Christopher Mitchell

A Public Housing Digital Inclusion Blueprint

At least 100,000 San Francisco residents lack adequate Internet access and miss out on economic and educational benefits. A new model -- developed by Monkeybrains, a local Internet service provider (ISP), and the city of San Francisco -- successfully bridges this digital divide for public housing residents. Thanks to low start-up and maintenance costs, the solution will be financially self-sustaining for years to come. If you want to get a program like this going in your city, here are key points:

Tacoma Develops Lease Plan to Preserve Muni Network Ownership

For several years now, Tacoma (WA) has pondered the fate of its Click! municipal open access network. In the spring of 2018, the community issued an RFI/Q searching for interested private sector partners that would lease the network from the Tacoma Power Utility (TPU). After reviewing responses, consulting experts, and comparing potential arrangements, Tacoma has narrowed the field of possible partners. The goal is to put the network on a sustainable and competitive footing both financially and technologically. Tacoma is following a path that will retain public ownership of the Click!

Connecting the Unconnected with Open Access Infrastructure

Most Americans do not have much of a choice in Internet service providers, even in big cities. But for a lucky few, they have not only a robust gigabit connection but also a choice of many providers. This is most common in an arrangement called “open access.” Some 30 communities spread across the United States have embraced this model — where the local government builds a fiber-optic infrastructure and acts as a wholesaler, allowing independent Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to offer the actual service to households and businesses.

Profiles of Monopoly: Big Cable & Telecom

For years, national cable and telecom companies have complained that they work in a tough industry because “there’s too much broadband competition.” Such a subjective statement has created confusion among subscribers, policymakers, and elected officials. Many people, especially those in rural areas, have little or no choice.

Bill Introduced in Maine Legislature to Limit Local Authority over Broadband Investment

Maine State Representative Nathan Wadsworth (R-Hiram) introduced a bill to revoke local authority over building Internet networks needed by local businesses and residents. The one-time Maine state American Legislative Exchange Council chair introduced HP 1040 (also cross filed as LD 1516) to advantage the big cable and telephone monopolies. This bill will introduce procedural hurdles to discourage local governments from investing in modern broadband networks, including public-private partnerships with companies rooted in Maine – like GWI.

Little has changed since 2014, when Gizmodo rated Maine 49th in terms of broadband Internet service. Rather than finding ways to encourage investment, this bill would have the state actually slow it. “This effort joins a national trend of big cable and telephone companies, like Time Warner Cable and FairPoint, leaning heavily on state legislatures to protect themselves from competition,” says Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “Communities do not make these investments when they are well served. If big cable and telephone companies want to preserve market share, they should invest in better services rather than crony capitalist laws.”

Next Century Cities Releases 2017 Policy Agenda on Emerging Issues when Expanding Broadband Access

Next Century Cities released its 2017 Emerging Issues Policy Agenda, offering policy recommendations that support the expansion of high-quality, affordable broadband access to all. The agenda also explores some of the latest challenges to expanding next-generation internet access and innovations to tackle such barriers.

Next Century Cities communities are leading the way in implementing these policies and practices across the country. The policy agenda includes information and recommendations on issues such as local municipal authority, competition in multiple dwelling units, high-quality access for low-income households, small cell deployment, and One Touch Make Ready policies. For each policy issue, this new resource gives examples of local innovation and success, as well as policy recommendations to drive better competition and increased broadband access locally. The policy agenda also explores principles for government when developing legislation and undertaking broadband infrastructure investments, which is timely given the interest in Congress and at the state level for new investments in broadband.

Christopher Mitchell: TN needs better broadband, not subsidies

[Commentary] If you were tasked with improving the internet access across Tennessee, a good first start would be to examine what is working and what’s not. But when the General Assembly debates broadband, it frequently focuses on what AT&T and Comcast want rather than what is working.

