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Open Access

Differences in Approach to Open Access Showcased in Discussion About Lit and Dark Municipal Fiber



Screenshot from the episode of ConnectThis!

December 6, 2020 — Panelists involved in open access networks across the United States got into a fiery debate over the best model to follow when constructing an open access network.

The exchange occurred during Thursday’s episode of Connect This!, a series sponsored by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and moderated by Christopher Mitchell, director of the group’s community broadband network initiative.

The panelists agreed that cities should be able to build and own their own fiber networks and that something must be done about legislation in place in 22 states that impeded, to varying degrees, forms of municipal-owned broadband.

But they disagreed sharply over whether it is the role of cities to light fiber, or provide service over, the fiber networks they build.

Dane Jasper, CEO and co-founder of Sonic, Northern California’s largest independent internet service provider, called for emerging networks, often materializing to solve issues relating to bad internet, limited choices, and poor customer service, to copy successful open access models.

“I’ve seen a vast majority of cities be convinced by salespeople that they need to light their own networks,” effectively acting as the internet service provider, said Jasper. Instead, he recommended that cities invest in dark fiber network assets and then invite ISPs to light them.

“UTOPIA Fiber’s model has worked,” said Jasper, championing the model of the largest open access network in the United States. The network, which is based in about a dozen cities in Utah, currently has more than 15 providers offering service.

Software-provisioned open access networks

“The difference between us and UTOPIA is that right now UTOPIA has a manual open access network,” said Jeff Christensen, President of EntryPoint Networks, who detailed the specific type of software-powered open access network he said drove powered the successful open access network in Ammon, Idaho.

Ammon partnered with EntryPoint to build a software-defined, automated open access network. Christensen said the city utilizes a radical definition of “open access,” saying that the network is open in the sense that it “is a set of resources open to innovation and open to subscribers putting what they want into the network.”

In this particular open access model, the network’s subscribers independently pay for the infrastructure, the maintenance and the operation of the network, and the network’s service provider. The city of Ammon manages the customer experience, although Christensen noted that because of the resiliency and quality of the network, “with this network you’re not going to get many calls.”

EntryPoint provides an automated interaction between the network’s subscribers and service providers, using software-defined networking technology. The automation further helps pinpoint issues within the network and helps maintain transparency to the subscriber, he said.

Critical reactions from other innovative providers

Jasper and Travis Carter, CEO of U.S. Internet, whose company utilizes a more traditional and vertically-integrated approach to offering access and service, cast doubt on the Ammon model throughout the conversation.

“There may be future innovation that requires Layer 2,” or the data link layer of the Open Systems Interconnection model, said Jasper, referring to the increased innovation EntryPoint promises, “but I’m skeptical.”

Carter said he would not want to rely on the city to manage his personal internet network, noting that he has had a pothole outside his house for two years that the city is supposed to fix.

Carter also said there was a problem in how easy it is for internet service providers to register to offer services on Ammon’s network with EntryPoint’s automated software.

As long as an individual has “some level of sophistication” they are going to be able to connect to EntryPoint’s software relatively easily, and hence offer services to subscribers on the network, agreed Christensen.

Carter noted that a single ISP could rather easily dominate the market by undercutting existing competitors. This is “precisely what happened with dial-up,” said Carter. All providers “came in charging $19 a month and one company came in at $9, and up-heaved the whole market.”

“Fiber-to-the-premise networks themselves are actually very simple, yet the Ammon model adds unnecessary complexity,” said Jasper.

Mitchell jumped in to defend EntryPoint, saying the network design will lessen ISP market power and give subscribers increased capabilities. “We are going to see innovative things only possible on this type of network,” said Mitchell.

But the panelists all agreed on the importance of present consumers with better internet service options.

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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