Hi Reddit! We are experts and activists in community broadband and tech democracy! Access to the Internet is an essential infrastructure for any community that cares about economic development, quality of life, and opportunities. Most communities are presently dependent on a few unaccountable corporations that act as gatekeepers to the Internet— we’re working to change that!

We'll start at 1pm EST and going until 2pm!

*Deb Socia, Next Century Cities supports community leaders across the country as they seek to ensure that everyone has reliable internet access. http://nextcenturycities.org

*Mark Ericksen, RS Fiber Coop a community driven effort to bring a high-speed fiber-optic connection to everyone http://www.rsfiber.coop

*Nick Stumo-Langer u/stumolanger, Institue for Local Self-Reliance defends the right of communities to build public networks without states or the federal government creating barriers https://ilsr.org/initiatives/broadband/

proof http://imgur.com/a/a47O2 http://imgur.com/a/qgmG5

EDIT** That's a wrap! Thanks for all of the amazing questions! Be sure to check out the links above and neweconomy.net to learn more about community ownership!

Comments: 116 • Responses: 19  • Date: 

aburgerkingbathroom169 karma

I live in a rural area where there is no Comcast or Verizon. It's a half-hour drive to the nearest McDonald's or Walmart. We have three options for internet service - satellite, the regional cable company, and the local phone co-op. Satellite has metered data with low caps and the cable company maxes out at 1 mbps, which costs $50 a month plus fees. I have the lowest fiber plan from the phone company - 10 up, 10 down, and it's about $90 a month.

A lot of the people here can't come up with $90 a month. To reference just one metric, the median home value here is far less than half of the median home value for our state.

I agree that internet access is essential, and I can understand concerns about the big players like Comcast and Verizon, but I wish we had the option to use them here. They offer significantly faster internet for significantly less money.

What can be done to change the internet infrastructure in a community like mine, to allow more people the benefits of having an internet connection?

Next year I'm going to run for City Council, and I have a pretty good chance of getting in. As someone involved in local government, what steps could I take to ensure that the internet is accessible to everyone in the community?

neweconomy76 karma

Mark here: Your ability to affect change in your community is a difficult question to answer because it depends on several variables. How big if you community? If it's too big, any attempt to improve service will be met with fierce (and deep pocketed) resistance, especially if your current provider is one of the bigs. If your community is too small, you may not be big enough to put together a business plan that will cash flow without bringing other communities in the mix. We put together our 10 community project (largest town is 2,300 people and smallest is 400) but gathering stakeholders (city government, county, townships, area foundations) and putting dollars into a pot to hire a good consultant. The consultant laid out several paths we could take. You will need a champion or champions to move forward. Education about the opportunity that fiber to the home (best wired alternative) is key. We found that when our rural citizens understood the opportunity they more or less demanded that we move forward with a plan. We spent a couple of years hosting more than 100 information meetings to garner support and work on a business plan.

neweconomy51 karma

Deb here: One thing you can do as a city council member is to join Next Century Cities (www.nextcenturycities.org). We are a nonprofit that works specifically with communities and their elected officials to find solutions that can ensure fast, affordable, reliable broadband. And it's free to join.

neweconomy3 karma

Deb here: One thing you can do as a city council member is to join Next Century Cities (www.nextcenturycities.org). We are a nonprofit that works specifically with communities and their elected officials to find solutions that can ensure fast, affordable, reliable broadband. And it's free to join.

cammoritz15 karma

Thank you for doing this AMA! I have a question about building networks in poor city neighborhoods. The city itself has broadband access and is in a state with high levels of connectivity. These are good things, but major project funding resources go elsewhere. And even when these resources are available for, say, a pilot project, funders and technical assistance providers tend to drop in and then disappear after the pilot is over and everyone's collected the grant dollars. Building a community network is as much about building a community of practice as it is about standing up hardware. We've had real challenges connecting the hobbyist tech enthusiast who wants to put a node on their roof with a working class resident who just wants reliable internet. So my question: What movement building and training curriculum do you recommend so that community residents are empowered to maintain and troubleshoot their network infrastructure?

neweconomy9 karma

Debra here: In cities where access is sporadic, for example in low-income neighborhoods, there is an opportunity for the city to step in and provide support. Some support non-profits who build networks (like the mesh network in DC) others build free wifi (like Boston).

