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U.S. Should Follow UK in Open Access Infrastructure Investment, Say Broadband Breakfast Panelists



June 10, 2020 — The U.S. should follow the European example of investing in wholesale open access infrastructure models, said panelists at a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event Wednesday.

One company that has found success using a purely wholesale model is the U.K.’s CityFibre.

“We chose a model that was pure wholesale, because we knew that there were enough retail customers there that did not own any of their own infrastructure, and that if we could show them a scale operator like ourselves that could give them 10 times the speed at 50 percent of the cost and we could get to scale, then they would move their traffic over,” CityFibre CEO Greg Mesch explained.

While this approach has not yet proved workable in the U.S., Mesch said he believed it could still be successful if multiple service providers committed.

“We’ve led a reference design model and then a regulatory model that is maybe fit for purpose for all the Western countries to look at, which is, how would you get a pure fiber provider going and get him in a state where he can really roll out at scale across the country?” Mesch said.

Screenshot of panelists at the Broadband Breakfast Live Online event

The U.S. is held back by a weaker regulatory market than that of the U.K., and also faces substantial lobbying from the telecom and cable industries, said Municipal Capital Markets Group Managing Director Chris Perlitz.

“The struggle we have is that the [Federal Communications Commission] has been stifling our ability and rather stifling the local government’s ability to make proper decisions,” Perlitz said. “And then there’s been a lot of smoke and mirrors in the market, generally not really being clear as a path of how you go about this.”

Matteo Andreoletti, head of infrastructure equity in Europe and North America for the Smart City Infrastructure Fund, agreed with the importance of CityFibre’s model.

“We think that the solution will need to actually have a combination of technologies, but the number one criteria that we use is to promote the open access wholesale model…and the ability of deploying this model at scale to provide reliable connectivity to a high number of cities,” Andreoletti said.

Andreoletti illustrated his point with the example of Smart City Infrastructure Fund-backed SiFi Networks, a private developer of open-access fiber networks in Fullerton, California.

“What we really liked about the business model was their intention to provide a service for tier two and tier three cities —midsize cities that often neglected, or are not able to access the right level of financing and capability,” he said.

Development in smaller municipalities is important in “avoiding a major digital divide, but also it’s a way to stimulate economic growth, because better connectivity drives businesses and preserves competitive disparities,” Andreoletti added. Founder Jase Wilson pointed out the importance of looking into the different ways of capturing value from remote services.

“We’re spending over a trillion dollars a year as a country on health care…and yet there are hundreds and hundreds of telehealth capable public health institutions in the United States, but the people that don’t have access to the internet and strong enough connection aren’t able to do it and participate in it,” he said.

Investment horizons need to be long, Perlitz said, pointing out that he has been working with some healthcare organizations who are just now starting to receive return on telemedicine investments for the first time.

Digital infrastructure investment does not fall into the typical private equity model of three to five year return on investment, Andreoletti added, and current business models depend on visionary cities who are willing to invest in smart city technologies long term.

“The struggle that I’ve seen is trying to get the cities to understand the tangible value,” Perlitz said. “…It compresses the return on investment pretty fast, but it’s hard for them to get their head around, because accounting for those values is hard to do.”

In spite of the longer timeframe, Mesch emphasized the eventual value of investing in pure fiber open access infrastructure.

“If you do it, you will increase the GDP growth in your city by one to two percent per year for the next decade and beyond,” he said.

Editor’s Note: All of these topics will be explored in greater length at Broadband Breakfast’s Digital Infrastructure Investment Physical/Virtual Event at the Broadband Communities Summit. Register here to attend Digital Infrastructure Investment.

Reporter Em McPhie studied communication design and writing at Washington University in St. Louis, where she was a managing editor for the student newspaper. In addition to agency and freelance marketing experience, she has reported extensively on Section 230, big tech, and rural broadband access. She is a founding board member of Code Open Sesame, an organization that teaches computer programming skills to underprivileged children.

Open Access

Lewis County Public Utility District Pushes Forward with Open Access Fiber Plan

‘Getting broadband out to all rural areas and all residents of Lewis County,’ Washington.



Photo of Lewis Count Manager Erik Martin from 2016 by Justyna Tomtas from the Chronicle in Centralia, Washington

Lewis County, Washington and the Lewis County Public Utility District are making progress with their plan to deploy an open access fiber network that should dramatically boost broadband competition—and lower prices—county wide by 2026.

In November 2019, Lewis County PUD received a $50,000 grant from the Community Economic Revitalization Board to study the county’s broadband shortcomings and determine whether taking direct action to address them made sense. In early 2020, the PUD formed the Lewis County Broadband Action Team to further study community needs.

Those inquiries found what most U.S. communities know too well: concentrated monopolization had left county residents overpaying for substandard, expensive, and spotty broadband access unsuitable for modern living.

In response, the Lewis County PUD announced in 2021 it would be building an 134-mile-long fiber backbone and open access fiber network for around $104 million. Around $23.5 million of that total will be paid for by a recently awarded grant by the Washington State Department of Commerce, itself made possible by the American Rescue Plan Act.

