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Open Access

Open Access Opportunity for Municipalities to Allay Competition Concerns

Open access provisions in municipal builds could alleviate fears of competition concerns with ISPs.

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June 23, 2021—Municipal broadband networks can include open access provisions that allow internet service providers to sell services and allay competition fears, according to a some on a panel of experts hosted by Broadband Breakfast.

Over the past few months — and increasingly since President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan in March thrust the importance of municipal builds into the spotlight – there has been concern, specifically from Republicans, that municipal networks could cripple competition. Critics of those networks have sought to outlaw them as a result.

But allowing ISPs to use municipal networks to sell last-mile service to homes and business, cities can effectively reduce competition fears of critics, increase competition between providers, and ultimately reduce prices for consumers, said Ben Lewis-Ramirez, co-founder and chief marketing officer at Lit Communities, who was a panelist on last week on Broadband Breakfast’s live online event to discuss the intricacies of open access in the digital age.

Open access can thin margins, affect services

Some on the panel weren’t altogether convinced about the idea. Monica Webb, head of market development and strategic partnerships at Ting Internet, said on the panel that, in her experience, while dissatisfaction with cable and telco monopolies is often the driving force behind open access efforts, open access solutions will not necessarily yield better service to consumers.

“When it comes to competition in open access, prices generally do go down [for consumers],” Webb said. “However, the margins for ISPs can also be narrower, and sometimes service can be impacted.”

Webb and Lewis-Ramirez both agreed that the quality of service offered by telcos is not necessarily improved by open access models, and that municipalities that decide to pursue an open access solution must be sure to vet the companies that they decide to lease their infrastructure to, and establish strict standards for companies to adhere to.

Despite calling an open access a potential silver bullet, Lewis-Ramirez also agreed with Webb’s assessment that there are unique risks associated with open access. In an open access model, those who are deploying and leasing infrastructure assume the lion’s share of risk; ISPs that contract with those leasing infrastructure stand to lose very little, and must expend minimal capital to take advantage of said infrastructure.

Though open access might come with risk, both experts stated that in certain circumstances, open access infrastructure can provide significant value for both consumers and municipal bodies looking to improve network coverage.

The model is receiving attention at the federal level. Amy Klobuchar’s Accessible, Affordable, Internet Act” would prioritize funding for projects that utilize an open access model.

The municipal network debate

The discussion comes at an interesting time: This month, Ohio’s Republican-controlled Senate passed a budget featuring an amendment that would essentially end municipal broadband in the State. The reason? Municipalities should not be allowed to compete against business for this essential service.

Ohio isn’t alone, either. If the budget passes Ohio’s House, it will be added to the list of more than a dozen states that outlaw municipal broadband services.

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place every Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. You can watch the June 16, 2021, event on this page. You can also PARTICIPATE in the current Broadband Breakfast Live Online event. REGISTER HERE.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021, 12 Noon ET — “Innovation in Broadband Business Models: Open Access Case Studies”

One of the areas of greatest innovations in digital infrastructure investment concerns open access networks, a growing space for innovation and investment. Join Broadband Breakfast for a session considering how multiple American open access networks — including players in the ownership, network operations, and services areas — have tackled the unique challenges in crafting a business that works for a network that serves multiple stakeholders.

More about Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021 at Broadband Communities Summit

Panelists:

  • Monica WebbHead of Market Development & Strategic Partnerships at Ting Internet
  • Ben Lewis-Ramirez, Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Lit Communities
  • Sean Buckley (moderator), Editor in Chief of Broadband Communities

Monica Webb is the head of market development & strategic partnerships at Ting Internet, working with local stakeholders in existing Ting towns and evaluates existing and prospective gigabit network locations and related business projects. Webb spent her early career working in marketing and management in the financial services industry, where she launched channel marketing platforms that continue to dominate channel strategy in the mutual fund industry today.

