Illinois' Monticello Local Partnership Leads to Big Savings - Community Broadband Bits Episode 102

Following up on Lisa's in-depth story on Monticello, Illinois, we asked Vic Zimmerman to join us for episode 102 of the Community Broadband Bits.

We talk about how rural Monticello started by reaching out to the existing service providers, only to be stalled for months and then years. Eventually they realized they would have to take a stronger hand in making sure community anchor institutions, including the schools, would have the fast, affordable, and reliable connections they need.

Local public entities began working together and partnered with a private firm building a fiber line through town to get in the trench with them. That was the beginning of an impressive network that now connects community anchors and ideally will lead to more investment for connections to businesses and residents.

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 15 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 Valley Lodge for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Sweet Elizabeth."

Announcing the Coalition for Local Internet Choice!

We are excited to announce a new effort to restore and preserve local decision-making authority when it comes to public private partnerships and Internet infrastructure investment.

The Coalition for Local Internet Choice, CLIC, will work to ensure communities can make these decisions for themselves. Mission statement:

The Coalition for Local Internet Choice – CLIC – represents a wide range of public and private interests who support the authority of local communities to make the broadband Internet choices that are essential for economic competitiveness, democratic discourse, and quality of life in the 21st century.

I'm excited to be a part of this effort as a senior advisor working with Jim Baller, Joanne Hovis, and Catharine Rice. We are asking people to join the coalition via the CLIC page (right hand column toward bottom). Members agree to the following principles. Follow localnetchoice on Twitter.

The Internet Is Essential 21st Century Infrastructure: Modern broadband Internet networks are essential infrastructure in the 21st century economy. Access to modern broadband infrastructure is vital in ensuring that all communities – rural, tribal, and urban – can access opportunity and participate fully in community life.

Local Communities Are the Lifeblood of America: America is built on its great communities. Towns, counties, and cities are where economic activity and civic engagement live — and communities recognize modern broadband Internet infrastructure as essential to enable such economic and democratic activity.

Communities Must Be Able to Make Their Own Choices: Local choice enables local self-reliance and accountability. Local choice enables local innovation, investment, and competition. Local communities, through their elected officials, must have the right and opportunity to choose for themselves the best broadband Internet infrastructure for their businesses, institutions, and residents. Federal broadband policies must prioritize local choice and provide local communities full, unhindered authority to choose their own broadband future.

More updates to follow - but please sign up if you agree. Also, spread the word! We are excited to have individuals, companies, trade groups, local governments, utilities, and others join our effort.

UC2B and Partner Bringing Fiber to More Urbana-Champaign Communities in Illinois

The UC2B Network and its partner, iTV-3, will soon bring gigabit capabilities to more people in the Champaign-Urbana community in Illinois. According to the UC2B press release [PDF], iTV-3 will expand existing fiber to areas of the community to serve residents and businesses. iTV-3 will take subscriptions for commercial and residential access online at www.theperfectupgrade.com.

In a statement from the FCC, Chairman Tom Wheeler commented:

"Congratulations to Urbana-Champaign Big Broadband (UC2B) and iTV-3 on making gigabit services over fiber available throughout the community. This public-private partnership provides a valuable model for communities and companies throughout the country and a demonstration of the creativity that is stimulated when localities are free to work with the private sector to improve broadband offerings.”

UC2B and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign received American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds to deploy an urban FTTH network in Illinois. The not-for-profit corporation offered economical Internet service to residential subscribers in economically disadvantaged areas, some as low as $19.99 per month. The network also connected a number of community anchor institutions including schools, hospitals, and municipal facilities throughout the Urbana-Champaign metropolitan area.

According to a fact sheet on the project [PDF], the company is a subsidiary of a family-owned business that started in Springfield, Illinois. iTV-3 has been an ISP since the mid 1990s but also owns and operates over 775 Family Video stores in 19 states and Canada. UC2B chose iTV-3 because the company operates in a manner consistent with the Community Broadband Principles, core values guiding UC2B since inception. iTV-3 will also contribute to UC2B's Community Benefit Fund, established to improve digital literacy and digital inclusion. 

iTV-3 will offer wholesale access via the existing structure and, if neighborhoods do a not connect after five years, other companies will have the opportunity to offer services via the infrastructure. iTV-3 will lease the existing infrastructure and equipment from UC2B and will own any infrastructure it builds as part of the network. If the two part ways in the future, UC2B will have the option to purchase the infrastructure deployed by iTV-3.

iTV-3 has offered services in other Illinois communities since 2009. According to the iTV-3 press release [PDF], the ISP will be bringing services into neighborhoods of 150 - 350 homes once 50% of homes sign-up. iTV-3 will begin by offering Internet and voice and plans to add video in the future.

