Wilson Moves to Expand Greenlight Network to Neighboring Town

Thanks to a new interlocal agreement, the City of Wilson, North Carolina will soon expand its Greenlight community broadband network to the nearby Town of Pinetops. Officials expect to complete the expansion of the gigabit fiber network by April 2016. Pinetops, a town of 1,300, is less than 20 miles from Wilson, population 50,000.

We’re Waiting...

For Brenda Harrell, Pinetops Interim Town Manager, the agreement has been a long time coming after years of frustration over their limited broadband access options.

“Current providers haven’t made significant upgrades to our broadband service through the years,” “They haven’t found us worth the investment. Through this partnership with Greenlight and our neighbors in Wilson, we are able to meet a critical need for our residents.”

As far back as 2010, city leaders in Wilson were in negotiations with Pinetops officials on a proposal to expand the Greenlight network to reach Pinetops. But those negotiations reached an impasse in 2011 when the State of North Carolina passed H129. Since then, officials in Wilson and in surrounding communities have been waiting for a time when Wilson could extend their the Greenlight network footprint.

The new agreement became possible in the wake of the FCC decision in February to overturn North Carolina’s anti-muni HB 129, allowing North Carolina communities to start considering the option to build their own broadband networks or expand on existing networks. While the state has appealed that decision in hopes of preserving the law, this agreement indicates Wilson officials are looking confidently ahead with the expectation that the state’s appeal will fail.

Looking Back, and to the Future

Last November, when the New York Times wrote about the fight in communities around the nation for the right to build and expand community broadband networks, they talked to Gregory Bethea, the now retired town manager of Pinetops, North Carolina:

“If you want to have economic development in a town like this, you’ve got to have fiber,” Bethea told them.

And that’s what this agreement is about: giving Pinetops the local authority necessary to create their own economic opportunities.

In that article the Times also quoted Will Aycock, the General Manager of Wilson’s Greenlight network. At the time, Aycock was already looking beyond the state’s anti-muni law to future expansion:

“We would probably be building tomorrow if the law changed today,” Mr. Aycock said. “We’re not saying that we’re going to build out all of eastern Carolina or even all of our service territory tomorrow. But there are areas where we’d like to go now.”

With this new agreement in place, Aycock is now able to see those plans for expansion come to fruition. Upon reaching the agreement, he said:

“Our commitment to improving the delivery of City services through our smart grid initiatives has made broadband service to Pinetops possible, as the same fiber that supports the smart grid system will be leveraged to deliver next generation broadband.” 

Conduit Brings Connectivity in Lincoln, Nebraska

Lincoln, Nebraska, population 269,000, is making the most of a tough situation to improve connectivity and increase telecommunications competition; the city is doing it with conduit.

The state has severe restrictions that ban communities and public power companies from offering telecommunications services. Local businesses, government facilities, and citizens must rely on the private sector to keep them connected. Faced with that limitation, Lincoln city leaders are enticing private providers with an extensive, publicly owned conduit network.

Using Tubes to Draw in Partners

In 2012, the city invested $700,000 to install a conduit system that has since grown to over 300 miles across the city. Over the past three years, Lincoln has leased conduit space to multiple providers, including Level 3 and NebraskaLink, which offer a range of services to businesses and anchor institutions. NebraskaLink provides backhaul for Lincoln's free Wi-Fi, launched in 2014.

Mayor Chris Beutler recently announced that Lincoln will be partnering with provider number six, ALLO Communications. This local company plans to be the first provider to use the conduit to build its gigabit fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network to every home and business in Lincoln. The network is scheduled for completion in 2019. ALLO is based in Lincoln and offers telephone, Internet, and video to residents and businesses.

Smart Conduit Choices for Long Term Vision

Installing conduit is a major expense when constructing an underground fiber network. Communities which take advantage of opportunities to install conduit during excavation projects, traffic signal upgrades, and development projects, will save in the future if or when those communities decide to move ahead with fiber installation. In addition to reducing deployment costs, existing conduit reduces the number of disruptions that occur when multiple providers want to bring services to a given area.

