Lake County Provides Gap Funding To Keep Project On Track

Lake County has faced a number of challenges since it began deploying its fiber network in 2012. The latest wrinkle comes as the Rural Utility Service (RUS) is late in distributing funds to pay contractors. The agency is administering the stimulus funds used to build the $66 million project. The Lake County News Chronicle recently reported that the County Board of Commissioners will pay $500,000 to cover expenses until federal funds arrive.

The Chronicle reports:

County Administrator Matt Huddleston said the County typically submits financial requirement statements (FRS) to RUS, and the federal agency usually processes the request for funds within 20 days. FRS 15 was filed more than 50 days ago and RUS still hasn't paid the County. A second, more recent FRS has also been delayed.

Commissioners were concerned delayed payments to contractors would further delay the project, scheduled for completion by September 2015.

After the original partner and the County dissolved their partnership and a threat of a lawsuit from Mediacom slowed deployment, Frontier asserted ownership of a number of utility poles within Two Harbors. According to the Chronicle, Lake Connections and the County recently made the decision to bury fiber instead of stringing them on poles as a way to avoid more delays.

Commissioner Rick Goutermont said he was hopeful after speaking to RUS officials on a conference call Monday that RUS would approve the new plan, the project would move forward and RUS would reimburse the $500,000 quickly.

"If we make some kind of movement in the form of some gap financing ... to keep the boots on the ground out there working on it, I believe that would send a stronger message to RUS of our commitment and that we want to move forward," Goutermont said Tuesday.

We documented Lake County's story in our report, All Hands On Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access. 

LISTEN LIVE: Chris will guest on MPR's "Daily Circuit" and KCRW's "To the Point"

"The FCC should be extremely wary of any arguments that claim paid prioritization or other discriminatory practices are necessary to increase investment in next-generation networks."

-- ILSR, July 18, 2014

For months the FCC has considered comments from the public as it examines network neutrality. There have been more than 3 million submissions; a vast majority of them were in favor of network neutrality and opposed to Internet "fast lanes." Clearly the American public values a nondiscriminatory flow of information over paid prioritization.

While the issue has not been completely absent from the media radar, it has quieted down until earlier this week. President Obama stated that he favored reclassification of Internet access to a Title II service. Big ISPs like Comcast, AT&T, and CenturyLink immediately reacted negatively to the prospect of regulations and obligations similar to other utilities.

Show Details:

The Daily Circuit: In order to sift through what all this means, MPR contacted Chris to visit with them on the Daily Circuit. Listen in Thursday, at 9:06 am as they address consequences, alternatives, and possible next steps.

Join the conversation: 651-227-6000. Host Tom Crann will also be interviewing Chester Wisniewski Sr., Security Advisor from SOPHOS, Inc. in Vancouver, BC, who will offer an international perspective.

It's a call-in show - your questions will keep the conversation moving!

To The Point:  Fast-paced national/international news and issues program, from KCRW. Hosted by Warren Olney. Listen in at 2:10-2:45 ET. Also on the show, Robert McMillan senior report with Wired, Robert McDowell,  former commissioner and senior member of the FCC, and Barbara Van Schewick, Stanford Law School professor and author of "Internet Architecture and Innovation".

"Envisioning a Gigabit Future" Reminder and Livestream Info

Chattanooga is a destination of choice for gigabit seekers and advocates for local choice, especially on Tuesday, November 18th. Next Century Cities and the Southeast Tennessee Development District will convene a field hearing titled "Envisioning the Gigabit Future." If you are not able to attend, the event will be live streamed.

Register to stream the event at http://conta.cc/1yRvAjG.

As a reminder, the event will be at The Church on Main in downtown Chattanooga from 9 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. EST.

Speakers will include Mayors, elected officials, and a long list of other local leaders with firsthand experience in bringing high speed access to their communities. 

There is still time to register online to attend.

