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As Emmetsburg Plans to Vote on Muni Network, Mediacom Misinforms

The Iowa community of 4,000 will take up Public Measure D on November 5th. Voters will decided whether to approve a $3.5 million bond issue to cover approximately half the cost to build a FTTH system. Incumbent Mediacom is distributing flyers throughout the community urging a "no" vote. Community leaders are doing their best to combat Mediacom's propaganda by educating the voters.

We reported about the community's 1998 vote to establish a municipal cable communications or television system. The city did not act on the vote at the time because the project was cost prohibitive. The estimated cost of the project is now about $3 million less than it was in the late 1990s. Emmetsburg wants to seize the opportunity by joining The Community Agency (TCA), a coalition of municipalities in the region that collectively own a hybrid fiber coaxial cable network. Emmetsburg would join with a full fiber network.

The town currently provides natural gas, water and wastewater services through its municipal utility.

In a flyer [pdf] aimed at convincing locals to vote no, Mediacom brags that "Customers in Emmetsburg get the same services as those in larger cities..." Unfortunately, Mediacom's service in larger cities is also awful and more suited to the late 1990's than the modern digital economy. Consumer Reports has rated Mediacom among the absolute worst Internet providers in the United States.

Public Question D reads:

"Shall the City of Emmetsburg, Iowa issue its notes in an amount not to exceed $3,500,000 for the purpose of paying costs of constructing and equipping all or part of the Emmetsburg Municipal Communications Utility, including the acquisition, construction and installation of a fiber to the premise broadband communications system and related equipment and distribution facilities, and including all or a portion of the costs associated with connecting the Emmetsburg Municipal Communications Utility fiber system with the system of the Community Cable Television Agency of O'Brien County a cooperative undertaking among the cities of Hartley, Paullina, Primghar and Sanborn pursuant to the provisions of Chapter 28E, Code of Iowa?" 

In addition to $3.5 million in General Obligation bonds, the Emmetsburg Municipal Utilities would issue $2.63 million in Revenue bonds.

Emmetsburg Utilities

A recent Reporter/Democrat article covered an October 29th information session in Emmetsburg. Representatives from the Emmetsburg Municipal Utility Board of Trustees hosted the meeting to educate voters. A panel of technical experts and community leaders answered residents' questions. 

Curtis Dean [Broadband Services Coordinator from the Iowa Municipal Utilities Association] cited "a real world example: "I was in Spencer for the first decade of the Century, 2000 to 2010. People in Spencer saved over $10 million total on what they paid for their telecommunication vs comparable cities served by the same providers nearby. By the way, when we calculated those numbers in Spencer, we were using Emmetsburg as the comparison." 

If the referendum does not pass, the project will not move forward. If the community approves the measure, public officials estimate construction as early as next spring.

Community leaders urge voters to vote yes. The Mayor and five City Council members published an "Open Letter To Citizens Of The Emmetsburg Community" encouraging a positive vote:

We encourage each and every eligible voter in Emmetsburg to take the time to cast your respective vote on November 5th. This is a very important decision and is one that we should make as a community. Together, we've accomplished many great things in the past. We look forward to continuing to do more of the same in the future. 

A recent letter in the Reporter/Democrat from the Emmetsburg Municipal Utilities Board of Trustees summed up the critical situation that faces many small towns with little or no telecommunications competition:

Progress needs to be supported. If we are not trying to grow we are dying. Many small county seat towns in Iowa are suffering economically and shrinking in terms of population and their ability to be viable for their citizens. This initiative to bring local telecommunications ownership back to Emmetsburg is critical in these efforts to maintain and grow our small community.

Burlington's Next Step: Become a Gigabit Community

Burlington has seen ups and downs over the past few years but a new chapter is about to begin. The non-profit U.S. Ignite and the City are partnering to create BTV Ignite. The initiative will develop a gigabit community infrastructure and the applications that use it. With help from U.S. Ignite, Burlington will join the growing list of gigabit communities.

An advisory committee is fueling interest in the project. Mayor Miro Weinberger describes the effort as a way to develop a tech friendly local economy and increase access for individuals and institutions. A recent Government Technology article quoted the Mayor:

“We believe we’re well on our way to being the first city in the country that provides gigabit access to every student from kindergarten through college and even graduate school here in Burlington,” Weinberger said. 

