February 8, 2021 – Washington insiders marked the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Telecommunications Act on Monday by discussing how broadband deployment must be a top priority for new government and regulatory administrations.
The new-look White House and Federal Communications Commission can foist an era of great business growth if sustained financing of broadband, including the building of fiber infrastructure, is considered a top goal, said Kurt Van Wagenen, CEO of FirstLight Fiber and chair of the board at telecom Incompas,
Speaking at the Incompas 2021 Policy Summit on Monday, Van Wagenen stated that benefits realized by market-opening policies will be huge. Along with Incompas CEO Chip Pickering, they pledged Incompas’ intent to fulfill the pledge it signed to the FCC to “keep America connected.”
FirstLight Fiber has approximately 25,000 miles of belt fiber networks across six states it operates for more than 15,000 customers.
Covid-19 has proved the need for a more virtual environment , which provides the administrations with ample ammunition to push the agenda, the executives said.
Telecom Act created ‘extreme wealth’
Democratic Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, who gave the opening keynote at the summit, added that 12 million children in the United States don’t have access to internet-connected or home devices – a gap that is leaving harming their education This problem has been exacerbated by the pandemic, he said.
Markey noted that since its inception in 1996, the Telecommunications Act “unleashed over 1.7 trillion dollars of private sector investment while creating extreme wealth in such a brief period of time.”
Telecom subsidies in COVID-19 stimulus measure
A call to increase and unlock E-Rate subsidies was made by Senator Markey. Children represent 20 percent of our population, but 100 percent of our future, he said.
He recently led more than 30 other Senate Democrats in to unlock E-Rate subsidies – a program providing telecom discounts to schools and libraries – for online learning, and said a portion of these funds should come from the next COVID-19 stimulus relief package.
Net neutrality for social justice
Net neutrality is also a civil rights movement, Markey argued, suggesting it allows for the freeflow of views on the Internet that have been the building blocks for social justice movements like Black Lives Matter.
In 2015, the Obama-era rules that forbade telecoms from influencing the content over networks, including slowing or blocking certain traffic, was eliminated under former FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s administration in December 2017.
Eliminating net neutrality could hurt small business’ abilities to compete against larger, established companies, the senator said. Markey is in favor of net neutrality so that big tech companies cannot take advantage of small businesses.
He added the revocation of net neutrality would degrade progress the country has made in trying to root out systemic racism. Power on the Internet, after all, is concentrated in the hands of a few, he said and biased algorithms that often feature some views above others and could lead to discrimination must be addressed, he noted.
Editor’s note: Because of an editing error, this story incorrectly stated that the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Telecom Act was Tuesday. The Telecom Act was actually signed by President Bill Clinton on February 8, 1996, making Monday in fact the anniversary date. The story has been corrected.
UTOPIA Fiber Completes Payson City Project and Publishes Results of Customer Feedback Survey
UTOPIA customers deep in red states favor net neutrality by a wide margin.
November 29, 2021 – UTOPIA Fiber announced the completion of a fiber-optic internet network in one of its original 11 cities of Payson, Utah, on November 22.
All 20,000 residents and businesses in Payson City, Utah, have access to UTOPIA’s all fiber, open-access model, according to UTOPIA Fiber. Payson is the eighth of the original group of 11 cities to finalize its broadband infrastructure deployments.
“The original cities were visionaries before their time,” said UTOPIA Fiber Chief Marketing Officer Kimberly McKinley. “We need to give a lot of credit to Payson. Back in 2002, 2004, when UTOPIA was getting off the ground, they saw the benefit of our model.”
“They saw the vision and where the future was headed almost 20 years ago.”
Today, UTOPIA Fiber is deploying broadband infrastructure in 17 cities across Utah and southern Idaho. UTOPIA Fiber Executive Director Roger Timmerman said that the three remaining original cities will have their projects completed by the end of 2022.
UTOPIA’s model is entirely funded through subscriber revenue, at no cost to taxpayers. Based on UTOPIA’s recent surveys, the subscribers in question view the service as a worthy investment.
