordable
  • Network revenues means no new taxes.

Neighborly’s role in the broadband space

Neighborly, a fintech startup based in San Francisco and supported by Emerson Collective, 8VC and Ashton Kutcher’s Sound Ventures, has recently begun ramping up its efforts in the broadband space.

“We are the first impact broker-dealer, and we focus on future-proofing broadband, solar, and anything that has impacts for smart cities of the future,” said Lindsey Brannon, head of public finance at Neighborly, speaking at an October Broadband Communities conference in Ontario, California.

“We see connectivity as a fundamental right,” added Garrett Brinker, product manager of Neighborly, speaking at a Next Century City conference in Hartford on November 8.

He said that Neighborly was focusing on uniting cities that are seeking to build open access networks with the financing necessary to build such networks.

What is open access?

Open access networks are becoming more real for gigabit connectivity in the United States. One open access network is the so-called “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 in the United States. 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. However, it will be from fiber-optic communication, that a multitude of services and application uses will be unleashed. But this flourishing can only happen if innovators fix the business model problems that limit ownership of and access to fiber utilities.

The first class of broadband accelerator communities 

And here’s the list of communities that have been accepted into the program:

• Fresno, CA
• Nevada City, CA
• Oakland, CA
• Palo Alto, CA
• Santa Rosa, CA
• Salinas, CA
• Lyons, CO
• Madison, CT
• Jacksonville, FL
• New Orleans, LA
• Brockton, MA
• Cambridge, MA
• Millinocket, East Millinocket & Medway, ME (on behalf of Katahdin Broadband Utility)
• Windham, ME (on behalf of Lakes Region Broadband Partnership)
• Blue Hill, Brooksville, Deer Isle, Penobscot & Sedgwick, ME (on behalf of Peninsula Utility for Broadband)
• Metuchen, NJ
• Cleveland, OH
• Portland, OR
• Harrisburg, PA
• Block Island, RI
• Sweetwater, TN
• Baird, TX
• Ashland, VA
• Manquin, VA
• Richmond, VA
• Virginia Beach, VA
• Enosburgh, VT
• Sauk County, WI
• Laramie, WY

And these are among the guest lecturers who will be addressing the class of cities participating in the accelerator:

• Blair Levin, Senior Fellow, Metropolitan Policy Program, Brookings Institute
• Deb Socia, Executive Director, Next Century Cities
• Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative, Institute for Local Self Reliance
• Matt Dunne, Founder and Executive Director, Center on Rural Innovation
• Anne Schwieger, Broadband and Digital Equity Advocate, City of Boston

See also https://broadbandbreakfast.com/2017/05/spotlight-on-advantages-of-open-access-networks-at-broadband-communities-summit

(Photo of Blair Levin via www.lohud.com)

Breakfast Media LLC CEO Drew Clark is a nationally respected U.S. telecommunications attorney. An early advocate of better broadband, better lives, he founded the Broadband Census crowdsourcing campaign for better broadband data in 2008. That effort became the Broadband Breakfast media community. As Editor and Publisher, Clark presides over news coverage focused on digital infrastructure investment, broadband’s impact, and Big Tech. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Clark served as head of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, a state broadband initiative. Now, in light of the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, attorney Clark helps fiber-based and wireless clients secure funding, identify markets, broker infrastructure and operate in the public right of way. He also helps fixed wireless providers obtain spectrum licenses from the Federal Communications Commission. The articles and posts on Broadband Breakfast and affiliated social media, including the BroadbandCensus Twitter feed, are not legal advice or legal services, do not constitute the creation of an attorney-client privilege, and represent the views of their respective authors.

Fiber

New Public Broadband Association Criticizes NTIA Rules, Boasts Strong Start for New Group

While praising some aspects of NTIA rules, the group said that “we can’t take a victory lap quite yet.”

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Photo of (left to right) Scott Menhart of Traverse City, Bob Knight, Kim McKinley and Angela Imming at Broadband Communities Summit by Drew Clark

KEYSTONE, Colorado, May 24, 2022 – The America Association of Public Broadband on Tuesday praised many aspects of the U.S. Commerce Department’s rules for spending the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, but criticized some aspects of the regulations that will make it hard for cities to build broadband projects.

In a statement and press briefing at the Mountain Connect conference here, officials representing the association said that the $42.5 billion in spending under the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program will “go a long way to address the high-speed broadband access and equity gaps plaguing American communities.”

The group is chaired by Angela Imming, who is responsible for a municipal broadband project in Highland, Illinois. The other four officers of the organization represent cities of Kitsap, Washington, Traverse City, Michigan, UTOPIA Fiber in Utah, and the town of Ridgefield, Connecticut.

The statement and press conference were conducted by Kim McKinley, UTOPIA Fiber’s chief marketing officer and secretary of AAPB, and Bob Knight, a commissioner of economic and community development in Ridgefield and a member of the AAPB board.

But AAPB, a new lobbying group that aims to represent the interest of municipalities seeking to build high-capacity broadband, also highlighted many problems.

“But we can’t take a victory lap quite yet,” said McKinley and Knight on behalf of the group. In particular, “these challenges include a cumbersome application process with a letter-of-credit requirement which serve as steep barriers to entry for local government, nonprofits, and small ISPs.”

