The First Honest Cable Company

This video is really making the rounds - I have seen it on multiple lists and many have forwarded it to me. I found it hilarous, but be warned that it features salty language that may be offensive to some and is probably NSFW.

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Benton Public Utility District Brings Fiber to Richland, Washington

Benton PUD, located in south central Washington, recently expanded its fiber foot print through Richland and Rattlesnake Mountain. The move involved a collaborative effort between the City of Richland, the Benton PUD, and the Department of Energy.

According to Annette Cary of the Tri-City Herald, the expansion will bring better communications to the Hanford Nuclear Site. Schools, libraries, and businesses in Richland will take advantage of the additional fiber from downtown to north Richland.

Benton PUD offers fiber to businesses in Kennewick, Prosser, Benton City, and now Richland via an open access model. Residential wireless is also available in Prosser, Pesco and Kennewick with five retail providers on the network.

According to the article, Benton PUD will also use the fiber for its advanced metering system. From the article:

"This agreement allows Benton PUD to increase its capacity and redundancy, while also helping the Hanford project," Rick Dunn, PUD director of engineering, said in a statement.

The fiber also provides additional capacity for the Hanford Federal Cloud, a system that allows Hanford information to be stored at centralized and consolidated data centers rather than on individual worker's computers. The fiber serves several DOE facilities connected to Hanford.

"Having a fast, reliable communications infrastructure is critical in supporting Hanford's cleanup mission," Ben Ellison, DOE's Hanford chief information officer, said in a statement. "This project gives DOE the capacity it needs to further the mission and allows for future growth of both the community and Hanford cleanup activities."

While the DOE sees the fiber as an asset in the ongoing clean up of the decommissioned nuclear production complex, local leaders see it as an opportunity to bring more business to the area. Richalnd and southern Washington are also known for low power rates, another feature attractive to potential businesses. As clean-up winds down at Hanford, Richland is looking to the future and wisely using fiber as a way to reach out for commercial opportunities.

In Georgia, Tech City Opposed HB 282 With Official Resolution

We were happy to report when HB 282 failed to advance on the floor of the Georgia General Assembly House in a bipartisan vote. We were equally pleased to learn that at least one Georgia community passed an official resolution opposing the bill while it was making its way through the committee process. 

Alpharetta, an Atlanta suburb, is home to 57,000 people and calls itself the "Technology City of the South." The community has no municipal network and no current plans to invest in one, but nevertheless passed a resolution on February 25th which opposed HB 282.

A Bob Pepalis article on the decision quoted Councilman Jim Gilvin:

"Once again I think this is just a state legislator jumping into local business. And I appreciate their concerns, but we do a pretty good job around here, I think. And if residents don't think so, they will be more than happy to let us know," Gilvin said. "I'd appreciate it if they'd just let us handle our government."

Pepalis heard similar sentiments from Councilman Chris Owens via email

"This goes not only beyond local control, but also impacts our ability and other communities ability to be masters of our own destiny and influence on development as well as provides services to their constituents, both residential and commercial," Owens said. "If that's something in a community's best interests, who better to make that decision than a community rather than the state on behalf of the community."

First, the resolution [PDF] sums up the real world affects of the proposal, if it had passed:

WHEREAS, House Bill 282 would tie the hands of municipal officials in their efforts to build digital networks they need to attract economic development and create a high quality of life for their citizens; and

WHEREAS, House Bill 282 is a bill that would undermine self-determination of cities in the digital age as illustrated by the following:

  • Before a city could provide new high speed Internet, cable, telecom or broadband service, it would be required to:

-Receive the permission of the Public Service Commission; and

-Prove to the Public Service Commission that each census block the city wants to serve has no existing broadband service (Census blocks are the smallest geographic area the Census Bureau uses for data collection. There are 291,086 census blocks in Georgia).

  • Existing local government cable, high speed Internet, telecom and broadband providers would be subject to the following service area restrictions:

-A city would not be allowed to expand its network to provide service to any customers unless the customers have no existing broadband service, regardless of the speed; and

-The city would not be allowed to provide the service even within the city’s boundaries.

