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.

Understanding Title II and Network Neutrality - Community Broadband Bits Podcast #101

With all of the recent media discussions around network neutrality, reclassification, and "Title II," we decided to spend this week talking with Matt Wood, Policy Director for Free Press to simplify some key issues.

For all the hub-bub around reclassification and dramatic claims that it represents some kind of fundamental policy shift, the truth is actually less exciting. Internet access via DSL was previously regulated under Title II of the Communications Act (as Verizon well knows and has used to its advantage). And again regulating Internet access as Title II still allows for various forms of innovation and even paid prioritization if done in a "reasonable" manner.

Matt and I discuss how Internet access came to changed from Title II to Title I last decade and the implications of moving it back now.

Free Press also runs the popular SaveTheInternet.com.

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 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 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."

Shaker Heights Considers Expanding Fiber in Ohio

The Shaker Heights City Council is considering expanding an existing fiber network, reports Cleveland.com. The project would allow OneCommunity, the nonprofit managing a regional fiber network, access to the city's rights-of-way for 15 years.

OneCommunity, created in 2003, received a $44 million broadband stimulus award to extend fiber in northeast Ohio. The organization's network spans approximately 2,000 miles, providing connectivity for over 2,300 public facilities. Cuyahoga County, Medina County, and the town of New Brunswick are just a few communities that worked with OneCommunity to improve local connectivity for anchor institutions. 

According to the article, one commercial district in town, the Chagrin-Lee area, connects to the OneCommunity network. The Shaker LaunchHouse, a business accelerator, is the hub of Ohio's first "fiberhood." The LaunchHouse is also the first entity on the network offering gigabit speeds to the private sector:

"We work with a lot of start-up companies, and some of them are high-tech and having those higher Internet speed capabilities is key, " [director of entrepeneurial programming Katie] Connelly said. "We had more people coming in who are doing things like writing software, so our numbers have definitely increased." 

The City Council is seeking more information before they make a decision on granting access. Shaker Heights, home to 28,000 people, sits adjacent to Cleveland's eastern edge. A large number of buildings in Shaker Heights are listed on the National Register of Historic Places because the town started as a planned community in 1905. Shaker Heights adheres to strict zoning and building codes to preserve its historic feel.

According to the article, new retail, residential, and office space is coming to the community as part of a redevelopment project; the proposed expansion would service that area of town.

"Our goal as a city is to bring new development into Shaker Heights," city Economic Development Director Tania Menesse said. "For some companies, the availability of high speed Internet access could be a reason they decide to move their company across the country from an area where it's not available."

Chris Visits With Kevin Reese and Margaret Flowers on Network Neutrality

Christopher recently joined Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers for an interview on the "Clearing the Fog" radio show. Kevin and Margaret also spoke with Mary Alice Crim from the Free Press.

From the show page:

We discuss the FCC’s plan to eliminate net neutrality on May 15. FCC chair Tom Wheeler will be deciding on new rules regarding the internet that will allow those who have wealth to have faster service and will leave the rest of us behind with internet service that ranks us between 35th and 40th in the world. The internet will become a pay-to-play entity rather than being treated as a public good – something to which all people should have the same standard of access. We will discuss the upcoming decision at length and what people are doing to stop it. And we will discuss the growing movement to municipalize internet service.

Margaret and Kevin also posted their article originally published on Alternet. They provide information about network neutrality, offer resources, and suggest action to make your voice heard. 


Urgent - All In To Save Internet Freedom with Mary Alice Crim and Christopher Mitchell by Clearingthefog on Mixcloud

New Hampshire's Local Press Advocates Conduit, Fiber to Prepare for the Future

In the wake of the Comcast Time Warner Cable proposed merger, an increasing number of local communities across the country are expressing their dissatisfaction with their broadband options. The Concord Monitor recently published an editorial suggesting the community prepare for publicly owned fiber.

Concord's main street will soon be excavated; the Monitor recognizes that this creates an excellent opportunity to adopt a dig once policy. As we know from places such as Sandy, Oregon and Mount Vernon, Washington, dig once policies accompanied with intelligent conduit policies can make a significant impact. Deployment costs less and happens faster when the network's foundation already exists.

The Monitor notes that the merger underscores the importance of municipal networks to protect affordable access:

The companies serve different geographic regions, so proponents of the merger claim prices won’t increase. The flip side of that, of course, is that prices won’t go down because the two companies won’t compete against each other for future business. The merger needs regulatory approval and may never happen. But other factors suggest the city should, as technology expert Susan Crawford suggests, see high-speed internet service as a basic utility like the provision of electricity or water.

Crawford is the author of the new book Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly in the New Gilded Age.

“Truly high-speed wired internet access is as basic to innovation, economic growth, social communication and the country’s competitiveness as electricity was a century ago,” Crawford contends in the book, “but a limited number of Americans have access to it, many can’t afford it, and the country has handed control of it over to Comcast and a few other companies.”

That’s the situation in Concord.

The monitor recognizes that the FCC's proposed regulations for the Internet could lead to higher prices passed on from content providers to consumers. The threat to network neutrality underscores the importance of municipal networks.

