Muni Fiber in Idaho Helps 911 Dispatch and First Responders - Community Broadband Bits Episode 173

Ammon, Idaho, continues to quietly build a future-looking open access fiber network. Though the City won't be providing services directly to subscribers, the network it is building and the model it has created could revolutionize public safety.

I just spent several days with them shooting our next video on community fiber networks (look for that in January). In episode 173 of our Community Broadband Bits podcast, we talk with City Technology Director Bruce Patterson and Systems Network Administrator Ty Ashcraft.

Bruce explains how they plan to finance the network as it moves from the current residential pilot phase to being available broadly to any residents that want to connect, likely using a local improvement district model. Then Ty tells us about the portal that subscribers will be able to use to instantaneously pick and change service providers offering various services.

Additionally, we talk about the public safety implications of their technological and collaborative approach, specifically around the horrifying prospect of an armed shooter in a public space like a school or mall.

Read the transcript from this episode here.

We spoke with Bruce about Ammon's plans previously in episode 86. Read all our coverage of Ammon 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 download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Thanks to bkfm-b-side for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Raise Your Hands."

$117,000 Broadband Service Disaster From Charter

Shocking horror stories about incumbent ISPs reaching new lows for poor service are now so common that they have become routine. A story from Ars that recently went viral puts a human face on the frustration millions of Americans endure just trying to determine if Internet access is available where they choose to live. First, here is the gist of the story.

Cole Marshall, a work-from-home web developer, decided he wanted to build a new home on the outskirts of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. While scouting properties, he confirmed with local incumbent ISPs Comcast and Frontier online and by phone that they could offer sufficient Internet access to his favored lot.

When Marshall completed construction and contacted Charter, the cable company offered to provide the service only if he paid $117,000 to extend their network to his home. And Frontier? Frontier mislead him too, pricing the job at $42,000 to bring him the 24 Mbps service they’d promised they could provide. 

When all was said and done, Charter couldn’t provide affordable service at all. Marshall is now stuck with Frontier’s sloth-like DSL broadband speeds of 3 Mbps download / 1 Mbps upload for all of his small business needs. These speeds fall well short of the 25 Mbps download / 4 Mbps upload the FCC defines as “broadband.” 

Marshall’s story illustrates well the problems with existing broadband services in and around the city of Sun Prairie that led citizens and city leaders to recently pass a resolution to build a municipal broadband network in some areas within the city limits. While Marshall’s address is outside the purview of Sun Prairie’s planned network buildout, the potential for future expansion of this publicly-owned network may be Marshall’s only hope for a solution to his broadband connectivity problems.


Frontier and Charter officials told Sun Prairie city leaders in June during the network’s planning phase that their plans to build a municipal network were misguided. At that same meeting, Frontier and Charter also warned that they would likely cut jobs if the city chose to build the municipal network.

When Alderman Hariah Hutkowski asked Frontier and Charter officials if they would build a fiber-optic network so the city wouldn’t have to, the incumbents offered no response. Hutkowski called them out:

“What I see is that you will provide just enough to people to make a profit, but our community has other needs, we have demands through schools, residents streaming service, and demand is moving toward higher capacity,” Hutkowski said.

The people of Sun Prairie, a city of about 31,000 just outside of Madison, simply want reliable broadband service from an organization that will operate with basic accountability to its customers. With the private ISPs refusing to provide that service, their pleas to stop a municipal network deployment ring hollow.

Marshall's story highlights at least two problems we see repeatedly across the United States. First, there is highly inadequate or nonexistent broadband service access at non-competitive rates across the country and private ISPs see no financial incentive to help. Second, it underscores common complaints about incumbent ISPs making terrible customer service errors that suspiciously resemble predatory bait-and-switch behavior. Once again, the consumer is caught in the middle as these two problems collide with disastrous results.

Nonprofit Bozeman Fiber Secures Funding From Eight Local Banks

Good news from Montana! Bozeman Fiber has secured funding to begin construction of a 23-mile open access community fiber network. Through an impressive partnership among eight local banks, Bozeman Fiber secured $3.85 million.  