Broadband expansion has turned into a perennial fight between Tennessee’s municipal broadband networks and advocates of better connectivity on one side and AT&T and Comcast on the other. On one side is a taxpayer-subsidized model, while the other depends solely on the revenues of those who choose to subscribe. But which is which? AT&T has received billions of taxpayer dollars to build its networks, whereas Chattanooga, Tullahoma and Morristown, for example, financed their fiber-optic networks by selling revenue bonds to private investors and repaying them with revenues from their services. The big telephone companies are massively subsidized, whereas municipal networks have generally not used taxpayer dollars.

[Christopher Mitchell is the director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minneapolis.]

Google Fiber Pauses - But No One Else Should

[Community] Google Fiber has finally announced its plans for the future after weeks of dramatic speculation that it will lay off half its workforce and give up on fiber-optics entirely. Google has now confirmed our expectations: they are pausing new Google Fiber cities, continuing to expand within those where they have a presence, and focusing on approaches that will offer a better return on investment in the short term.

This is not a surprise: Google is fundamentally a private firm focused on its shareholder value. And as such, it does not have the right incentives to deploy what has become essential infrastructure.

Fiber Remains A Good Municipal Investment: If anything, Google Fiber's change in focus reinforces the importance of smart municipal investments.

Waiting Can Only Hurt You: Whether a community intends to offer services directly or simply to encourage more independent service providers, it is now clear that they need to take action. The "Google Lottery" is temporarily suspended. Get busy finding an approach that fits your needs and challenges.

Wireless Is Not Killing Fiber: 5G is not magic and won't meet all of our needs.
The Private Sector Needs You: The private sector, Google included, simply cannot solve this problem alone but cities can change the calculus.

Building a competitive broadband marketplace for rural America

[Commentary] The high-capacity broadband lines that connect our banks, airlines, schools, libraries and hospitals, referred to as “business data services”, are critical to each and every community. But today, 97 percent of this high-capacity broadband market is controlled by one — and sometimes two — providers. Roughly one-fifth of all Americans live in rural areas where wireless broadband coverage – and competitive options – is severely limited.

Though smart policies can heal this gap over time, they are currently stuck with few choices and no real hope for more investment in the short term. For well over a decade, groups like mine have urged the Federal Communications Commission to fix this broken market because we have seen the impact it has on businesses and residents looking to compete in the 21st century economy. In our advocacy, we’ve faced roadblock after roadblock from the largest entrenched telephone companies that have very little incentive to deliver high-speed Internet to the rural communities. However, after ten years of battles with these dominant Internet and cable companies, we are hopeful for an important victory. The FCC has undergone a proceeding that can make an immediate difference, requiring that the big monopolies charge reasonable rates for the connections that libraries, schools, and even smaller Internet Service Providers need to keep their doors open. In many small communities, the only path out to the greater Internet is via the big telephone companies’ networks. Following the most exhaustive data collection in the FCC’s history, the Commission is poised to introduce a technology neutral framework that will promote broadband competition and investment to the benefit of all Americans. The gatekeepers are not going quietly and are engaging in a last ditch Hail Mary effort to derail the FCC’s progress and protect their profits. Although great for their shareholders, these profits are estimated to have cost the U.S. economy $150 billion in the last five years. That is money that should have stayed in local communities, supporting main street businesses.

[Christopher Mitchell is the Director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and the Policy Director at Next Century Cities]

Successful Strategies for Broadband Public-Private Partnerships

Smart cities are realizing they need to act or risk being left behind. However, many do not want to embrace the purely-municipal broadband network model, where the city would engage in direct competition with existing providers. One way for those communities to move forward is with a public-private partnership (PPP). But for all the excitement around this model, there are few concrete examples from which to draw lessons. This paper explores lessons from PPPs and offers in-depth case studies of three high profile models: Westminster and Ting in Maryland, UC2B and iTV-3/CountryWide in Illinois, and LeverettNet in Massachusetts.