TN For Fiber's New Video On Family Life In Bradley County

In a new video, Tennessee Fiber Optic Communities profiles what it is like for a family living in Bradley County, just outside of the reach of Chattanooga's EPB Fiber Optic network. Debbie Williams describes how she and her family struggle with a long list of issues most of us associate with the bygone era of dial-up Internet. 

Watch this video and you will realize how families just outside of statutory limitations of EPB Fiber are living a different life than families served by the network. No one should have to deal with these kinds of problems. As Debbie puts it, "It's just wrong."


DebbieWilliams from TN For Fiber on Vimeo.

Local Internet Improvement Districts in New Hampshire - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 179

Local governments in New Hampshire are quite limited in how they can use public financing to invest in fiber optic networks, but Hanover is exploring an approach to create voluntary special assessment districts that would finance open access fiber optic networks. Town Manager Julia Griffin joins us for Community Broadband Bits Episode 179 to explain their plans.

Though New Hampshire does not have any explicit barriers against municipal networks, the state has not authorized local governments to bond for them, which has certainly limited local authority to ensure high quality Internet access.

But Hanover is one of several communities around the country that is exploring special assessment districts (sometimes called local improvement districts) that would allow residents and local businesses to opt into an assessment that would finance construction and allow them to pay it off over many years. This approach is well suited to Hanover, which has access to the Fast Roads open access network.

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."

Community Broadband Media Roundup - November 27

Colorado

More questions and answers on county's broadband project by The Herald Times

 

Minnesota

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

15 rural areas picked to benefit from $11M in broadband Internet funding by Adam Uren, Bring Me the News

 

New York

City of Rochester, Monroe County unite to improve fiber ring by Nate Dougherty, Rochester Business Journal

 

Tennessee

EPB, state attorey general clash over FCC rule on municipal broadband by Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press

 

Washington

Seattle mulls building its own Gigabit fiber network by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

"No" vote isn't stopping push for municipal broadband in Seattle by Josh Cohen, Next City

Upgrade Seattle, a grassroots campaign fighting for municipal broadband, says this is actually a big step forward on their long road to public Internet.

“It was wonderful to just further the conversation with council and the media,” says Sabrina Roach, one of Upgrade’s volunteer organizers. “We were able to make the case for why Seattle needs municipal broadband.”

That case, according to Upgrade, is that existing Internet service providers — Comcast, CenturyLink and WAVE — are prohibitively expensive for some (and just regular expensive for many others) and don’t cover all areas of the city. The combination exacerbates the digital divide between wealthy and poor in an era when Internet access is a life necessity.

 

West Virginia

W. Va. must invest in broadband infrastructure by The Exponent Telegram Editorial Board

 

General

Internet giants come out in support of municipal broadband by Chris Morran, Consumerist

In response to that lawsuit, big-time Silicon Valley trade group the Internet Association, has filed an amicus brief [PDF] in support of the FCC and muni broadband expansion in general.

“Access to the Internet is today the modern equivalent to access to railroads, electricity, highways, and telephony in previous eras,” reads the brief. “And just as the federal government recognized and executed its role in encouraging, promoting, and facilitating universal access to those services, the federal government today similarly recognizes its role in promoting and facilitating access to broadband services.”

Markey backs FCC municipal broadband preemption by John Eggerton, Broadcasting & Cable

Broadband for the people, built by the people by John Turi, EnGadget

Levers to intensify broadband competion - Part 1: Spectrum by Blair Levin, Benton Foundation

“Crazy Fast” Connectivity Expands in Westminster, Maryland

Gigabit Internet access will soon be reaching more residents in Westminster. The high-speed municipal fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network in Maryland will soon add more than 2,000 new homes to the network map.

The Incredible Expanding Network

The network is a product of a public-private partnership with telecommunications company Ting. The expansion provides more evidence of the continuing success of the network in this city of just under 19,000 people about 35 miles northwest of Baltimore.

The network was originally planned as a pilot project confined to small, select areas of Westminster, but high demand prompted community leaders to broaden the reach of the project. Eventually, Westminster budgeted for citywide infrastructure.

City Manager of the Ting project, Valerie Bortz, recently said of the network "we are super busy and happy with our progress.” In October 2015, the city released an RFP calling for bids from contractors to provide maintenance on the expanding network - more proof of the city's commitment to ensure the network’s growth and success.

More Money, More Fiber

The Phase 2 expansion was made possible by a $21 million general obligation bond agreement with SunTrust Bank, approved at a September City Council meeting. According to Common Council President Robert Wack, the bank’s willingness to buy the bonds came in part as a result of the proven high demand for fast, reliable, affordable, symmetrical fiber service in Westminster. He also added:

We don't want to spend money unless there is revenue from the payments to support the debt payments. The bank liked the fact we were being cautious about this. I'd like to go full steam ahead but we need people to sign up.