First Interstate Bank, Rocky Mountain Bank, Big Sky Western Bank, Opportunity Bank, U.S. Bank, American Bank, First Montana Bank and Bank of Bozeman all came together to support the fledgling network. During a press conference, First Interstate Bank President Bruce Parker described how this level of collaboration was possible. He initially approached twelve banks in April about the project. Now, six months later, eight banks have committed to providing funds. Parker expressed a high level of confidence for the network’s impact:

The project really speaks for itself in terms of what this infrastructure will do for the Bozeman community. 

Bozeman Fiber is itself a remarkable collaboration between public and private sector interests. The city of Bozeman will not manage the network themselves. Instead, the City Commission voted to form a separate nonprofit entity to direct the project. In order to consider the many diverse needs of Bozeman from the economic to the educational, the board of this newly formed nonprofit features seven members from the public and private sector. The end result is this unique public-private partnership. 

A purpose for the fiber network is economic development, in part by providing affordable fiber access to small businesses and startups. The press conference took place at the headquarters of Elixiter, an online marketing company that has grown rapidly in the past four years. The founder, Andrew Hall explained how Bozeman Fiber will benefit companies like Elixiter:

“We are on the Internet all day long, all of our consultants. So literally our business exists because the Internet exists and so for us there isn't anything more important, short of our consulting staff, then having great, high speed, reliable internet access.”

Learn more about the Bozeman Fiber in episode #142 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Watch local news coverage of Bozeman Fiber’s funding below:


Community Broadband Media Roundup - October 16

Community Broadband News By State



Gardner pushes broadband bill in Senate by Charlie Ashby, The Daily Sentinel

Fort Collins voters to weigh in on broadband services by Kevin Duggan, The Coloradoan

Gigabit city: Fort Morgan putting together 'shopping list' for building out fiber system to residents, businesses by Jenni Grubbs, The Fort Morgan Times

Summit County cell tower referendum explained by Noah Klug, The Summit Daily


New York

N.Y. County, Private Sector Partner to Reel in State Broadband Funding by Joe Mahoney, GovTech



Tennessee Lawmakers Plan Push to Extend Muni-Broadband Boundaries by Tim Omarzu, GovTech

Chattanooga boosts citywide broadband capacity to 10 gigabits by Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press

The city-owned utility announced today that it is now offering 10 gigabit broadband to any of EPB's 170,000 customers. The 10 Gig service will be offered to any residential customer for $299 per month, compared with the $69.99 for EPB's current single gig service.

Chattanooga appears to be the third city to offer such a service, but it is by far the largest. Vermont Telephone offered 10-gig service to its 18,000 customers in Springfield, Vermont in June 2015, and Salisbury, North Carolina offered to service to its 33,000 customers in North Carolina in September. 

EPB and city leaders are announcing the new service today during Chattanooga's Startup Week, which is trying to capitalize on Chattanooga's faster broadband connections to attract and nurture more tech startup businesses.

Chattanooga Is Offering Internet Faster Than Google Fiber by Klint Finley, Wired



The Need for (Broadband) Speed by Colin Wood, GovTech

Community Broadband Easily Explained by Craig Settles, GovTech

Show Me the (Hidden) Money for Community Broadband by Craig Settles, CJ Speaks

Battling to become gigacities by Kristyn Martin, Al Jazeera English

“You have municipal networks that will build a network in the absence of real competition. But that creates real competition,” said Christopher Mitchell, the director of the community broadband initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “When they’re facing competition from a local government, they phrase it in such a way as to say, ‘It’s unfair.’ But when you look at their actions across the board, they’re trying to restrict competition in all manner of ways against private companies. They’re looking for an advantage in every single way that they can get.”

Cities combat state laws in the quest for faster, cheaper Internet by Krystin Martin, Al Jazeera English

VIDEO: Building the gigabit economy by The Washington Post

LeverettNet Meets Demand for Better Connectivity in MA

On October 2nd, a group of residents, business owners, and educators met with elected officials to celebrate the early success of LeverettNet. The municipal gigabit fiber network now serves 650 of 800 households in the Massachusetts town of 1,800.

This spring, the network began serving limited areas of town, offering telephone service and gigabit Internet access. LeverettNet's instant success is no surprise, considering a number townsfolk depended on unreliable, slow dial-up service over antiquated copper infrastructure for years. Some in town used DSL, satellite, and wireless devices; others had no Internet access at all. Telephone service was equally dismal - sometimes the community would lose service when it rained.

Leverett connects to MassBroadband 123, the statewide middle-mile network deployed by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute. Greenfield, Massachusetts Internet service provider Crocker Communications, is partnering with Leverett to offer gigabit service via the publicly owned infrastructure. 

