Crawfordsville Municipal Network Purchased by Metronet in Indiana

Our Community Broadband Map documents over 400 communities where publicly owned infrastructure serves residents, business, or government facilities. We rarely hear of publicly owned systems sold to private providers, but it does happen once in a blue moon.

Accelplus, the fiber optic FTTH network deployed by Crawfordsville Electric Light & Power (CEL&P) in Indiana was sold earlier this year to private provider Metronet.

According to a July Journal Review article, the transition for customers began this summer with completion expected by the end of 2014. Metronet invested approximately $2 million in upgrades. Metronet will also offer voice services via the network; Accelplus offered only Internet and video.

In the past, we have found that networks that offer triple-play can attract more customers, increasing revenues. In states where munis cannot offer triple-play or administrative requirements are so onerous they discourage it, municipalities that would like to deploy fiber networks sometimes decide to abandon their vision due to the added risk. 

A November 2013 Journal Review article reported that the network, launched in 2005, faced an expensive lawsuit commenced by US Bank. Apparently the network could not keep up with the repayment schedule for Certificates of Participation, backed by network revenue, that financed the investment.

Metronet purchased Accelplus and its assets for $5.2 million. The City also provided some economic development incentives. When all is said and done, investors are settling for a total of $5.6 million and the City avoids a $19.6 million lawsuit.

A February Journal Review article reported:

Metronet will receive a 10-year, $24,000 per year lease from CEL&P on property currently used by Accelplus. Metronet can purchase that property for $1 after the lease expires. Accelplus manager John Douglas has segregated those areas and provided AutoCAD drawings to Metronet.

Furthermore, CEL&P will lease 72 strands of fiber to Metronet at the rate of $24,000 per year for 10 years as part of an indefeasible right to use agreement.

A 99-year lease agreement will also allow Metronet to have equipment on CEL&P utility poles. Metronet will monitor and maintain CEL&P equipment as part of the agreement.

Metronet, established in 2005, serves 14 communities in Indiana. They will acquire approximately 2,600 customers in Crawfordsville. When the transaction was approved by the City Council in November 2013, the Journal Review quoted Metronet leadsership:

“We think Crawfordsville is a great fit for us,” Metronet representative Steve Biggerstaff said. “This is a great day of celebration for us, as well. We commend you on your vision and we look forward to continuing providing a top-notch fiber network.”

Local Accelplus customer Roger Thacker, expressed dismay in his letter to the Journal Review. It seems his experience with a local, accountable, responsive publicly owned network raised the bar. Based on all the reports we have seen (and our own experience with Comcast), we emathize with Roger:

I like Accelplus over Comcast. When there is a problem I can call the local office and the problem is fixed that day, and you get a live person on the other end. Unlike Comcast you call a toll-free number and your call goes to another state or to Canada. Then it takes them a week to fix their Internet or cable. With Accelplus you call a local number and they are there. In my opinion Accelplus is successful. It is sad to see them sell out to an outsider. I just hope we get the same service as we did with Accelplus.

Rural Cooperative Launches Educational Network in Northern Georgia

There was some good news at the end of August in Georgia, just in time for the new school year: a fiber optic network spanning 3,600 miles and potentially tying together up to 330 schools with 10 gigabit connections was announced. Dubbed the “Education Exchange,” the network is the product of an agreement between the rural cooperative North Georgia Network (NGN), private cable provider ETC Communications, and a private fiber optic ISP and infrastructure company called Parker Fibernet. Each of these three carriers’ existing fiber optic assets will provide a piece of the network, and all are connected to each other and to the broader internet in Atlanta.

While formed through a partnership of cooperative and private providers, the network will be governed by the schools themselves, which are spread throughout 30 different counties and reach across the northern third of the state, from the western border with Alabama to the eastern border with South Carolina. Both public and private schools will be able to connect. 

The new network should allow schools to realize some significant cost savings from replacing phone lines with VOIP and dropping slower leased data connections. More interesting, however, are the educational and administrative applications of such fast direct connections: video conferencing for teachers and administrators between and within school districts; accessing bandwidth-intensive online educational materials; expanding access to wi-fi devices throughout schools; and pooling purchasing power of many districts to get discounts and expanded digital course content.

How each district and each school use the network will be up to them, but the possibilities are considerable. Some of the early schools that beta tested the network have already experimented by hosting real time virtual music collaborations between schools. Paul Belk, NGN’s CEO, described the motivations driving his cooperative to establish the network: 

“The strength of our communities, our economy, and workforce all starts in our schools...as a community-owned company, it’s our job to give back and use our resources to better the next generation.”