The City and its partner have developed five critical steps based on consultation with Kansas City, Chattanooga, and other gigabit communities:

1.    Develop Structure to Foster Applications-Driven Energy

Much like the KC Digital Drive in Kansas City, [Executive Director of U.S. Ignite Bill] Wallace said the mayor’s advisory committee must play a key role in helping drive development.

2.    Create the Most Robust Infrastructure

Wallace said this will be particularly necessary for schools, businesses and libraries.

3.    Embrace Technology Through Community Events and Hackathons

By setting up a continuous stream of events like community hackathons, digital sandboxes and a hacker homes network similar to one developed in Kansas City, the city will be able to focus more on app development for specific capabilities, like cybersecurity or the development of complex systems.

4.    Share Practices With Other Cities to Deploy Networks

This could also mean sharing practices on how to generate applications.

5.    Tap into Federal Resources

Wallace said looking to federally funded resources like the National Science Foundation will be important when building out the infrastructure and developing applications.

Burlington hopes to secure a Global Environment for Network Innovations (GENI) rack for its University of Vermont campus. The rack would come from the National Science Foundation and would allow UVM access to researchers at over 40 other universities.

The initiative also aims to create 60 next-generation applications and 200 "community test beds" where the new applications can be developed and eventually deployed.

At an October 15th event to announce the partnership, Wallace and Mayor Weinberger address the ongoing lawsuit between community owned Burlington Telecom and Citibank. The Burlington Free Press covered the event:

“We were aware of that, but basically the capability is there, and that makes Burlington a logical and very attractive candidate to become part of US Ignite,” Wallace said.

“There is some uncertainty about where the dispute with Citibank, CitiCapital is going, but we think it’s time to move forward with this conversation,” Weinberger added. “We think the high likelihood is that these resources are going to exist in this community for a long time to come.”

Longmont Referendum: Haven't We Been Here Before?

November 5th probably seems like deja vu for the people of Longmont, Colorado. For the third time, the voters will respond to a ballot question that will impact their community's connectivity. Past referendums addressed whether or not the community could use its fiber ring for connecting businesses and residents.

They now have that authority. This year the question will be "when?"

Local incumbent providers grossly outspent municipal network supporters in 2009 and in 2011 with astroturf campaigns against referendums. Nevertheless, voters decided in 2011 to grant the local utility permission to use existing fiber resources to bring connectivity to businesses and residents. 

Since then, Longmont Power and Communications (LPC) began a slow build-out of fiber to businesses and homes within 500 feet of the existing loop. Local businesses, frustrated with poor service from Comcast and CenturyLink, jumped at the opportunity to have real high-speed connections. With a long list of businesses in queue for their connections, the City Council voted to use LPC reserve funds to connect businesses and residents to the loop. Clearly, the people of Longmont were ready for something better than the existing incumbent services.

Local blogger Steve Elliott connected to the service in September. To satisfy his curiosity, he ran speed tests immediately before and after he transitioned from Comcast service.

Comcast timed in at 26.08 Mbps download and 5.76 Mbps upload. LPC provided 89.99 Mbps download and 62.01 Mbps upload

From his post:

I also timed downloading movies on Netflix on my TV. Before, I could run upstairs, get an adult beverage and be back in my chair before the movie loaded. Now – if it takes 10 seconds – it’s a really long movie. 

Thumbnail of comic strip

After a month with LPC fiber and new computer system, Elliott ran more speed tests. Results topped out at 739.66 Mbps download and 534.75 upload for LPC Fiber.

Elliott also compared prices:

Comcast: $71.95 per month ($863.40 per year)

LPC Fiber $49.95 per month ($599.40 per year)

We compared Comcast to Longmont fiber in this entertaining comic strip.

Elliott is not the only Longmont resident who wants to connect to LPC fiber. Calls to "get it done" from residents and businesses did not fall on deaf ears at the May Longmont City Council meeting. The Council voted unanimously to bring fiber to every resident and business that wants it. Next, community leaders and LPC investigated financing. The reserve fund, developed from years of dark fiber lease revenue, could pay for the expansion but the project would drag out over a decade.

