Chattanooga Crushes It - Marketing, Technology, and Nearby Communities - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 175

Chattanooga returns to the Community Broadband Bits podcast this week in episode 175 to talk about their 10 Gbps upgrade, the fibervention campaign, TN4Fiber, and having surpassed 75,000 subscribers.

For so much content, we have three guests joining us from Chattanooga's Electric Power Board (the EPB in EPB Fiber): Danna Bailey is the VP of Corporate Communications, Beth Johnson is the Marketing Manager, and Colman Keane is the Director of Fiber Technology.

Danna gives some background on what they are doing in Chattanooga and how excited people in nearby communities are for Chattanooga to bring local Internet choice to SE Tennessee if the state would stop protecting the AT&T, Comcast, and Charter monopolies from competition.

Beth tells us about the Fibervention campaign and how excited people are once they experience the full fiber optic experience powered by a locally-based provider.

And finally, Colman talks tech with us regarding the 10 Gbps platform, branded NextNet. We tried to get a bit more technical for the folks that are very curious about these cutting edge technologies on a passive optical network.

Read the transcript from episode 175 here.

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

This show is 25 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 downl this Mp3 file directly from here.

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

West Virginia Coop Expands Rural Internet Access

As in the rest of the country, broadband is now a necessity for rural economic development in West Virginia. Taking on the challenge, Spruce Knob Seneca Rocks Telephone (SKSRT) cooperative overcame impressive obstacles to build a state-of-the-art fiber optic network. 

The cooperative operates in some of the most serene landscape in the United States and some of the most difficult terrain for fiber deployments. The region’s economy primarily relies on ski resorts and tourism from its namesake, Spruce Knob, the highest peak in the Allegheny Mountains. 

SKSRT’s service area also includes the National Radio Quiet Zone, which creates unique challenges for the cooperative. Established in 1958 by the FCC, the National Radio Quiet Zone protects the radio telescopes at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory from interference.  Because these telescopes are incredibly sensitive, the region is greatly restricted in deploying different types of telecommunication technologies. In certain areas of the quiet zone, closest to the observatory, wireless routers and two-way radios are prohibited. 

Because of the mountainous terrain and the technology restrictions, large telecoms had completely bypassed the sparsely populated communities, leaving them with few options for any sort of connectivity. Much of the isolated region still used the old ringdown operator-telephone system until 1972 when the community created SKSRT as a non-profit cooperative. SKSRT installed the latest in telephone infrastructure at the time and committed to encouraging economic development in the region.

Thirty years later, in 2008, the copper infrastructure that SKSRT had originally installed was in bad shape. The coop went to the Rural Utility Service to fund the needed copper improvements. RUS instead encouraged future-proof fiber. While other telecoms have integrated fiber slowly, General Manager Vickie Colaw explained in an interview with us that SKSRT took a different approach:

“It was evolving to a fiber world. That was when we decided to be total fiber-to-the-home.” 


The coop obtained a $7.7 million loan from the USDA and added 57 subscribers to their system, upgraded all of their equipment, and began providing fiber-to-the-home. The presentation of the loan was a celebrated, public event with federal and state officials, local business leaders, and community stakeholders. At that time, then U.S. Rep (now U.S. Sen.) Shelley Moore Capito described the importance of the loan for Pendleton County:

“It’s time for you to be a part of cutting edge technology that exists in the country. It opens up a world of opportunity, a world of learning and a world of the future for Pendleton County."

When the network was completed in 2012, SKSRT became one of the first coops in the country to offer FTTH to everyone in its service area. The small coop then expanded after receiving another $8.5 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds to provide broadband service throughout Pendleton County and northern Pocahontas County, a region at the very heart of the National Radio Quiet Zone.  The added restrictions from deploying so close to the observatory proved challenging, but the project made fiber available to an additional 762 full-time households and 560 seasonal houses. With construction of the network mostly finished in these areas, homes have been utilizing the fiber network since late 2014.

Because fiber offers so many more possibilities than copper, SKSRT can offer triple-play service, including IPTV, telephone, and Internet access. For Internet access, most residential users choose a low-tier of 3 Mbps / 1 Mbps or 6 Mbps / 1 Mbps, while businesses prefer to have 15 Mbps down. Business customers can negotiate higher speeds when standard offerings are not sufficient; SKSRT provides 50 Mbps download speeds to a few local businesses. The coop is currently in the process of upgrading the speeds they offer.

Thanks to their local coop, these rural communities in the Alleghenies are connecting to the rest of the world through the latest technology, just as they did 40 years ago.