The community chose to fund the network with a modest property tax increase and from revenue collected from subscribers. After they did the math, Leverett realized they could obtain better, faster, more reliable services for less if they built their own network. Take a few minutes to listen to Chris interview Peter d'Errico from Leverett's Broadband Committee and Select Board, in episode #113 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

At the celebration, d'Errico described the way the community came together:

“The project has been huge for the town and mostly undertaken by our volunteer broadband committee, which met weekly for four years to make it happen,” said Peter d’Errico of the Leverett Broadband Committee. “With each phase taken a step at a time we have managed to complete something we all thought was a dream when it was first conceived. Now that it’s complete, residents are thrilled to see what they can do at home on the Internet.” 

Leverett residents are already using their new network to work from home, explore educational opportunities for their kids, and discover ways to make the gig work for them. At the October event, a number of elected officials in attendence recognized that fiber networks give small towns an edge that can draw in more businesses and more people:

State Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, observed that 13 of the 19 towns he represents in the Legislature are either unserved or underserved.

“You’re the first. You’re blazing a new trail here,” Kulik said.

But he cautioned that it might give people impulse to buy property in Leverett if their own towns don’t make the investment.

“If they don’t do what you do, they’re all going to move to Leverett,” Kulik said.

EPB Turns Up The Speed To 10 Gigs

Chattanooga's EPB Fiber Optics now offers 10 gigabit Internet service to all households and businesses in its service area. The ultra-fast service is available for $299 per month with free installation, no contracts, and no cancellation fees, announced community leaders at a press conference on October 15th.

In addition to 10 gig service, EPB is also offering "Professional" products available in 3 gig, 5 gig, and 10 gig for large businesses. Smaller businesses have the option of choosing 5 gig or 10 gig Internet products. According to the press release, prices on all the new products vary.

Since the network was launched in 2010, Chattanooga has transformed from one of the "dirtiest cities in America" to a haven for the entrepreneurial culture. Chattanooga experienced explosive economic development leading to thousands of new jobs, substantial public savings due to the network's smart grid capabilities, and new educational opportunities for students and workforce development.

From the press release:

Chattanooga’s fiber optic network has produced tangible results. A study recently released by University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Finance professor Bento Lobo shows “the Gig Network” helped the Chattanooga area generate at least 2,800 new jobs and at least $865.3 million in economic and social benefits. The study also found the EPB smart grid, which is the cornerstone application of the utility’s community-wide fiber optic network, has allowed customers to avoid an estimated 124.7 million minutes of electric service interruptions by automatically re-routing power (often in less than a second) to prevent an outage or dramatically reduce outage durations.[read the study here

The city created a standard other communities strive to achieve; we often see communities aiming for the $70 gigabit price point offered by EPB. As a leader for other municipalities, it is only fitting that Chattanooga has taken this next step forward.

Also from the press release:

“Chattanooga’s 10 Gig fiber optic network is a world-class platform for innovation,” [Harold DePriest, president and CEO of EPB] said. “In recent years, the need for faster Internet speeds has increased rapidly. Chattanooga is the perfect place for companies to enhance their productivity today and test the applications everyone in the country will want tomorrow.”

Read more about Chattanooga's journey to become a gigabit community in our 2012 report, Broadband At the Speed of Light: How Three Communities Built Next-Generation Networks.

Businesses in Fort Collins, Colorado, Advocate for Local Authority

As the city of Fort Collins prepares for a November ballot issue seeking to reclaim local telecommunications authority, local business leaders are articulating their support. Walt Lyons, the owner of a Fort Collins-based video production company and member of the Fort Collins Citizens Broadband Committee, believes slow broadband access should be a central priority for this city of more than 150,000:

“This is more important than widening I-25,” Lyons said. “This is not going to make much difference to me because I’m getting ready to retire. But it will make a difference for my kids and my grandchildren. The kinds of places they will work and what they do will depend upon it."

The city has access to many miles of fiber optic networks as Fort Collins is connected to a ring that the Platte River Power Authority (PRPA) built to connect its four partners: Fort Collins, Loveland, Estes Park and Longmont. At present, only government-owned facilities in Fort Collins can use the fiber network.  Because Colorado State University is among the places that can access the PRPA network, the school’s vice president of IT and dean of libraries, Pat Burns, sees firsthand the enormous gap between the broadband speeds he gets at home versus those available on campus:

“The best service you can buy from the private sector, like to a residence in Fort Collins, is not as good as the crappiest service we deliver on the CSU campus,” Burns said. “It just cripples what can be done.”