Annual customer feedback survey
Also, on Oct. 27, UTOPIA Fiber released the results of their annual customer feedback survey. Among other statistics, UTOPIA Fiber reported that the number of customers working from home had increased by more than 230 percent since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Additionally, while legislators around the country squabble over how to define broadband – whether it ought to be 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 20 Mbps upload, or 100 Mbps symmetrical, nearly half of UTOPIA’s customers purchased speeds over 1 Gigabits per second, which is 10 times faster than 100 Mbps.
Customers need faster speeds to address the myriad services that simply did not exist in the past, many believe. For example, 68 percent of customers are subscribed to a streaming service that did not exist three years ago, and the use of home security connected to the internet rose by 71 percent since 2018.
And 83 percent of consumers stated that they were glad they had invested in UTOPIA, 76 percent stated it had improved their quality of life, and 75 percent said their community is better because of UTOPIA.
In addition to high levels of customer satisfaction, UTOPIA also found that consumers were strongly in favor of net neutrality policies, with 92 percent of respondents indicating as much.
“A few years back we saw an influx of customers that came over to the UTOPIA system because that our providers are net neutral,” said McKinley. “I think that that speaks to people who want more privacy and control over their user experience. I think that is what we’re seeing at UTOPIA Fiber.”
Despite being generally favorable toward the practice up through the Obama Administration, net neutrality was struck down in the U.S. in 2017 by the Trump Administration’s FCC led by Ajit Pai. Though conservatives have historically portrayed net neutrality as an example of government overreach, McKinley argues that Utah is an example of why this issue should not be a partisan one.
“[This data] shows that people do not want to be beholden to big telcos who have control of their entire user experience. I think our survey proves more than anything that this is a bipartisan topic, and this is not a blue versus red discussion,” she said. “[Consumers] just want better.”
UTOPIA Fiber is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.
Bristol, Connecticut, Considers Using Rescue Plan Funds For Citywide Open Access Network
City’s technology staff has been working with a consultant to draft design recommendations for the fiber network.
November 10, 2021 – Across New England, local-controlled, publicly-owned internet infrastructure is on the rise — from Bar Harbor, Maine to the Berkshires of Massachusetts. In Connecticut, however, it’s a different story. The Constitution State is a municipal broadband desert.
That may be changing, however, as Bristol (pop. 60,000) inches closer to becoming the first city in Connecticut to transform itself into a fountain of community-owned connectivity as city officials consider whether to use its federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to build a citywide open access fiber network. With $28 million in ARPA funds at its disposal, city officials have been in a months-long process of deciding how much, if any, of that money should be spent building fiber optic infrastructure.
The city’s chief technology staff has been working with a consultant to draft design recommendations for the network, which were anticipated to be presented to both City Council and the Financial Board in August or September.
“That plan has been completed but has not been presented to City officials as of yet,” City Chief Information Officer Scott Smith told ILSR in an email. “The consultants would like to present their plan in person to City officials and so we thought it might be more prudent to have them present it at an upcoming meeting of the Mayor’s ARPA Task Force. We are hoping that we can use some of the ARPA funds to fund a portion of this broadband buildout, especially in the areas of the City where we have a significant digital divide.”
Building this infrastructure would increase competition and address local concerns about the lack of reliable, affordable, high-speed internet access.
“With the covid pandemic, it catapulted it to the top (of concerns),” Smith told the Bristol Press. “We have a digital divide issue in Bristol that is quite large.”
Currently, there are no fiber options available in Bristol, with Comcast, Frontier, Viasat, and HughesNet offering only cable, DSL, and satellite. And while, BroadbandNow reports that Comcast’s highest service tier offers gig speed connectivity in the region, we know that privately-owned infrastructure does not mean universal access. It’s not accessible if you can’t afford it.
The city has been surveying residents about their interest in having the city facilitate more options for internet access, with more than 500 respondents as of August.
In Bristol’s 2022 Capital Budget Summary it says:
“The City continues to pursue the feasibility of a potential city-wide network and has appropriated $250,000 of ARPA funds to evaluate an open access fiber broadband network for internet service providers to use to provide services to businesses and households of Bristol. The 2021 appropriation of $100,000 is being used to provide an overall plan and feasibility study to see if this network is sustainable and if the community wants it.”
