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:

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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:

 

Two Fiber Networks Collaborate: Aim to Bridge Digital Divide in Georgia

In October, the North Georgia Network (NGN) cooperative announced the formation of a new partnership with Georgia Public Web (GPW), a pairing that will conjoin two large fiber optic networks that together cover most of the State of Georgia. The newly announced partnership will enable the two organizations to more effectively confront their shared mission to improve broadband access across the state. Paul Belk, president and CEO of NGN, expressed his enthusiasm for the new partnership:

GPW is a great company for NGN to work with, as we have similar goals to serve communities challenged with ‘the digital divide.’ The companies are great links to each other because GPW serves most of the state with the exception of NGN’s footprint. Together we create a complete solution.

Two Networks Become One

This partnership connects GPW’s nearly 3,500 mile fiber optic network that stretches across most of the state to NGN’s 1,600 mile network. As Mr. Belk noted, a look at NGN’s network map shows that it covers one of the few remaining service areas in Georgia that GPW’s massive network map does not reach.

The North Georgia Network is a “corporation of cooperatives” with a mission to bring fast, reliable and affordable broadband access to rural Georgian businesses, government facilities, educational institutions, and medical centers and to more broadly help advance the state's economic development objectives. Georgia Public Web is a non-profit corporation in Georgia owned collectively by 32 city governments that strives to bring broadband connectivity to underserved communities in rural and urban Georgia. The partnership will allow the organizations to combine technologies, resources, and their unique areas of expertise to form a more efficient single network that spans their shared coverage areas.

GPW/NGN Podcasts

In a June podcast, we spoke with GPW’s President and CEO David Muschamp about the organization’s efforts to improve broadband access across the Georgia. We also spoke to NGN’s CEO Paul Belk in a 2013 podcast about the history and objectives of the North Georgia Network.

Community Broadband Media Roundup - December 8

Community Broadband Stories By State

Colorado

Voters ask city to continue broadband conversation by Darin Atteberry, The Coloradoan

Last month, 83 percent of Fort Collins voters chose to overturn Senate Bill 152, removing legal barriers to the city of Fort Collins’ direct or indirect involvement in providing high-speed broadband. That vote allows us to spend the next several months carefully exploring possibilities in order to identify and begin planning for an appropriate model in Fort Collins.

It is clear that this community wants next-generation high-speed broadband access. City Councilmembers and I regularly hear from residents and businesses that the status quo is not working, and that faster speeds and greater reliability are crucial moving forward.

 

Massachusetts

MBI faults WiredWest plan, won’t use state money for it by Diane Broncacchio 

Massachusetts Broadband Institute pulls funding from WiredWest, advises towns to walk away from proposed contract by Mary Serreze

 

Minnesota

Competition and community savings by Christopher Mitchell, Pioneer Press

Update: Local telecom companies receive broadband grants, local projects supported by Nancy Madsen, Mankato Free Press

 

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New York

Will Monroe County open up its fiber network? by Rachel Barnhart, Rochester First

 

Washington

Tacoma could be first major Washington city with publicly-owned broadband network by Henry Rosoff, KIRO-TV

 

Wisconsin

State grants to bring high-speed Internet to rural areas by Rick Barrett of the Journal Sentinel

Norvado awarded $98,000 grant for high-speed internet by Kevin Murphy, Ashland Daily Press

Wyoming

City looks for ways to improve Gillette's broadband for businesses by Mykayla Hilgart, Gillette News Record

 

General

House Subcommittee Plans Vote on Broadband Boosters by John Eggerton, MultiChannel

Need to Boost Economic Development? Invest in Your Network Infrastructure by GovTech

This Is What Happens in a World Ruled by Broadband Monopolies by Adam Clark Estes, Gizmodo

This is what happens when broadband monopolies rule the world. “For me, personally, it’s like my life stopped right now,” Stewart’s Mayor Galina Durant told the CBC. “My community, including my house and my office, will be without an internet connection.”

Image of Cowboy Beagle courtesy of Sid through a Creative Commons license.

Maine House Representative Pushes for Better Internet Access - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 180

Eleven months ago, we noted the incredible energy in the Maine Legislature around improving Internet access. Maine State Representative Norm Higgins joins us this week for Community Broadband Bits Podcast episode 180.