NGN has been connecting business parks, hospitals, government buildings and other anchor institutions in northern Georgia since it’s inception in 2007. It received a large boost in 2009 when it was chosen for a Broadband Technology Opportunities Program grant as part of the federal stimulus effort. With $33.5 million in federal funding, supplemented by nearly $10 million in additional state and local funding, NGN built out an 1,100 mile network in the hilly country north of Atlanta, bringing high speed connections to areas previously only reached by slow and unreliable DSL

Responding to Crazy Talk: Arguments Against FCC Restoring Local Authority - Community Broadband Bits Episode 120

Lisa Gonzalez and I have been wading though all kinds of crazy talk since the cities of Wilson and Chattanooga filed petitions with the FCC to strike down state laws that prevent them from offering Internet access to their neighbors.

In our first episode of Crazy Talk since way back in episode 72, we deal with claims that municipal networks often fail, whether the FCC has authority to restore local authority, and whether the state barriers in question are actually barriers at all.

In this episode, I refer to this article in The Atlantic regarding law schools.

Read the transcript here.

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 16 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 Jessie Evans for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Is it Fire?"

Correcting Community Fiber Fallacies: Attacks on LUS Fiber

In just the last year the Lafayette Utility System (LUS) gigabit network has attracted 1300 high-tech jobsChairman Wheeler praises the network for doing what many communities hope to do, but cannot because of state laws limiting municipal broadband networks. Critics are desperate to discredit the network, using false statements and misinformation.

The Reason Foundation released a paper by Steven Titch in November, 2013, to discredit LUS Fiber. Here we offer a point-by-point rebuttal of the report. Titch makes numerous claims that he does not support with any evidence. Much of the evidence he uses in support of other claims is out of context or erroneous. And even then, his worst criticism is that the network may struggle in the future but is not currently failing.

Our critical response to Reason Foundation's report (called Lessons in Municipal Broadband from Lafayette, Louisiana) should be helpful to any community considering its own municipal network investment. This document is the first in a series of critical works that we are calling the "Correcting Community Fiber Fallacies" series.

The official page for Correcting Community Fiber Fallacies: LUS Fiber is here, but you can get the pdf directly if you prefer.

Don't forget that you can sign up for our weekly newsletter here - so you won't miss these important stories.

Community Broadband Networks is committed to helping policy makers understand the reality and challenges of community fiber. Correcting Community Fiber Fallacies (CCFF) is designed to correct myths surrounding municipal fiber, and provide the information needed to counter erroneous claims.

Steven Titch's original report can be found at reason.org.

Community Broadband Media Roundup - October 10

If the 3 million public comments, the backing of the FCC Chairman, and the support of big tech companies all over the United States wasn't enough, this week we heard more positive rumblings about Network Neutrality, this time from President Obama.

"My appointee, [FCC Chairman] Tom Wheeler, knows my position. I can't now, that he's there, I can't just call him up and tell him exactly what to do. But what I've been clear about, what the White House has been clear about is that we expect whatever final rules to emerge to make sure that we're not creating two or three or four tiers of Internet. 

Of course, whatever the FCC decides, someone will be taking the commission to court. Edward Wyatt of the New York Times sat through 24 hours of discussions this week and concluded, along with other scholars: "Litigation is probably inevitable."

Muni Networks

This week, our own Chris Mitchell traveled to Washington's Mount Vernon for an event highlighting how their municipal fiber network has improved the business climate [pdf]. While in the area, he spoke at two forums in Seattle about municipal fiber networks. The Stranger’s Ansel Herz is skeptical of the city’s glacial pace for change in terms of connectivity. He and Taylor Soper with GeekWire were among those covering the community events:

Seattle may never see better, more affordable connection speeds unless some serious changes happen.

That was the message from Chris MItchell, the Director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative, who spoke on Wednesday evening at City Hall to a group of 50 that came to hear how Seattle could offer more Internet options — including a publicly-funded municipal broadband service, similar to what’s already available in Washington cities like Tacoma and Mount Vernon.

Another Tennessee Republican is questioning the Sen. Marsha Blackburn’s ten+ million dollar elephant-in-the-room. William Neilson Jr. targets Blackburn’s recent Op-Ed this week.

She wants the government to stay out of her state while she (part of the terrible government) tries putting into place her own rules which do nothing other than eliminate parts of the state from competitive broadband.