“The city built its own fiber network to connect all its buildings and the schools,” the City Chief Information Officer Scott Smith told the Bristol Press. “We already run one connected to the poles. We’re looking to try and use that as much as we can and expand that fiber out into the neighborhoods around the schools and around the city buildings with the ultimate goal of reaching the whole town.”
While the timeline is unclear, the fact that the city is seriously considering how to create a more competitive broadband market is unmistakable.
“We’re not going to become an ISP. We’d ask Internet Service Providers to compete over the infrastructure. The competition would bring down prices,” then-Mayor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu told the Hartford Courant earlier this year. (Zoppo-Sassu lost her reelection bid for mayor this month to Republican challenger Jeff Caggiano, who was inaugurated on November 8, 2021.)
Municipal broadband networks are virtually non-existent in Connecticut, though Plainville started construction on an Institutional Network (I-Net) this summer. If Bristol follows through with building an open access fiber network and is successful, it would provide a powerful example for other communities in the state and potentially inspire local governments in other parts of the state to follow suit.
Editor’s Note: This piece was authored by Maren Machles, a reporter for the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Community Broadband Network Initiative. Originally appearing at MuniNetworks.org on October 29, 2021, the piece is republished with permission.
Panelists Clash Over Need to Eliminate Broadband Exclusivity Deals in Multitenant Properties
Industry officials disagree over how effective mandates are in creating internet provider choice within multitenant residential buildings.
WASHINGTON, October 28, 2021 – During a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event Wednesday, panelists from a variety of technology organizations expressed skepticism over a proposed Federal Communications Commission policy to enforce competition between internet service providers in multitenant housing.
The FCC is seeking and received comments on whether to eliminate exclusive wiring, marketing and revenue sharing arrangements, which mean third party service providers cannot share the building wires with the telecom with that privilege and cannot market their services to the building’s residents. The commission had previously already banned an exclusivity arrangement in which only one provider can service the entire building.
Panelists at the Wednesday event, titled “When Greenfield Fiber Meets Brownfield Multiple Dwelling Units,” were unsure whether such a policy is necessary given the prevalence of broadband currently is in multi-tenant units.
Both Kevin Donnelly, vice president for government affairs, technology and strategic initiatives at the National Multifamily Housing Council, and Sandy Howe, board director of smart software communications firm Minim, contended that internet provider choice is widely present in apartment buildings, with Donnelly stating that 79% of them see competition on site.
Donnelly praised current systems put in place to allow for broadband options in multi-tenant units and stated that mandatory access policy would often benefit only buildings where competition between internet providers is already present. He sees potential trickle-down costs for consumers that come with broadband expansion in multitenant housing as a potential challenge for the future.
Public advocacy groups disagree
Jenna Leventoff, senior policy counsel at Public Knowledge, disagreed with other panelists on the need to eliminate exclusivity agreements, stating that mandatory access laws provide more people with internet access and that lack of broadband is a problem of affordability for many apartment residents.
Additionally, she made clear that mandatory access laws protect service not only in residential settings but for businesses as well. She posited that even in recent explicit bans on service provider exclusive agreements in apartments, there are likely to be loopholes which landlords and internet service providers can find to exploit and profit by keeping broadband prices up.
Leventoff stressed that it is essential for consumers to be able to choose the provider from which they receive broadband and that providers in competition would be incentivized to improve the quality of their internet connection and create better experiences for customers. She follows the theory that wealthy areas receive better broadband because they are more profitable markets for service providers and that widespread competition between providers in apartments does not truly exist.
A key point of contention for panelists was whether a San Francisco mandatory wire sharing law struck down by the Federal Communications Commission in recent years helped to increase internet access in apartment buildings. Leventoff took the position that it did in fact increase access where it was lacking, while Donnelly countered that the buildings which received more service because of the law had already been fitted with broadband and hence the law did not assist those populations most in need.
Internet and competitive networks association INCOMPAS, Consolidated Communications Holdings, Ziply Fiber, and the Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future all said exclusivity arrangements are burdensome to residents because of the alleged lack of choice.
Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. You can watch the October 27, 2021, event on this page. You can also PARTICIPATE in the current Broadband Breakfast Live Online event. REGISTER HERE.
Wednesday, October 27, 2021, 12 Noon ET — “When Greenfield Fiber Meets Brownfield Multiple Dwelling Units”
Bringing fiber to the premises is sometimes only half the battle. For example, bringing fiber to an MDU may not mean that every tenant will get better-quality broadband. In the case of multiple dwelling units or multi-tenant housing, it isn’t easy to completely rewire an existing building with fiber-to-the-unit. Further, the Biden Administration and the Federal Communications Commission are pushing real estate owners to eliminate or minimize exclusive MDU broadband contacts. What options do the owners of, operators in, and tenants within MDUs have to enjoy both competitive and better-quality broadband?
- Kevin Donnelly, Vice President, Government Affairs, Technology and Strategic Initiatives, National Multifamily Housing Council
- Sandy Howe, Board Director and Chair, Special Committee of Minim
- Jenna Leventoff, Senior Policy Counsel, Public Knowledge
- Pierre Trudeau, President and Chief Technology Officer, Positron Access
- Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher of Broadband Breakfast
See “Housing, Public Interest Groups Oppose Multitenant Exclusivity Agreements,” Broadband Breakfast, October 21, 2021
Kevin Donnelly is Vice President for Government Affairs, Technology and Strategic Initiatives at the National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC) and represents the interests of the multifamily industry before the federal government focusing on technology, connectivity, risk management and their intersection with housing policy. Kevin is a part of NMHC’s Innovation and Technology team and leads its Intelligent Buildings and Connectivity Committee. Kevin has spent over 15 years in the public policy arena at leading real estate trade associations and on Capitol Hill. Kevin received his BA from Rutgers University and his Masters in Public Management from Johns Hopkins University.
Sandy Howe is a senior executive with extraordinary go-to-market experience and deep knowledge of the global communications and media industries, including broadcast, wireless, IP and fiber networks, and their customers. Over the course of a 25-year career, she has also built a track record of strong P&L management, operations, product development, sales and marketing capabilities. Sandy currently serves as a Board Director and Chair, Special Committee of Minim, a smart home solutions provider of hardware and AI-driven software products sold under the Motorola brand.
Jenna Leventoff is a Senior Policy Counsel at Public Knowledge, where she focuses on broadband deployment and adoption. Prior to joining Public Knowledge, Jenna served as a Senior Policy Analyst for the Workforce Data Quality Campaign (WDQC) at the National Skills Coalition, where she led WDQC’s state policy advocacy and technical assistance efforts on state data system development and use. She also served as an Associate at Upturn, where she analyzed the civil rights implications of new technologies, and as Manager and Legal Counsel of the International Intellectual Property Institute, where she led the organization’s efforts to utilize intellectual property for international economic development. Jenna received her J.D, cum laude, and B.A from Case Western Reserve University.
Pierre Trudeau is President and Chief Technology Officer, Positron Access.
Drew Clark, Editor and Publisher of Broadband Breakfast, also serves as Of Counsel to The CommLaw Group. He has helped fiber-based and fixed wireless providers negotiate telecom leases and fiber IRUs, litigate to operate in the public right of way, and argue regulatory classifications before federal and state authorities. He has also worked with cities on structuring Public-Private Partnerships for better broadband access for their communities. Drew brings experts and practitioners together to advance the benefits provided by broadband. He is also the President of the Rural Telecommunications Congress.
As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.
- Advocates Call for Universal Service Fund to Include Broadband Revenues
- Craig Settles Talks Telehealth, FCC Mapping Issues on States, Broadband’s Impact on Critical Infrastructure
- UTOPIA Fiber Completes Payson City Project and Publishes Results of Customer Feedback Survey
- FCC Watchdog Finds Evidence of Fraud in Emergency Broadband Benefit
- Date Set for Sohn Hearing, Criticism of Tech Legislation, New ILSR Leadership
- TPI New Broadband Map, Justice Dept. Stands for Section 230, Ericsson Looks to Acquire Vonage
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