New industry group aims to give municipal broadband a boost, raises $100K

A group of public officials formed a coalition to bolster municipal broadband – known as the American Association of Public Broadband (AAPB). Within twelve hours of its formation, AAPB raised $100,000 in funding from government agencies and private donors, according to Bob Knight, one of AAPB's founding members and the organization's member at large.

Knight told Fierce the scope of that funding amount underscores the need for an organization like AAPB, which will help ensure federal broadband funds are distributed in a balanced way.

The AAPB, officially formed at the Broadband Communities Summit in Houston last week, will provide its members with analytical resources tracking federal and state legislative broadband developments, Community Networks wrote, as well as insight on how that legislation affects broadband deployment on the local level.

Five founding members currently serve AAPB’s board – representing Highland Communications Services (HCS), Traverse City Light & Power, Kitsap Public Utility District (PUD), Ridgefield Economic and Community Development Commission (an agency serving Ridgefield, Connecticut) and UTOPIA Fiber.

Traverse City L&P and Kitsap PUD are municipal utilities serving Traverse City, Michigan, and Washington State’s Kitsap County, respectively. HCS provides fiber-to-the-home services for Highland, Illinois, and Utah-based UTOPIA recently struck a deal with a California joint powers authority to expand rural broadband in that state.

In a Community Broadband Bits podcast, UTOPIA CMO Kimberly McKinley, who is also secretary of AAPB’s board, said the new group wants to educate other cities and municipalities on how to go about broadband deployment.

“I think [AAPB] has a vast amount of experience and we just want to bring this education to other cities who are just starting the [deployment] process, who might just be lost or need some place to ask questions or bounce ideas,” she said.

The organization’s website contains a comprehensive state-by-state list of legislation roadblocks as well as progress states have made to remove municipal restrictions on broadband. AAPB lists eighteen states that have at least one “significant” roadblock in place preventing municipalities from establishing broadband service for their residents.

“One of the biggest points is I don’t think municipal broadband necessarily works for every community across the country, but what I’m saying is every community should have a choice,” McKinley said in the podcast. “We’re doing this because broadband is infrastructure and broadband is needed as we continue down this journey.”

Local communities should have the choice to partner with an incumbent provider, like Verizon or Comcast, or build their networks themselves if they so choose, Knight explained. 

AAPB’s formation comes at a pivotal time when various government initiatives are pouring money into broadband deployments. The organization could help municipal networks receive some of that funding and ensure communities are not "legislatively harmed," said Knight.

"We want to make sure municipal broadband is an allowable use of federal and state dollars. Because municipal networks are successful and have been doing great things providing access and equity throughout the country," he said.

AAPB offers two membership categories: one each for voting and non-voting members. Voting members must be government agencies or individual government employees. Agencies can join the organization for an annual fee of $1,000, while government employees can join for $300 per year. Non-profit and advocacy organizations may enroll in non-voting memberships for $1,000 per year.

Knight added AAPB is looking to hire an executive director, who would be responsible for coordinating with and providing technical advice to state broadband offices who have lost staff to the private telecom industry. AAPB's other near-term goal is to bring on an active lobbyist.

"There's a lot happening both at the federal level and in all 50 states pertaining to broadband policies - all happening in real-time," he said. "We want to make sure we're representing our constituents accordingly."