Alpharetta seal

The resolution also called out the bill's authors and supporters:

And WHEREAS House Bill 282 would reduce Georgia's competitiveness and ability to attract new jobs as illustrated by the following:

  • Many Georgia communities have slow or limited access to the Internet compared to regional and international peers. This Bill sends a strong state message to these areas – “we don’t care.”
  • This is an effort to “protect” profits for private companies and ignores the economic development challenges many communities face.
  • The final report of Governor Deal’s Competitiveness Initiative indicates that many parts of rural Georgia are at a disadvantage because of a lack of broadband service. House Bill 282 would limit the ability of communities to bridge the digital divide where private providers have decided those investments do not fit their business model.
  • While the proposed legislation purports to exclude “unserved” areas from its purview, the definition of “unserved” is so narrow that virtually no community would ever fall under the exception.

NOW, THEREFORE, the Mayor and Council hereby RESOLVE that the passage of House Bill 282 (Preemption on Municipal Broadband), as well as any similar legislation, is hereby opposed as not being in the best interest of the City of Alpharetta and other municipalities within the state; and IT IS FURTHER RESOLVED that a copy of this Resolution be delivered to members of the City’s local delegation.

While resolutions like Alpharetta's are not the only contributing factor to a state bill success or failure, it is another tool in the toolbox for local leadership. In addition to raising awareness at the local level, official resolutions give state and federal leaders a clear indication of how their constituents feel about specific proposals, providing a hook for media to cover the larger story.

San Jose Launches Super Fast Wi-fi

San Jose launched its new, publicly owned, downtown free Wi-Fi on March 14th. This is the community's third attempt at bringing a successful free service to downtown and city officials have made much ado about the new "Wickedly Fast Wi-Fi Network." The city teamed up with SmartWAVE Technologies and Ruckus Wireless to design and install the $94,000 network. Ongoing costs are estimated at $22,000 per year.

From the press release, reprinted in PR Newswire:

"Utilizing our Smart Wi-Fi technology, this Wickedly Fast Wi-Fi Network offers the fastest public Wi-Fi service in the country, and we’re proud to be a part of enabling that,” said Selina Lo, president and CEO of Ruckus Wireless. “On a smartphone, a user will be able to experience speeds of anywhere from two to three Megabits per second. This is easily three to four times faster than any other public network service,” Lo concludes. “There’s a huge, growing demand around the country, and the world, for more reliable public and managed Wi-Fi services to satisfy an exploding population of users now armed with multiple smart mobile devices, and where better to help satisfy that demand than starting with the Capital of Silicon Valley.”

The network will also speed up parking transactions in the City's downtown parking system and support downtown city government facilities.

In a KTVU report, Vijay Sammetta, Chief INformation Officer for San Jose described the new Wi-fi:

"Typically we see municipal a thousand or two-thousand miles per hour in layman's terms," said Vijay Sammeta, San Jose's Chief Information Officer.  "We're upping that ante up to 10,000 miles per hour."

Update: The Wall Street Jounal has also just covered the recent proliferation of community owned Wi-Fi networks.

Christopher Mitchell to Join FCC Panel on Gigabit Communities

On Wednesday, March 26, Christopher Mitchell will be on the last panel at the Federal Communication Commission's Gigabit Workshop. The full agenda is here and starts at 9 AM EDT.

The entire event will be webcast via fcc.gov/live.

Mitchell's panel will begin at 2:20 EDT and discuss the ways communities can leverage local tools to build their own networks or to attract partners.

All of the panels are scheduled to spend a lot of time answering questions - remote viewers can submit questions to livequestions@fcc.gov. Please do!

Moultrie City Manager Discusses Origins of CNS Network in Georgia for Community Broadband Bits Episode 39

Mike Scott, City Manager of Moultrie in Georgia, joins us for Episode #39 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast to share the origins of the Community Network Services (CNS) network that joins four towns in four counties in rural southwest Georgia.

