Saturday, August 29, 2015

Speak Your Piece: Let Local Networks Deliver Broadband


breaking ground for rural braodband in virginia Coalfield Progress Virginia officials breaking ground on a project to bring broadband Internet service to six Southwest Virginia counties

In a recent op-ed entitled "The Right Broadband Stimulus Package," Robert D. Atkinson calls for broadband infrastructure proposals "based on pragmatic logic rather than ideological thinking."

This opinion sounds reasonable until we learn that Atkinson proposes that the lion's share of broadband stimulus funding go to cable and incumbent telephone companies, an approach that fails his own test of pragmatism.

Any local economic development official in America will readily tell you that the big telephone and cable companies are the last places to look for "shovel ready" broadband projects in underserved areas.

Here in the mountains of North Carolina, Verizon, AT&T and Charter control more than 90 percent of the landlines to homes and businesses. Yet local politicians and economic development officials -- and the state's broadband authority -- gave up years ago trying to cajole or bribe the big carriers into deploying broadband to underserved neighborhoods and rural areas.

The idea that these carriers might suddenly produce plans for "shovel-ready" broadband projects in our rural mountains is more magical thinking than pragmatic logic.

Instead, we are far more likely to find "shovel-ready" projects on the drawing boards of local planning agencies and state broadband initiatives like the N.C. Rural Internet Access Authority, now known as the e-NC Authority.
map of broadband access in NC e-NC Mapping the extent of broadband connectivity in North Carolina as of Dec. 2007 (orange 50-69%, yellow 70-89%, green 90-100%)
Frustrated by the neglect of the big telephone and cable companies in Western North Carolina, our local planning agencies and various nonprofits came together more than 10 years ago to begin mapping our own broadband infrastructure. Today, we have approximately 600 miles of lighted fiber operated by four nonprofit networks and one public-private partnership anchored by the Eastern Band of the Cherokee.

Six hundred miles of fiber in an area roughly the size of Vermont is a good start, but our needs are far greater. In fact, we easily identified $26 million in shovel-ready projects to recommend to the Obama transition team for funding.

The danger with tax credits for the big cable and telephone companies is that they can become a bait-and-switch scheme. When Atkinson writes that "a sizeable portion" of any stimulus package should go to these companies to deploy broadband "in areas without it," we see the bait. But then we hear that the tax credits can also be used "to expand speeds in areas with it," and there we see the potential switch.

If you're the CEO of one of these Fortune 500 companies, your investment strategy is aimed at major corporate clients and affluent residential areas, where the return on investment is greatest. So the choice of how to use tax credits from the stimulus proposal is a no-brainer: you're going to use those tax credits to increase speeds and become more competitive in markets where you already have broadband service.

Besides, your shovel-ready projects are all aimed at these lucrative market sectors; they're not aimed at underserved areas. This is so obvious and self-evident. So let's be clear: few, if any, shovel-ready projects on the drawing boards of these Fortune 500 companies will be in underserved areas. And any CEO who re-directs his company's investment strategy toward markets that aren't a good fit for his business model is putting his future career path at risk.

So, why are we trying to bribe the big telephone and cable companies to go where their Wall Street business models have no future? That's a question that advocates for tax credits must answer.

Meanwhile, we all need to remember that President Obama set forth another critical requirement for these economic stimulus projects: they must also be a good use of the taxpayers' money. That again gives the advantage to funding local networks -- the local and regional nonprofits, telephone and utility cooperatives, and municipal networks that have sprung up all over the country. Local network operators live in the communities they serve, and our reputations are on the line if we don't follow-through. Our fellow citizens can pick up the phone and call us; when they pick up the phone to call the Fortune 500 carriers, they get connected to a call center overseas.

Local networks will create local jobs; we don't outsource. And over the longer term, local networks open the door to local innovation and economic growth in ways that are impossible with absentee-owned networks.

plan for the French Broad River RiverLink Plan for the Wilma Dykeman RiverWay

Here's just one example: A local developer about a half hour north of Asheville bought an abandoned school on an island in the French Broad River in Madison County and converted it to studios for local artists. He wanted to make sure that each studio had a broadband connection, and we were able to give him this assurance. He could not get this kind of assurance from Verizon; in fact, it was virtually impossible for him to speak to anyone above the level of a call-center supervisor at Verizon in some remote part of the world. He was able to move forward with his bank financing because he could count on his local broadband network.