Local coverage of Lincoln's new partnership:

 

Hudson Adds Velocity to Help Local Businesses - Community Broadband Bits Episode 181

When Hudson, Ohio, businesses couldn't get the connectivity they needed from the incumbent cable and telephone companies, the local government stepped up to provide what it calls a "service" rather than a "utility." Hudson City Manager Jane Howington joins me this week to explain their approach in Episode 181 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Hudson has a municipal electric utility already and is now investing in a fiber optic network to connect local businesses. Branded "Velocity," and launched earlier this year, the network is exceeding expectations thus far in terms of local business interest.

City Manager Howington and I discuss how they decided to build a network, their incremental approach, and how they will know if they are successful in coming years.

The transcript from this episode is available here. Read our full coverage of Hudson here.

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.

You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

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

Community Broadband Media Roundup - December 18

California 

Santa Cruz forges 'homegrown' fiber optic Internet partnership by Jessica A. York, Santa Cruz Sentinel

Santa Cruz, Ca unleashes innovative public-private broadband partnership by The Coalition for Local Internet Choice

 

Canada

Town's only ISP shuts down, leaving residents unserved by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

 

Maryland

Westminster, Md., tackles gigabit broadband by Colin Wood, GovTech

Council narrowly agrees to municipal broadband study by Karie Simmons, Newark Post Online

 

Massachusetts

Mass Broadband and WiredWest have a 'good meeting' in Boston after public conflict by Mary Serreze, Mass Live

Mass. Broadband on July 30 issued a policy that individual towns must retain title to their own broadband infrastructure. WiredWest then apparently continued to advance its plan for collective ownership, as reflected in its business plan and operating agreement released in October and November.

..."Ownership of the network does remain the biggest sticking point," he said. "But the good news is that the board of Mass. Broadband agreed to take another look at the ownership issue. That's big."

Gigabit Internet prices in this small town may one day beat Google Fiber by Clinton Nguyen, Motherboard

Massachusetts town builds iteself 2 Gigabit fiber for $75 a month by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

 

Michigan

Gigabit service in small rural towns by Joe Ross & Jessica Steely, Broadband Communities Magazine

 

Minnesota

Op-Ed: Competition and community savings by Christopher Mitchell, St. Paul Pioneer Press

Even for those of us living in metro areas that have comparatively high speed access, we don't have a real choice in providers and most of us lack access to next-generation gigabit speeds.

The big cable and telephone companies excel at restricting competition by manipulating markets, state and federal government policy, and other means. This is why so many local governments across the nation are themselves expanding Internet infrastructure: to ensure local businesses and residents can access affordable next-generation services and create a real choice. We should be encouraging these local approaches.

 

New York

Attorney General says new website can measure Internet speed by Al Vaughters, WIVB-TV

Schneiderman’s office suggests, if you find you are getting cheated by your Internet Service Provider, take the test, get a screen shot of it, and forward the screen shot to his Consumer Frauds Bureau, or call the Consumer Hotline at 1-800-771-7755.

 

Tennessee

The techie mayor who may be Tennessee's next governor by Nick Fouriezos, Ozy

 

Utah

Op-Ed: Spanish Fork' success shows municipal Internet networks work by Christopher Mitchell, The Salt Lake Tribune

 

General

The more bits you use, the more you pay: Comcast CEO justifies data caps by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

Comcast itself acknowledges that monthly data caps are not driven by any technical needs. Leaked customer service documents say Comcast's data caps are not related to congestion management, and a Comcast VP recently said that setting the monthly data limit at 300GB is a "business policy" rather than a technical necessity.

Big cable's sledgehammer is coming down by Susan Crawford, Medium

Don’t be fooled. The usage-based billing playbook was developed by the mobile wireless industry, which itself is nothing more than a duopoly (Verizon Wireless and AT&T) with a fringe of a few other firms with similar business models. I’ve been predicting for years that usage-based billing will be used as a sledgehammer by other internet access providers like Comcast. Unfortunately, it looks like I’ve been proven right.

