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Opelika Speaks From Experience: Support Local Authority!

Opelika has offered FTTH to residents and businesses for less than six months but already it is singing the praises of local choice. Mayor Gary Fuller is now speaking out in an opinion piece in AL.com, encouraging the FCC to allow Wilson, Chattanooga, and other communities to have the same opportunity as Opelika.

Mayor Fuller points out that local telecommunications authority is an organic outgrowth of local self-reliance:

Cities have always been at the heart of economic expansion, entrepreneurialism, and local connection to citizens, charged with ensuring high-quality education for our children, caring for our sick and elderly neighbors, and laying the foundation for shared prosperity. As we look to the years ahead, high-speed broadband will only become more and more important to the quality and vitality of our community. 

That's why in Opelika, I led the charge to become the first city in Alabama to offer this cutting edge technology, both to residential and business customers. As a result, Opelika citizens now have access to fast, reliable broadband speeds that will turn possibilities into real opportunities. Businesses now have more opportunities to expand and grow, work more effectively and efficiently, and compete in a larger market. 

As one of over 450 communities that have invested in the infrastructure for better connectivity, Opelika can speak from experience. Mayor Fuller encourages all FCC Commissioners to support the notion of local choice:

The important fact is that every city must have the power to make the best decisions for their residents, free of interference. That's why the Federal Communications Commission should join Chairman Wheeler in preserving these two communities' right to self-determination. 

In Opelika, our citizens are building a stronger more prosperous city based on local Internet choice. If more cities have those same opportunities, someday soon it may not be so strange for a 30,000-person city to offer blazing fast Internet.

Check out Opelika's recent marketing videos and listen to Chris interview Mayor Fuller back in Episode #40 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Want FTTH? Move to North Dakota, Reports USDA

A recent USDA report reveals that fossil fuels are not the only thing booming in North Dakota. The state ranked 47 for population is ranked number 1 as having the highest percentage of people with access to FTTH

According to a Telecompetitor article, their status can be attributed to an abundance of rural cooperatives and small telecom companies. These local providers have made it their business to fill the gaps left behind by large corporate ISPs that cannot justify investing in rural deployment. Given that most of North Dakota is rural, approximately 96% of the state is served by these smaller providers. The State Broadband map shows a total of 41 providers, including 17 cooperatives and 24 privately owned providers of varying size.

Another advantage to rural status? These cooperatives and small providers have qualified for USDA programs aimed at improving connectivity in sparsely populated regions. The report notes that the USDA has invested $338 million in grants and loans in North Dakota through its various telecommunications programs. 

The report also profiles the importance of the Dakota Carrier Network (DCN), a collaboration among many of the rural providers that criss-crosses the state with 1,460 miles of fiber backbone. The full report is available for download [PDF].

In 2012, we shared the story of the extensive network deployed by Dickey Rural Network (DRN) and Dakota Central Telecommuncations (DCT) cooperatives. DCT has produced a video about the benefits of the collaboration:

Video: 
See video

Massachusetts Towns Consider WiredWest Opportunity

Eleven Select boards in Franklin County are ready to take the next step with WiredWest Cooperative. According to the Recorder, the towns of Ashfield, Charlemont, Colrain, Hawley, Heath, Leyden, New Salem, Rowe, Shutesbury, Warwick and Wendell have all approved nonbinding resolutions taking them into the financial planning phase.

Last fall, the organization and the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) agreed to meet on a regular schedule. The two organizations began meeting with town Select Boards in order to update them on financial obligations to help them decide whether or not to participate.

WiredWest Cooperative has worked with The Western Massachusetts Legislative Delegation On The Last Mile Broadband Solution to create a strategy to improve connectivity statewide. In addition to WiredWest, the group included MBI, the Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG), and the Mass TechCollaborative. Several state lawmakers, including Senator Stan Rosenberg, participated in the delegation.

The state will supply approximately $40 million in grant funding to MBI, that will disburse the funds, to defray the costs of deployment in hill towns. The Recorder reported:

[Monica] Webb, [speaking for WiredWest Cooperative] said the first thing town officials want to know is how much of that $40 million grant will be available to reduce their town’s share of the cost.

“The first step was to determine which towns want to participate,” said Webb. “Now that we know, there’s detailed engineering to be done. ... The numbers the towns will get will be our best estimate. We’re still refining our best estimates, but I expect that will be done over the next month.

“Towns have told us they need that information as soon as possible,” she added. “We’re working to make that happen.

“The other thing we’re going to focus on, over the next months, is a pre-subscription campaign. We won’t build out (the fiber optic network) in a town until the town has at least 40 percent (of its subscription base), who have signed up and given a deposit.”