I offer this guiding principle for the broadband stimulus policy AND for future federal, state and local broadband policy:

No tax dollars for broadband infrastructure should go to absentee-owned networks, unless no local network is available for this taxpayer support.

Wally Bowen is executive director of the Mountain Area Information Network, a local Internet service provider based in Asheville, North Carolina. This article is adapted from his remarks at the panel presentation, "Broadband Stimulus: Diverging Views on How to Spur Broadband Investment."


Broadband stimulus

I couldn't agree more.  In rural Montana, if it weren't for an enlightened and progressive rural telephone cooperative we would be using a tin can and string system.


Local mesh networks already exists in many communities.  Using $150 routers or two cards in an old PC, and some open source software, a community can create its own broadband network at very low cost.  The feed comes from one more T1 feeds from major carrrier whilch is usually available in all major cities and all major highways.  See:

What is more important is that each community develop a virtual digital network of community activits who formulate and implement a seriese of actions to create a citizen-base economy.  see:

Jim Miller




Aren't or other satellite web access available to you?

Let Local Networks Deliver Broadband

I must agree with the writer of the article and welcome others who have cogent solutions to offer like Jim Miller. One thing is surely evident to most people with at least room-temperature IQs. Depending on corporations to supply the needed services to all Americans is akin to believing that Wall Street is not populated by the greediest and most amoral persons in our society.

I live in an 'urban' part of NC where the article's map shows 100% market penetration of internet. What the map does not show is that the so-called broadband service here is pitiful and expensive. To get truly high speed broadband carries a very hefty premium. Of course, my provider TW says that my pc may be the problem. That's pretty interesting because the same pc on another broadband connection zips right along.

I don't know where the answer lies but I am sure that it does not lie with giving big tax breaks to the firms that have utterly failed at bringing affordable high speed internet to this country. It always seems odd to me that other nations - like Japan - have much speedier internet service at better prices. It may just be that the Internet providers here have, like the pharmaceutical companies, decided that Americans are chumps and that we'll pay whatever they want to charge us.

I plan to continue to tell my congressional representative to vote against giving the communications giants, banks and Wall Street more and more tax breaks and handouts. They neither need nor do they deserve them.


I am in an area tha show 90 to 100 coverage, and I can not get DSL.  To qoute the telephone company...they will not go across the river.  There are nearly 30 houses up beyond the river.  Also it seems that 1 our 3 people you ask, they can not get DSL either.  As we should not believe the press, so shall we not believe the executives of the phone co.  I pray that this forum will be able to get a home base company to start up.  As to the question about satalite, this is a very wooded area,  so therefore no reception.    I have a college student that has failed a class, due to unable to access/download the lessons required.  I also would like to return to class and finish my degree, but am unable to due to the same issue.   HELP us in Yancey Co. 

Verizon deserves no additional funding for rural broadband

I live in the far western portion of NC. Verizon has told me I'm 600ft too far for their dsl service-and futher more they have no intention of expanding their service in the area because it is too expensive. The map shows my county has 50-60% coverage for broadband-I highly disagree with the number. I would guess it's more like 25-30% of the county. While I live in a rural portion of the county-Verizon has done such a poor job in servicing our county- there are folks who live within a few miles of our county seat that have no dsl service available from Verizon.

Like the previous commenter-in a very wooded area Satellite Services are poor at best-if you can even get a signal. And cable companies are not much of an option either-as they usually haven't reached the rural areas.

Update The Coverage Availability Of Yancey County

I tried to have Verizon's DSL service installed.  They state I am not within city limits of Burnsville (4 miles outside in Prices Creek).  Dail up was offered,lol...  I'm paying $29.99 for 416 kbps download/123 kbps upload speed and Verizon has DSL at 1 mgps for $19.99.  My mom in Spruce Pine has AT&T DSL with an average download speed of 1 mgps for $19.99...

Hopefully with the new road construction, the utility companies will update their lines.  And in four years once it is done, I might be able to have decent service with increased rate. 

Satellite internet is outrageous (check out the cost) and the cell phone companies are offering internet service for a arm and a leg.  "You will be able to download 550 pages a month for only $69, can we sign you up?".  "No Thank You!".