Rep. Norm Higgins, a newcomer to the Legislature, pushed hard for legislation to encourage municipal open access networks as well as removing barriers to increased investment including a tax on the Three-Ring Binder project. He was part of a large majority that moved some key bills forward despite fierce opposition from Time Warner Cable and others.

We talk with Rep. Higgins about the various bills, including LD 1185, which would have created planning grants for community owned open access networks but passed without any funding.

Read the transcript from this episode here.

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

This show is 18 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."

What's Next For Southern Tier Network?

With construction of a major community broadband network behind them, local leaders in New York State’s Southern Tier region are now considering the potential for the recently completed dark fiber network.

Since becoming operational in 2014, the Southern Tier Network (STN) is already serving over 100 industrial and government service entities across the region. STN is a not-for-profit, local development corporation that built, owns, and manages the network for the region.

Jack Benjamin, president of economic development organization, Three Rivers Development Corporation, explained the value of the network to the region in a July Star Gazette article:

This backbone fiber that we've got here is a huge benefit for us going forward. As this technology piece continues to be even more important in the future, because it's going to be changing all the time, we will have the base here that allows us to change with the marketplace. Part of our thought process here is we want to keep what we've got in terms of businesses and provide the infrastructure that allows them to stay here and be competitive.

Building Out for the Future

When we wrote about the STN in 2011, the planned backbone of the network included a 235-mile fiber-optic ring stretching across Steuben, Schuyler, and Chemung counties. Glass producer Corning paid for $10 million of the initial $12.2 million cost to deploy with the remaining balance paid for by the three counties where the network is located. The STN is now 260 miles total, including strands that run to city centers and select business areas in the tri-county area.

Additional expansions on the network are pending, including a 70-mile extension to neighboring Yates County. Thanks to a $5 million award from New York’s Regional Economic Development Council, the STN will also expand the network into “targeted business development areas” in Broome County and Tioga Counties. The network connects to the existing Axcess Ontario, another nonprofit fiber network in neighboring Ontario County.

Businesses Waiting for Fiber

Despite the network’s early success, major city areas continue to lack fast, reliable broadband connectivity because connections are happening slowly. Mike Mitchell owns multiple businesses in an Elmira industrial area in Chemung County, New York, where lit service is not yet available. Mitchell, who owns other businesses in neighboring counties, is eager for better connectivity to his business properties in the STN region. He described his frustration with his current poor service to the Star Gazette: 

It's very, very slow. It's hurting our productivity. We hear complaints from our tenants and all the other businesses on this side of the street. We have 15 employees here, and they're all on the Internet probably 90 percent of the time. If we can increase our productivity, obviously, it would be better for our business and better savings for our customers.

Closer than They’ve Ever Been

Community leaders are envisioning ways the network will improve the region’s economic development. George Miner, president of Southern Tier Economic Growth, Inc., a private not-for-profit organization aimed at economic development in Chemung County, sees growth potential in large industrial and governmental entities because they need to frequently and efficiently transport large data files.

Other community leaders see STN as a tool to serve residents in ways other than through economic development. Steve Manning, chief executive officer of STN, notes that home property values hinge today on broadband access. Prospective homebuyers see a fast, affordable, reliable broadband connection as essential as other utilities. Manning also points to a more holistic community service role for the STN. Again, from the Star Gazette:

Why was this done? It was done for public safety reasons. It was done for education and healthcare, for the community, developing fiber capacity that we didn't have. It's a civic utility. That's really what this is.

No Love Lost Between North Carolina A.G. And State Barrier

The State of North Carolina is currently awaiting a decision from the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals as the court considers the FCC's February decision to roll back state barriers. North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper's office is heading up the state's appeal, but is his heart in it?

Cooper is running for governor and, in a recent interview, expressed his views about H129, the focus of the appeal in North Carolina [emphasis ours]:

The Legislature has passed a lot of bad laws, but it is the job of the attorney general to defend state laws...And I wish the governor and the General Assembly would stop passing so many bad laws that create litigation. We’ve seen that in many instances. This is another situation where the attorney general’s office is duty bound to defend state law.

"Bad law" accurately describes H129, which is the reason why the FCC rolled it back in February. Perhaps Cooper's candid comment suggests that, if he one day becomes Governor, he will work with his colleagues in the state legislature to repeal it.

Rather than having to contend with this type of "bad law," local communities need the authority to make their own telecommunications decisions. After all, local folks are the ones that live with the results.