Tom Wheeler at BBC

FCC Chairman Wheeler made his case for muni broadband in Austin. (Photo via @bbcmag)

Our work at KC Digital Drive starts with community—first and foremost with our local community in Kansas City, but also with the global community of cities who are working on the same sort of digital transformation projects in their cities, from digital inclusion to next-generation Internet use cases.

For the fourth straight year, I spent some time this week at the Broadband Communities Summit in Austin. This was the first broadband conference I ever attended back in 2012, before the Playbook was even published. The crowd then seemed composed mostly of rural and smaller communities who viewed broadband as a path to economic competitiveness and apartment/condo building owners who were trying to understand how to outfit and market their properties with connectivity features. A year later—in 2013—Mayor James and Mayor Reardon received the conference’s Cornerstone Award for the Playbook and helping to launch KC Digital Drive.

This year, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler delivered a rousing keynote to a packed room full of policy makers; city, state and federal officials; non-profit partners, Internet service providers, and the whole array of technology companies who actually go about building the Internet. If you’ve been following the FCC story this year regarding Title II, municipal broadband and net neutrality, you’ll understand why all these people listened with interest. (Read his full remarks here.

My conclusion: broadband has come a long way.

Here are a few highlights from several of the keynote addresses in Austin, beginning with Wheeler:


  • Chairman Wheeler used his time to make a vigorous case for the FCC’s recent rulings on net neutrality and municipal broadband. He repeatedly made the claim that the new rules were about “competition, competition, competition”—his self-stated mantra at the FCC—beyond one or two providers for high-speed home broadband.
  • He invoked the “light-touch Title II” mantra in an attempt to assure those worried about onerous regulation stifling innovation, and also clarified that there was no intent to regulate the rates broadband providers can charge.
  • He said the regulations were based on the principles that the Internet should be “fast, fair, and open.” And he reemphasized that fast, according to the FCC, means 25 Mbps download speeds—a recent change that is a pretty dramatic departure from 4 Mbps when the fiber conversation got started in Kansas City.
  • A spokesman from AT&T echoed his company’s support for a fast, fair and open Internet and described AT&T as a longtime believer in net neutrality—but strongly disagreed that the Title II authority invoked by the FCC is the best way to achieve those ends, a sentiment met with applause by a vocal contingent. He also said that the GigaPower pilot in Austin had “exceeded expectations on every metric,” that it’s live in 9 markets now including Kansas City, and they are looking forward to the continued rollout.
  • Mark Strama, who heads up Google Fiber in Austin, also talked about how pleased they are with progress, even as they’re still building out the network. He talked about the challenges at the low end and high end of the market—embracing the tech scene and innovation community coming up with new uses for gigabit, as well as trying to bridge the digital divide.
  • To the latter point, Sylvia Blanco with the Housing Authority of the City of Austin talked about their model program to bring connectivity, computers, and a broad range of digital training to public housing residents in Austin. We’ve seen this multi-pronged strategy in Kansas City through the work of Connecting for Good, and we’re working actively with them, the city, the Kansas City Housing Authority and Congressman Cleaver’s office to bring connectivity to our public housing as well.


I also participated in a couple of panels—one on how important marketing is in a successful broadband deployment, the other on the need for building local coalitions. People remain intensely interested in what is going on in Kansas City, and it’s great for people to continue sharing that story. BHC Rhodes, an Overland Park-based engineering company, continues a strong presence at fiber events. And some of the folks who help run MetroNet, which builds and operates fiber networks mostly in Indiana, make their home in the Kansas City area.

In closing, we at KC Digital Drive spend a fair bit of time traveling in order to make sure Kansas City is well-represented in these broader conversations. And because people around the world are interested in the work we’re doing and how they can learn and build from our successes and mistakes. This sharing is part of how we lead. But it’s also how we learn. By participating in events around the country, we’re able to grow the number of networks that have Kansas City nodes, to find new ideas and opportunities, and to bring more of them back to our local community.

These experiences show up in individual meetings, work groups, and ongoing programs like 1 Billion Bits and Code for KC. But we haven’t made a habit of documenting and sharing here the conversations we’re taking part in. We’ll start doing a better job of that. And we invite others from the community who are representing Kansas City in conversations about building our digital future to do the same.


Further Reading