Service rates will be:

  • 50/10 Mbps Internet - $49.95
  • 50/10 Mbps Internet + Unlimited US and Canada Voice - $64.90
  • 100/20 Mbps Internet - $59.95
  • 100/20 Mbps Internet + Unlimited US and Canada Voice - $74.90
  • 1000/200 Mbps Internet - $79.95
  • 1000/200 Mbps Internet + Unlimited US and Canada Voice - $94.90

For more on the UC2B project, listen to Chris' interview with Brandon Bowersox-Johnson from the network's policy committee and Carol Ammons of the U-C Independent Media Center. He spoke to them in episode 42 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Common Carriage Definition - Barry Lynn

As I was glancing back through my notes in the margins of my copy of Barry Lynn's Cornered: The New Monopoly Capitalism and The Economics of Destruction, I stumbled across the beginning of a discussion of common carriage. Good timing given the FCC wrestling with whether to apply common carrier regulations on Internet access.

Which brings us to a set of laws that are closely related to price discrimination: our common carriage laws. These hold that certain businesses--especially those with a real or a de facto license to provide a vital service to the general public--must be kept open to all potential customers on a fair basis. The provider of the service cannot discriminate among users, either by denying service to some and not to others or by charging different people different prices. The ancient Romans applied the concept to inns and ships. The English applied it to cabs, ferries, toll roads, mills, bakeries, surgery, tailoring, and breweries. In the United States, in the nineteenth century, we extended it to steamboats, telegraphy, and eventually railroads.

FreeUTOPIA Destroying Myths About Macquerie in Utah

Jesse Harris at FreeUTOPIA recently published a piece correcting the many fantastic errors disseminated by the Utah Taxpayers Association. The group continues to spread lies to poison a proposal from Australian company Macquarie that could reinvigorate the ailing network. We spoke with Harris and Pete Ashdown, from Xmission, about the proposal in episode #85 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

As can be expected, the arguments are nothing new, but the Utah Taxpayers Association still finds a way to take it to new extremes. Harris' post is worth the read because it offers truths to correct misinformation.

After correcting several points, Harris writes:

Really, their diatribe just goes on and on like that. A lot of it is basic fact-checking stuff that’s flat-out wrong, but they know those kinds of statements will rile people up and get them too angry to consider the real facts.

The best thing you can do right now is to make sure you show up at city council meetings, let your elected officials know you support the deal, and make sure you counter any of the flat-out false talking points the opposition will be trotting out time and time again. We’re really close to having this thing in the bag, and we can’t let up until the ink dries on the final agreement.

In a late-breaking story, he also says he has evidence that CenturyLink is behind this astroturf campaign. Not at surprising, but we should not sit idly by while powerful corporations try to undermine our republic.

Plan for FTTH in Chanute Looking Positive in Kansas

Chanute has been exploring available options for a citywide FTTH network. In addition to offering residential service, city leaders want to expand the business use of its municipal fiber network. A limited number of businesses currently join schools, government, and utilities on the fiber infrastructure.

The community incrementally built a fiber network to serve government, utilities, and schools with no borrowing or bonding. The broadband utility continues to expand and uses WiMAX for public safety and to connect several businesses. For the full story of this central Kansas community, download our case study Chanute’s Gig: One Rural Kansas Community’s Tradition of Innovation Led to a Gigabit and Ubiquitous Wireless Coverage

As we reported previously, the City Council began reviewing potential scenarios to bring fiber to each premise. The Wichita Eagle reported that Utilities Director Larry Gates recently presented price and speed estimates to a City Council study session:

When complete, the city system will offer service at a speed of one gigabit per second.

City residents will pay $40 a month; it will cost $50 outside the city limits and $75 for businesses.