A number of Colorado communities have voted to reclaim local authority in the past year. A few places, like Rio Blanco County and Firestone, have moved forward with feasibility studies or are already planning for public investment. An increasing number of Colorado communities like Fort Collins realize that they need better connectivity to retain existing businesses and attract new development.

School District Will Cut Connectivity Costs 85% With Public Fiber in Iowa

Plans for a fiber network collaboration between the city, school district, and county will save hundreds of thousands of dollars in Stormlake, Iowa. The school district recently voted to take advantage of significant savings for connectivity by switching to the publicly owned infrastrucutre as soon as the network is ready.

The Storm Lake Pilot recently reported that under the current contract with Vast Broadband, the district pays $7,500 per month to lease two strands of fiber. The new arrangement will allow the district to lease 12 fibers from the city-owned network for $14,000 per year or $1,167 per month - a reduction of approximately 85 percent. The city and the school district will enter into a 10-year agreement to ultimately save the district a total of $760,000 or approximately $6,333 per month during the term of the lease.

The school will still need to pay for Internet access and as part of the agreement will be responsible for purchasing its own equipment. The School Board voted unanimously to approve the agreement.

As we reported in July, the Stormlake project began as a way to better communication between water and wastewater utility facilities but then evolved into a public safety and cost saving initiative. All three entities - Storm Lake Community School District, the City of Storm Lake, and Buena Vista County - anticipate considerable savings and heightened reliability. We expect to report on more public savings as the community uses this valuable fiber asset.

Project costs for the system of conduit and fiber, which does not include hardware, are estimated at approximately $1,374,000 to be shared by all three entities. This first phase of the project is scheduled to be completed by December.

Open Access Engineering Options - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 172

The holy grail of Internet access for many of us continues to be a situation in which multiple providers can compete on a level playing field, which should lower costs to subscribers and encourage innovation. Often called open access, this may involve a municipality building a fiber optic network and making it available on a wholesale level - a model that has been tried to various degrees of success.

This week, we talk with Tim Pozar, a long time Internet entrepreneur and community network enthusiast, about why he supports that model and his ideal method of engineering such a network. We talk about different possibilities for how to design the network and trade-offs involved with those choices.

Tim has worked for many years to encourage this model in San Francisco, which already has some of the locally rooted ISPs that we would hope would ultimately thrive if the City had that type of network available.

Read the transcript from this show here.

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

This show is 30 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 bkfm-b-side for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Raise Your Hands."

Tiny Mount Washington Pursues Muni in Massachusetts

Mount Washington's 167 residents will not let their small size defeat their big plans for a municipal fiber network. The community is seeking permission from the state legislature to finance, own, and operate a municipal Internet network. The bill granting Mount Washington the authority to do so, S1978, recently passed in the Senate and then moved to the House to await review.

"The Town Among The Clouds" sought special legislation to avoid being bound by the state's requirement that communities establish a Municipal Light Plant (MLP). The MLP is a separate department responsibile for municipal electricity and broadband service. Town leaders believe an MLP would be an administrative burden for such a small community; the State Senate agrees.

Many other communities in western Massachusetts have signed up to work with the WiredWest broadband cooperative to improve local connectivity. Mount Washington residents feel they can complete the project sooner on their own. 

Mount Washington, sitting in the Taconic Mountains, is the westernmost and southwesternmost town in Massachusetts and the smallest town in Berkshire County. Mount Washington State Forest and Mount Everett State Reservation cover much of the town creating a forested, sparsely populated area.

According to the Berkshire Eagle:

[Selectman Chair Brian] Tobin said Internet access in Mount Washington is nearly non-existent. Some residents have satellite dishes and other have long-distance Wi-Fi service, "but to my knowledge, no one has dial-up service."

All of these options, he said, are slow and at times unreliable.

Residents consider the project necessary infrastructure:

Tobin said the town opted to push forward on funding and building its own infrastructure because the plan will allow the community to pay for it the same way as any other town project, such as roads and buildings.

"It's something we have to do as a town," he said. "And we have the support for it."