In the News: Christopher Mitchell
January 15th, 2018
Media Outlet: Alternet
Cities and states across the country are angry at the Federal Communications Commission’s plan to repeal net neutrality protections guaranteeing Americans access to an Internet unthrottled by giant Internet companies. This decision comes on the heels of a massively important vote held by Fort Collins to change their city charter to allow them to offer broadband service.
And now, media outlets are starting to take notice.
Alternet’s Valerie Vande Panne interviewed the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Community Broadband Networks initiative director Christopher Mitchell about this trend and just how communities can assert their local authority in the wake of this federal policy against Internet freedom.
Here’s Christopher’s contribution:
Fort Collins joins a growing list of cities opting in to their own internet, and opting out of big telecom, much to the disdain of giants like Comcast. All told, big telecom and anti-net neutrality agencies spent nearly a million dollars trying to defeat the Fort Collins move.
In contrast, according to Christopher Mitchell, director of Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, concerned citizens of Fort Collins organized on social media and coordinated “broadband and brews” events at local beer hot spots, spending a total of about $15,000.
Telecom spent an “unprecedented amount of money,” Mitchell says, “but the voters were not scared by the cable and telephone companies. The reason that’s important for the rest of the country is that local government needs to be more aggressive in creating local internet choice.”
Early this year, the Fort Collins City Council voted 7-0 to move forward with a broadband plan, in light of a strong message voters sent when they approved ballot measure 2B in support of a municipal internet utility by nearly 60%. Citizens had previously opted the town out of a 2005 law (promoted by telecom companies), prohibiting municipalities from building their own broadband networks. However, the law gives citizens the right to opt out, and that’s exactly what Fort Collins and nearly 100 other municipalities in Colorado have done.
In rural communities nationwide, where there are smaller towns and greater distance between towns, cooperatives are installing high-speed broadband, often through local co-op electric companies, says Mitchell. For example, most of North Dakota has fiber in the home. Mitchell says people in western North Dakota have faster internet than most of the people in San Francisco, where big telecom rules.
“When people tell you you can’t have fiber in rural areas, it’s because they have no idea what they are talking about,” Mitchell adds, pointing out nearly half of the U.S.—geographically—gets electricity from co-ops. However, that’s only about 2% of the U.S. population.
“What that means is rural America has a better hope for broadband than urban America, because co-ops are building it,” he says.
Fort Collins’s $150 million plan should see broadband citywide completed within three to four years.
Nationwide, there are 95 municipal broadband networks similar to the Fort Collins plan that might encompass surrounding areas, such as in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
“The thing about Fort Collins that is exciting is the organizing,” Mitchell says, stressing they only raised “about $15,000 and took down professional PR people to build a municipal network. To me that suggests there is hope anywhere—where people want to organize around this issue, they have a good chance of success.”