SandyNet Goes Gig: A Model for Anytown, USA

Publication Date: 
November 9, 2015
Hannah Trostle
Christopher Mitchell

Many of the most beautiful communities in the United States are in remote areas where incumbent cable and telephone companies have decided not to offer modern, high-quality Internet connectivity. Sandy, Oregon, is one of them. Some 10,000 people live there among the lush green forests and beautiful vistas of the “Gateway to Mount Hood,” 25 miles east of Portland. But Sandy decided to build its own gigabit fiber optic system and now has one of the most advanced, affordable networks in the nation.

A new report by The Institute for Local Self-Reliance details the rise of SandyNet, Sandy's publicly owned high-speed Internet service. "SandyNet Goes Gig: A Model for Anytown USA" charts the growth of this community network.

Sandy, Oregon joined nearly 100 other local governments that have municipal fiber-to-the-home networks to give residents and businesses access to world-class Internet connections. However, the overwhelming majority of municipal fiber networks were built by local governments that already owned their local electrical grids. As Sandy does not have a municipal electric utility, it pioneered a low-risk incremental strategy to build its telecommunications utility, SandyNet.

The city started by reselling DSL and building a modest wireless network. Now it offers symmetrical speeds of 100 Mbps for $39.95 or 1 Gbps for $59.95. Sandy’s experience offers lessons for local governments across the country.   

Click here to read and download the full report.

Click here to watch our short documentary about the Network:

Gig City Sandy: Home of the $60 Gig

Maine Model for Muni Fiber - Dark and Open - Community Broadband Bits Episode 176

An interesting confluence in events in Maine have resulted in what some are calling the "Maine model" of fiber optic networks that are available to multiple Internet Service Providers to encourage competition and high quality services. The CEO of GWI, Fletcher Kittredge, joins us this week to explain this model and where it is currently being implemented.

GWI is a local firm, rooted in Maine and focused on delivering high quality services with great customer support. It is working with Rockport (which we wrote about here and podcasted on here) and Islesboro (podcast here) as well as others.

Fletcher starts by telling us more about Maine's Three Ring Binder network and then goes on describe the dark fiber model, benefits of that approach, and how he thinks about public vs private ownership of the open access physical assets.

Read the transcript from this episode here.

Note: This podcast was posted a day late due to the very poor Internet connectivity at a retreat center in Minnesota. Thanks CenturyLink for a reminder why communities cannot rely on the national carriers to invest in modern infrastructure.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 22 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 other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Warm Duck Shuffle."

Another Washington Coastal City Considers Community Network

Out on the coast of the great state of Washington, community networks are making waves. Orcas Island residents recently made headlines with their homegrown wireless network, and Mount Vernon’s fiber network previously appeared in the New York Times. Now, the city of Anacortes is considering its options.


Anacortes: Fiber-to-the-Home?

The city is negotiating with an engineering firm to develop a fiber network that best provides connectivity for the 16,000 residents. The engineering firm is expected to present to the city council next on November 16th.

Public Works Director Fred Buckenmeyer estimates the cost of fiber optic installation at about $15 million. The city of Anacortes has applied for a $375,000 grant from Skagit County to help pay for the construction, but the city would likely need a take-rate (homes to subscribe to the network) of 35 - 40% to break even on the project. 


Mount Vernon: Open Access

Anacortes’ plan is rather distinct from that of its neighboring community Mount Vernon. The network in Mount Vernon is an open access fiber available to government and local businesses, not residents, in Mount Vernon, Burlington, and the Port of Skagit. 

Mount Vernon made the New York Times last year with the story of an information security firm relocating from Seattle to Mount Vernon thanks to the fiber connectivity available there. Currently, the network has 267 drops (locations with connections) throughout the three communities. In Mount Vernon alone, there are 185 drops with 37.3% being for government maintenance and the city of Mount Vernon. 9.7% are dark fiber leases, and all the rest are ISP service drops to businesses. 


What will Anacortes do?

We will have to wait to see the model laid out by the engineering firm next week in Anacortes. If the plans are approved, the city could start laying cable as early as next year. Bruce McDougall, an Anacortes resident who volunteered to lead the feasibility study, expressed hope that the project will be approved, saying: “small cities are good places for things like this.”