To put that in perspective, Chanute will offer the same ultra-fast connection speed as the Google Fiber system being rolled out across the Kansas City metropolitan area, but 42 percent cheaper than Google’s $70-a-month charge.

Or, to use another comparison, Chanute’s fiber-to-home system will be 14 times faster and cost 60 percent less than the best Internet service the town’s residents can get today.

Wow! And recall that this would not be possible if the cable lobbyists had their way earlier this year in the Kansas legislature. Kansas briefly considered making it impossible for communities to build their own networks and will likely take up the matter again next year.

We contacted Gates, who elaborated on Chanute's plan. The City will provide Internet only; a third party provider would use the network to offer voice and video. The service area will include the Utilities' three mile territory outside of the city limits.

The community is especially interested in bringing access to unserved students in the community and to patients who need access to telehealth from home. Seventeen percent of area students cannot afford or do not have access to the Internet from home. USD 413 and Neosho Memorial Regional Medical Center are each working with Chanute Utilities to develop solutions using the muncipal network.

Businesses have expressed their frustration with service from the existing cable and DSL service on many occasions. The City's network serves a limited number of commercial clients and others have asked to be connected. City Commissioner Martha McCoy is also a local business owner; she owns and operates a downtown antique and home-decor business. She told the Eagle:

“What I have today (at home), I can hardly ever get on,” she said. “And then I watch the ads they have on TV: Oh, we have super streaming and everything. It just isn’t happening here.”

The service at her business is “better, but it’s still not good,” she said. “It still knocks me off, so I still get upset with that. I have a lot of work to do and I don’t have time to wait.”

The Eagle reports that community leaders supported the initiative at the study session. The City Council formerly votes on June 9th whether to move forward.

Monticello Public Partners Light Up Fiber in Illinois

Kids in the Monticello Community Unified School District #25 (CUSD #25) are now enjoying a new publicly owned fiber optic network. The School District is one of four public partners that collaborated to install the network and share the $306,000 in deployment costs. The City of Monticello, Piatt County, and the Allerton Public Library began the project a year ago with the School District to execute a plan to improve local connectivity.

Approximately 5,000 people live in Monticello, the Piatt County Seat, located in the center of Illinois. The City operates water and wastewater services but not an electric utility. CUSD #25 includes approximately 1,600 students.

According to a Piatt County Journal article, the partners will equally share the annual $12,000 maintenance costs. They will also divide fees for managing the system, estimated at $5,000 - $10,000 per year; the partners will hire a third party to handle network operations. In the future, the School District may manage the network themselves to eliminate that expense.

We connected with Vic Zimmerman, Superintendent for CUSD #25 to find out more.

Until now, the District depended on a patchwork of T1 lines and DSL to connect their five facilities. The schools used four lines to obtain 170 Mbps bandwidth for which they paid $3,500 per month. According to Zimmerman, CUSD #25 rarely received speeds faster than 50 Mbps.

The school has added wireless access points to its five schools to enable Wi-Fi, but lacked the necessary bandwidth to run the system efficiently. Student smartphones on the guest network exacerbated the problem. Zimmerman and CUSD knew they needed more bandwidth to handle future technology demands; they needed fiber.

Piatt County, the City of Monticello, and the Library suffered similar problems. When they approached incumbent providers Verizon and Frontier, they were told fiber would be brought into the area but neither knew when.

Approximately two years ago, Metro Communications (Metro) was deploying a fiber network to service cell phone carriers. The planned route went directly through the center of Monticello. 

The partners approached Metro with a proposal. They would pay for half of the deployment costs for the section that went throught town. In exchange, Metro would bury an additional conduit and allow the partners to access some of the fiber. Metro ran fiber to the edge of properties lines of each entity.

CUSD #25 was the first to connect their facilities. Zimmerman expects the other three partners to be connected and lit by the end of the summer. Once the Library, the County, and the City connect the facilities, the total number of facilities on the network will be 20 - 25.

Through their intergovernmental agreement, the County paid for Metro for the total and each if the entities will reimburse one fourth of the cost. None of the entities bonded or borrowed.

The fiber network will allow the District to purchase 200 Mbps of bandwidth for $1,750 per month. Zimmerman notes that a bump up to 750 Mbps would cost about the same amount they paid when leasing four T1s. With the new infrastructure, CUSD #25 will be able to increase bandwidth in the future; speed between facilities reaches 1 Gbps.