The best way to stop Comcast's data caps from ruining the Internet by Brad Reed, BGR

AT&T fools entire media with giant gigabit fiber bluff by Karl bode, DSL Reports

Broadband funding: If you build a vision, it will come by Craig Settles, American City & County

City officials push for greater broadband access but note challenges by Phil Goldstein, State Tech Magazine

Presidential hopeful Marco Rubio defends AT&T's right to write bad state broadband law by Karl Bode, TechDirt

Op-ed: Spanish Fork Proves Utah Law is Counter-Productive

The Salt Lake Tribune published this op-ed championing local investment in Internet infrastructure on December 11, 2015.

 

Op-ed: Spanish Fork’s success shows municipal Internet networks work

By Christopher Mitchell

For nearly 10 years, large telephone and cable companies have claimed municipal Internet networks are so risky that local government authority should be restricted. But after 15 years of experience, we can only conclude that the cure is worse than the disease.

Utah has three municipal networks, where local governments invested in Internet infrastructure to provide choices in a monopolistic environment. But only two of those networks are regularly discussed and used as examples of why local governments shouldn't be in this business: iProvo and UTOPIA, which were not able to meet their financial targets.

The network missing from the conversation is Spanish Fork Community Network, which has just finished paying off its debt and has generated millions of dollars in surplus revenue for the community. The network is now upgrading from community cable to community gigabit fiber optics.

Of the over 450 municipal networks tracked by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Spanish Fork's experience is above average. The vast majority of municipal networks deliver benefits well in excess of costs and do not require subsidies to operate.

It may come as a surprise, but iProvo and Spanish Fork are nearly twins, separated at birth and raised in dramatically different environments. Both were conceived at the same time — the same consultant did the feasibility study for each. But Spanish Fork, being smaller and more nimble, was able to move forward before Utah's Legislature weighed in to restrict local decision-making.

Comcast and the predecessor to CenturyLink crafted the legislation, which was revealed in a brilliant 2011 BusinessWeek article aptly entitled "Pssst … Wanna Buy a Law?" by Brendan Greeley and Alison Fitzgerald.

Since then, any new Utah municipal network has been subject to numerous requirements unlike anything private providers face, including a de facto requirement to use a wholesale-only arrangement.

Provo wanted to use the same business model as Spanish Fork, which we now know was tremendously successful. Whereas Spanish Fork could directly offer services to local businesses and residents, Provo was required to wholesale to other companies that delivered services.

Google has since taken over Provo's network and may soon be building in Salt Lake City, ensuring some competition for Comcast and CenturyLink in the short term at least. Whether they remain for the long term or not is their decision to make, independent of what is best for the community. Where the network is available, the services and prices will be determined from California, not Utah.

This powerlessness to ensure universal high quality access to the most important utility of the 21st century is a legacy of Utah law, which discourages locally-rooted networks. Utah should embrace the leadership from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who has pushed a pro-competition agenda to bring a real choice in high speed Internet access to local businesses and residents.

Ensuring universal high-speed Internet access requires all hands on deck, not only the private companies. We are seeing new local approaches out of smart communities like Ammon, Idaho, where an incremental approach to the wholesale-only model is very promising.

But that model shouldn't be imposed on communities by the state. Especially when those state laws are written by the very industry voices that seek to limit competition. The record is clear — laws revoking local authority to create Internet choice have increased the risk to taxpayers, limited investment in better networks and have only benefited cable and telephone companies monopolies headquartered outside the state.

Christopher Mitchell is the director of Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minneapolis (MuniNetworks.org).

Collaborating to Light Up Opportunities in New York

"We have fiber in the ground that is currently dark...It's a resource we have that other communities want," said Rochester, New York, Mayor Lovely Warren at a November press conference. The city is now working with Monroe County to take advantage of that dark fiber.

There are more than 360 miles of fiber under the ground serving public safety entities, suburban police and fire departments, libraries, schools, and public works facilities. In downtown Rochester, there is enough fiber to provide the redundancy that high tech companies need to establish operations. Over the past two decades, there have been several public works projects involving excavation. During those projects, crews installed fiber.

