Mendocino County Local Leaders Want to Leave the Slow Lane Behind

VisitMendocino.com sums up this northern California community as a peaceful and serene:

"Mendocino County, where rugged coastline, breathtaking beaches, picturesque villages, majestic redwood forests and America's Greenest Wine Region beckon you to escape to a slower pace."

While the people of Mendocino County love life in the slow lane, they would love a fast lane for the Internet. Mendocino County, known for its wineries, its redwoods, and its greenery is now becoming known for its efforts to develop their own community-owned broadband.

The Mendocino County Broadband Alliance (MCBA) was borne out of a need to fill gigantic gaps in broadband coverage created by the private sector. The geological and rural nature of the area presents an insurmountable challenge to the private cable and telco business models in this spacious county of just under 88,000 residents. While there is still archaic dial-up service, spotty and unreliable satellite access, and a few communities with DSL, the MCBA reports that over half of the population has NO access to broadband.

Community leaders in Mendocino County have contemplated the need for access in their area for some time. What really drove home the urgency of the situation was the 2011 death of Esplanade, Mendocino County's small, local, independent ISP. Carol Brodsky, of the Anderson Valley Advertiser, spoke with MCBA for the story:

When Esplanade, a small, privately owned south-coast Internet service provider closed its doors in 2011, around 400 customers were left in digital darkness, according to Greg Jirak, strategic planning chair for the Mendocino County Broadband Alliance. The resultant issues cascaded and greatly affected the lives of individuals, organizations and businesses.

Jirak goes on to describe other ways Mendocino County has suffered due to the loss of a large part of the scanty Internet coverage they had:

“When Esplanade folded, the Coast Community Library was no longer able to provide public Internet access,” Jirak explains.

Seniors were severely impacted because of Esplanade’s shutdown. “The South Coast Senior Center staff helped seniors use their Internet connection to deal with Social Security, Medicaid, insurance issues and medical appointments. Now all staff shares a single, slow dial-up line and Internet classes were cancelled. The Center came within hours of losing a $20,000 grant because of its lost Internet access,” says Jirak.

Other local businesses maintained day-to-day operations that required, and depended on, commercial online processing. A local pharmacy, a custom art printing business, and a concrete and aggregate manufacturer, were not able to continue operating without Internet access. In order to continue business, all were required to enter into expensive and binding long term satellite contracts or T1 leases.

While some local schools have Internet access for students, that availability doesn't carry forward at the end of the day:

Anderson Valley High School has Internet availability and tries to accommodate students’ needs, according to [Anderson Valley Elementary School Principal Donna] Pierson-Pugh. “But if you don’t get your homework completed, once you go home, you probably won’t have access,” she explains. “High school aged-students are impacted academically by not having access to broadband,” she says.

Mendocino County Logo

Even the tourism industry has suffered. As it turns out, while tourists want to escape their hectic lives, they also want to be able to check their email and post vacation pics on social media sites, which is a great marketing tool for hospitality and tourism in the County. Scott Schneider, president and CEO of Visit Mendocino County, Inc., notes how in the past, lack of broadband was no big deal. Now, however, visitors are often shocked and frustrated by the lack of high speed connections. That pic vacationers wanted to post never makes it to FB without broadband in Mendocino County.

Story after story of Mendocino County's situation enforce what the MCBA already knows - that in order for the community to stay economically viable, broadband needs to be in Mendocino County. In response to what community leaders consider a critical situation, MCBA is leading the local charge to bring community-owned broadband to Mendocino County.

MCBA is mostly comprised of volunteers; with the exception of one secretary, the entire organization is staffed by local professionals. The Alliance estimates their pro bono services to be equal to approximately $500,000 per year. The group was endorsed by the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors in May 2011 and is a collaboration of the Economic Development and Financing Corporation of Mendocino, the Community Foundation of Mendocino County, and the Mendocino Coast Broadband Alliance.