In this interview, Mike Scott shares some of the benefits of the network for local schools and community savings. Built originally because the existing cable and telephone companies would not invest in their communities, CNS has proved itself an incredibly valuable community investment.

CNS is credited with creating over 6,000 jobs in the communities it serves, a tremendous boon for the communities that joined together to create this network. During our interview (below), we note a video they created to show off some of the benefits of this network. Here it is:

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 20 minutes long and can be played below on this page or subscribe via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed. Search for us in iTunes and leave a positive comment!

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Thanks to D. Charles Speer & the Helix for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

In Missouri, Nixa Considers Fiber Investment

Located in the southwestern corner of Missouri, Nixa has joined the growing list of local communities fed up with slow Internet access. A recent Rance Birger News-Leader article, describes the frustration of local tech CEO, Jeremy Bartley. He is not the only business leader in Nixa who is not willing to accept the Internet status quo. Bartley is part of an organized effort to investigate the possibility of a municipal fiber network.

The group has the ear of the City Council and the Mayor, who have put city staff on the project. From the article:

“I personally would like for staff to contact a city that’s relatively our size, and talk to somebody that started from scratch to where they’re successful, and how much it really cost them to do what they did,” [Mayor Sam] Clifton said.

“They may also have some insight on to other issues that arose when they did that as far as legalities and such,” Councilman Aron Peterson said.

Nixa has its own electric utility, which can often facilitate development of a municipal network. The first step is a survey, which will be distributed in March utility bills and is already available online.

Depending on the survey results, which should be available in April, the next step would be a preliminary design. 

Like many other communities, Nixa has been left behind by the big national cable and telephone corporations. Community leaders understand why and want to proceed with caution. From the article:

City Administrator Brian Bingle acknowledged that private businesses haven’t shown interest in running fiber in Nixa.

“If the private sector could make money off it, they’d be doing it already, and we all know that,” Bingle said. “We’re looking into something that, one, there is a demand for it, two, that we can get ourselves reimbursed for it."

Nixans who are spearheading the project also see the current and future value of a community owned network:

“One of the goals of my company is to bring other tech companies to Nixa, because it’s the future of businesses, it’s the businesses that are going to create the most income for a city. Tech is the future of all jobs,” Bartley said.

Nixa is home to around 19,000 people and, like many other communities, it loses educated young people to places with more lucrative markets. The community wants to build an environment where tech professionals will want to set up shop. Also plaguing Nixa is the lack of access to affordable high speed access, a necessity for the tech companies they want to attract.

“I have faster speeds on my phone than in my office, for the most part,” Bartley said. “We are going to have to have faster speeds to support our lifestyle, what we use in technology, and it’s not there.”

As Nixa moves forward, we look forward to sharing updates.

Palo Alto Mayor Calls for Expansion of Muni Fiber System to Secure City's Future

“Fiber is the key to assuring Palo Alto's long-term position as the Leading Digital City of the Future"

That was Palo Alto Mayor Greg Scharff who was giving his State of the City Address at Tesla Motors in February.

Mayor Scharff described 2013 as "the year of the future" for Palo Alto, with technology and infrastructure as two of the city's most pressing priorities. Scharff called for developing a plan to expand and optimize the city's current 33 miles of fiber with the aim to bring that fiber to homes and businesses. Scharff echoed the recent Gigabit City Challenge, offered by FCC Chairman Genachowski, noting that Palo Alto users should be have access to 1 gig, minimum.

Jason Green of the Mercury News reported on Scharff's speech in which he referenced the city's long desire to provide high speed access to residents:

"Ultra-high-speed Internet has been a Palo Alto vision for a long time. Now is the time to fulfill that vision," Scharff said. "Google has recently deployed ultra-high-speed Internet in Kansas City. Palo Alto can do better and has all of the elements that will make this a success."