Baltimore City Council Ponders Options for Moving Muni Fiber Forward

Baltimore's City Council has decided it's time to move forward with a plan for city-owned fiber and they are putting pen to paper to get the ball rolling.

Since 2010, we have covered Baltimore's efforts to improve connectivity for businesses and residents. For a time, they expected FiOs from Verizon but when the provider announced it would not be expanding its network, Baltimore began to explore a Plan B.

Plan B included a publicly owned option, possibly making use of fiber assets already had in place. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has supported taking steps to improve connectivity for Baltimore's economy, education, and general livability. A crowd funding initiative from the Baltimore Broadband Coalition has raised over $20,000 and the community has commissioned several studies. Baltimore even has a city broadband czar.

City Leaders Push On

Members of the City Council have recently renewed the call to action. Council Member Mary Pat Clarke introduced a resolution in September calling on the city to quickly develop a broadband plan. The resolution calls for fiber to all homes, businesses, and institutions in Baltimore in order to bring better connectivity to low-income households, improve economic development, and improve options for anchor institutions

The resolution has been referred to the Departments of Planning, Transportation, Public Works, Finance, City Public School System, and is now in the Mayor's Office of Information Technology.

Westminster Inspires Immediate Action 

A recent Baltimore Sun article about the resolution reports that city leaders looked to Westminster for inspiration. With only 18,000 people, Westminster has struck up a partnership with Ting to provide gigabit connectivity to residents and businesses via its publicly-owned fiber network.

As a major urban center, Baltimore faces a different set of challenges but a recent study suggests that the city could use existing municipal fiber infrastructure as a starting point. The Inter-County Broadband Network, which includes at least 122 miles around Baltimore, can also be integrated into the city's efforts. 

In fact, two recent city-commissioned studies suggest investing to improve connectivity to attract the high-tech industry is a must. Otherwise, Baltimore will be left behind other communities that can provide the kind of high-speed environment companies require to bring new jobs to town.

Thirteen City Council members signed on to Clarke's resolution; it seems they feel the time to act is now. The resolution clearly states that the plan for a fiber network should not be delayed because "timely execution is critical."

"I'm sure we have enough studies now to do the unthinkable — move ahead," Clarke said.

Community Broadband Media Roundup - November 6

News Stories By State


Americans are paying more for broadband speed but getting less by David Lazarus, The Los Angeles Times



Colorado communities trying to lift limits on municipal broadband by John Aguilar, The Denver Post

Twenty six Colorado cities, counties lift 10-year ban on municipal broadband investment by Sean Buckley, Fierce Telecom

Colorado Voters Shoot Down State's Awful Broadband Law by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

Colorado Voters Toss Restrictive Laws, Vote In Favor Of Allowing Municipal Broadband by Kate Cox, Consumerist

Voters in municipalities across Colorado this week overwhelmingly chose chose to the state’s 2005 law blocking the expansion of municipal broadband, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance reports. 44 different towns, cities, and counties had measures on their ballots regarding local authority of telecommunications services, and all of them passed by large margins, gaining between 70% and 93% of votes.

44 Colorado cities and counties voted yes to municipal broadband by Tamara Cheung, The Denver Post

Colorado’s muni broadband ban overridden in 44 communities by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

Boulder hires consultant to explore municipal broadband buildout by Joshua Lindenstein, BizWest

With miles of fiber on hand, Boulder looks to enhance Internet service by Alex Burness, The Daily Camera



Lakeland Commission explores downtown as gigabit guinea pig by Christopher Guinn, The Ledger



That broadband plan Savannah Council candidates are talking about by Eric Curl, Savannah Now



Westminster to expand fiber optic network by Wiley Hayes, The Carroll County Times



Municipal-provided broadband wins big at Greenfield polls by Anita Fritz, The Recorder



Chattanooga, Tennessee gets first 10 gigabit residential internet service courtesy of EPB by Alan Buckingham, Beta News

Erwin utility points to broadband success, contrasting cable lobbyist's statements by Nathan Baker, Johnson City Press

“I would argue that every municipal broadband deployment has been successful,” Williams said Thursday. “The biggest thing we like to point out about municipal projects, specifically ours, is the availability to rural customers who may be underserved by existing services. In Unicoi County, only 75 percent is covered by a cable company, so 25 percent of our electric service area doesn’t have access to broadband.”