There are approximately 211,000 people living in Rochester, the county seat of Monroe County. The county is situated along the northwest border of the state, along Lake Ontario; about 750,000 people live there.

City and county officials estimate that more than 70 percent of the fiber network capacity is not being used. Local leaders are taking steps to change that. In November, the two entities released a joint request for proposals (RFP) seeking an expert to assess the current network and make recommendations on how to make the most of their investment.

At the press conference to announce the collaboration, Warren said:

The Rochester community is fortunate to have a substantial fiber optic network already in place. Very few cities have the advantage of this infrastructure in their city center. We need to be sure that its capacity is being used wisely and, ultimately, that this capacity is being used to help employers create more jobs. This fiber network gives Rochester a competitive advantage when it comes to attracting companies with high bandwidth needs and the jobs they bring with them.

According to Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks and Warren, the city and county are hoping to work with private partners. At the press conference, they suggested leasing out capacity but they acknowledged that this is only the first step in a long process.

Speedy Holiday Gift in Tullahoma

Tullahoma Utilities Board LightTUBe customers are once again receiving a special holiday gift via the municipal fiber network. As of December 5th, subscribers got a boost in speeds with no boost in price.

From the LightTUBe Facebook page:

lightube-fast-speed-fb-2015.png 

More good news is on the way after the first of the year. According to General Manager Brian Skelton, rates for the two highest tiers will decrease. Symmetrical gigabit Internet service will drop from $99.95 per month to $89.95 per month and 200 Megabits per second (Mbps) symmetrical Internet service will decrease from $79.95 per month to $74.95 per month.

Unlike the big corporate providers that increase rates whenever the opportunity arises, Tullahoma prefers to increase speeds for free and sometimes even lower rates. Publicly owned networks focus on serving the community rather than maximizing profits; the decision to increase speeds and lower prices comports with their mission.

Happy Holidays, LightTUBe subscribers!

Flipping the Switch in Santa Fe

In May, Chris introduced you to Sean Moody from Santa Fe's Economic Development Division, to explain how the community was investing in a new fiber link to better serve the local business community. With a little competition, Santa Fe officials expect more choice, better connectivity, and improved services.

CenturyLink controls the community's only connection to the Internet and the line bringing access to the web into the downtown district. Santa Fe's $1 million investment creates another path to encourage other providers to compete. Residents in Santa Fe pay approximately $50 per month for average speeds of 5 Megabits per second (Mbps) while nearby Albuquerque pays the same for 10 Mbps.

The situation may soon change.

On Monday, December 14th, the community will celebrate the investment as they "Flip the Switch and Connect Santa Fe to the Future." The event will take place at the Santa Fe City Offices and will begin at 9 a.m. Mayor Javier M. Gonzales will flip the switch at 10 a.m. to activate Santa Fe’s very first gigabit-speed Internet connection.

From the announcement:

Mayor Gonzales and the City’s Economic Development Division invite you to celebrate activating the first gigabit district in Santa Fe through Santa Fe Fiber, the City’s innovative broadband infrastructure project.

...

On Monday, December 14th from 9 until 11 AM Mayor Gonzales will be joined by special industry guests to flip the switch and experience first-hand the power and potential of gigabit-speed Internet delivered over the City’s newly completed fiber optic backbone. The community is invited to bring devices and try out the new speed!

PILOTing Positive in Tennessee

As the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reviews the FCC's February decision to scale back state anti-muni laws in Tennessee, at least two munis in the Volunteer State are giving back by saving dollars. Networks are also contributing substantially to  public coffers via Payment in Lieu of Taxes.

Clarksville, Tennessee, Network Becomes Revenue Positive in 2015

As of June 2015, the city’s utility provider CDE Lightband paid off all outstanding expenses related to their fiber optic network. General manager Brian Taylor described how the network has improved the city’s utility services and overall economic picture:

Our fiber project has proven to be an investment that benefits the electric system, the customers and the community. It has allowed us to enhance our distribution system and improve our system reliability; provide customer choice in video, Internet and telephone services and offer another tool in economic development. Every year access to high speed Internet becomes more critical in the recruitment of new business. We are proud to be an integral part of the growth and development of our community.