Jim Moorehead, Steering Committee Chair, and Shirley Freriks, Outreach Committee Chair, had each started and belonged to other groups whose goals were to obtain American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds to increase access in the local community. They combined their efforts in 2007, reached out to their current partners, and began contacting other communities that had successfully created community-owned networks. One of the groups offering sage advice was one we have followed closely, ECIFiber.net in Vermont. MCBA now has alliances with the local chambers of commerce, farm bureaus, and healthcare providers, as well as an endorsement of the County Board of Supervisors.

While the community-owned network in Mendocino County is still in the planning phase, possibilities are growing for the people of the community. In addition to approaching the FCC with suggested corrections to the broadband availability map, MCBA has a business plan and is on the move. Learn more from their site.

Collaboration Alive and Well In Wisconsin Broadband Expansion

Wise people say that collaboration often leads to a better result than individual efforts. Recently, I was reminded of the benefits of different levels of collaboration, as they relate to community networks, in two separate articles about fiber-optic expansion in Wisconsin.

First, is a recent Randy Happel article in Trenchless Technology, about how UW-Extension is working with a private telecommunications network design, engineering, and construction firm to expand the fiber-optic landscape in their state.  Over thirty-seven million dollars in stimulus funding for UW-Extension through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) is allocted as part of the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP). The result will be a 630-mile fiber-optic network to help improve connectivity in Wisconsin.

CCI Systems, the private partner, has been around since 1955 and has a history in CATV networks. From the Happel article:

“Public-private partnerships are our expertise,” says Dave Mattia, director of operations for CCI Systems. “We are also quite adept at working within the parameters for the federal funding programs. Our experience and expertise in designing and building broadband, fiber-optic communications networks are great assets to our partners.”

“Our approach is extremely disciplined and methodical,” says Cory Heigl, director of business development for CCI Systems. “Collaboration, listening and cooperation are critical to maximize project efficiencies. Other firms may start by choosing a technology. We begin by listening and identifying the desired end result. Our approach streamlines the process and has proven most effective in securing funding, especially grants and stimulus money.”

After fiber installation is complete, scheduled for June 2013, CCI Systems will shift from installation and design to maintenance and support. After the long battle with AT&T, working with a cooperative partner like CCI Systems must be a welcome relief for UW-Extension.

UW-Extension and CCI Systems are partnering to create Community Area Networks (CAN) across Wisconsin, using the cooperative approach of a local group to building networks as an inspiration -- the Chippewa Valley Internetworking Consortium.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) blog, highlights CINC in another article on collaboration in Wisconsin's Chippewa Valley.

A dozen years ago, a group of technology officials in the neighboring Wisconsin cities of Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls began meeting to share ideas on how to prepare their computer systems for Y2K. The group included officials from the city and county governments, local school districts, community libraries and medical institutions. And while Y2K came and went without incident, it soon became clear that the collaboration had the potential to turn into something much bigger.

That group became known as CINC.

And now, the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program is expanding that original “community area network” and replicating its success in three other Wisconsin communities that see CINC as a model for establishing a 21st Century communications infrastructure.

Building Community Capacity through Broadband, or BCCB, is using $30 million in Recovery Act funding to lay down more than 600 miles of fiber that will extend the network in Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls and create new community area networks in Platteville, Wausau and Superior. The public-private project is being spearheaded by the University of Wisconsin-Extension program, but has many partners, including dozens of local governments and school districts.

These projects show the power of collaboration and the true spirit of a public-private partnership. Regardless of which ownership structure a community chooses for its own network, it should have a good working relationship with community anchor institutions and local businesses.

New Funny LUS Fiber HDTV Commercial

LUS Fiber has released a new ad promoting its HDTV services - probably the best ad I have seen from a community broadband network promoting its services.