Boston: https://www.boston.gov/departments/innovation-and-technology/wicked-free-wi-fi

mljack1912 karma

Though new to the idea of this kind of local network solution, I am onboard with the idea of a cooperative approach. My biggest concern is having substantive cybersecurity mechanisms in place and a network that keeps current in all that ways that matters. Can you say more about cybersecurity and the costs of those protections for local networks?

neweconomy4 karma

From Mark: Cyber security efforts are part normal operating costs. The cost is nominal compared to the overall cost of the project and is part of our management company tract with the network operator.

Skeeter_2067 karma

What areas of the country are these initiatives taking place in, and what's the best way to get involved when the possibility of an internet cooperative comes near my community?

neweconomy4 karma

From Debra: I think there are a lot of steps a city can take - good permitting practices, good asset management, appropriate policies - be a good partner. Educate residents and elected officials so they know how to advocate.

neweconomy4 karma

Also, these initiatives are taking place across the country - from mid sized cities like Lafayette LA and Chattanooga TN to very rural areas like Leverett Ma to small communities that band together like Mark's RS Fiber project.

neweconomy3 karma

You can also check out where they are happening on this map: https://muninetworks.org/communitymap

lfxahab6 karma

Why are Comcast and AT&T able to get around anti-trust laws?

neweconomy7 karma

From Debra: good question. They are able to say that satellite is a viable alternative. The FCC is now considering whether or not to accept mobile service as "being served". We need to be clear these are NOT acceptable alternatives!

araz12235 karma

Hey guys! How is community broadband financed? Tax dollars? How much do taxes go up in communities that have got this?

neweconomy4 karma

From Debra: Financing varies mightily by community. Some do raise taxes for the capital costs, most do not. Some use RUS funds, some borrow against potential revenue. There are many options. You could watch one of our panels from one of our events that brought together different financing options to get a better idea: http://nextcenturycities.org/event/city-vendor-connect/ There are more funders willing to fund these projects that in the past. Also, you may want to work with a local bank to think about how they might receive Community Reinvestment Act credits for helping to finance. https://www.nten.org/event/webinar-new-report-and-what-it-means-for-the-digital-divide/A Mark is an expert on this as RS Fiber did exactly that.

akornblatt5 karma

I am curious about the "Keys to the Internet" and what that means for an open and free internet, can you elucidate and comment?

neweconomy14 karma

From Mark: Anything that is a monopoly is a gatekeeper by definition. The business models of the large incumbents are focused on maximizing the bottom line (for the shareholders). Our fiber project (rsfiber.coop) is a cooperative. That means we are focused on maximizing benefit to our customers and not the bottom line. Additional profits in a cooperative either go back to the patrons (customers) in the form of an annual dividend or to buy down the cost of service to keep monthly subscribers costs as low as possible. Many think the inability of the large incumbents to make the necessary investment in new technology is a market failure. I'm not sure it's an simple as that, but it's not too far off the mark.

carbonpenguin4 karma

I'm a volunteer with the Keep BT Local campaign, which is a consumer co-op bidding on the Burlington, Vermont municipal telecom that is being privatized following a legal settlement.

The process is ongoing, but the biggest challenge we're running into is access to friendly capital. The City definitely views the extractive bidders who are coming to the table w/ debt-free cash as more legitimate than our patched together mix of a community investment raise and double-digit interest debt.

Our region's co-op capital ecosystem is more robust than most, as we have the Cooperative Fund of New England (CFNE), but CFNE still only has ~$25MM in assets and the largest loan they've ever made is $750k, while this sort of project is in the $10-20MM range.

