Broadband Communities

NOV-DEC 2018

BROADBAND COMMUNITIES is the leading source of information on digital and broadband technologies for buildings and communities. Our editorial aims to accelerate the deployment of Fiber-To-The-Home and Fiber-To-The-Premises.

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COMMUNITY BROADBAND 2 4 | B R O A D B A N D C O M M U N I T I E S | w w w. b r o a d b a n d c o m m u n i t i e s . c o m | N O V E M B E R / D E C E M B E R 2 0 1 8 Broadband From the Ground Up Community broadband projects often succeed only because local champions work for years to educate their neighbors about, and generate enthusiasm for, high-quality broadband. By Katie Kienbaum / Institute for Local Self-Reliance A cross the United States, grassroots advocates have been instrumental in developing community-owned networks. e three efforts described here harnessed the power of public outreach to improve communities' connectivity and quality of life. BROADBAND ADVOCACY BREWS IN FORT COLLINS In 2017, the citizens of Fort Collins, Colorado, voted on a ballot measure to allow the city of 165,000 to provide fiber optic internet access as a municipal utility. To support the ballot initiative, advocates organized public outreach, including events at local breweries called Broadband and Beers. ese brought together residents, elected officials and city staff to talk about improving local internet access. ese municipal broadband activists faced stiff competition from incumbent providers. A group backed by incumbents CenturyLink and Comcast as well as the Chamber of Commerce spent nearly $1 million opposing the municipal network, issuing flyers and ads that mischaracterized the ballot measure. For instance, one flyer quoted an editorial by the Coloradoan, a local Fort Collins newspaper, in a manner that the newspaper's editorial board called "way out of context." In comparison, the grassroots groups had a budget of only $15,000. ey focused most of their efforts on social media outreach, and they emphasized voter engagement. Colin Garfield, founder of Broadband and Beers, described the difference between the two campaigns: "We ended up getting [about] 550 people who liked the [Facebook] page. We had thousands of comments by the end of the campaign. … e opposition group had a Facebook page that was locked down. You couldn't join it, you couldn't comment. eir YouTube page was locked down. You couldn't even talk to them." Despite the community organizers' much smaller pocketbooks, the ballot measure passed with 57 percent of the vote. Fort Collins is in the process of developing a citywide, publicly owned fiber network, thanks to the hard work of some very dedicated broadband advocates – plus a pint or two. PORTLANDERS STEP UP TO BRIDGE DIGITAL DIVIDE Grassroots activists in Portland, Oregon, formed Municipal Broadband PDX to promote the creation of a municipal broadband network in the city. e group has already experienced success: In May 2018, the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners approved $150,000 for a feasibility study for a municipal broadband network. Municipal Broadband PDX focuses on issues such as affordability, equity and net neutrality to get community members excited about the potential of a publicly owned network. e group hopes a municipal network will be able to address the digital divide, which particularly impacts low-income Portlanders and people of color. Its website, municipalbroadbandpdx.org,

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