MuniWireless Works in Lompoc…Just The Way They Like It

The early 2000s created a boom of both public and private wireless projects throughout the U.S., but many struggled with unrealistic expectations and flopped. Successful muni wireless networks transformed themselves, adapting to the changing needs of the communities. Some, such as Sandy, Oregon, have transitioned to Fiber-To-The-Home (FTTH) networks where the high-speed fiber-optic cable is hooked up directly to the home. Others repurposed their networks to provide other needed services -- like in Lompoc, California.

Lompoc transformed its $4 million muniwireless network, LompocNet, into a full-fledged Broadband Utility. Originally, the city council hatched the idea of a subscriber-based Wi-Fi network, but times changed quickly. Now, the Broadband Utility primarily provides much-needed internal connectivity for city services.

New Role: City Services

In this small city of about 42,000 people, the Broadband Utility operates a Wide Area Network (WAN) for municipal services. The electric and water utilities use the network for their smart-meters, which automatically provide usage information to the city utilities. Police video cameras transmit their feeds across the service, improving public safety. The Broadband Utility also provides the city’s phone and data services, and and has begun to connect some municipal buildings with fiber-optic cable. The Broadband Utility’s role has increased in importance; Lompoc’s franchise agreement with Comcast expired at the end of 2014, so now the Broadband Utility is beginning to function as an Institutional Network, connecting public buildings.

Lompoc’s approach to broadband may seem inverted to those used to the concept of incremental build-outs, but it worked for the city. In an incremental build-out, a small section of the network is built for a specific purpose and the revenues from that section pay for the next expansion. Lompoc decided to do the opposite: blanket the city completely and immediately with low-cost Internet access via Wi-Fi.

From Being a Flop to Being On Top

More than 10 years ago, in 2002, Lompoc faced a common, but frustrating problem – Comcast’s services. Comcast was slowly rolling out DSL in the community, but the cost of cable TV services still seemed too high to the city council. The Mayor Pro Tem at the time, DeWayne Holmdahl, traveled to Florida with the city manager to a municipal broadband conference to explore solutions. Inspired by the stories at the conference, they returned with an idea: a municipal utility for cable and Internet services.


The City Council agreed to look into the matter and hired a consultant to perform a study[PDF] in 2003. The options:

  1. Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, financed through bonds, with a capital cost of $26.5 million (not including the cost of operation and maintenance)
  2. Wi-Fi mesh network, financed through a loan from the municipal Electric Utility to be repaid with revenue funds from the network, with a capital cost of $1 million (not including the cost of operation and maintenance)

The FTTH project would be city-wide and include triple-play: phone, TV, and Internet. The Wi-Fi plan would blanket the city with affordable basic Internet access. According to Holdmahl, the city council recognized that the FTTH project would be too costly. Although a Wi-Fi network could not provide triple-play services, the network could still serve residents.

Technical problems delayed the network from taking off with residential users, and the network languished until the end of 2007. Then Richard Gracyk came on as Broadband Services Administrator changing the network’s technical management system. The number of subscribers quickly leapt to about 1,000 and plateaued.

After the city spent $4 million to construct, operate, and maintain the network, the project was declared 'revenue neutral' in 2012, and LompocNet could begin to recoup its investment. Generating revenue from the network now looked promising.

Residential Users: Cord Cutters and the Digital Divide

Although the Broadband Utility has started to focus more on city services, the residential program is still robust. The network has about a 1,000 customers a month - LompocNet does not use the term "subscribers." The residential Wi-Fi requires no contract. The Internet bill is added to their city utility account - an easy, all-in-one payment. People are not locked into the service, but have the option to use it as needed. 

The services they offer have expanded since the early days of the network. The technology has grown more extensive as the Broadband Utility uses a blended network of different equipment and providers. Offering three tiers for residential users (ranging from $15.99 - $35.99) and base-level packages for visitors (from $4.99 - $9.99), the network appeals to cord-cutters (people who want to move away from subscriptions) and lower income people, priced out by other Internet services.

Former Mayor Pro Tem, and current city councilmember, Holmdahl explained that he has been a loyal customer of the Broadband Utility since its inception. He uses it for both his home and for his business as a travelling notary, saying “it works just the way we like to have it work.” That’s the key to any successful program: it works just the way the community likes it to work.

Audio Available: Financing Fiber for the New Economy Conference in Lexington

At a September conference in Lexington, Kentucky, Next Century Cities (NCC) hosted an influential and diverse group of leaders from the municipal broadband arena to share their experiences as leaders in community broadband. Four audio recordings, which you can find on NCC’s website, include panel discussions on a variety of issues surrounding the topic of financing for next generation broadband.

Recording #1: “Lexington Mayor Jim Gray and the Kentucky Wired Story”

In the first recording, Lexington Mayor Gray and the city’s Chief Information Officer discuss their ongoing efforts to make Lexington a gigabit city. These efforts are part of a broader initiative also discussed on building a statewide 3,000 mile fiber optic ring. Several Kentucky government leaders make remarks about the project, called Kentucky Wired, including their thoughts about the public-private partnership model that is helping make the project possible.