Scharff also referred to how the city is currently using its fiber and some of the benefits:

“In 1996, our city built a 33-mile optical fiber ring routed within Palo Alto to enable better Internet connections.  Since then, we have been licensing use of this fiber to businesses. For the past decade, this activity has shown substantial positive cash flow and is currently making in excess of $2 million a year for the city. We now have that money in the bank earmarked for more fiber investments."

We spoke with Josh Wallace, from Palo Alto's Fiber Optic Development, in episode 26 of the Broadband Bits podcast about how the city uses dark fiber to connect businesses. As we noted in the past, a thorn in the side of Palo Alto's plan to offer lit services is Comcast, which has been willing to engage in dirty tricks in other communities to stop community owned networks.

A recent Palo Alto Online article by Gennady Sheyner, reported on the most recent joint meeting between the City Council and the Utilities Advisory Commission. Like the Mayor, both bodies decided exploration of uses of city fiber must be a priority.

While Palo Alto has wrestled with expanding the use of its fiber in the past, things appear to be changing. From the article:

But perhaps the biggest change between the city's previous stabs at the fiber project and its current exploration has to do with perspective. Before, city officials viewed the effort strictly in utility terms, with low costs and no risks being key requirements. In 2008, the city explored a partnership with an Internet consortium to create a $45 million citywide system. The group, led by Axia Netmedia Corporation, withdrew from the partnership in May 2009 after the global economy tanked, one of its financing partners withdrew and the city declined to subsidize the network with a contribution of $3 million to $5 million annually.

Palo Alto Utilities Ad

A 2012 utilities commission recommendation, based on work from two separate consultants, did not endorse the idea of pursuing a fiber-to-the-premise build out. Attitudes have since shifted:

But utilities commissioners and council members agreed Monday that project warrants re-examination, even if the economic argument is difficult to make.

"If you look at it from the utility's standpoint, it's hard to get it to work," said Commissioner John Melton, who had dissented in the June vote along with Foster and Asher Waldfogel. "If you look at it from a broader perspective, it may well make a lot of sense."

We would say the different evaluations are based on what value one places on the many indirect benefits of a network, such as more jobs, a real choice for residents, and the cost savings everyone experiences in the newly competitive environment. A privately owned company would not consider these benefits as part of its return on investment, but a community can. Not all do, but sometimes it just takes a few local leaders to step up and change the frame.

The success of the dark fiber network has eased some anxiety from city leaders and the discussion is moving forward. In February, the City Council declared "technology and the connected city" an official priority for 2013. Also from the article:

Dexter Dawes, who chaired the utilities commission at the time it was considering the earlier [unfavorable] fiber proposal, said that the council's framework for looking at the project will make a difference in the commission's work.

The commission, he said, "has been challenged by having chains on them by considering it on a risk-free basis where there would be no subsidies from the city," Dawes said. "It will be a tough job figuring this out, but I think this can be done."

In 2014, we hope to be able to report that 2013 WAS the year of the future for Palo Alto. Regardless of whether or not they eventually decide to offer more than dark fiber, we are pleased to see city leadership reconsidering the possibilities.

Open Access Network in Mount Vernon, Washington Created More Jobs and Government Savings

Mount Vernon, Washington, started building their own fiber optic network in 1995 and over the past 18 years have continued to add incrementally. While the network started as a way to connect a few municipal facilities, it has since expanded to nearby Burlington and the Port of Skagit. The network now serves government, schools, hospitals and clinics, and a broad range of businesses in the area.

We spoke with community leaders from Mount Vernon for our 38th episode of the Broadband Bits podcast. Mount Vernon owns the network and operates it out of the Information Systems office.

The network required no borrowing or bonding because initial funding came from a state Community and Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) grant. Since then, Mount Vernon has used revenue from the network and creative cost sharing with partners to expand throughout the city. When expanding into Burlington and the Port of Skagit in 2008, city leaders received a county sales tax grant to fund deployment.