Savings

The District used Capital Improvement funds for their share of deployment. When factoring in CUSD #25's total costs for monthly access, estimated maintenance fees, and estimated operating costs, CUSD #25 will save $16,750 per year on the new network. In other words, the district's investment will pay for itself in 4.5 years. This calculation only considers direct cost savings and does not take into account indirect savings. CUSD #25 will pay about half as much for four times as much capacity.

Technology staff at the District, spoke to the Piatt County Journal:

Todd Wiegel, a school district technology assistant, said it sets up the district for having the ability for all students to log in with a device at school.

“We could not handle that amount of machines on our (previous) infrastructure,” said Wiegel. “It was like trying to fit an elephant through a garden hose.”

...

“The speeds have definitely stabilized,” added Wiegel.

When the remaining partners begin using the network, all four will share bandwidth from Metro and reimburse the School District, reducing costs even further.

Earlier this year, a private buyer approached the joint committee charged with planning and executing the project. A February article described the situation:

A preliminary meeting with the potential buyer showed the company was not interested in providing the faster fiber optic speeds to residential customers, which did not sit well with Monticello City Superintendent Floyd Allsop.

"I just want assurances that they would work something out with somebody on residential so that we're meeting our goals," said Allsop. "And you would think they would want to do that, but we don't know they want to do that."

Selling the system would relieve local entities from the cost of maintaining the fiber, but Keith did not think it made sense to do it this soon.

"Once we sell it, we've got no say over it, where if we hire an outside company to maintain it, we've still got a say," said Keith.

As the network is fired up, the partners are considering future uses. Eventually, they hope to expand the network to a ring structure to improve redundency. They intend to lease dark fiber to a private provider to spur economic development and possibly provide residential services. The partners do not want to become and ISP:

It may be a while before businesses and homes can hook into the fiber, but it is on the committee’s radar. A plan that would lease extra fiber – the entities will likely use just 20 of the 78 thin fibers that were installed – in exchange for maintenance was discussed, but that plan fell through.

Now the plan is to take bids for a company to lease or purchase fiber with the intention of eventually providing commercial and residential service.

Image of Piatt County Courthouse used under Creative Commons license, courtesy of Dual Freq.

Basics of Community Networks Video

Every now and then, we like to repost this video for those who may not have seen it yet - a brief introduction to community owned networks. This, and many more videos, are available on our archived videos page.

Video: 
See video

Webinar from the Blandin Foundation and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, June 12

The Blandin Foundation will be offering a webinar featuring Chris Mitchell from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance on Thursday, June 12 from 3 - 4 p.m. central time.

The discussion, titled "Approaches for Local Governments to Expand Internet Access," will include lessons learned from communities such as Lac qui Parle County, Windom, and several other Greater Minnesota communities.

We recently published a policy brief, Minnesota Governments Advance Super-Fast Internet Networks, that examines these and other communities in rural Minnesota. You can download the brief to read more.

The webinar is free for participants - register online. See you there!

Gigabit in Lafayette From Community Fiber Now $70/Month

LUS Fiber recently announced it now offers residential symmetrical gigabit services for $69.95 per month when purchased as part of its triple-play. In addition to the new speed tier, LUS Fiber will double speeds for current customers for a modest increase of $5 per month.

Claire Taylor of the Advertiser reports that every customer will see the change except those signed up for the 3 Mbps service designed for lower income customers.

DSLReports quoted Director Terry Huval:

“There’s very few entities in the country that can offer this amount of speed,” says Huval. The decision to roll out the new plan came after a recent test run in which LUS opened up full-speed to check if the system could handle the higher demand. It did, says Huval. "Our system has grown and matured to a point where we can make these types of offers,” says Huval, adding that eventually a similar deal for a Gig-per-second will be offered to commercial customers.

Other options include 20 Mbps for $33.95 per month and 80 Mbps for $54.95 per month. The rate for stand alone gigabit Internet is $109.95 per month.

For the full story on the LUS Fiber network, download our case study, Broadband At the Speed of Light: How Three Communities Built Next-Generation Networks.

We also encourage you to listen to Chris' interview with John St. Julien from Lafaytte. In episode #94 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, he shares his experience as one of the people spearheading the effort to bring the network to Lafayette.