Recording #2: “Achieving the Last Mile

Our own Christopher Mitchell, the Director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at ILSR and the Policy Director for Next Century Cities, moderates this panel that includes officials who have led municipal broadband initiatives in their communities. These officials share some of the challenges they have faced and solutions they discovered in their efforts to finance last mile infrastructure.

Recording #3: “Exploring Options and Approaches for Broadband Financing”

Scott Shapiro, the Senior Advisor to the Mayor of Lexington Kentucky, moderates the panel discussion that includes a group of people with varied knowledge and perspectives on the community broadband issue.  They discuss models and approaches communities can use to finance their broadband networks, with a particular focus on the public-private partnership model.

Recording #4: “Federal Support for Broadband Projects” 

Hilda Legg, former Rural Utilities Service Administrator and current Vice Chair of Broadband Communities, leads a panel of several experts examining funding supports and offering recommendations and next steps for communities.

If you could not make the conference or if you need a refresher on information you found compelling, this is your opportunity to revisit the discussion.

Let It Be Local: 43 Colorado Communities to Vote on Better Broadband

One year ago, a wave started in Colorado as voters in a handful of communities chose to reclaim the local telecommunications authority revoked by CenturyLink lobbyists in 2005. This year, the wave is even bigger.

Colorado Communities Want the Choice

As 2015 election day approaches, voters in 43 Colorado communities are on track to keep the momentum going across the state. A total of 17 counties, 26 towns, and at least 3 school districts are taking the issue to voters, reports the Colorado Municipal League. Referendums to opt out of restrictive SB 152 will take place across the state, much to the chagrin of big ISPs who spent millions in lobbying dollars to get the bill passed.

In 2014, nine communities overwhelmingly chose to reclaim local authority. Some of those communities, including Boulder and Rio Blanco County, are taking steps forward. The intention of the referendums were primarily to take back a local right hijacked by the state legislature in 2005 and some communities may never take any action. A number of Colorado news outlets, including local KUNC, the Durango Herald, and the Denver Post support the tide of local self-reliance and expect it to swell.

Local Support: “Yes” in Steamboat Springs

Letters include one from resident Jon Quinn and another from Jim Clark, the CEO of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association. Clark says voting to opt out of SB 152 means recognizing that it has not served its originally stated purpose to help communities:

Ten years ago, Senate Bill 152 was passed, taking away the rights of governments to engage in providing service, including their ability to partner with private entities. The argument at the time was that this would encourage private providers to invest in expanding service, in particular, to rural areas. Unfortunately, that hasn’t worked out so well. Service interruptions have occurred with detrimental consequences to business and residents.

These two letters are in addition to a recent editorial from the newspaper also advocating that voters vote "yes." Residents in Routt County will see at least three ballot questions asking separately to allow the county, cities, and some public schools to opt out of SB 152.

Local Support: More “Yeses” in Fort Collins

Fort Collins residents Robin Gard, Walt Lyons, and Edgar Peyronnin also wrote letters in support of a “yes” vote on the referendum to reject SB 152. Lyons, a small business owner in Fort Collins who we featured in a recent story, describes the potential repercussions of a “no” vote for the city:

A no-vote means nothing happens — and the status quo will be hugely detrimental to our future economic development. Outdoor Magazine now ranks Chattanooga (not Fort Collins) as “the Best Town Ever.” One reason? An affordable city-sponsored, gigabit fiber network triggered a venture capital boom of high-tech startups.

Schools Want to Use Their Tools

With an increased emphasis on technology in the classroom, schools and colleges now realize that prior connectivity levels are no longer adequate. In other situations, schools have existing infrastructure but SB 152 blocks them from making full use of its potential.

Colorado Mountain College will ask voters in six counties to approve the opt out even though the school has no plans to take any action at this time. The college wants "to have certainty" that they can provide their own Internet in the future, if the need arises reports the Grand Junction Sentinel.


Last year, Boulder voters opted out of SB 152 and this year the Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) is asking for a repeat, reports the Boulder Weekly. The district launched its "1:Web" pilot project in 2014 but has found that its 55 schools also need better connectivity. BVSD also has over 100 miles of fiber planted and would like to earn revenue by leasing excess capacity to ISPs as a way to expand affordable Internet access and shrink the digital divide.

Leasing excess fiber to partners could increase competition in the area. The prospect is great for consumers but would defeat the true purpose of SB 152, reports the Denver Post:

"Pure and simple, it was a statute written to limit competition," said Ken Fellman, a Denver attorney who specializes in telecom issues and has been fighting against SB 152 for years. "They didn't want government to compete directly or indirectly. There are millions of dollars in private capital that haven't come to Colorado because of this statutue."