Video: 
See video

Clallam County, Washington, Connects Anchor Institutions

Washington's Olympic Peninsula is one step closer to being laced in a new fiber-optic network. The first link in the new Peninsula-wide broadband project is between Blyn and Sequim and will serve the Jamestown S'Klallam tribe from its new Blyn library to a local medical clinic located in Jamestown. Also benefiting from the new expansion will be the Sequim Library.  Thirty people, including state and federal elected officials, a representative from the Jamestown S'Klallam tribe, NoaNet, and local public safety professionals, recently gathered together at the Sequim Library to celebrate the new expansion, as reported by Jeff Chew in the Peninsula Daily News.

Clallum County PUD's network is part of NoaNet, an open access wholesale only network, and now has 24 miles of fiber-optic cables between Port Angeles and Sequim. From Chew's artcle:

“High-speed broadband is the most exciting thing that has happened in law enforcement in my career,” Port Angeles Police Chief Terry Gallagher told about 30 at the Sequim Library.

Gallagher said broadband Internet will allow officers to work faster and more efficiently, enabling them to multitask in their patrol cars, such as checking a motorist's identification while checking on a city webcam and communicating all at once.

The construction of the project is overseen by NoaNet. The network is planned to run from Brinnon to Port Ludlow and  Port Townsend and then across the Olympic Peninsula to Neah Bay to Forks. This portion of the project, from Blyn to Sequim, was chosen first  because it was part of the first round of funding and because it is less complex than other legs of the network.

Thirty-six counties, 170 communities, and over 2,000 anchor institutions (schools, libraries, public safety facilities, etc.) will benefit with better connectivity, funded with approximately $140 million ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) stimulus dollars and $44 million from local communities that are part of nonprofit wholesale broadband provider NoaNet. The open access provider has 12 public utility districts as members and has provided broadband service since 2000.

Clallam PUD is also thinking about the future of the network and the possibility of smart grid technology building on the fiber-optic network. As we have found in Chattanooga, an entire community benefits from smart grid technologies when power outages are shortened and reduced. In addition to improved power service, the system will increase connectivity in the public libraries.

“The library would not be the library” without broadband and a robust Internet, said Paula Barnes, North Olympic Library System director.

Her library system has 76 public computers, and “people are on those computers from the time we open until we close” looking for jobs or doing homework, she said.

Under present law, neither NoaNet nor Clallam PUD can offer direct retail services to businesses or residents. We previously wrote about legislation that would allow PUDs to decide for themselves what business model is most appropriate in their efforts to connect the many in rural Washington who have been left behind by the private cable and DSL companies. Unfortunately, that bill was defeated in committee by the cable and DSL lobbyists.

Leverett, Massachusetts, Ponders Community-Owned Network

Leverett, Massachusetts, is one step closer to a community owned FTTH network. The town of 2,000 will have weekly public information meetings until the Annual Town Meeting scheduled for April 28, 2012. If the required $3.6 million funding is approved at the meeting, the city will issue a Request For Proposals to build the network.

The 1 gig network is slated to be an aerial build, except where existing utilities are underground, in which instances, fiber cable will also be placed underground. Leverett plans to use a $40,0000 planning grant, obtained from the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, to hire G4S Technology to design the last mile fiber-optic network to connect to MBI's stimulus-funded middle mile. The middle mile project is scheduled to be completed in June, 2013, and Leverett plans to be ready to connect soon after. The goal is to have every home connected with fiber by 2014.

Whereas most communities explicitly choose not to use tax revenue to pay for a community network, Leverett's present plan is for a slight increase in local taxes to assist in the financing. The town will borrow the amount necessary to build the network and pay it back over 20 years using a combination of tax revenue and revenues from the new broadband service. Peter d'Errico, Chair of the MBI Grant Broadband Committee observes that homeowners' net spending figures will decline once the system is in place. From the article:

A town survey concluded a municipal network could offer better Internet and phone service at far cheaper rates than private providers, he said.

"It will be a little more on their tax bill and a lot less on their Internet bill, so overall they will be pay less," d'Errico said.