The bond agreement has been in the works for some time now:

All along, our plan was to borrow the money necessary to continue the build out. We are getting ready to take down the first draw that will be spent on engineering the next phase.

The city will pay off the bonds on a 30-year amortization schedule but have the option to convert the debt to a 15-year schedule if they find profits from the network allow a faster payment schedule. The city’s ability to pay off the loan faster will depend on the success of the network. The city can draw off the $21 million in bonds for five years.

Growth of the Partnership

Beyond this second phase of the project, Wack expressed optimism about the timetable for completing the two additional phases in the network map. "Ideally, we'd like to be done in three to four years, but it could easily go five to six," he said. Construction variables and the rate of new subscribership will influence the timetable.

In January 2015, Westminster and Ting entered into a partnership which was recognized as 2015’s “Community Broadband Innovative Partnership of the Year” by the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA). The city owns, funds, and maintains the network while Ting has a 2 year exclusivity contract to lease the fiber and provide equipment and retail services. At the end of 2 years, the city will have the right to invite other providers to offer services via the infrastructure.

Ting, which markets itself as a provider of “crazy fast” fiber Internet service, also provides high speed broadband service in Charlottesville, Virginia with plans to make Holly Springs, North Carolina the next “Ting Internet Town.”

Listen to Chris interview Dr. Robert Wack, the man who spearheaded the initiative, in episode 100, and Tucows CEO Elliot Noss, parent company of Ting, in episode 134 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Fairlawn, Ohio Pursuing Design Plan for Muni Broadband Utility

Fairlawn, Ohio this fall took a “huge step forward” toward launching its own high-speed municipal broadband utility.

The City Council recently approved hiring a consultant to design and establish the business model for building “FairlawnGig,” a municipal broadband network. At completion, the city envisions the new utility will provide the community with comprehensive Wi-Fi connectivity and Fiber-To-The-Home (FTTH) service for businesses and residents.  

Faster Internet speeds  

“It will be a fiber network that will give one gig (i.e. gigabit per second or Gbps) of service, which is 1,000 times what people have right now,” City Deputy Service Director Ernie Staten said in an Akron.com news report. He added:

That’s a huge step forward for the City of Fairlawn. The future of TV, phone and Internet is to stream them all through the Internet. To do that with the current systems that we have is very difficult, but one gig of service would allow residents to stream as many videos as they want and to work from home as well as they possibly can.

In announcing plans for the project, earlier this year, the city said its goal is to:

...[O]ffer competitive fixed residential and business broadband services with speeds of 30 Mbps up and 30 Mbps down, and unique mobile Wi-Fi services with high-speed secure connections of 20 Mbps to smartphones and tablets throughout Fairlawn.

Besides the city of Fairlawn, a community of about 7,500 residents, the new municipal broadband utility would also include the Akron-Fairlawn-Bath Joint Economic Development District. The geographic area includes the communities of Akron and Bath in the new broadband utility service area. In Ohio, joint economic development districts are a vehicle to encourage communities to partner on infrastructure improvements, such as water and sewer service, without annexation. 

When the Fairlawn fiber network is completed, services up to 1 Gbps will be possible.

Public-private partnership planned  

Although many details of the project are still a few months off, the City anticipates forging a public-private partnership whereby it would own the fiber network but have it built and operated by someone else, Staten told us. The broadband utility would be funded through private financing and revenues from operations.

“Financing the construction of the network with private money will allow us to build the network much more quickly than we could on our own,” Fairlawn’s Mayor William Roth, a key project supporter, said in a news release earlier this year.

Staten told us, “The EDC (engineer design contract) should be complete by the end of the year with construction following close behind with the City Council’s blessing.” 

While building the high-speed, fiber-optic broadband network could take up to five years, the utility would also include carrier grade Wi-Fi service which could come online as early as 2016, city officials said in a news release earlier this year. The FTTH network will be open to multiple service providers in an open access arrangement.

Assuming no unforeseen wrinkles in the design and engineering phase, Fairlawn officials expect construction of the fiber-optic broadband network to begin next year. Roth said in the Jan. 12 news release:

Working with private partners who are experts in telecommunications will assure that FairlawnGig is a state­ of­ the ­art network that is built on time and on budget. The city of Fairlawn plans to provide right­-of-way access and other real estate assets to expedite the construction process. 

Improve the community with a “utility of the future”

City officials have said that building the broadband utility will be a boon to the community and the local business community. From the Jan. 12 press release:

Enhanced broadband services and fiber optic availability will strengthen and improve the delivery of police, fire and other vital municipal services and provide the city with access to cutting edge informational technology.

...

To be competitive in a global economy and attract new businesses and young professionals to our city, Internet access at a gigabit per second is imperative.