New Hampshire is home to FastRoads, a state effort to expand access with fiber. Conduit in place, as the Monitor suggests, could ease deployment of FastRoads in Concord, even if the City chooses not to build or operate its own network.

Municipal Networks and the Future of Wi-Fi Hotspots

This is a guest post from Jacob Levin - an advocate for a new economy that regenerates people, place and planet. Growing up as the son of an FCC official, dinner conversations often drifted towards tales of how incumbent ISPs were unfairly leveraging their political and economic power to reduce competition. He's done policy research for Public Knowledge, One Economy Corporation and Skype, and has worked on research and development for Republic Wireless.

This work has led him to believe that community control of communications infrastructure is the only way to protect freedom of expression in a digital age. He's an aspiring peasant, and an active member of the Open Masters project, dedicated to creating effective learning communities for people pursuing learning goals outside of traditional education institutions.

This is not your parents’ Wi-Fi. The latest generation of Wi-Fi networks are not only faster and more reliable, they come with some backend changes that community networks can take advantage of. In particular, something called Hotspot 2.0 will allow authorized devices to seamlessly connect to secure Wi-Fi networks, much like mobile phones already do on cellular networks.

Hotspot 2.0 is a new initiative of the Wi-Fi alliance that will bring cellular-like roaming experiences onto Wi-Fi networks. As access points begin to support the Hotspot 2.0 standard, mobile devices will be able to automatically select appropriate Wi-Fi networks and provide stored credentials. No more manually searching through available networks and punching in passwords. The cable industry is betting heavily on Hotspot 2.0, with plans to provide credentials to cable subscribers that will allow them to roam onto any CableWi-Fi access point (including the routers they provide to their customers homes). This could allow cable companies to include mobile phone service in their bundles.

Any community fiber network can begin offering paid wireless service, or bundle wireless service in with existing internet, TV and phone service (like Cable is doing). They can put wireless nodes on top of telephone poles and/or ask wired subscribers to use routers that are pre-set to recognize municipal credentials.

But for those who don’t want to build or maintain a wireless network, Hotspot 2.0 will allow a wired network to offer a credential to its subscribers and establish roaming agreements with those operating wireless networks. For example, multiple communities with their own networks can allow free roaming across partner networks.

If the networks are comparable and there is a roughly similar mix of roaming, they may do it without charging each other. However, a metro center may ask a suburban county to pay in order to recognize the suburbs’ municipal credential, as generally, suburban residents spend more time in municipal areas than vice versa.

A community could create a program that ensured historically marginalized populations and those living in low income areas had a credential that would be honored by local businesses - to create more options for connectivity. Such a program would surely not be sufficient to provide optimal access but would be an improvement over the status quo.

The stunning success of Wi-Fi is leading to a problem in many communities. The more Wi-Fi operating on the same chunk of spectrum leads to inefficiency. But with HotSpot 2.0 and some coordination, neighborhoods could have better performance with fewer networks. FCC rules don’t allow anyone to forcible shut down a Wi-Fi router but a community network could reward those who cooperate with access to fiber backhaul, poles, etc., on favorable terms.

Here are some suggested preparations for the coming HotSpot 2.0 technology. Near-term actions:

  • Ensure new equipment has Hotspot 2.0 capabilities
  • Take inventory of private wireless networks in commonly trafficked areas

Medium-term actions:

  • Develop community network credentials
  • Approach local wireless providers about recognizing community network credentials
  • Create roaming agreements with other networks

Long-term actions:

  • Create credential to address digital divide issues
  • Take precautions to prevent tragedy of the commons

Local Media Sees Need for Municipal Network in Olympia, Washington

Local news editors seem inspired by the current network neutrality debate at the FCC. Newsrooms considering the prospect of paid prioritization are reassessing the value of municipal networks.

Not long ago, the Olympian ran an editorial offering the basics of municipal networks. Editors mentioned NoaNet, the statewide fiber project that brings access to a series of community anchor insitutions and approximately 260,000 people. The piece also acknowledges that port authorities and some Public Utility Districts (PUDs) offer fiber connections in several regions of the state. We have reported on a number of them, including Benton, Okanogan, and Chelan.

The editorial points out that the cities of Lacey, Olympia, and Tumwater have fiber and conduit they use for government operations. The cities share the fiber and conduit with the state Department of Transportation. The Olympian also notes that if a city wants to provide telecommunications services, its location is critical:

Republican Sen. Trent Lott championed a 1996 bill that prohibited states from blocking any entity that provides telecommunications services. Despite that far-sighted bill, big provider lobbyists have persuaded 20 states to pass legislation making open access difficult. 

As suggested by other editors, The Olympian advocates for a municipal approach to curtail damage that will result if network neutrality disappears:

If approved, individual consumers in the South Sound and other U.S. communities can expect slower speeds for smaller services, nonprofits and independent content creators. Why pay for the “HOT” lane, unless traffic is backed up on the main line?

...

If the FCC votes to effectively end net neutrality, residents of the South Sound do have a potential alternative that is gaining traction elsewhere: turning to local Internet service providers who ride on municipally-owned fiber optic networks.

Paid prioritization and the proposed Comcast Time Warner Cable merger may result in further degredation of broadband in American. On the bright side, more people realize that municipal networks are a better option.