Ben Lewis-Ramirez is passionate about bridging the digital divide through building open application networks in under-served communities, and was one of the Lit Communities co-founders. He has over 10 years of executive management experience in the outside plant engineering and construction industries, with a focus in business development and strategic planning for the past 3 years. Ben is a vocal advocate for the open application business model, and has published numerous magazine articles and blog posts on the subject, in addition to speaking about it at conferences and other events around the country.

Sean Buckley is the Editor in Chief of Broadband Communities. Buckley comes to the magazine publishing and conference company after serving nine years as Senior Editor at FierceTelecom, a daily online newsletter. He also oversaw FierceInstaller, a weekly publication chronicling trends in network installation. Prior to coming to FierceTelecom, Sean spent eight years at Horizon House publications, serving as senior editor and later as Editor in Chief of Telecommunications Magazine and Telecom Engine.

WATCH HERE, or on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

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

SUBSCRIBE to the Broadband Breakfast YouTube channel. That way, you will be notified when events go live. Watch on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

See a complete list of upcoming and past Broadband Breakfast Live Online events.

Reporter Ben Kahn is a graduate of University of Baltimore and the National Journalism Center. His work has appeared in Washington Jewish Week and The Center Square, among other publications. He he covered almost every beat at Broadband Breakfast.

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.

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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.

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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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Funding

Anticipating Launch, Yellowstone Fiber to Seek Federal Funds for Rural Broadband

With service beginning in late September, non-profit fiber ISP aims to serve rural Gallatin County

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Photo of Greg Metzger in July 2022 from Yellowstone Fiber

BOZEMAN, Montana, July 27, 2022 – Officials at the non-profit internet entity Yellowstone Fiber announced Thursday that they would pursue federal broadband funding to expand network construction in rural areas of its footprint in Montana.

Because every state is poised to receive a minimum of $100 million to expand broadband infrastructure under the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, officials at Yellowstone Fiber believe they are well-suited to obtain funding to connect homes, businesses, farms, and ranches to high-speed fiber internet in the sections of the Montana’s Gallatin County north of Bozeman.

Although Yellowstone Fiber is just going live with its first customers in September – and began offering pre-sales in late July – the new fiber entity believes that the availability of funding through the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program of IIJA offers a unique opportunity.

As with all states, Montana will receive a minimum of $100 million to expand high-speed broadband infrastructure to the nearly one-third of state residents who currently lack access.

Speaking about the impending launch of services on Yellowstone Fiber, CEO Greg Metzger said, “This is an important milestone for Yellowstone Fiber and we’re enormously excited to announce we’ll have the network live in a matter of weeks.”

“For decades, people in rural Montana have been limited by slow and expensive internet service and empty promises by cable providers. Today’s announcement signals we’re serious about connecting rural Gallatin County to high-speed fiber and the limitless possibilities that it brings,” he said.

Yellowstone Fiber is building an open access network, which means that Yellowstone builds, owns, and operates the fiber infrastructure, then leases space on its high-speed fiber to service providers, including Blackfoot Communications, Skynet Communications, Global Net, TCT and XMission.

In an interview, Metzger touted the role that open access networks play in enabling free market competition, including better prices, service, and reliability.

Metzger, an entrepreneur who previously manufactured plastic deposit bags for banks, sold that business and bought a furniture company in Montana.

Although he said he would rather be playing golf, when he stumbled across a new funding mechanism, he decided to create a non-profit entity designed to serve his community with fiber optic network services.

Yellowstone Fiber was formerly Bozeman Fiber, and was created in 2015 as an economic development initiative to address the lack of true high-speed broadband in Gallatin County, Montana.

A group was formed including the City of Bozeman, Gallatin County, the Bozeman School District and business leaders and funded by eight banks with a Community Reinvestment Act-designated loan.

This $4,000,000 was used to create a fiber ring connecting anchor tenants including the city, county and the school district, and also servicing the Cannery district and downtown Bozeman.

Anchor operations began in the fall of 2016, and commercial operations in February 2017. In 2020, the network formed an operational partnership with Utah-based UTOPIA Fiber to bring fiber-to-the-home services to every address in Gallatin County.

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