NC Partners: Fiber Will Give Region A Green Light to A Gig

The Tri-Gig High Speed Broadband Initiative, an effort by communities and universities within Greensboro's Piedmont Triad Region, recently announced plans to release an RFP in an effort to improve regional connectivity.

According to the News & Record, the partners are searching for a partner equipped to develop, operate, and provide Internet services over a new open access network. Hemant Desai, Chief Information Officer for Guilford County, hopes the project will spur innovative ideas from the private sector:

The goal of this project is not to restrict but enhance the deployment. Let them come back to us and say, ‘Here’s what we’ll provide you if you provide this to us.’ 

The project is a joint effort of the City of Greensboro, Guilford County, the City of High Point, the City of Burlington, North Carolina A&T State University, the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, and the Piedmont Triad Regional Council. Collectively, these entities have a population of nearly 700,000 people.

A Strong Foundation

A network of this scope and scale was not envisioned by Greensboro officials when they spent $24 million to build a fiber-based communication system several years ago. At that time, the goal was to update the communication infrastructure for the city’s traffic signal equipment. In 2008 Greensboro began building its award-winning Intelligent Traffic System (ITS) comprised of 120 miles of fiber optic cables and other essential modern traffic technologies. Guilford County, High Point, Burlington, UNC-Greensboro, and North Carolina A&T all have similar traffic systems.

An ITS provides significant public safety benefits over traditional traffic communication systems. For example, the system in Greensboro controls over 450 intersections and enables sensors to turn traffic lights green for fast-moving emergency vehicles, making the roads safer for everyone while facilitating faster attention to crisis situations. 

Using Existing Dark Fiber

When an ITS is installed, managing traffic lights typically requires a fraction of the actual fiber capacity; the remaining fiber is unused or "dark." Communities like Greensboro are looking for ways to use, or "light up" the remaining dark fiber. In some cases, municipalities lease the dark fiber to providers who light it and use it to provide services to local businesses or residents. Arlington, Virginia, took advantage of an ITS project to expand its network, ConnectArlington.

While exploring options for improved broadband access in the area, community leaders in greater Greensboro learned that the ITS project could provide a backbone for a regional fiber network. The publicly owned infrastructure in Greensboro already covers more land than any network owned by any large private provider in the city. This cooperative effort will expand the network even further.

City leaders like Greensboro’s Chief Information Officer Jane Nickles consider the project an effort to improve the quality of life and a way to create opportunities for local residents:

This is not just the future, this is a platform. Cities that don’t have it, they’re going to be left in the dust.

Falmouth Saves With Cape Cod I-Net

Out on Cape Cod, municipal networks are taking hold. Public buildings throughout the town of Falmouth, Massachusetts, experience great connectivity and the town saves $160,000 each year with its own Institutional network (I-Net).

Public Savings

The Falmouth Area Network, maintained by CapeNet, connects 17 buildings throughout the town for a total of $3,000 each month ($2,500 from the school; $500 from the town). Were the town to go through a private provider, it would cost $1,000 for each building every month or $17,000 per month. By saving $14,000 each month, Falmouth's annual savings add up to approximately $160,000 a year. That’s a lot of money to be reinvested in the community of 31,000.

Falmouth Area Network intends to reach even more institutional buildings in the next few years. The 17 that are connected now are the libraries, the schools, the town hall, the police stations, the fire stations, the harbormaster’s office, and a senior center. Soon the Gus Canty Community Center will also gain a connection. At the Annual Town Meeting last week, the town approved the Capital Improvement Plan which included $80,000 to upgrade the network, including hooking up the community center. There are also plans to add a new wastewater treatment plan to the network in 2017.

The Role of OpenCape

The Falmouth Area Network came about thanks to another community-owned network project, the nonprofit OpenCape. Recently featured in an episode of eSTEAMers, OpenCape provides much needed middle mile connectivity throughout the Cape. The middle mile network does not connect business or residential users, but instead focuses on serving as a backbone of connectivity for towns. County, state, and federal grants funded construction of the $40 million OpenCape, which launched in 2013. The Falmouth Area Network connects to OpenCape, and a percentage of the city's annual fees go to OpenCape. 

Falmouth has more buildings connected than any of the other 15 Cape communities. The town’s success in capitalizing on access to OpenCape’s network has inspired other towns, such as Mashpee and Provincetown, to model their own networks after Falmouth.

BBC Summit In Austin: Register Before Nov. 30, Get A Discount

The 2016 Broadband Communities Summit will be held on April 5 - 7 in Austin, Texas. Participants can save $540 by registering early before November 30th. Register online and use the VIP Code: Austin2016 to get a special rate of $410.