Webb said pre-subscribers will be asked to pay a $50 deposit, which will go into an escrow account; once the town is wired, that deposit will be used to reduce their first Internet service bill.

The cooperative has more than 40 member communities. Their pre-subscription campaign will begin in late January. In February and March, WiredWest and MBI will hold informational meetings with local officials and work on business and operational plans.

As WiredWest makes its way across Massachusetts, local communities are deciding whether or not to invest to take advantage of the new connection to the big pipe that is MassBroadband 123. Leyden, population approximately 700, will vote at its annual spring town meeting whether or not to work with WiredWest to deploy fiber in Leyden.

A December article in the Recorder reported that the Selectboard voted to support the measure which would require a two-thirds vote at the annual town meeting. A debt exclusion vote will be held if that measure passes and requires a majority vote. The debt exclusion will allow Leyden to borrow in order to fund the municipal build out.

The current estimate for a network in Leyden is between $900,000 and $1.77 million. The most recent decision by the Selectboard will allow MBI to develop a more accurate plan and detailed estimate according to the Recorder.

Part of Leyden has DSL service but a 2012 WiredWest survey indicated that 56% of Leyden residents were interested in better connectivity. Popular opinion in Leyden among locals is that lack of fast, affordable, reliable connectivity scares away potential home buyers and new businesses. Al Woodhull, Leyden's alternate WiredWest delegate told the Recorder:

A new DSL connection was one of the reasons Woodhull bought his home five years ago.

“The house had been on the market for several years, and the previous owner had been very pleased to get DSL, because she hadn’t been able to sell the house without any kind of high-speed Internet,” he said.

Elected officials in these smaller communities have tossed around the investment for months. Few of these small communities are accustomed to such large investments and political leaders understand the risk aversion. From a November Recorder article:

“I don’t think this is a hard sell for a finance committee, but I think it’s a terribly hard sell for a town meeting,” said Charlemont Finance Committee member Toby Gould. “Unless marketing comes up with proposals that are easily understood, they won’t buy it. ... They have to be convinced this project is worth investing in.”

Local channel WWLP spoke to Leyden residents in December [video below]:

James Finney has lived in Leyden over a decade and would welcome high speed internet access. He said, “If all the other places in the county are getting the high speed and we’re back in the older technology, it certainly is going to diminish the chances that we’re going to be able to attract the businesses and the educational opportunities that are out there.”

Ting Delivering FTTH Is Great News for Community Fiber - Community Broadband Bits Episode 134

In recent weeks, we have been excited to see announcements from Ting, a company long known for being a great wireless provider (both Lisa and I are customers), that is now getting into FTTH deployments. The first announcement was from Charlottesville where it acquired another company. Last week they announced a partnership with Westminster, Maryland.

This week we interview Elliot Noss, CEO of Tucows, which is the parent of Ting. Elliot has long been active in preserving and expanding the open Internet.

We discuss many issues from Ting's success in wireless to cities dealing with permitting and access in rights-of-way to Ting's willingness and enthusiasm to operate on municipal fiber open access networks. We finish with some musings on upcoming over the top video technologies like SlingTV from Dish.

Both Elliot and I are presenting at the upcoming Freedom to Connect event in New York City on March 2 and 3rd.

Read the transcript of this episode here.

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

This show is 27 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 Persson for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Blues walk."

SandyNet Now Offering Gigabit FTTH in Oregon

Back in September, SandyNet announced that its FTTH gigabit network was officially up and running. The utility will continue to expand and eventually bring the network to all 4,000 households. Light Reading recently spoke with Joe Knapp, Sandy's IT Director and general manager of the broadband utility about the new offering. With a population of 10,000, Sandy is in Oregon between Portland and Mount Hood.

The network is completely underground. Sandy is one of many communities that have developed smart conduit policies, reducing the cost and preparing the environment for deployment over a period of years.

You can listen to our discussion with Knapp on Sandy's conduit policy in Episode 17 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. We also spoke with City Manager Scott Lazenby about Sandy's conduit policies during Episode 48.

Like many other communities we study, Sandy invested in connectivity out of necessity. Knapp told Light Reading:

"We started out because we couldn't get a DSL line at city hall," says Joe Knapp, IT director for the City of Sandy and general manager of SandyNet. The utility first built a 900MHz wireless network, then WiFi, then a wireless mesh network to connect residents to broadband, he says. "That became so popular that we took about 40% of the market with wireless, but that was a hard thing to sustain."

The journey to FTTH was not an easy one:

"We started to realize that a lot of communities are doing this," Knapp says. "It took three years of beating my head against the wall to finally get it to happen."

Gigabit speeds are something to boast about, but Knapp says SandyNet will not go to extremes to push them:

"As a muni network, we view this as trying to benefit the community. I tell them to try the 100-Meg service first -- we're actually not pushing the gig that hard."

Pricing for gigabit service is $59.95 per month; 100 Mbps service is $39.95 per month. All speeds are symmetrical and there are no caps or contracts.

Gigabit Muni Fiber Partnership: Westminster and Ting

Westminster's city council just voted unanimously to establish a partnership with Ting, reports the Carroll County Times. Known primarily as a mobile service provider, Ting wants to offer Internet services via the new municipal fiber optic network. Ting announced earlier this month that it would soon begin offering Internet service in Charlottesville, Virginia as well.

In their own announcement about the partnership, CTC Technology & Energy's Joanne Hovis described the arrangement:

The City will fund, own, and maintain the fiber; Ting will lease the fiber and provide all equipment and services. Ting will pay the City to use the fiber—reducing the City’s risk while enabling Ting to offer Gigabit Internet in Westminster without having to build a fiber network from scratch.

CTC has worked with Westminster since the beginning to analyze the community's situation, assets, and challenges. 

We have watched Westminster's idea blossom into a pilot project and then go full bloom to a planned 60-mile network when demand dictated nothing less. The project has been community driven and community minded. It comes to no surprise to us that a straight shooting, consumer minded provider such as Ting would be the partner Westminster would choose.

Dr. Robert Wack, city council member and local project leader told the Times:

"From the very beginning, it was obvious that they [Ting] understood what we were trying to do," said Council President Robert Wack. "We got a lot of feedback from other responses that was questioning to flat-out skeptical."

Ting considers the arrangement an organic step for them. From the press release:

It all feels like a really nice model for how this stuff should work. The city of Westminster builds a fiber network underneath the streets, driveways, hills and valleys they know best and ultimately owns their own future. We do pretty much exactly what we have been doing for our mobile customers for three years. Most importantly, the people of Westminster, Maryland will join the ranks of Seoul, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Chattanooga and, soon, Charlottesville, Virginia with blazing fast, video streaming, photo uploading, economy driving, job creating Internet to boast and enjoy.

For more on the project, listen to Chris's interview with Dr. Wack in Episode #100 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. We will feature Ting in an upcoming episode of Community Broadband Bits.

Update: Motherboard has a story with a great quote from Dr. Robert Wack: 

"We want to blow this thing up, and we want disruptive services at disruptive pricing," Robert Wack, Westminster's city council president, told me. "We've got Comcast and its usual suite of services, Verizon DSL, with its patchy service areas, and dish and satellite services. Nobody is happy with any of it, and none of it has the capacity we need to take this city into the future."

Error - we previously wrote North Carolina rather than Virginia. This is Charlottesville, Virginia.

Community Broadband Media Roundup - January 9

Susan Crawford’s latest piece on municipal broadband discussed a real problem that mayors of communities can have a definite impact in helping resolve: the digital divide.

Think of that divide, now amplifying and entrenching existing social problems in your city, as similar to a failure to provide a functional street grid. You don’t have to provide retail services yourself, just as you don’t have to provide the cars and businesses that use your streets. Consider the case of Ammon, Idaho, a small conservative town that built a passive fiber (as opposed to fiber-optic) network over which a host of competing service providers can sell directly to residents. Only a city builds streets; similarly, no private company would have an incentive to serve everyone with basic infrastructure, but every private company will rejoice in having reasonably-priced, unlimited communications capacity as a basic input into everything it needs to do. For more evidence, look at Chattanooga, Tennessee.

In Massachusetts, WWLP’s Anthony Hill reported on the small city of Leyden, whose residents may finally be getting high speed Internet access. The city is supporting a $2 million project, which will be up for a vote by residents this coming spring. 

The Monroe Courier reported this week on how 25% of Connecticut towns could soon be a formidable force against big cable. The cities are joining together to demand better connectivity and to make the state the nation’s first Gigabit State. Our story on Connecticut here.

“The response from our state’s towns has been overwhelming,” Consumer Counsel Katz said.  “I’ve heard over and over that municipal officials are frustrated with available internet speeds and the cost to their towns of upgrading internet networks.  These 46 municipalities have made the decision to take control of the situation.  From the high school to the town hall to the library, the demand for faster internet speeds and greater bandwidth is ever-increasing. Businesses face the same challenges, and we know more residents than ever are asking the same question: How do we get faster, cheaper, more reliable internet? Partnering with the private sector to examine the best way to build and finance these Gig networks is the first step in making them a reality in Connecticut.”

From California’s Mendocino County, we found yet another reason why communities should consider municipal fiber: residents there are still dealing with damage inflicted after an AT&T broadband outage left people with out phone and Internet for nearly 45 hours! Adam Randall with the Ukiah Daily Journal reported that officials say the outage was due in part to AT&T’s refusal to upgrade its copper wiring.

“AT&T's unwillingness to address repair issues in Mendocino County in a timely manner is something that has continued to irk [chairman of the Broadband Alliance of Mendocino County, Jim] Moorehead, along with other officials, including Congressman Jared Huffman.

Some of the affected customers are now experiencing landline outages, with the biggest concern being those who are not able to connect with 911 in case of an emergency, Moorehead said.”

Joan Engebretson wrote about North Dakota’s surprisingly high fiber-to-the-home percentage

…because North Dakota is so rural, 96% of the state (on a geographic basis) is served by one of 18 small rural telecom companies – and those companies have made deploying FTTH a high priority.

The small companies’ rural status also has enabled them to benefit from several USDA programs. According to a report released in late December, the USDA has invested more than $330 million in broadband in North Dakota since 2009…

Brian Heaton with GovTech covered Iowa governor Terry Branstad’s plan to “connect every Iowan.” 

“For Iowa to remain competitive in an increasingly global marketplace, we must connect every acre to high-speed broadband Internet,” Centers said. “Not only does that mean connecting agriculture to high-speed Internet, but it also means making sure Iowa’s schools have the ability to give our children access to educational resources available online and main street businesses can connect with the global marketplace.”

Google and Title II

The FCC’s decision on reclassifying the Internet as a utility could be music to Google Fiber’s ears.

TechDirt’s Karl Bode again weighed in on how ISPs use utility pole rights to block both private and municipal broadband projects:

Bureaucratic pole attachment rights negotiations are already sometimes annoyingly cumbersome, but they're also one of many ways incumbent ISPs thwart competitive efforts. Municipal broadband efforts in Utah, for example, were hindered by a litany of Qwest (now CenturyLink) lawsuits aimed at blocking local community ISP Utopia from having access to the company's poles. In Austin, where AT&T owns around 20% of the city's utility poles, Google Fiber ran into some initial obstacles getting pole attachment rights because AT&T argued Google wasn't officially a telecom company. 

And Martin Blanc with BidnessEtc continued to explain how the search engine giant would benefit greatly from reclassification as Title II.  

“[Google Director of Communications Law Austin Schlick] told the FCC in a letter last week that such reclassification will promote competition in the industry and induce more investment in the sector, and will also promote the provision of broadband Internet to more markets.”

Reid Schram with Epoch Times broke it down to Google's bottom line:

“Google is asking for this because as they’ve been trying to roll out their high speed Google Fiber service to different areas, they have run into major problems getting permission to access things like utility poles and cable carrying conduits. AT&T and Comcast have long been afforded ease of access to these key pieces of infrastructure, as they are classified as a cable tv provider, and thus a utility."

2015

A couple of writers this week commented that America’s slow-to-the-draw connectivity may be a good thing– it could serve as a wake up call for communities that want to take back their local authority. 

Bruce Kushnick predicted 2015 will include a lot of hair-pulling by cable and phone customers: 

... There is one shining light -- A wise friend of mine once said, "It has to get so bad that people actually notice." With 4 million people commenting about Net Neutrality, the so called "ISPs" being considered the 'most hated companies in America' in 2013 and Time Warner and Comcast being the most hated companies in 2014 -- out-stripping every other industry, or that the major media actually used the term "Title II"-- maybe, just maybe, the sheep have woken up from their slumber.

But, right now, for communications, the year 2015 looks like it will just suck to be a customer of America's telecom-cable trust."

The Washington Post’s Brian Fung reported on the proposed new definition of broadband: 25 Mbps. He said that Wheeler’s recommendation recognizes that the government is finally catching up to technology advancements:

“In 2012, the most recent year for which the FCC has published data, 94 percent of Americans already had access to download speeds of at least 3 Mbps. While that may have been enough for most people then, it represents the bare minimum now."

Top of the Dung Heap Awards 

Tech Dirt’s Karl Bode and Erika Rawes with The Wall Street Cheat Sheet listed the Top 10 WORST businesses in 2014. Spoiler Alert: SEVEN out of the 10 from Big Telecom. We could have been knocked over by a feather by shear surprise… not really.

"It’s frustrating. And although the customer service rep claims to “understand you are frustrated today,” there is only so much these reps can do, given they are trained to utilized the most inexpensive and cost-effective potential “solutions” for the business, as opposed to doing what’s easiest and most convenient for the customer.

On top of the fact that customer service reps are often trained to lean toward inexpensive solutions that drive customers crazy, most reps are also working for sub-par wages. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), customer service reps are paid median hourly wages of around $14.85 per hour and those on the lower end of the wage scale earn less than $9.50 per hour. However, in 2001, the median hourly wage for these representatives was $12.23 — or $16.31 in today’s money.

Not only have wages declined for these workers, automated systems and online systems have reduced the need for them. Sure, customers want human interaction, but they also want that interaction to be friendly and productive. This personal and friendly interaction is something so many businesses lack."

But you can take (some) solace in this: you may now find it easier to complain about that telephone and cable service! 

The FCC unveiled its new “one-stop shop” complaint site for filing and tracking complaints about robocalls and fraudulent charges. Teresa McUsic with SavvyConsumer gave a full list of where and how to complain early, and often.

Correcting Community Fiber Fallacies: The Reality of Lafayette's Gigabit Network

Publication Date: 
October 13, 2014
Author(s): 
Christopher Mitchell

In just the last year the Lafayette Utility System (LUS) gigabit network has attracted 1,300 high-tech jobs. Chairman Wheeler praised 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 the Reason Foundation's report should be helpful to any community considering its own municipal network investment. This document includes common arguments and responses both for and against such networks.

Download or read the full report at ILSR.org.

All Hands on Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access

Publication Date: 
September 23, 2014
Author(s): 
Lisa Gonzalez
Author(s): 
Christopher Mitchell

Minneapolis, MN —In 2010 the Minnesota legislature set a goal: universal access to high speed broadband throughout the state by 2015. It is now 2015 and large parts of Greater Minnesota will not achieve that goal, even as technological advances make the original benchmarks increasingly obsolete.

But some Minnesota communities are significantly exceeding those goals. Why? The activism of local governments.

A new report by ILSR, widely recognized as one of the most knowledgeable organizations on municipal broadband networks, details the many ways Minnesota’s local governments have stepped up. “All Hands On Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access” includes case studies of 12 Minnesota cities and counties striving to bring their citizens 21st century telecommunications.

 

  • Windom, which is one of the most advanced networks in the state, built their own network after their telephone company refused to invest in their community.
  • Dakota County showed how a coordinated excavation policy can reduce by more than 90 percent the cost of installing fiber.
  • Lac qui Parle County partnered with a telephone cooperative to bring high speed broadband to its most sparsely population communities.

Read how these and other communities took control of their own connectivity and their community vitality. Some did it alone while others established partnerships; each chose the path they considered the best for their own community.

 

Ting to Offer Fiber Internet Service in Charlottesville

Comcast may be an ISP Goliath, but a new David will soon move to Charlottesville. Tucows Inc., recently announced that it plans to begin serving as an ISP in the area and will eventually expand to other markets.

In a Motherboard article, CEO Elliot Noss said:

"At the simplest level, we'll be offering a lot more product for the same price, and a much better customer experience. We want to become like a mini Google fiber."

The company began in the 1990s and is known for registering and selling premium domain names and hosting corporate emails accounts. Two years ago they ventured into wireless cell service and were immediately praised for their top notch customer service and no-frills billing. Tucows promises to fill the customer service gap left by incumbent Comcast, one of the most hated companies in America.

Tucows will operate its Internet service under its cellular brand, Ting. It will take over existing fiber infrastructure owned by Blue Ridge InternetWorks and will begin serving customers as early as the first quarter of 2015. Ting hopes to be able to charge less than $100 per month for gigabit fiber service. Comcast charges $90 per month for 50 Mbps and CenturyLink charges $40 per month for 10 Mbps in Charlottesville.

As far as "fast lanes" go? From the Motherboard article:

Noss said that the company is dedicated to net neutrality as a "sensible business practice" and said "it's our responsibility to make sure content like Netflix is fast on our network. We're not looking for content providers to pay us in a double-sided fashion."

Ting reaffirms that philosophy on the Ting Blog:

Tucows believes very strongly in the open Internet. Up until now, there wasn’t a whole lot we could do but educate, agitate and contribute. Getting into fixed access, owning our own pipe, is an opportunity for us to practice what we preach when it comes to the open Internet and net neutrality.

Noss told Motherboard the company is looking beyond Charlottesville and taking input from an interested public at their website. They will first look at partnering, buying infrastructure, and leasing fiber from local governments. From the article:

"The one thing we won't do is spend a lot of time convincing people of the need for a fiber network,” he said. “We think that's a waste of time, and I think people already see the value.”