The Mount Vernon School District became a partner early in the evolution of the network. According to Kim Kleppe, Information Services Director, K-12 schools do not pay a monthly fee to receive up to 1 gig of capacity for their 10 facilities. He estimates the current costs of a dark fiber connection for one facility at $700 per month. Total savings are astronomical, allowing the schools to dedicate significant dollars toward other expenses.

Mount Vernon city government saves over $100,000 per year and nearby Burlington saves over $52,000. The network has never been in debt and maintains a reserve.

Mount Vernon's network is an open access model on which ISPs serve customers via the city's infrastructure. Subscribers pay a one time fee to the city to be connected. Onging revenue comes from the ISPs, who pay to the city a percentage of what they collect in customer connectivity fees. Currently, eight different providers offer services via the Mount Vernon network, providing ample competition.

Like other communities we see that choose the open access model, Mount Vernon acknowledges that they could take the next step and provide retail services but they choose not to. Kleppe tells us that Mount Vernon wants to let the private sector do what it does best - provide retail services - while the city offers the infrastructure.

Healthcare, aerospace, engineering, banking, technology, and legal data services are a few high bandwidth industries with locations on the network. Jana Hansen, Community and Economic Devlopment Director, believes the fiber optic network is a key element in bringing new companies to Mount Vernon. Hansen decribes the network in the Port of Skagit as a "tremendous success" and notes that businesses have re-located from Seattle to the Skagit Valley. While those businesses often cite quality of life as a driving factor, Hansen believes Mount Vernon, Burlington, or the Valley would not have been considered without the fiber network.

Jana Hansen shared these thoughts from a business that moved to Mount Vernon from Seattle:

As a Seattle law firm with an integrated information security business for the past twelve years, our Pioneer Square office lease term was ending, and we needed new, larger, space. As we began the process of evaluating our options, we came to realize the significance of the fact that our customers are national, or international, and that less than ten percent of our revenues for the past three years came from Washington. This meant that as far as our customers were concerned, we could relocate our offices anywhere, provided that our new location met three important criteria: (1) access to tech-savvy workforce pool; (2) dependable high-speed business-quality internet; and (3) reasonable proximity to air transportation.

Skagit County, and Mount Vernon in particular, meet and exceed all of these. MV’s location astride I-5 means that our employees can live from Bellingham to Everett and still face a much shorter, and more comfortable, commute than if they lived in Bellevue and travelled to downtown Seattle during rush hour. This huge area is filled with energetic, technically sophisticated potential employees who appreciate the opportunity to avoid the morning grind. Secondly, Mount Vernon’s ahead-of-its-time fiber ring means affordable, dependable internet access of the highest quality. We are accustomed to paying thousands of dollars per month for bandwidth. Not only will we pay less in MV (for more capacity), but fiber optic circuits are more reliable and flexible than the older data lines we have been required to use in Seattle. Finally, the improvements to conveniently located Bellingham’s airport over the past few years have opened up routes all over the country, and more are on the way.

I suppose there are other places that would also meet these three criteria, but none of them match the most important reason of all that we are moving to Mount Vernon: quality of life. No traffic concerns, affordable cost of living and housing, great schools, proximity to major metropolitan areas (Seattle and Vancouver) without the negative points, equal proximity to all that outdoors and nature offer, and, of course, friendly and helpful people who are a pleasure to interact with. We couldn’t imagine moving anywhere else.

For these reasons, we’ll be opening our offices in Mount Vernon this Spring.

Update: Some have asked (rightfully so) for more information about the grants involved in building this network. IS Director Kim Kleppe sent this to Christopher to explain more about the financing:

We had two grants helping to fund various parts of the project. The first one was actually 2001 for $500,000 and the second one in 2005 we received $367,506. Other than that we had a lot of partnerships to help extend and push out various demarcation points and this would be hard to calculate. A lot of the areas we built around were built based on where are facilities were - for example our wastewater pump stations which really covered a lot of area which was partially funded by that utility and where other partners like the Schools, County and Hospital sites were located sharing costs for the build. It was built based on both vision for needs for both public and private needs and is still a growing process, but no debt was incurred and not much of a budget to work with.