Using the Franchise to Organize Against Comcast - Community Broadband Bits Episode 124

We first became aware of the Media Mobilizing Project through our work with the Media Action Grassroots. MMP has been working in Philadelphia to organize low income neighborhoods to improve access to the Internet and media more generally.

Hannah Jane Sassaman is the MMP Policy Director and joins us this week for Episode 124 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. We discuss how Comcast and other cable companies are failing our communities and how MMP is using upcoming franchise re-negotiations to organize for better Internet access and other community benefits.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 20 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Thanks to Jessie Evans for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Is it Fire?"

Local Entities Coordinate to Deploy Fiber in Illinois

Several entities in northeast Illinois are hoping to improve connectivity, reduce costs, and spur economic development with a publicly owned $2.11 million fiber optic investment. 

McHenry County, the City of Woodstock, McHenry Community College (MCC), and Woodstock Community Unit School District 200 are working together to develop the McHenry County Broadband Fiber Network Consortium. The county's Emergency Telephone System Board will also will belong to the consortium. The purpose of the group will be to oversee and manage the network, reports an October 26th Northwest Herald Article.

The Woodstock City Council recently unanimously approved participation in the project and the proposed intergovernmental agreement. District 200 soon followed with unanimous approval on October 28th, and on November 6th the McHenry County Board also agreed unanimously to participate in the project. The agreement and details about the project are available in the Agenda Packet [PDF] from the November 6th County Board meeting.

Each entity expects to see significant savings as they eliminate leased lines. Woodstock's annual projected operational costs will be $33,784, reducing municipal connectivity costs by about $13,448 per year by eliminating leased lines. Woodstock will also enjoy the ability to budget from year to year without the threat of unpredictable rate increases from current provider Comcast. City Manager Roscoe Stelford told the Northwest Herald:

The potential economic development opportunities, allowing area businesses to buy and use the new network, alone makes the project significant, he said.

“Having that high-tech infrastructure in the City of Woodstock is going to be another feather in our cap for us to secure economic development opportunities,” Stelford said.

The network will bring a 10 gigabit fiber back bone from the MCC campus through downtown to the County Government Center. Laterals will branch out to municipal and school facilities. The current plan includes gigabit connections to 24 municipal buildings, public safety sites, schools, recreation centers, a library, a work force center, and an opera house.

Comcast now charges District 200 approximately $109,000 per year for connectivity. When leased lines are eliminated, the District will spend approximately $48,500 as their share for operational and management costs. In addition to saving over $60,000 per year, District 200 will be able to offer students future-proof infrastructure. From the Woodstock Independent:

“It’s an exciting position to be in, and there are other things we’ll see savings on,” said [school] board member William Nattress. “Technical refreshment, new applications will be easier and less expensive now that we have this backbone.”

District 200's share is the largest because it requires more connections. Budgetary uncertainties at the state level have created concern for District 200 so Woodstock and McHenry County will cover District 200's $806,526 share with an interest-free, four-year loan.

For the total project, McHenry County will be responsible for $760,526; Woodstock will contribute $386,624; MCC will provide $54,423; and the Emergency Telephone System Board will contribute $105,800.

The Northern Illinois University's Broadband Development Group will coordinate the project; the network may be up and running as early as summer 2015.

EPB Working with Department of Energy to Improve Smart Grid

EPB estimates local businesses have saved approximately $50 million by reducing lost productivity due to power outages by 60 percent over the past two years. Those figures are impressive but Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) will be working with EPB to raise them even higher.

The Times Free Press recently reported that ORNL will send engineers to Chattanooga to optimize the use of data from the EPB smart grid. The goal will be to increase efficiency even further and to use their discoveries to help other U.S. electric utilities.

"We have to have a more reliable electric system," DePriest said after signing an agreement Monday to work with the Oak Ridge lab on electric grid improvements. "Electricity is essential to our modern way of life and we have to figure out ways to use all the data we are gathering in a quicker and more usable manner."

EPB's smart grid now gathers data in 15 minute increments whereas many utilities that have less sophisticated capabilities only collect data once or twice a month. EPB's system quickly discovers problems that can balloon into costly mistakes if not detected early.