So, both for our initiative and for other folks looking to pursue a co-op ISP in their communities, where can we find the sort of capital that can make it happen?

neweconomy3 karma

From Mark:Regardless of your motivations or where your project springs from, in the end, if you build a new telecom network you will be operating a serious business that will have to comply with rules and regulations imposed by the government AND the industry. It's no small feat. for example, if you offer phone service (our network does) then you will need to prove five 9's reliability. That means you must prove to regulators your network is capable of operating 99.999% of the time (five nines). The prospect of building a new telecom network is complicated but it can be done. We're proof of that. And there are many other communities who have successfully built and operate new competitive networks. The incumbent provide will lower their prices, up their speeds and not be entirely truthful and honest with their marketing. They have a lot to lose. But you have a lot to gain.

chilli7up3 karma

Chicago: other good solutions than comcast or att?

neweconomy3 karma

From Debra: There are good providers out there, the big question is if they will share a territory - they often do not. No competition means that there are no real incentives to improve service or to increase speeds or to make the service affordable or to provide good customer service.

RONDOOOOOOO3 karma

Two questions!

1: How much faster is community broadband than Comcast/Verizon/etc.? I've seen some eye-popping numbers but what's the actual facts on the ground. And if it is faster, why?

2: In places that have achieved community broadband, how have the private ISPs responded?

neweconomy3 karma

Mark here: The simple act of having a serious public discussion about starting a community-based telecom network will get your providers' attention. Some providers will react to a discussion about building a new network to compete with them and take steps to upgrade their network. That's a win of sorts. Community networks give citizens leverage when it comes to how they are served. You can own and operate. You can own and have someone else operate. Or you can convince your current provider to upgrade by providing incentives for them to do so. If you can find a way to buy down the cost of a network upgrade for your local providers the prospect of making that upgrade is less daunting. Investing in rural networks is difficult because there just aren't enough people (in many instances) to allow for that upgrade. Again, cooperatives don't require the return on investment that shareholder driven providers do. CenturyLink, for example, could never invest in a Fiber To the Home network in the community of Gibbon, MN (pop. 800) because there is not a sufficient return on that investment. Their shareholders would not be happy.

neweconomy3 karma

Debra here: Remember that 20 states have barriers or limits on the ability of a community to build its own network, so this option is not available everywhere. Local broadband tends to be faster and symmetrical (same download speeds as upload), but it does vary. Many ISPs have not responded favorably, and in fact, have been pretty difficult for local communities to deal with. For example, Lexington Ky was sued by its local provider.

neweconomy3 karma

Correction, it was Lafayette LA that was sued.

ntnsndr2 karma

The group that created the #BuyTwitter campaign is interested in raising awareness of community-based broadband opportunities. If you were to tell the world one thing about community broadband, what would it be?

neweconomy2 karma

From Debra: I would add that having community broadband gives the local community ownership and control - speeds, prices, customer service, service territory, and so forth. Though there are risks, there are also significant rewards.

natiiiiiiiiii1 karma

How do you see cross-movement collaboration happening to raise more awareness about internet. Is internet a human right? Is that already happening in some communities? Beyond rural organizing, the movement for black lives platform demands an end to the privatization of schools. How can this be connected with the movement for community broadband as related to education? Also I'm curious how it's related to net neutrality!

neweconomy2 karma

From Debra: To answer your first question, I have not seen LOTS of cross movement collaboration, but one example would be SHLB: http://www.shlb.org/ They bring together health care, schools, and libraries to push for better access. Another example: community based groups like Charlotte Hearts Gigabit and TN4Fiber have had great impact by getting cross sector groups to collaborate behind the movement to ensure ubiquitous access.

evidence-basedpolicy-1 karma

[deleted]

neweconomy3 karma

1) Mark here: Mounting a project or community effort to build a telecommunications network, whether wired or wireless, is complicated and will always involve securing funds to build and operate the network. Lenders are, by nature, risk averse, and you will need to take multiple steps to mitigate the risk and demonstrate that you know what you are doing, that you have strong local support and that there is a good chance of success.