Here is an idea: If you want the government to stay out of your business, stop allowing businesses to bribe politicians which in turn gets state/local governments to put in place rules that only help a select few, rather than the public. You can’t hate government involvement yet want that same government involvement to help your side thanks to a few thousand dollars in donations.

Meantime, the FCC has a lot of reading to do, and that’s just of the 230+ comments filed in the proceedings that would allow Chattanooga’s EPB to expand its Gig Network outside its current service area. 

And for this week’s Good Question (take note, WCCO’s Heather Brown!) How Come My ISP Won’t Increase Internet Speed and Lower My Bill, Like they Do in Sweden?” asks Motley Fool’s Anders Bylund. 

This last-mile infrastructure and the connecting fiber loops are accessible to a variety of telecoms, cable service providers, and Internet specialists. All of them have equal access to the consumer-facing and core networks, on "equal and non-discriminatory terms… The American model is powered by private, for-profit organizations. On the next level down, consumers are facing a Balkanized patchwork of cable, fiber, and DSL services with minimal competition and zero infrastructure sharing. Flooding or overriding this system with government support would be politically impossible, so we're stuck with this framework. That means focusing on profits over service quality, and there is no incentive at all to lower the cost to consumers.

I mean, it’s no “Why do trees change different colors in the fall.” but it certainly strikes us as a question the media should pursue. 

Astroturf

This week, the Boy Genius Report found a video from “NetCompetition,” a non-profit that claims to promote competition for Internet services, but is actually a front for the telco and cable companies.

“People think that you can compete with the government?” Cleland asks incredulously. “You can’t beat City Hall!”

Cleland asks us to simultaneously believe that these municipal networks are total failures and that City Hall is so all-powerful that it will run cable and telephone companies (that are orders of magnitude larger) out of business. BGR offers a smarter take:

If some municipal broadband projects are successes and some of them are failures, doesn’t it make more sense to study them all to see what works and what doesn’t before writing the entire concept off all together? And even if some municipalities do waste a lot of money on broadband projects that go nowhere, isn’t that their right? Aren’t state and local governments the real “laboratories of democracy,” as some like to say?

Cleland has also argued that the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger is pro-competitive. 

Another so-called citizen group is trying rather unsuccessfully to rally their troops against net neutrality this week. Jason Koebler of Motherboard and Joan McCarter with the Daily Kos say “American Commitment” a group run by conservative strategist Phil Kerpen, found 808,363 people in the US to support paid prioritization of the Internet. And all he had to do was lie to them!

Email blasts were sent to hundreds of thousands of people with subject lines that had nothing to do with net neutrality, such as "Only Days to Stop Obama's Takeover."

In the emails themselves, Kerpen called net neutrality "marxist," suggested that maintaining net neutrality would "erase your internet freedoms, upend your right to privacy, censor the content you view on Internet, seize control of e-commerce, keep records of the sites you visit and when, track what you read and for how long and so much more!" 

And, let’s not forget Americans for Prosperity. Kuper Jones chimed in with a few scare tactics of his own on The Hill this week. 

“..municipal networks across the country have had an abysmal track record at best. They’ve left citizens with tremendous amounts of debt and greater tax burdens. Taxpayers in Lafayette, Louisiana as well as eleven cities in Utah can attest to this as they’ve been saddled with $160 million and $500 million in debt, respectively, thanks to broadband boondoggles.”

We would hardly call 1,300 well-paying positions, better connectivity, and competitive pricing a boondoggle, but again, maybe there are multiple definitions of the word out there somewhere we're not aware of. 

Wheeler Praises Lafayette's Network Deployment at NATOA Conference

At the 2014 Annual Conference of the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA), FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler praised Lafayette, Louisiana, home of muni LUS Fiber, during his keynote address. 

Wheeler addressed a variety of issues, including wireless broadband, the drive to increase competition, and a thoughtful transition to IP based 911 service.

While he did not address the pending petitions from Wilson, North Carolina and Chattanooga, Wheeler did express his admiration for LUS Fiber and the tough persistence of the local community:

However, I do encourage you to consider how local choice and competition can increase the broadband opportunities for your citizens. I love the story of Lafayette, Louisiana where the local incumbent fought the city’s fiber network tooth and nail, bringing multiple court challenges and triggering a local referendum on the project. Thankfully, none of the challenges managed to prevent deployment – sixty two percent of voters approved of the network in the referendum, and the Louisiana Supreme Court unanimously sided with the city – but they did delay deployment almost three years. When the network was finally built, the community experienced the benefits of competition, as the local cable operator decided to upgrade its network. Local choice and competition are about as American as you can get.