The lesson we take away from this is that most communities have many opportunities to make investments like this. Local officials need to be creative and determined. Opportunities rarely surface themselves, they are created by building relationships and coordinating infrastructure efforts.

Virginia Town Provides Free Wi-fi in City Park, Fiber to Community Anchors

Last summer, the city of Staunton, Virginia, sent out a press release about its new citywide free wi-fi service. Four hours later, a destructive storm ripped through Gypsy Hill Park knocking down trees and damaging buildings. Nevertheless, the equipment held on. Five days later, celebrants at the city's July 4th party used the free service in droves.

A William Jackson GCN article from December, 2012, highlights the popularity of the network:

Wi-Fi use in the park had begun well before the formal launch. Almost as soon as installation of the access points began in May, park workers noticed people congregating with their laptops in areas near the points, Plowman said, demonstrating the demand for Wi-Fi access.

Public Wi-Fi has become a popular feature at the park. “People are finding creative uses for it,” [chief technology officer for Staunton, Kurt] Plowman said, such as the woman who used a laptop Web camera to send a ball game in the park to a player’s grandmother.

As we have seen in other communities, a wireless network enhances local connectivity as a complement to a fiber network. Staunton is the County seat of Augusta and home to nearly 25,000 people.

The City owns two separate networks. In addition to the fiber used by city facilities, there is a separate dark fiber network. The city installed the dark fiber with the intention of leasing it to the Staunton Economic Development Authority. The Authority then leases it to local phone, Internet, and wireless provider, MGW. MGW serves residential and commercial customers in south and west Virginia.

In 2012, the city built a new fiber institutional network to avoid having to lease from the private sector.

We touched base with Kurt Plowman who told us that the fiber connects twelve major city facilities, including libraries, fires stations, and public works facilities. There are also over fifty traffic signal cabinets and ten facilities in Gypsy Hill Park on the fiber.

When compared with the city's past lease payments for fiber and data circuits, payback will be complete in 10 years. Additionally, there are more facilities connected and bandwidth is increased.

Plowman also told us that the $1.25 million cost of the project was well below estimates. The build was a Public-Private Educational Facilities Infrastructure Act (PPEA) project in conjunction with Lumos Networks from Waynesboro, Virginia. Lumos performed the engineering, contracting, and project management in exchange for several strands of the fiber. Plowman tells us that all connections are 1 gig but that there is considerable room to increase capacity. Additional dark fiber was engineered into some routes for future expansion. Schools and libraries are connected for free. Update: We connected with Kurt Plowman again who told us that prior to Staunton's infrastructure investment, schools were paying $2,000 per month just to lease fiber.

Orange Wireless logo

In addition to serving schools, libraries, and government facilities, the fiber supports the free wi-fi. From the article:

For Staunton, the driver for public Wi-Fi was the creation of a 30-mile fiber optic city backbone about two years ago to replace the city’s leased lines. Thirteen years ago, telecos had leased the city’s dark fiber, but over the years they had become more interested in selling services than capacity, and the city decided to build out its own infrastructure in cooperation with a local carrier.

“Cost was a driving factor, along with bandwidth,” Plowman said. “We built a better network as a public-private partnership and saved a lot of money in the long run.”

The fiber links about 30 government locations, including Gypsy Hill Park, which has heavy use all summer. The park’s bandstand offers entertainment four or five times a week throughout the summer and there are frequent festivals and other activities. Officials decided that, “for what we’re spending putting fiber in, let’s put something in to give the public something for the expense,” Plowman said.

Staunton first invested in wi-fi about 10 years ago when it was installed in the public library. While city leaders considered providing it in other areas, they did not feel technology was ready to meet their needs. They were also concerned about competing with private carriers. Technology has since advanced and the city has taken special steps to avoid competing with private carriers in the vicinity of the park.

“I’m almost embarrassed to say how easy it was,” Plowman said of the wireless segment. “It was an opportunity to give something back to the public.”