Erwin Fiber hasn’t borrowed heavily to build its network either, he said, challenging Farris’ debt claims.

CDE Lightband in the black this year by Alexander Harris, The Leaf Chronicle

Through the laying of a fiber network, Clarksville has been able to produce a broadband network with connection speeds of up to one-gigabit — about 100 times faster than the national average internet speed of 10 megabits per second, according to a CDE press release. This speed makes Clarksville one of only "a handful of surprisingly smaller" cities that have "created networks on par" with international leaders in internet speed, including Hong Kong, Tokyo and Paris.

Munis fire back at cable over broadband bill by Post Politics

North Hamilton County residents want faster EPB service by Dave Flessner, Times Free Press

City Tech: Chattanooga’s Big Gig by Rob Walker, Lincoln Institute for Land Policy

Chattanooga Recognized As Leader In Digital Inclusion Efforts At National League Of Cities Event by The Chattanoogan



Council Will Vote On City-Run Beacon Hill Gigabit Broadband Network by Ansel Hertz, The Stranger

In Fighting Comcast, City Leaders Differ on Scope of Public Internet Access by Casey Jaywork, Seattle Weekly News

An Island Community In Washington Built Its Own Broadband by John Wenz, Popular Mechanics

San Juan Islanders tell their Internet service provider to go pound sand by the Sky Valley Chronicle



Lack of Internet access makes climb out of poverty harder by Golda Arthur, Al Jazeera America

NY top prosecutor to Internet providers: Prove speed claims by Michael Virtanen, Seattle Times

Slate Informs Its Readers That Confusing, Unnecessary, Anti-Competitive Broadband Usage Caps Are Simply Wonderful by Karl Bode, TechDirt

Broadband Funding: It's There for Those Who Know Where to Look by Colin Wood, GovTech

Facebook, Amazon and Other Tech Giants Tighten Grip on Internet Economy by Don Clark and Robert McMillan, Wall Street Journal

Computing hardware has long served as the critical backbone of business operations. Today, the Internet economy is powered by an infrastructure that has become virtual, and is controlled by a small handful of tech giants.

Happy Birthday, Next Century Cities!

One year ago, we helped launch Next Century Cities, a collaboration between local governments that want to ensure fast, reliable, affordable Internet access for all. Our own Chris Mitchell, as Policy Director, has helped shape the organization with Executive Director Deb Socia and Deputy Director Todd O'Boyle.

Over the past 12 months:

  • Membership has grown from 32 communities to 121
  • Population represented by Next Century Cities has climbed from 6.5 million to 23.9 million
  • Member states have increased from 19 to 33

The organization has been recognized by the White House, testified before Congress, and has been instrumental in launching a number of awards. The organization has developed resources and organized events to assemble members who want to share innovative ideas. Learn more about their accomplishments at the blog.

We look forward to another year of working with Next Century Cities toward the goal of fast, affordable, reliable Internet access for all.

Image courtesy of tiverylucky at

In New England, Greenfield Votes For a Municipal Network Too

It wasn’t just Colorado cities and counties along with Iowa communities voting this week. Back east, Greenfield, Massachusetts also rushed to the polls to support local Internet choice.

Greenfield is planning to use a combination of fiber and Wi-Fi to deliver services - an approach that has had limited success in the past due to the technical limitations of Wi-Fi. 

The Vote

At Tuesday’s Annual Meeting, residents voted on the future of high-speed Internet access in the town. The referendum, the first step in creating a municipal broadband network, saw a landslide victory. 

The people gave a resounding message that they wanted to pursue a network: 3,287 people voted in favor; only 696 were opposed. According to the local paper the Recorder, this nonbinding ballot referendum allows the town to create a nonprofit to run the municipal broadband network. 