We were pleased to hear the Chairman acknowledge the spirit of the community and how their efforts have paid off. Just this year, the community and its network attracted three new companies and approximately 1,300 new permanent and seasonal jobs. Lafayette has focused on improving its tech workforce in order to complement its next generation network - two critical ingredients to creating the Silicon Bayou.

Read more about Lafayette and LUS Fiber in our report, Broadband At the Speed of Light: How Three Communities Built Next Generation Networks.

For the entire text of Chairman Wheeler's key note address, check out the transcript PDF online. You can also read more about the NATOA Annual Conference, held this year in St. Paul, Minnesota's Lowertown. 

Decorah Fiber Network Wins Civic Award

The town of Decorah, Iowa, population 8,000, lies along the winding banks of the Iowa River. So close to the river, in fact, that in 2008 its floodwaters swamped parts of the town, including the emergency operations center. That unfortunate event got city leaders thinking about how to ensure secure and redundant communications in future emergencies. The city, county, and school district decided to partner on a fiber optic network build that would meet their shared needs.

The resulting project, called the Decorah Metronet, has lead to the city being named an “All-Star Community” by the Iowa League of Cities. The award was given last month in recognition of Decorah’s innovative policies, and specifically singled out the fiber optic network for its contributions to public safety, cost savings, and intergovernmental cooperation. The award is given each year “based on innovative efforts in areas such as urban renewal, development, preservation, service sharing or quality of life improvements.”

Completed in the fall of 2013, Metronet boasts an 11-mile, 144-strand fiber optic loop. It connects 18 facilities belonging to six different anchor institutions: the city of Decorah, Winneshiek County, Decorah Community Schools, Luther College, the Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission, and the Winneshiek Medical Center. Metronet not only provides redundancy and savings on connectivity costs, but data center services and offsite backup for its member institutions as well. 

When the network went live last November, City Manager Chad Bird emphasized its economic potential and indicated it would eventually offer extensions to individuals and businesses: 

"I see the Metronet fiber being an economic development tool for our community -- having it in place and having excess fiber available for the commercial industrial segment of our economy. I can think of technology heavy business -- call centers or data centers - that might appreciate having excess fiber capacity."

The project was the recipient of a $520,000 federal Broadband Technology Opportunities Program grant in 2010 which provided the bulk of the initial construction budget, although each anchor institution contributed $75,000 in matching funds over three years as well. 

Congratulations to Decorah, and notch another victory for Iowa’s rural community network movement. 

Next Century Cities Launch Webcast on October 20

Municipalities are increasingly realizing they need to take steps to ensure fast, affordable, reliable Internet access for local citizens. Some are doing the work themselves with publicly owned projects while others seek public-private partnerships. In order to capitalize on collaboration, a group of city leaders are now forming Next Century Cities.

On October 20, 2014, they will webcast the official launch from Santa Monica at 9:30 a.m. - 1 p.m. PT / 12:30 p.m. - 4 p.m. ET. From the announcement:

We're proud to announce the official launch of Next Century Cities. Next Century Cities is a new, city-to-city collaboration that supports community leaders across the country as they seek to ensure that all have access to fast, affordable, and reliable Internet. Founding Partners represent dozens of cities from across the United States.

On October 20, we will be officially launching at Cross Campus in Santa Monica, CA. Our event will bring together mayors from communities across the country, as well as successful technologists who have helped to implement and run some of the nation's most impressive broadband networks. We're proud to host mayors and leaders from across the country for a series of thought-provoking discussions about how high-quality broadband Internet has begun to empower American communities.

Featured speakers will include

As part of the event, Susan Crawford will moderate a panel discussion with Mayors and city leaders from a variety of communities.

The event will also include a panel discussion moderated by Christopher Mitchell with information and innovation leaders from the cities of Santa Monica, Boston, Kansas City, Portland, Raleigh, and Lafayette.

You can register online for the free event.

The Dalles Pays off Its Network Debt Ahead of Schedule

Of the more than 400 communities around the country that have built and benefitted from community networks, the town of The Dalles in Oregon may have a case for the title of “most bang for the buck.” Their commitment of $10,000 12 years ago to leverage a $1.8 million “QLife” fiber optic network has lead to a massive, $1.2 billion dollar investment from Google in the form of a huge data center, employing nearly 200 people and generating millions in tax revenues for the local community. And at the end of September, the QLife board of directors announced that they had paid off the loans used for network construction more than three years ahead of schedule. 

We covered part of The Dalles’ network story two years ago: a small city of just 13,000 was told by Sprint in 2000 that it would have to wait 5 to 10 years for broadband Internet access. Meanwhile, local manufacturing was declining and employers were overlooking the town due to its outdated infrastructure. Before building the QLife network, The Dalles had no access to the major long haul fiber pathway that happened to run right through town. As city manager Nolan Young told Andrew Blum in an interview for his book “Tubes,” it was like “being a town that sits next to a freeway but has no on ramp.” 

The city decided enough was enough, and partnered with the county and the local public utility district on a plan for a $1.8 million, 17 mile fiber optic loop through the community that would connect anchor institutions and offer middle mile access to private providers. 

The nascent network faced opposition from a local telecom in the form of a lawsuit, which scared the public utility district away from the partnership. It had another setback when a private partner declared bankruptcy, saddling the public agency with an $800,000 loan. The city and Wasco County pressed forward with their partnership, however, and secured half of the needed $1.8 million in state and federal grants while covering the rest with loans. The city made a one-time contribution of $10,000. QLife pursued a cautious strategy, building in successive phases only after enough subscriber revenue commitments were in place to cover the requisite loan payments.  

The city’s small investment has paid off many, many times over. Major network construction was completed in 2003, and in 2005 Google announced they would locate a major new data center in the town, bringing 150 jobs and a $600 million investment. Pleased with their easy access to major fiber optic infrastructure and seeing massive growth in the demand for cloud-based applications, Google announced last year that they would double down on The Dalles, investing another $600 million and creating dozens more jobs to grow their already huge facility. 

The benefits of the network aren’t limited to a single major employer. Schools, a community college, a hospital, and a network of medical offices all use QLife’s fiber directly for fast, reliable, and secure data services. Seven different telecom and internet providers also lease fiber from QLife, increasing the competition and service quality available in the area.

Even Sprint, the incumbent who told the city to wait a decade for broadband, started upgrading their own network six months after QLife construction began. QLife and Google have even partnered to provide free WiFi throughout downtown and many of the surrounding areas. Now, with their debt retired ahead of schedule, the network is running an operating surplus in the hundreds of thousands that could be put to any number of good uses. 

Of course, not every town that builds a fiber optic network will immediately get a $1.2 billion data center. The Dalles had several factors working in their favor when wooing Google, including cheap hydroelectric power from Bonneville Power Administration dams along the Columbia River and long haul fiber optic lines running right past their doorstep. However, City leaders were smart enough to see the opportunities in front of them and determined enough to persevere in the face of opposition. Their bet has paid off immensely.

Verizon CEO: LTE Cannot Replace Fiber

Verizon Wireless CEO Dan Mead is not doing any favors for Comcast as it pursues approval to acquire Time Warner Cable. In August, he came out and publicly stated that no, LTE is not equal to fiber. The Verge quoted Mead, who was refreshingly honest about technical limitations and Comcast's motivations for making such outrageous claims:

"They're trying to get deals approved, right, and I understand that... their focus is different than my focus right now, because I don't have any deals pending," Mead said, a reference to the fact that Comcast is looking for ways to justify the TWC buy. "LTE certainly can compete with broadband, but if you look at the physics and the engineering of it, we don't see LTE being as efficient as fiber coming into the home."

A number of other organizations also try to educate the general public about the fact that mobile Internet access is not on par with wireline service. For example, Public Knowledge has long argued that "4G + Data Caps = Magic Beans." 

Our Wireless Internet Access Fact Sheet dispels common misconceptions, shares info about data caps, and provides comparative performance data between wireless and wired connections. While mobile Internet access is certainly practical, valuable, and a convenient complement to wired connections, it is no replacement. Wireless limitations, coupled with providers' expensive data caps enforced with overage charges, can never replace a home wired connection. Doing homework, applying for a job, or paying bills online quickly drives families over the typical 250 GB limit.

Speaking from experience, my own family of three routinely surpasses 250 GB per month and we are not bandwidth hogs compared to many other families in our social circle. Fortunately for us, the "enforcement of the 250GB data consumption threshold is currently suspended," as I am reminded every billing cycle.

Considering Mead's experience in both wired and wireless, how could any of us question his perspective:

Before moving to Verizon's wireless unit, Mead held executive roles in the company's landline business, responsible for traditional telephone service and high-speed internet to the home. "We know both sides of that pretty well," he continued. "So that may be a little bit of a stretch, and the economics are much different."