“Additionally, the multi-year rollout of BEAD funds leaves many high-speed broadband projects out in the cold, limiting the options for those deploying prior to 2024.”

Referring to comments that Alan Davidson, administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, said earlier on Tuesday, the group said, “We were pleased to hear Assistant Secretary Davidson say at Mountain Connect today that more refinement will be necessary and that the NTIA team is on the case. We look forward to working with NTIA to ensure that the interests of local, regional, and state entities are heard and acted upon.”

The association was first announced on May 4 at the Broadband Communities Summit, and the group provided updates on its progress on Tuesday.

In the three weeks since the association’s announcement, the organization said that $200,000 had been raised from the equipment vendor and non-profit community.

The group now has an advocacy and policy group that is working with federal and state leaders to advance the interests of municipal broadband, an education group, and a membership group.

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Open Access

UTOPIA’s Projects Proceeding in California and Montana, CEO Says

Both the GSCA and Yellowstone Fiber are using UTOPIA’s techniques to provide open access broadband over fiber.

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Barbara Hayes (left) and Roger Timmerman (right) speaking at Broadband Communities Summit 2022 on May 4

HOUSTON, May 4, 2022 — UTOPIA Fiber’s open access model has found success in California, Montana, and Idaho as it continues to deploy across Utah, the company’s CEO said Wednesday.

“Right now, we are working with [Golden State Connect Authority] to identify various pilot areas for the project and have started preliminary engineering work to determine the initial project area,” Roger Timmerman said at the Broadband Communities Summit 2022.

During the press conference, Timmerman also pointed to UTOPIA’s expansion into Santa Clara, Utah, and its completion of its original 11 Utah cities by the end of 2022.

Timmerman was joined by partners Barbara Hayes of the Golden State Authority and Yellowstone Fiber CEO Greg Metzger as they delivered remarks on their joint ventures. The partnership will create the largest publicly owned fiber network in the US, and as it stands now, would span 38 of California’s 58 counties.

“California may be the world’s fifth-largest economy, but our state’s connectivity is decades behind,” Hayes said. “Investing in open access fiber will be transformative for California.”

Both Metzger and Hayes emphasized that their decision to partner with UTOPIA was largely informed by the company’s track record.

“We needed to have a partner who was successful and had done it before,” Metzger said. “For Montana, this is going to be a breath of fresh air.”

Yellowstone Fiber, formerly known as Bozeman Fiber, is a not-for-profit that will replicate UTOPIA’s open access model to provide broadband to the greater Bozeman region; it will own and operate the fiber but will rely on UTOPIA for assistance on the backend.

UTOPIA’s model of open access has long been a point of interest in the telecom industry. While some claim it will be a solution to the digital divide, other assert that it has merely created a “race to the bottom” where internet service providers are constantly pushed to undercut their completion. Timmerman and others have pushed back against the “race to the bottom” assertion, claiming that providers can find ways other than price to distinguish themselves from their competition, such as superior customer service. Additionally, they point to their recent track record as evidence that critics’ concerns that they can maintain a positive cash flow are unfounded.

Though UTOPIA, a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast, now has positive revenue and has served as a model for open access projects around the country, critics still point toward its more than $300 million in outstanding debt it accrued in its early days, before Timmerman was at the helm.

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Fiber

Municipalities Generally Prefer Not to Own Broadband Builds, Conference Hears

Broadband leaders note cities prefer to partner than to own networks.

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Kenrick Gordon speaking remotely, with Deb Socia, Joshua Williams and Christopher Mitchell in person at Broadband Communities Summit

HOUSTON, May 3, 2022 – During a panel discussion Monday, broadband implementation leaders said local governments are often much more willing to help a partner organization establish a broadband network than they are to oversee construction themselves.

Speaking at Broadband Communities Magazine’s 2022 summit in Houston, Kenrick Gordon, director of the Maryland Office of Statewide Broadband, said “most local governments don’t really want to own a broadband network” and prefer to partner up and support the build.

Gordon spoke alongside Deb Socia, the CEO of the Enterprise Center, a non-profit infrastructure partner based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which is known as the “gig city” for its city-owned gigabit fiber network.

When asked about what makes a bad partner organization for local governments in infrastructure projects, Socia, who formerly led internet-expansion organization Next Century Cities, said those who are not trusted by members of the community will not make effective broadband providers.

Many organizations have the potential to overpromise to community members, for example giving earlier timelines for broadband builds than is required, Socia said. Gordon added it is common that the expectation among some community members is that broadband projects can be built faster than other infrastructure.

Screenshot of Kenrick Gordon, Catharine Rice, Will Aycock, Deb Socia, Joshua Williams and Christopher Mitchell

Socia said trust can be garnered from the public by using a consistent script between all involved organizations, such as utilities and city government offices, so that questions can be answered in the same manner with accurate information.

She also outlined how Chattanooga was able to promote its broadband network on trusted and popular local radio stations, increasing familiarity with it in the community through on-air discussions.

Both Socia and Gordon, as well Catharine Rice, project director for the Coalition for Local Internet Choice, stated the importance of maintaining relationships and partnerships, with Rice emphasizing the need to frequently speak to state broadband offices as they generally are quite interested in working to be helpful and improve how they do their job.

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