Leverett Map

According to the Broadband Committee, approximately 37% of households in Leverett use slow, sketchy satellite, 23% use dial-up, 20% are on DSL, 14% use wireless, and 6% of households have no internet access. Some households, although theoretically accessible via satellite, never get a connection because of trees and the picturesque, hilly Massachusetts countryside.

Leverett is situated in the Five College area of Amherst, Hampshire, Smith, Mt. Holyoke and the University of Massachusetts. The town is rich in history, but now finds that, because of their disconnect from reliable internet, they are losing opportunities usually found in towns that neighbor such academic centers. Housing sales are impacted, as are renting opportunities. From the article:

"Junior faculty, graduate and undergraduate students that normally would be very interested in renting in a lovely town like Leverett are just unable to do it," said [Richard Nathhorst, a member of Leverett's Broadband Committee], "To be able to work or complete their studies they need access to the Internet."

In addition to lack of internet access, the town has had longstanding problems with their telephone service, provided by Verizon. Last year, the State Department of Communications ordered the telco to assess and repair the telecommunications infrastructure in nearly 100 western Massachusetts communities, including Leverett.

"People are realizing that private companies are not making enough money moving into rural areas," d'Errico said of the capital investment needed to bring broadband to smaller communities. "The only other alternative available is a municipal network."

Leverett's plan is to contract with a two separate entities, one to provide network management and services and another to provide infrastructure maintenance.

Wired West

We have previously reported on WiredWest, a consortium of towns in western Massachusetts that have come together to form a regional network. WiredWest has been instrumental in organzing local communities, including Leverett, to work together on a jointly owned, open access FTTH network connecting everyone. The Wired West efforts have included $100,000 worth of mapping, $30,000 in engineering, and $20,000 in marketing, project management and financial services over the past six months. However, most Wired West communities are seeking funding for the network that would not require borrowing backed by the local tax base.

Leverett says it is committed to further collaboration with Wired West, but its present plan involves finding a single provider to operate on the network rather than the open access approach embraced by Wired West. Some recommend that new networks start with a single service provider to get up and running before later inviting additional service providers to the network. Working with an experienced service provider right away can offer more confidence to potential investors.

Residents have responded favorably to the proposal, including the increased taxes, and officials expect a high take rate. Such an approach is much more consistent with the spirit of local self-reliance than those who continue holding out hope for more federal grants.

Jason Whittet, Deputy Director of the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, is officially on board with public ownership of broadband:

"What you are seeing come to fruition with this Town Meeting is a town that takes a lead in creating its own destiny when it comes to broadband."

Leverett wants to be the leader and they clearly have the ambition to realize that goal:

"We are showing the way," d'Errico said. "The network we build will become a template for other towns."

The last of three scheduled public meetings with the Broadband Committee to discuss the proposed project will be Sunday night, April 15th at the Town Hall, 9 Montague Road at 7 p.m.

A local ABC station reported on Leverett's plan:

Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services' Construction Moves Forward

Good news for folks in Jackson, Wilder, and Bingham Lake in Southwest Minnesota! Your local broadband options are about to get much better. Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services (SMBS) just announced that construction is advancing on the new network. The 125-mile fiber ring is expected to be completed by September, 2012. If you live in their service area, give them a call.

Here are contact details from the announcement:

Wilder - A sales event has been held. Please call our Lakefield office at 507-662-7000 if you still need to sign up for services.
 
Bingham Lake - A sales event will be held on April 10th from 12 PM to 8 PM at the town hall/community center. If you are unable to attend, please contact our Lakefield office at 507-662-7000.
 
Jackson - Our first three construction phases have been identified. We intend to have phases 1-3 completed by June, 2012. Our web-site, mysmbs.com will be updated as construction dates are set for phases 4-9. The entire City of Jackson will be completed by fall, 2012.  Southwest Minnesota Broadband informational material will be delivered to homes according to construction phasing in the coming months. 