Lewis County PUD fiber map

In December of 2021, Lewis County PUD public affairs manager Willie Painter was a guest on our Community Broadband Bits podcast in which he discussed the PUD’s vision of deploying fiber across the county’s 2,450 square miles, which is home to about 75,000 Washingtonians, or about 30,000 households. Painter noted then how the PUD’s “shovel ready designs and estimates” is what “empowered our utility to be very competitive in going after state and federal grant dollars to help fund these construction deployments.”

The latest development to have emerged since we last reported on Lewis County PUD, is who the PUD selected as a partner to build the network. The network will be built as part of a 25-year public-private partnership with ToledoTel. While ToledoTel will install, supply and maintain a new fiber optic network connecting more than 2,300 homes and businesses in the Winlock area, Lewis County will ultimately own the final build.

ToledoTel is currently in the engineering and design phase of the project, and has stated it will provide an additional $2.35 million in matching funds for the project, which is slated to be finished before 2026.

Details of the arrangement were finalized in January, and county leaders state that ToledoTel will have exclusive access to the infrastructure for up to three years. After that, ToledoTel will be required to open the network to competitors at a wholesale rate, boosting competition and driving down costs in a residential broadband market largely dominated by Comcast.

Lewis County PUD building

Photo of Lewis County PUD building courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

“There’s the convenience, there’s business purposes; all those are really vital and becoming more and more a part of everyday life, and we want to provide those services to everyone in Lewis County that we can,” Lewis County Manager Erik Martin told The Chronicle. “This project is really the beginning, in terms of getting service out to folks, and we want to focus on getting broadband out to all rural areas and all residents of Lewis County.”

2021 survey by the WA Department of Commerce found that 64 percent of state households reported download speeds slower than the base FCC definition of broadband, currently a paltry 25 megabit per second (Mbps) downstream, 3 Mbps upstream. The state is currently considering raising the base definition of broadband to 100 Mbps downstream, 20 Mbps upstream.

A local survey by Lewis County PUD found that more than 77 percent of survey respondents had broadband speeds well below the acceptable federal definition of broadband, despite nearly 98 percent of county survey participants considering broadband access an essential utility.

Lewis County is one of many PUDs in Washington State taking full advantage of a flood of new grants — and recently-eliminated Washington State restrictions on community broadband — to belatedly expand access to affordable fiber across the state.

This article by Karl Bode originally appeared on the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Community Broadband Networks project on March 13, 2023, and is reprinted with permission.

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Open Access

Financing Mechanisms for Community Broadband, Panel 3 at Digital Infrastructure Investment

Panel 3 video. Join the Broadband Breakfast Club to watch the full-length videos from Digital Infrastructure Investment.



Video from Panel 3 at Digital Infrastructure Investment: Kim McKinley, Chief Marketing Officer, UTOPIA Fiber, Jeff Christensen, President & CEO, EntryPoint Networks, Jane Coffin, Chief Community Officer, Connect Humanity, Robert Wack, former Westminster Common Council President and leader of the Open Access Citywide Fiber Network Initiative, and moderated by Christopher Mitchell, Director, Community Broadband Networks, Institute for Local Self-Reliance

For a free article summarizing the event, see Communities Need Governance Seat on Broadband Builds, Conference Hears: Communities need to be involved in decision-making when it comes to broadband builds, Broadband Breakfast, November 17, 2022


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Open Access

In Video Session, Christopher Mitchell Digs Into Community Ownership and Open Access Networks

The conversation dealt with open access networks, and whether cities are well-suited to play a role in developing them.



Screenshot of Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

September 29, 2022 – Community-owned, open access networks protect communities against irresponsible network operators and stimulate innovation, said Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, at a Broadband.Money Ask Me Anything! event Friday.

“AT&T, Frontier, these companies have a history of failing to meet community needs,” said Mitchell. “If I had a choice between open broadband fixed wireless and fiber from AT&T, I’d be really, you know, checking it out.”

“[AT&T] is a company that will sell your data at the first opportunity, it’s a company that will raise your bill every chance it gets,” Mitchell added.

ILSR’s director said that in communities in which local ownership isn’t possible, such as in a town with a deeply corrupt government, there still exist contractual provisions that can maximize local control.

A right of first refusal, for instance, gives communities the option to purchase their local network if the original provider chooses to sell. Mitchell also suggested communities write performance-based contracts that institute penalties for network partners who fail to meet clearly outlined performance benchmarks.

Conversation entered realm of open access discussion

The wide-ranging conversation also dealt with the issues of open access networks, and whether cities are well-suited to play a role in developing them.

 “The cities are the custodians of their rights of way – they need to be, they must be,” said Drew Clark, editor and publisher of Broadband Breakfast. Because of the cities inherent role as custodians of their rights of way, Clark said that open-access networks provide cities with the opportunity to own the infrastructure portion of their broadband networks, while still offering private companies the ability to serve as network operators or application service providers.

Mitchell agreed that open access networks can be critical to broadband innovation. “We need to have millions – ideally tens of million – of Americans in thriving areas that have open access to kind of see what we can do with networks,” he said.

“Maybe a lot of those ideas won’t work out, but I think we don’t want to foreclose that path.”

In addition to overseeing digital infrastructure projects, communities can promote digital equity by utilizing established, trusted community-based institutions – such as food pantries or faith groups – to boost digital literacy and distribute devices, Mitchell said.

Mitchell added that these efforts must be ongoing: “This is more about building connections now.”

Broadband.Money is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

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