As more people use solar, wind, or geothermal power, providing electricity or purchasing electricity from consumers becomes more complicated. 

"We need to continue to innovate and get better," said Patricia Hoffman, assistant secretary for DOE's electricity delivery and energy division. "Chattanooga has been a leader and we hope this will help us find ways to make our electric grid more efficient, more flexible and more reliable."

Small Town Volunteers in Massachusetts Begin Pole Inventory

Volunteers in Shutesbury will fan out this weekend to perform a "pole inventory blitz" reports the GazetteNet.com. The town of approximately 1,800 people sits near Leverett and faces many of the same difficulties with connectivity. 

Shutesbury and Leverett were working together a few years ago hoping to develop a solution to bring infrastructure to both communities. The two communities approached Verizon and Comcast asking for better connectivity, but their requests led to nothing. Eventually, Leverett became frustrated and broke out on their own. They are now deploying their own fiber network.

One of the first steps in determining the feasibility and costs to deploy a fiber network is accurately evaluating assets. Many local communities do not have an up-to-date inventory of utility poles or what entities own those poles. In Lake County, Minnesota, Frontier Communications asserted ownership of utility poles in the town of Two Harbors after fiber had been strung on those poles. Unfortunately, the county's records had not been revisited in some time and Frontier was able to produce records put ownership in question. The project was significantly delayed; planners eventually moved more fiber underground to avoid many of those poles. Pole inventories and due diligence, as in Shutesbury, help avoid delays and unanticipated cost increases. (Read all about Lake County's project in our recent report, All Hands on Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models For Exanding Fiber Internet Access)

Most Shutesbury residents use Verizon DSL, satellite, or dial-up and the community knows it needs better access. In an effort to obtain connectivity that will ensure fast, affordable, reliable services in the future, Shutesbury is taking inspiration from its neighbor. The city does not have any specific plans for a municipal network but is realistic about lack of interest from private investment.

The committee originally formed to work on the issue with Leverett began meeting again last April and has organized volunteers to get the process started. On November 8th, 60 volunteers will go out in teams of 3 in order to accurately collect information on utility poles in the 27.2 square-mile town. They will use a special iPad app developed by one of the Shutesbury Broadband Committee Co-Chairwomen, Gayle Huntress.

Asha Strazzero-Wild, another co-chairwoman of the Broadband Committee told the GazetteNet that the community is painfully aware of the lack of connectivity in Shutesbury:

“Everyone who’s involved in this is saying we need broadband and we need it yesterday.”

Christopher Mitchell Presentation Video: Seattle and Muni Networks

On October 8th, Chris visited the Emerald City to present his thoughts on a municipal network in Seattle. He was a guest of the Seattle Citizens' Telecommunications and Technology Advisory Board at their Broadband Education Public Forum, cosponsored by Brown Paper Tickets.

Seattle has sought better connectivity for some time and has tossed around the idea of a municipal network. Residents and businesses have expressed their concern and Seattlites are mobilizing. The Seattle Citizens' Telecommunications and Technology Advisory Board is in place to collect input from the community, research, and make recommendations to community leaders. They regularly host experts like Chris to educate the Seattle community as they look for ways to improve affordable access for residents and businesses.

Chris was there for a lunch time event and an evening session. The evening session, titled Exploring Municipal Broadband In Seattle with Chris Mitchell, is now archived and available to view on the Seattle Channel.

We want to thank both Brown Paper Tickets and CTTAB for the opportunity. In particular, Brown Paper Tickets deserves recognition for being a private company taking a leading roll in organizing for better Internet for everyone.

Republicans and Democrats Alike Restore Local Authority in Colorado

Yesterday, Colorado voters in three counties and five municipalities were asked whether they want to restore local government authority to build or partner for broadband networks. A 2005 law, lobbied for heavily by incumbents, prevents local municipalities from offering telecommunications services, even if they already have the infrastructure in place.