The annual Summit is one of the premier broadband events each year. This year, the theme is Fiber: Catch The Wave! Check out the Summit main page for more about the agenda, speakers, and workshops. The event page will be updated as organizers solidify the agenda.

Don't delay! Register before Monday, November 30th!

Small City Fights Comcast Over Institutional Network

Reports have recently surfaced from The Detroit News and Patch.com that a town in Michigan is now fighting Comcast over who owns their network.

The Backstory

Fifteen years ago, West Bloomfield, Michigan, population about 65,000, wanted an Institutional Network (I-Net) to connect all the important services, like emergency response, police, fire, and water, with a dedicated high-speed network. The town entered into a franchise agreement in order to share the construction costs with the incumbent cable company, which at the time was MediaOne. According to the township, MediaOne offered to contribute $400,000 to the cost of construction as part of that agreement.

The agreement was transferred to Comcast in 2000; Comcast acquired MediaOne in 2002. MediaOne and successor Comcast have provided "free high-speed bandwidth transport as well as interconnectivity" during the life of the network claims Comcast in a letter submitted to the court. The cable giant also describes the practice as a "benefit not provided by Comcast's competitors" and wants it to stop. The franchise agreement expired on October 1 but was renewed until 2025.

To The Courts

Comcast and the town are now fighting over ownership of the infrastructure. With Comcast demanding new fees, the town is bringing a lawsuit. Comcast, however, maintains that it owns the I-Net that the town uses for all its important communications. The Detroit News reports that the township is coming out swinging:

The township said it is illegal to use public funds for private commercial purposes and insists there was never any reference to a cable company ever retaining ownership of the I-Net and said it has paid all other costs including upgrades and maintenance of the system which is “imperative to public safety operations of the township and will impact the township’s budget which is currently being prepared for 2016.”

...

The township not only seeks a preliminary and permanent injunction against Comcast, it wants the company’s act declared a “wrongful conversion of township property” and to be awarded three times the actual damages plus costs and attorney fees.

In the past, these agreements made sense to small towns that needed economical internal communications. All across the U.S., towns signed onto franchise agreements with large providers that offered to build I-Nets and supply connectivity.

As original franchise agreements expire, ownership issues and rate changes are popping up. After years of dependency on big corporate providers in an environment where there is little or no competition, communities like West Bloomfield often find themselves at the mercy of companies like Comcast.

What Can Cities Do? Take Control

There’s another way though. Many towns have built their own I-Nets - often with better connectivity and more savings than franchise agreements offer. The infrastructure can be expanded for other public policy programs too, like economic development or residential Internet access. The “Institutional Networks” page is full of stories about communities that have built their own I-Nets. Rather than trusting big corporate providers, towns control their own infrastructure and are better able to predict connectivity costs.

Franchise agreements are expiring across the country. Big corporate providers like Comcast and Time Warner Cable use this strategy to squeeze more dollars from institutional customers. Martin County, Florida, overcame a similar situation when Time Warner Cable tried to extract exorbitant fees as their franchise agreement expired. Rather than pay an increased rate of more than 800 percent, they chose to invest in a publicly owned fiber I-Net. The community is now able to control their costs with fast, affordable, reliable infrastructure that the community can expand. Read more about Martin County in our 2012 Report, Florida Fiber: Martin County Saves Big with Gigabit Network.

Other towns can expect to find themselves in the same situation as West Bloomfield, Michigan. Raising rates and demanding new fees, large providers put profit before the best interests of the community. With these franchise agreements expiring, there’s a chance for cities and towns to take back local control by building their own networks.

The time to act is now. To learn more about what to do at the local level, check out our Community Connectivity Toolkit.

Colorado's Unique Environment of Local Collaboration - Community Broadband Bits Episode 178

A few weeks back, Colorado voters overwhelmingly chose local authority and community networks over the status quo Internet connections. Approximately 50 local governments had referenda to reclaim authority lost under the anti-competition state law originally called SB 152 that CenturyLink's predecessor Qwest pushed into law in 2005.

This week, Virgil Turner and Audrey Danner join us to discuss what is happening in Colorado. Virgil is the Director of Innovation and Citizen Engagement in Montrose and last joined us for episode 95. Audrey Danner is the Executive Director of Craig Moffat Economic Development and co-chair of the Mountain Connect Broadband Development Conference. We previously discussed Mountain Connect in episode 105 and episode 137.

In our discussion, we cover a little bit of history around SB 152 and what happened with all the votes this past election day. We talk about some specific local plans of a few of the communities and why Colorado seems to have so many communities that are developing their own plans to improve Internet access for residents, anchor institutions, and local businesses.

Over the course of this show, we also talked about Rio Blanco's approach, which we discussed previously in episode 158. We also discuss Steamboat Springs and previously covered that approach in episode 163.

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 24 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."