SMBS is a consortium of 8 communities: Bingham Lake, Brewster, Heron Lake, Jackson, Lakefield, Okabena, Round Lake and Wilder.  Stimulus finding of $12.8 million dollars is allowing the communities to offer ftth service in this rural area, building on the network first established in Windom by the local public power utility.

SMBS recognizes the need for a community owned network in a place where the private sector does not want to invest. On their FAQ page:

What is SMBS? Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services is consortium of cities that realize today’s incumbent service providers will not be able to provide the next-generation of broadband services that will keep this area competitive with the global marketplace. SMBS will own and operate the network, employees will be your friends and neighbors and dollars will stay in your communities.

Rates and more user information are also available on their website. Congrats to SMBS and all their prospective subscribers! We look forward to reporting more about how this community's investment is advancing through Southwest Minnesota and all the benefits that are sure to follow.

 

Digital Divide Event in St Paul on April 18

For people in St Paul and the surrounding communities, I will be presenting at an event about the digital divide sponsored by the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability. The details are below, but the key detail is that you have to RSVP (no fee for admission).

As the Internet and other information technologies have transformed our lives, we now benefit from greater connectivity to educational, employment and social opportunities in the Twin Cities. Yet low income communities, communities of color, and immigrant communities are often left behind. This exclusion deepens the divide between the haves and the have nots and reinforces the inequities in our region.

Join us for our next Organizer Roundtable where will we take a look at organizations who are working to bridge the digital divide. Come and learn the strategies that they are using to provide access to underserved communities in our region.

The event is at 12:30 on April 18 (Wednesday) at the Merriam Park Library.

How Chattanooga, Bristol, and Lafayette Built the Best Broadband in America

Publication Date: 
April 9, 2012
Author(s): 
Christopher Mitchell

We are thrilled to finally unveil our latest white paper: Broadband At the Speed of Light: How Three Communities Built Next-Generation Networks. This report was a joint effort of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and the Benton Foundation.

We have chronicled how Bristol's BVU Authority, Chattanooga's EPB, and Lafayette's LUS built some of the most impressive broadband networks in the nation. The paper presents three case studies and then draws lessons from their common experiences to offer advice to other communities. Here is the press release:

The fastest networks in the nation are built by local governments, a new report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and Benton Foundation reveals

Chattanooga, Tennessee, is well known for being the first community with citywide access to a “gig,” or the fastest residential connections to the Internet available nationally. Less known are Bristol, Virginia, and Lafayette, Louisiana – both of which now also offer a gigabit throughout the community.

A new report just released by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) and the Benton Foundation explains how these communities have built some of the best broadband networks in the nation. Broadband At the Speed of Light: How Three Communities Built Next-Generation Networks is available here.

“It may surprise people that these cities in Virginia, Tennessee, and Louisiana have faster and lower cost access to the Internet than anyone in San Francisco, Seattle, or any other major city,” says Christopher Mitchell, Director of ILSR’s Telecommunications as Commons Initiative. “These publicly owned networks have each created hundreds of jobs and saved millions of dollars.”

“Communities need 21st century telecommunications infrastructure to compete in the global economy,” said Charles Benton, Chairman & CEO of the Benton Foundation. “Hopefully, this report will resonate with local government officials across the country.”

Mitchell is a national expert on community broadband networks and was recently named a “Top 25 Doer, Dreamer, and Driver” by Government Technology. He also regularly authors articles at MuniNetworks.org.

The new report offers in-depth case studies of BVU Authority’s OptiNet in Bristol, Virginia; EPB Fiber in Chattanooga, Tennessee; and LUS Fiber in Lafayette, Louisiana. Each network was built and is operated by a public power utility.

Mitchell believes these networks are all the more important given the slow pace of investment from major carriers. According to Mitchell, “As AT&T and Verizon have ended the expansion of U-Verse and FiOS respectively, communities that need better networks for economic development should consider how they can invest in themselves.”

Broadband At the Speed of Light: How Three Communities Built Next-Generation Networks is available here.