According to the law, local communities can ask voters to reclaim local authority to establish a telecommunications utility. We have seen Longmont, Montrose, and Centennial take action in prior years. In Longmont, the community has successfully established a telecommunications utility and the community is loving it.

An interesting wrinkle in Colorado is the wide support across the state - communities that vote heavily for Democrats supported local authority for municipal networks in similar numbers that those in areas voting heavily for Republicans.

In Yuma County, where approximately 85% of voters supported the GOP Senate candidate, the measure to reclaim local authority passed with 72% of the vote.  Yuma County overwhelmingly voted for the Republican candidate for Governor and every race in Yuma County went to a Republican candidate. The cities of Yuma and Wray within the County also had their own ballot initiatives to reclaim local authority; those ballot measures also passed by 72%.

Rio Blanco County's numbers were very similar to those in Yuma County. The only exception was that their ballot question 1A on reclaiming local authority passed with 76%. Again, every race went to a Republican candidate in Rio Blanco County.

Boulder, with considerable fiber assets already in place, decided to take the possibility of using those assets to the voters this year and the voters said yes. Much like the voters in Yuma, Wray, Yuma County, and Rio Blanco County, Boulder voters approved their measure 2C by a high 83.6%. Unlike the voters in Yuma, Wray, Yuma County, and Rio Blanco County, Boulder chose to support Democratic candidates in every race. Many of those races were not close.

Approximately 80% of San Miguel County voters, another region supporting Democrats in this cycle, chose to reclaim local authority on ballot measure 1A [PDF].

If we see communities described as strongly supporting either Republican or Democratic candidates also supporting municipal network authority, it is logical that communities with mixed support of both parties would also support local authority initiatives. 

Cherry Hills Village in Arapahoe County and Red Cliff in Eagle County each presented similar ballot questions to voters and both passed. Red Cliff's results are not official as of this writing but are projected at about 60-70% and Cherry Hills Village results are around 80%. Arapahoe County voters elected a mix of Republican and Democratic candidates with some races very close. Eagle County voters also chose mixed representation.

Yesterday's election in Colorado showed us that supporting local government authority to build or partner in fiber networks is popular across the political spectrum. Regardless of their party affiliation, they agreed that those smart decisions should be made at home, not by legislators in Denver. And if they were going to give advice to the new Congress in DC, it would probably be to restore and preserve local decision-making on this issue.

Layton Resident Breaks Down the Numbers on UTOPIA Service: Letter to the Editor

Thane Packer, a Layton resident, attended a community meeting this fall to learn what he could about UTOPIA. Packer is like many others who consider his costs for Internet, TV, and phone as an important factor in whether or not to support UTOPIA. After attending the meeting, he considered the presentation and what he described as "some very heated, and some very biased opinions."

He then examined his existing triple play costs and shared his findings in a letter to the Standard Examiner. The rest of his letter is reproduced below (emphasis ours):

The total bundled bill for home phone, Internet, and a TV package was $273.63. That is $93.25 per month for the internet and home phone plus $180 for TV. The telephone service is fine but the Internet is frustrating. The signal fluctuates, is spotty and unreliable.

In Provo, because there is competition from a fiber optic network, this exact same package, which includes, total Internet, home phone and the TV package is available from a provider for only $99.94 a month.

This means that even if I didn’t use a fiber network like the one in Provo the competition price from the provider would save me $178.69 a month. That means that without the competition from a fiber system like UTOPIA, the provider stands to make, (from me) a total of $2,144.28 a year and in 25 years (the pay-off time for the current bond, for which we receive nothing) is over $53,000

If I were able to switch to fiber system here in Layton a much better service would cost even less and I can certainly find a better place to use my $53,000.

So ask yourself this question. What is your current service costing you, how much extra are you paying, and what are you getting for it? For me the advantage of saving at least $178.69 a month and getting better service for it is obvious.

So please Layton, find a way to make this or something like it work for us. A very vocal minority should not be able deprive the rest of us from better cheaper service.