Currently there is a pilot program on two streets – giving residents a taste of community-owned high-speed Internet. This pilot program started in mid-October and provides free Wi-Fi on Main and High Streets. If voters had rejected the ballot referendum, the town would have ended the pilot program and only created an institutional network for the municipal and school buildings. Now, with the referendum passed, they can implement the plan for high-speed Internet access.

The Plan for Broadband

When the state built a middle-mile network running through the cities of Greenfield and Holyoke, the mayor contacted Holyoke’s municipal light plant to find out how to best utilize the opportunity. Holyoke is now the Internet Service Provider for City Hall and the police station. These will then serve as Internet access nodes for Greenfield’s new network.

The community's goal is to construct a 60-mile hybrid fiber-wireless network throughout the entire town by the end of 2016. The network will have a 10 Gigabit-per-second fiber backbone.  Now that the referendum passed, the project will go out to bid and construction will begin in early January. The total cost is estimated at about $5 million – the town intends to use revenues from the network to pay for the construction.

In an October, Mayor Martin described the community's initiative to replace the old infrastructure the community now relies on:

Martin said the goal of the project is to improve the business climate and quality of life in Greenfield. He said he wants everyone who wants high-speed Internet to be able to afford it.

We have yet to see a robust Wi-Fi network that actually sees meaningful adoption by households because the technology has such limited range and variable reliability. The result is that very few people are willing to pay for Wi-Fi connectivity, especially as they have come to expect higher capacity connections than a shared Wi-Fi network can deliver. We will be watching to see how Greenfield develops.

Decorah and Vinton Voters Choose Munis for Better Connectivity in the Corn Belt

Colorado may have been the epicenter of local authority disruption this election cycle but two Iowa elections were also worth exploring.

Decorah Chooses Muni Authority

In Decorah, the community of 8,000 received awards for its innovative use of the city's dark fiber network, MetroNet. A community led effort, Decorah FastFiber, convinced community leaders to ask voters if they want to expand the use of that fiber. Voters decided 1,289 to 95 to give the city the authority to establish a municipal telecommunications network.

Decorah's ballot question specifically asked if that authority should extend to video, voice, telephone, data, and all other forms of telecommunications and cable communications, reports the News. A second ballot question, which passed with similar results, asked voters to authorize the city to establish a Board of Trustees for the utility.

Vinton Trusts Its Electric Utility

Vinton, home to approximately 5,200 people, voted overwhelmingly to form a telecommunication utility. The community, located northwest of Cedar Rapids, voted 792 to 104 to put the community's municipal electric utility in charge of the initiative. This matter had been voted on twice previously - in  both cases the community had voted against the proposition. 

A comparatively large number of communities in Iowa have invested in their own Internet networks but Mediacom and other providers like CenturyLink have fought hard to prevent municipalities from passing the necessary referendum to build a network. This year, we had no reports of opposition from incumbent operators, a remarkable change that frankly leaves us puzzled but hopeful nonetheless. 

Congrats to both Decorah and Vinton for reclaiming digital self-determiniation. We don't know if either one has immediate plans to build a network or what model they may use but now they have full authority to explore all options.

Voters Quiet the Drums At the Polls in Colorado

The "constant drumbeat" of complaints about poor connectivity pounding from Colorado communities ended with a climactic crash at the polls on Tuesday. Referenda in 47 communities* - 27 cities and towns; 20 counties - all passed overwhelmingly to reclaim local telecommunications authority. 

Staggering Approval

The landslide victory was no surprise. Last year, nine communities asked voters the same issue of whether or not they wanted the ability to make local telecommunications decisions. That right was taken away 10 years ago by SB 152. Two other communities took up the question earlier this year with 75 percent and 92 percent of voters supporting local telecommunications authority.

A few larger communities, such as Boulder, Montrose, and Centennial, presented the issue to the voters and reclaimed local authority in prior years. This year, most of the voting took place in smaller, rural communities where incumbents have little incentive to invest in network upgrades.

This year, results were similar as the majority of voters supported local measures with over 70 percent of ballots cast. In Durango, over 90 percent of voters chose to opt out of restrictive SB 152; Telluride voters affirmed their commitment to local authority when over 93 percent of votes supported measure 2B. Many communities showed support in the mid- and upper- 80th percentile.