About ILSR: Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) proposes a set of new rules that builds community by supporting humanly scaled politics and economics. The Telecommunications as Commons Initiative believes that telecommunications networks are essential infrastructure and should be accountable to residents and local businesses.

About Benton: The Benton Foundation works to ensure that media and telecommunications serve the public interest and enhance our democracy. We pursue this mission by seeking policy solutions that support the values of access, diversity and equity, and by demonstrating the value of media and telecommunications for improving the quality of life for all.

Lafayette Says "Hi" to 1 Gig

LUS Fiber now offers its business subscribers the current ultimate in broadband speeds. An April 5th press release from LUS Fiber reports that business customers of the state's only community-owned ftth network now have access to 1 gig symmetrical internet connections.

The ability to offer such fast speeds in both directions is a big draw to business customers, boosting the potential for economic development. In the press release:

“Gigabit service from LUS Fiber is one of the most robust Internet offerings on the market today,” says Terry Huval, Director of Lafayette Utilities System and LUS Fiber. “We built this community network with a promise to the people of Lafayette that we will work hard to provide them with new opportunities through this unique, state-of-the-art fiber technology…and that’s just what we’ve done.”

We have reported extensively on events surrounding the development of, and contiued corporate attack on, the LUS Fiber system. The local Lafayette Pro Fiber Blog reporter, John, notes how this advancement is rare in the US because the LUS 1 gig service can be offered to all business customers, not just those considered part of a "business core."

John also provides an excellent analysis of how LUS Fiber uses a different customer service approach than traditional ISPs. While he reports on engineering details, he also dicusses a key policy difference between providing the best service and providing any service:

Oversubscription and "best effort" is the name of the game for almost all ISPs and the bandwidth available to the last mile customer is in practice limited: if all subscribers were to use their full bandwidth at once the available speed would drop to a small fraction of the promised bandwidth. LUS has always played that game a different way, minimizing oversubscription and ensuring that even during busy hours of the day the customer's full bandwidth is available. That's in marked contrast to what I used to experience on Cox when the kids in my neighborhood got off the bus.

Kids are a major factor in the development and growth of LUS Fiber. Long ago, City-Parish President Joey Durel and his team of innovative thinkers recognized the need for high-speed fiber as a way to prepare the community youth for success. The community-owned network has been serving the local educational system for years. Local school officials recognize current benefits and have new ideas for the even faster 1 gig capabilities. John reports:

Logan McDaniel, whose LPSS (Louisiana Parish School System) has been on the wholesale network since 2005, reported that they'd already upgraded the central office to two gigs and some of the high schools to a gig. The new plan that superintendent Cooper unveiled last night included an increased use of distance learning. But the most interesting testimonial came from Dr. Menard of St. Thomas More, who noted that her school's technology initiative had placed an internet-connected device in the hands of every student, complained that they were already hitting the limit of a 100 meg connection and were eager to be the first customers of the new 1 gig service.

As noted in Phillip Dampier's StopTheCap.com coverage, AT&T and Cox Cable dominate as ISPs in the state but are only able to offer maximum 1-12 Mbps and 50 Mbps, respectively. Already, Lafayette is a 1 gig oasis in what might be described as a high-speed broadband desert. (For a visual, visit this Louisiana state broadband map and filter accordingly.)

Congrats to LUS Fiber and its proud owners - the community -  on the new capabilities of their network!

Arkansas Town Targeted by Cox Prior to Community Broadband Referendum

Siloam Springs, sporting 15,000 people in the northwestern corner of Arkansas, could be the next community to build its own community fiber network. But first they have to pass a referendum in May in the face of stiff opposition from Cox Cable, which would prefer not to face real competition.

For over 100 years, the city has provided its own electricity via its electrical department. Now, it wants to join the more than 150 other communities that have done so. After last year's changes to Arkansas law, Siloam Springs has the authority to move forward if it so chooses.

Pamela Hill at the City Wire has covered the situation with a series of stories, starting with an explanation of why they are moving forward:

David Cameron, city administrator, said the proposal is not so much about dissatisfaction with current providers as it is about finding new revenue for the city. Cameron said revenue from electric services has been a key source of funding for various projects and necessities for the city. That “enterprise” fund is getting smaller, Cameron said, and an alternative funding source is needed.

“We have done a good job managing accounts, building a reserve,” Cameron said. “We want to keep building on the programs we have. It takes money and funds to do that.”

City officials discussed the issue for the last 18 months and decided to put it to a referendum. Voters will decide the issue May 22.

That is a fairly unique reason. Most communities want to build these networks to encourage economic development and other indirect benefits to the community. Given the challenge of building and operating networks, few set a primary goal of boosting city revenue.

Map of Siloam Springs

If approved by voters, the city plans to spend $8.3 million to install 100 miles of fiber optic cable directly to homes and businesses. The city should be able to repay the debt in 12 years, if things go according to a feasibility study presented to the city’s board of directors in January. Cameron said projections show the system could begin making a profit after three years.

Just as in Longmont, Colorado, the incumbent cable company has created a fly-by-night astroturf group to oppose Siloam Spring's initiative. In Longmont, the group predictably disappeared shortly after Comcast lost the referendum.

In the Longmont referendum, the opposition came out of Denver. To fight the community in Siloam Springs, Cox is funding a group out of Little Rock that calls itself Arkansans for Limited Government. (If the only threat to my monopoly were a local government, I suppose I would want to limit it also.) Though CenturyLink ostensibly competes with Cox, its DSL cannot offer the same capacity as cable networks (the problem we call a Looming Monopoly).

After the approach was announced, the usual public v. private rhetoric emerged. Among others, the head of the of Arkansas Chamber of Commerce is defending Cox, probably a significant member of that Chamber:

“Make no mistake, when government competes with private business it always has an unfair advantage, and it will stifle economic growth and competition in the Siloam Springs market,” Zook wrote.

And so we see the same false claims we have previously debunked. And right next to claims that the public sector has all the advantages and will crush the private sector, we find a paradoxical claim:

Zook said there are many instances across the country where cities have tried this and failed.

The reality is that Cox and CenturyLink have all the advantages AND that communities generally succeed in creating signficant community benefits by building their own networks. They get real competition, lower prices, more investment, and a better climate for local businesses to succeed.

Another article was dedicated entirely to arguments against the community effort (as though every other article did not devote enough time to these pro-Cox arguments).

Cox Logo

In it, a manager for CenturyLink claimed that they would be in favor of a public/private partnership but Cox quickly rejected the idea:

In a public-private partnership, a city pays a certain percentage of costs for new or upgraded services and an established private company does the work and provides the service.

...

Pitcock said Cox Communications has never taken public monies for joint ventures, and probably wouldn’t take part in a public-private venture in Siloam Springs.

If CenturyLink wants a public/private partnership, it should join UTOPIA to offer real services to Utah residents and businesses rather than its patheticly slow DSL.

Following one of several community meetings to discuss the project, reaction to the initiative seemed mixed, with many people wanting more information.

At the meeting, the assistant city director of Sallisaw, which operates a muni FTTH network in Oklahoma, spoke about their experience.

Skelton talked about the success of the Sallisaw system, noting that 99 out of 100 test customers stayed with the city’s service after the trial period in 2005 and said the city should make a profit by the end of the year. Customer bills average $103, he said.

Sallisaw Logo

However, Sallisaw had fewer options for broadband when they started. By contrast, Cox has proved willing to get very dirty in its opposition to new competition, as seen in Lafayette (see the last paragraph of this story).

The most recent story from the City Wire discusses other muni broadband networks in Arkansas.

Conway in central Arkansas and Paragould in the northeast corner have had city-owned cable services since 1980 and 1990, respectively. They’ve continued to upgrade and add services as times and technologies changed. Officials for both systems say they operate at a profit.