Taking Back Local Control

As it stands, SB 152 presumes that people in a community don’t know what is best for themselves. A “yes” vote on a referendum is not a commitment to build a municipal broadband network; it is merely reclaiming the right to make their own local decisions. If passed, communities are free to consider all possible options including building publicly-owned and operated broadband networks or pursuing public/private partnerships to solve local connectivity problems.

Taxpayers Footing Bill for Referenda

From a financial perspective, these 43 communities must spend thousands of dollars to reclaim the authority that was once rightfully theirs. For example, in Fort Collins the ballot question will cost the taxpayers more than $60,000. The cost of almost four dozen of these referendums could easily push past a million dollars

Time To Strike The "Obnoxious Law"

Colorado state leaders need to recognize that it is time to get rid of SB 152, relieve local communities from the onerous burden of opting out, and restore local authority across the state. Geoff Wilson, General Counsel for the Colorado Municipal League, told the Durango Herald:

It’s an obnoxious law that was passed by the industry to protect their monopoly...The law is designed to protect the provider of inferior service from the local government doing anything about it.

Happy Halloweek from MuniNetworks!

This time of year, goblins and ghouls are in plentiful supply. There is, however, a much scarier prospect than kids in rubber masks and bad Halloween candy: the reality of our monopolistic internet service providers. Enjoy the following images designed for Halloween and feel free to distribute widely.





Your Choice: Cable Monopoly Tricks or Muni Fiber Treats?

Happy Halloween!

Trick or Treat - Subscriber reviews edition!

View a larger version of this graphic here [pdf]. Stay up to date on community networks with our newsletter!

College Station Wants Competition: Finds It In Their Fiber

Elected officials hope competition via city-owned fiber will give businesses and residents some connectivity headway in College Station, Texas.

The community will lease its city-owned fiber to local ISP, WireStar, in order to foster local competition. City Councilmember James Benham told KBTX that community leaders want high-speed connectivity for businesses and residents and want to create a competitive environment to encourage affordable prices. He described incumbent Suddenlink as "not always the best fit," pointing to the need for high-speed access in multi-family dwellings.

WireStar will begin by offering Internet access up to 1 gig download to businesses and large apartment complexes. Expansion to single-family homes will depend on the demand. WireStar is taking a similar approach as iTV3 in Urbana-Champaign - asking potential subscribers to sign up at their website and offering service in areas that show demand.

WireStar will pay more than $21,000 per year plus maintenance fees to lease the city's fiber; the partners have agreed to a 10-year agreement.

The city, located in the east central part of the state, is home to approximately 94,000 people and part of the Bryan-College Station metro where about 229,000 people live. College Station is home to A & M, along with laboratories for a number of research entities such as NASA, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Office of Naval Research. 

Benham told KBTX:

"Competition is good for prices and for consumers and for businesses and for this case having multiple choices is good for them."

Watch KBTX coverage:


Small Town Coop, Big Gig Connection

In an April 2015 press release, the telecommunications cooperative Nemont Communications announced their plans to make the small, rural town of Scobey, Montana the first gigabit community in the state. The network will serve commercial, governmental, and residential customers in this Northeastern Montana town of just over 1,000 people. This speed increase to gig-level is a result of upgrades to the existing fiber network.

Scobey is inside of Nemont’s 14,000 square mile service territory where they began upgrades to fiber in 2007. The cooperative dates back to 1950 when farmers in the area organized to form their own telephone systems. The current service territory spans parts of Northeastern Montana, Northwestern North Dakota, South Central Montana, and Northern Wyoming. 

Bridging the Rural Digital Divide 

Nemont CEO Mike Kilgore sees the plan for Scobey as a first step for the largely rural state of Montana to push toward ultra high-speed Internet in every corner of the US:

“On January 18, 2013, former FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski issued the Gigabit City Challenge to bring at least one ultra-fast Gigabit Internet community to every state in the U.S. by 2015. Today, thanks to the tireless efforts of our talented employees, Nemont is proud to report that Montana now has a Gigabit community.”

Exploring Early Stages of Building Municipal Fiber - Community Broadband Bits Episode 174

When communities consider building their own network, they are often venturing outside their areas of expertise and have to get advice from consultants and industry experts. This week, we talk with two guests from Vantage Point, an employee owned engineering and consulting firm that works with a variety of clients, from private companies to municipalities on telecommunications matters.

President Chad Glanzer and Assistant Director of Engineering Carmen O'Neill explain the early stages of planning around community fiber networks and some of the trade-offs that can be made. For instance, paying more in upfront planning can lower the costs and uncertainty of future construction.

We talk about the importance of financial forecasts and how those estimates interact with the network design process. We hope this discussion helps local officials and activists better understand what early stages look like if they want to build a community fiber network.

Read the transcript from this episode here.

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

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 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."