Schools Win, Too

In addition to economic development, Colorado communities are looking to the future by planning for students and tomorrow's workforce. Ballot questions in a number locations asked voters to allow school districts to have the option of investing in telecommunications if necessary. They don't have faith that incumbents will keep up with their growing needs.

Colorado Mountain College, also unsure of the future, asked voters in six different communities for permission to provide their own Internet, if necessary. Voters in all locations said "yes."


Out From Under The "Dark Cloud"

Virgil Turner, Director of Innovation from the City of Montrose, describes what it is like when a community opts out of SB 152:

"We didn't know exactly what we'd do," Turner said. "But we no longer are under this dark cloud of not being able to be innovative."

SB 152 first passed through the state legislature in 2005 after heavy lobbying from Comcast and CenturyLink. Legislators and lobbyists backing the law argued its intent was taxpayer protection but the past 10 years have proved otherwise. The real motivation behind the bill was to protect incumbent de facto monopolies and prevent potential competition by municipal networks. 

The law hurts taxpayers by discouraging private investment. It prevents local governments from working with private sector ISP partners who may want to use publicly owned fiber infrastructure. It stalls economic development because employers can't get the connectivity they need. It stifles growth in the small communities that need growth the most.

These communities have waited patiently for incumbents to invest in better infrastructure but communities will no longer wait and watch while places like Longmont, Rio Blanco, and Estes Park leave them behind.

Until the State Legislature decides to strike SB 152 and the expensive hoops communities must jump through to opt out of it, places like Fort Collins, Steamboat Springs, and Pitkin County will be forced to spend precious public dollars on this type of referenda.

The Time to Act is Now

Ken Fellman, general counsel with the Colorado Communications and Utility Alliance told the Denver Post:

It's not that we want to compete with the private sector — it's that the private sector isn't providing the level of service the community needs.

Now that these communities have recovered the right to determine their broadband destiny, they have a choice. They can rest in the comfort of knowing they comply with the law or explore endless possibilities now open to them. They can stop pounding drums and start innovating.

Update: We learned about the community of Ophir after publishing our article, which originally reported 43 communities. The correct number, as listed below, is 44 communities.

November 18th update: Virgil Turner from Montrose has been helping us keep tabs on the statewide elections and he sends word that Gunnison County, Ouray County, and Delta County also passed measures to reclaim local authority. Their results were 73 percent, 83 percent, and 76 percent respectively. We originally reported on the cities of Gunnison, Ouray, and Delta, but were not aware of the county referenda. With the addition of these three, the grand total of communities that chose to reclaim local authority this election cycle comes to 47.

2015-co-city-ref-results.png 2015-co-counties-ugly.png

RFP in Erie County Means Big Broadband Plans in Upstate New York

In October 2015, government officials in Erie County, New York announced the release of a Request for Proposals (RFP) seeking an organization to study the feasibility of building a county-wide broadband network. Located in upstate New York and home to over 900,000 people, Erie County stretches over 1,200 square feet; the county seat is Buffalo.

Legislator Patrick Burke notes that community broadband projects have become a rare kind of government-led initiative that appeals to people across all political divides:

“It covers all grounds and sort of goes beyond political ideology. It’s a quality service. It could provide revenues that the county desperately needs, it could attract business, it could spark economic development and it could create jobs. So, there’s a little bit in this for everybody,” said Burke.

Pursuing Governor Cuomo's "Broadband for All" Mission

The effort to pursue the option to build the network in Erie County comes after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo released his “Broadband for All” plan earlier this year. The plan offers matching state funds up to $500 million to private companies that agree to help build broadband networks in underserved areas of the state. The governor’s initiative led the Erie County broadband committee and a group of industry experts to write an exploratory white paper considering ideas for expanding broadband in the region.

According to an article in The Public, Burke credits the white paper as the tool that convinced county leaders to issue the RFP to be ready when private partners come calling:

“Whichever municipalities or governments, or even private entities, are prepared and are in line to be competitive with this, they’re the ones who are likely to see the funds that are available,” Burke said.