In a recent press release, CDE Lightband said their 1,200 mile fiber optic network saves the City of Clarksville a total of $4.5 million annually through technological upgrades that have improved the overall safety, reliability, and speed of electrical maintenance and service. The city has also seen 27% growth in broadband service customers over the past year. The network’s cost savings, along with direct revenues from electrical and broadband services, spell major dividends for CDE Lightband coupled with continued optimism for future growth.

Total revenues since the inception of CDE Lightband in the form of Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT or PILT) exceed $37 million, with annual PILOT compensation payments of $5 million to continue indefinitely. PILOT compensation is a type of recurring payment that non-taxable organizations make to government entities for the use of government-owned property.

Chattanooga’s Unstoppable EPB

Chattanooga’s EPB network also continues to see remarkable evidence of success. PILOT compensation since Chattanooga built the EPB network six years ago is at $140.5 million with $19.2 million paid out this year alone. Today, EPB contributes more in PILOT compensation than any other taxpayer or PILOT contributor in all of Chattanooga and Hamilton County.

It Doesn't Stop with PILOT

Clarksville and Chattanooga are well-established networks that have served the community well in a number of ways. In addition to providing PILOT and more efficient electric services, benefits extend to better connected schools and anchor institutions, savings for public facilities, and economic development.

new study from a University of Tennessee-Chattanooga economist reveals EPB’s fiber network has added an estimated $865.3 million to $1.3 billion to the local Chattanooga economy in the past 6 years. In addition, the study says Chattanooga’s fiber optic network has also generated at least 2,800 new jobs in the local economy. The same study estimates that job growth due to the network may be as high as 5,200 new jobs, depending on the parameters.

Chattanooga and Clarksville are two examples of what is possible when local communities have the ability to exercise their own authority. Those that will live with the results and reap the benefits are best suited to decide the strategy to improve local connectivity.

Island Community Builds Their Own Network: Coverage in Ars and Video From The Scene

Island living has its perks - the roar of the waves, the fresh breeze, the beauty of an ocean sunset - but good Internet access is usually not one of them.

A November Ars Technica article profiles Orcas Island, located in Washington state. Residents of the island's Doe Bay chose to enjoy the perks of island living and do what it took to get the Internet they needed. By using the natural and human resources on the island, the community created the nonprofit Doe Bay Internet Users Association (DBIUA). The wireless network provides Internet access to a section of the island not served by incumbent CenturyLink. 

DBIUA receives its signal from StarTouch Broadband Services via microwave link from Mount Vernon on the mainland. Via a series of radios mounted on the community's water tower, houses, and tall trees, the network serves about 50 homes with speeds between 30 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 40 Mbps upload. Residents who had previously paid CenturyLink for DSL service were accustomed to 700 Kilobits per second (Kbps) download except during busy times when speeds would drop to 100 Kbps download and "almost nothing" upload.

Outages were also common. In 2013, after a 10-day loss of Internet access, residents got together to share food and ideas. At that meeting, software developer Chris Sutton, suggested the community "do it themselves." 

Island Self-Reliant

The talent to make the project successful came forward to join the team. In addition to Sutton's software expertise, the island is home to professionals in marketing, law and land use, and a former CenturyLink installer. The network went live in September 2014 and is slowly and carefully expanding to serve more people.

Doe Bay realized that they could solve the problem themselves. Ars quoted Sutton:

Just waiting around for corporate America to come save us, we realized no one is going to come out here and make the kind of investment that’s needed for 200 people max.

I think so many other communities could do this themselves...There does require a little bit of technical expertise but it's not something that people can't learn. I think relying on corporate America to come save us all is just not going to happen, but if we all get together and share our resources, communities can do this themselves and be more resilient.

In addition to the article that dives deep into how residents developed the network, take a look at this video for more on DBIUA from The Scene: