Communities across America have built their own broadband networks to ensure access to affordable, reliable, and fast networks. We tell their stories and defend their authority to build these networks.
This project is expected to start saving the state some $30 million a year while greeting increasing the capacity to essential community institutions. Many of these institutions will undoubtedly be moving away from incumbent T1 and similar connections that have been gouging the taxpayers for years by grossly overcharging for what they provide. However, we do have the same concerns about this project as we recently noted in North Carolina's MCNC project, namely that statewide networks connecting libraries and schools take potential anchor tenants off networks that could be built by communities to serve everyone. Without these anchor tenants, it will be more difficult to finance a network available universally.
Free UTOPIA has published some interesting information about iProvo, a broadband network that was originally publicly owned but crushed under the weight of harassment from Comcast and Qwest via the state legislature. iProvo was built around the same time as UTOPIA and was quite similar but not attached to it.
A few years back, it was privatized … sort of. The debt remained with the City even as they hoped the private service provider would be able to cover the necessary payments. That arrangement has not worked out.
Jesse Harris at Free UTOPIA has done a great job of continuing to cover both UTOPIA and iProvo, doing interviews with key people and digging into details to a great extent. This article explaining iProvo's difficult position is no different, presenting the dilemma from multiple points of view and assessing the options.
Most of you are already aware that Veracity’s reserve fund for iProvo has reached the point of potentially triggering a default. From the news stories you’ve read, odds are good that you think that Broadweave 2.0 is about to come crashing down on the city. I’ve sat down with Veracity and Mayor Curtis to get the real deal story and I don’t think it’s the apocalyptic scenario that sells papers and glues eyeballs to evening newscasts.
MCNC is a private, nonprofit organization that runs the North Carolina Research and Education Network. The organization secured two grants through the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) to fund the infrastructure. Broadband Technology Opportunities Program funds make up $75.75 million of the funding for this phase; MCNC raised $28.25 million privately, including $24 million from Golden LEAF Foundation.
The total project includes more than 2,000 miles of broadband infrastructure to be outfitted through 69 counties in North Carolina.
“The great work being done here … is going to be able to be shared over the world,” said Freddoso [CEO of MCNC].
Freddoso said MCNC has had conversations with the city of Salisbury, distributor of Fibrant cable and Internet service. While the new fiber optic infrastructure will not provide service directly to customers, MCNC will offer wholesale broadband to companies like Time Warner Cable and municipalities that run their own services, like Salisbury.
While we are always happy to see libraries and schools getting access to the connections they need at affordable prices, we believe some of these state-wide educational networks can be counter-productive. Schools and libraries should be anchor tenants on networks owned by the local community (ownership options include coop, nonprofit, or muni ownership). When schools and libraries are served instead by statewide "silo" networks that do not connect residents and businesses, it becomes harder for local communities to finance the networks that will actually connect everyone.
Silicon Valley Power, a muni electric in Santa Clara, was smart when fibering-up its electrical plant. They overbuilt their needs and are using the additional capacity to benefit the community. One of the biggest beneficiaries are the schools and taxpayers that support them.
That brought to mind my recent conversation with Larry Owens, manager of customer services at Silicon Valley Power. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based municipal electric utility built fiber between its subsystems to increase the organization’s reliability. But Silicon Valley Power overbuilt that network, which enables it to lease dark fiber to the school district and service providers via its SVP Fiber entity. The electric company also purchased MetroFi, a free Wi-Fi services company that fell on hard times, to connect new smart energy meters to its offices. Those Wi-Fi assets also are being leveraged to deliver free outdoor Wi-Fi access to anyone within Santa Clara.
I remember reading about this network earlier this year in a Public Power Daily release:
The technology and added bandwidth capacity allow teachers to hold virtual field trips and will eventually allow students who are unable to attend school the opportunity to join their classrooms via a home computer, Silicon Valley Power said. Download speeds have made classrooms more efficient, the utility said.
"Before the fiber network, the download process was very slow and sometimes wouldn't work at all when my class tried to use streaming video to add to our lessons," said Jennifer Rodriguez, who teaches a fourth- and fifth- grade combo class at Katherine Hughes Elementary School. "Now I can utilize instructional videos off the web and stream them quickly, making the lesson more interesting and the learning more fun for my students."
Santa Monica's approach to building community owned broadband that puts the community first has been wildly successful. They have not focused on providing residential connections, and likely will not in the future, focusing instead on meeting their municipal needs and businesses to spur economic development.
They can deliver up to 10Gbps to businesses that need it and they have connectivity throughout the City for whatever projects they choose to pursue. This includes free Wi-Fi in parks, controlling traffic signaling (prioritizing mass transit, for instance), and smart parking applications. On top of all that, their investments have saved more than a million dollars that would have been wasted on slower, less reliable connections provided by leased lines.
Arizona Avenue, the Mid-City area and the city's office district will all be getting makeovers if the City Council approves two contracts that will connect 40 signalized intersections to City Hall's centralized traffic control system.
The work represents the fourth phase in a five-phase effort to connect all of Santa Monica's intersections using fiber optic cables. Some signals will need to be fully replaced, while others can get by on smaller upgrades, according to the staff report.
Don't miss this hour long interview between Craig Settles and Jory Wolf, the brains behind Santa Monica's success.
Around 45 minutes into the interview, Jory Wolf talks about the ways the free Wi-Fi network promotes local businesses in partnership with a Buy Local campaign. I was thrilled to hear this as a colleague of mine at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance is a great friend of buy local campaigns because they are proven to help the small, independent businesses that contribute so much to communities.
If you want to learn more, particularly about how Santa Monica's approach has created many new jobs (that's right, smart public investments in broadband create jobs!) check out .
-Though the city provides Internet access directly, it also makes the network available to third-party providers on an open-access basis. “The incumbents have chosen not to use our assets,” Wolf says, explaining that larger providers are often reluctant to operate over networks where they cannot control the user experience and that their marketing and support organizations are not geared to using other companies’ networks.
However, other ISPs have shown interest in the network now that it is becoming successful. Currently, two ISPs offer services generally over the network, and other ISPs serve the Santa Monica offices of businesses that they deal with in other locations. Wolf says, “We have the opportunity to handle the business any way they prefer. … We’re not an obstacle; we’re an enabler. We don’t see ourselves as competitors, but as filling a void.”
City Net’s revenue from current business customers totals about $300,000 per year, enough to fund network operations and maintenance and to support an extensive system of free Wi-Fi hot spots throughout the city. Wi-Fi is now available at parks, beaches, libraries, public buildings and other open-space areas. On any given day, about 2,000 of Santa Monica’s 87,000 residents use the 27 Wi-Fi hot spots.
The city also has $190,000 of its capital funds remaining, which it uses as a revolving capital improvement project account. This account funds construction for network expansion, which is repaid by customers as the network is extended to their premises.
An indirect benefit of City Net is that it has forced competing networks to lower their prices. Wolf’s office estimates that nonparticipating providers have lowered their bandwidth prices by 20 percent or more, making bandwidth generally more affordable throughout the city. “If that’s all we had accomplished, we’d feel that we’d done what we intended,” Wolf says.
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SOUTH ROYALTON – Having completed its beta testing, and with the Phase I project nearly complete, ECFiber began connecting its first customers today. Eight customers have been beta-testing the system for the past two weeks, getting sustained 5Mbps symmetrical service.
The Barnard General Store, one of the beta sites, has been offering the experience to customers via WI-FI, and has been finding folks on their doorstep at all hours, trying out the system.
“It’s been amazing,” says Kim Furlong, one of the store’s proprietors. “Because so much more of what we do is online, it is truly a joy to reap the reward of high-speed internet. Dial-up, and even satellite, is such a time-robber. Fiber is very different – you can be more efficient, and that is exciting. At the same time, I have some trepidation. People are going to relocate here more permanently because of what is available, and that is probably going to change the fabric of the community.”
According to Project Coordinator Leslie Nulty, 15 new accounts were opened within the first 24 hours after the doorstep delivery of information packets. Barnard Academy, another beta site, is also very excited about the service. They are planning an open house and community celebration of ECFiber’s arrival in mid-October.
Barnard was chosen for the Phase I project because of its proximity to the central office and its large number of unserved users. Pre-registrations topped 90% before the project started. Phase II, to build out the rest of the town of Barnard, is in the planning stages, with an informational meeting set for Thursday night at 7PM at the Barnard Town Hall.
Lafayette Doing OK, Doubles Capacity for Promotion
John at Lafayette Pro Fiber recently updated us all on LUS Fiber's financials. According to John, LUS Fiber is doing OK, not great, in its FTTH offering (probably the best deal in the nation for fast, affordable, and reliable connections). In reading deeper, it is clear that the impact of the community network on the public is GREAT, not just ok.
LUS estimates that the citizens of the community have saved 5.7 million dollars—in part direct saving from LUS' cheaper phone, video, and internet services and in part as a consequence of Cox lowering its prices and giving out special rates. Those special rates were discussed in the meeting with Huval pointing out that Cox had petitioned for and received permission to treat Lafayette as a "competitive" area. That meant that Cox could offer special deals to Lafayette users and, as we all know, has offered cuts to anyone who tries to leave. Those "deals." as Huval pointed out to Patin don't include the rural areas of the parish where Cox has no competition.
But it doesn't end there. LUS Fiber, due to anti-competitive laws pushed through the state's legislature to handicap public providers, is actually subsidizing the City -- providing more benefits to everyone, even those who do not subscribe to the network.
Again it all goes back to the (un)Fair Competion Act. One of the things in that act a concession that LUS Fiber would be able to borrow from LUS' other utilities just like any other corporation could set up internal borrowing arrangements. This is not a subsidy, it's a loan—with real interest. One of the efforts to raise an issue by Messrs Patin and Theriot centered around "imputed" taxes. Those are extra costs that Cox and ATT got the state to require that LUS include in order to force LUS to raise their price to customers (you!) above the actual cost. (Yes, really. See this. The idea was that LUS should have to pretend to pay taxes that it doesn't actually pay when setting its pricing—and include those fake costs when competing against Cox or ATT. PSC regulations (not the law) requires LUS Fiber to send those monies to the larger LUS. So LUS utilities is holding money LUS Fiber earned. LUS utilities loans it back to LUS Fiber—at interest. The net effect of this is to subsidize LUS' other utilities on the back of the new utility, LUS Fiber.
Even though Lafayette is offering the fastest broadband in the area, they are running an incredible promotion - everyone got bumped up a tier in August and September. If you are paying for 10Mbps symmetrical, you are getting 30. If you pay for 30, you get 50. And you get 100 if you pay for 50.
This is how community-owned promotions run -- they actually deliver the goods rather than only giving you a low introductory price that balloons after 3-6 months (followed by annual rate increases thereafter!).
If you wanted to judge LUS Fiber from the perspective of a private company, it would be OK. But if you account for all the benefits it is delivering to the community, it is doing great.
The East Central Vermont Fiber-to-the-Home network is officially connecting people. This has been a fascinating project to watch, though undoubtedly frustrating from the thousands of people who just want a fast, affordable, and reliable connection to the Internet (though any one of the three would be an improvement for them).
They started trying to finance the network when the markets weren't interested in even lending water to Jesus. They seemed a lock for stimulus funding but that money instead when to a wireless project. The state begged them to apply for Vermont Telecom Authority broadband funds and then slammed the door when they complied. All in the shadow of Burlington Telecom. So they did what they now say they should have done from the start: financed it themselves.
And now they are starting to turn those connections on. And regularly updating their blog, something I love to see! As of yesterday, they had 7 beta connections going and were planning to add 2 more. 3 in 4 of those asked if they want drops installed have already said yes.
Electricity is not in any sense a necessity, and under no conditions is it universally used by the people of a community. It is but a luxury enjoyed by a small proportion of the members of any municipality, and yet if the plant be owned and operated by the city, the burden of such ownership and operation must be borne by all the people through taxation. Now, electric light is not a necessity for every member of the the community. It is not the business of any one to see that I use electricity, or gas, or oil in my house, or even that I use any form of artificial light at all.