Rather than see the project finished in more than ten years, the community can become entirely connected within three years with a $44 million revenue bond issue. LPC will use $35.4 million as capital to build out the network and the remaining as reserve for debt-service. State legislation sponsored by USWest from 2005 imposed the referendum requirement on local communities; the voters must decide. USWest became Qwest became CenturyLink.

The Times-Call reproduced the 2B Ballot Question language:

"Without raising taxes, shall city of Longmont debt be increased in an amount not to exceed $45,300,000 by the issuance of revenue bonds for the purpose of financing fiber optic system capital improvements to provide high-speed broadband service, including but not limited to internet, voice and video services; and shall the bonds be paid solely from the city's electric and broadband utility enterprise revenues and be sold in one series or more at a price above, below or equal to the principal amount of such Bonds and with such terms and conditions, including provisions for redemption prior to maturity with or without payment of a premium of not more than 3%, as the city council may determine?"

Friends of Fiber in Longmont

Unlike past referendums, gigantic telecom providers have not spent large amounts of cash to fuel misinformation campaigns this time. Local citizen group, Friends of Fiber, is prepared to face-off against Comcast and CenturyLink. From a Times-Call article:

"It's as baffling to us as it is to you," said Scott Converse of the pro-2B group Friends of Fiber, which had been expecting to see another large push by the telecom companies. So far, he said, the only "anti" activity anyone in the group had seen was a telephone poll in September by Frederick Poll, a Virginia-based firm.

"We're wondering if maybe there's going to be a push near the end," Converse said. "I can't imagine why they're waiting."

The silence is welcome but a little eerie.

The City provides a PDF brochure on Ballot Question 2B that addresses many common questions. For more about the measure and the benefits springing from the network, listen to Chris' interviews with LPC's Vince Jordan. In the Broadband Bits podcast, Episode #10, Jordan describes the challenges LPC Fiber faced. Episode #68 deals with the upcoming referendum. Chris talks with Jordan and George Oliver from Friends of Fiber.

Update: In a letter to the editor, George Oliver wrote:

We have been providing our own electricity for more than 100 years and our rates are among the lowest in the nation. The same will be true if we expand our own fiber network. Because Longmont Power & Communications is a not-for-profit agency of the city, our low rates and network availability will help to retain and attract businesses to our city. This is the kind of visionary investment that will pay big dividends down the road.

Wilson's Greenlight Leads North Carolina in Connectivity: Community Broadband Bits Episode #70

Greenlight, a muni FTTH network in eastern North Carolina's city of Wilson, is proving to be a powerful tool in attracting new residents and businesses. We spoke with General Manager Will Aycock about the network and how it has benefited the community.

Our interview covers a number of subjects, including how the network is attracting new residents to the area and helping businesses to be more competitive in part by providing an incredibly reliable product - more than five years without an outage to its major commercial subscribers.

The schools in the entire County are connected, allowing them to take advantage of all major technological innovations. First responders, especially fire fighters, are better able to train and respond to incidents because of benefits from the fiber network. All this and more in the audio below.

We previously published a case study of Wilson's Greenlight and also wrote about how Time Warner Cable responded to the network by lobbying for a law to make sure no other community could copy Wilson. And last year, we interviewed Catharine Rice about that law in episode 5 of this series.

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 18 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 Mudhoney for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

New Comic: Longmont Fiber Crushes Comcast's Cable Outhouse

Longmont Power and Communications, a city-owned utility north of Denver in Colorado, is slowly rolling out a FTTH network to local businesses and residents that are in close proximity to its existing fiber loop. They are offering a symmetrical gigabit of Internet access for just $50/month.

Longmont Fiber Comic Strip

Download this comic as a pdf. Sign up for our one-email-per-week newsletter with ongoing coverage of community owned networks.

The local newspaper notes that some local businesses have already signed on, including a clinic:

Jurey said the city's network is three times faster than the speeds the clinic got before at a cost savings of $1,600 a month.

On November 5, citizens will decide a referendum on whether to expedite the building by issuing revenue bonds without increasing local taxes. A brochure explaining pro and con is available here [pdf]. Approving the bonds means building the network to everyone in a few years while not approving it will mean building the network over several decades.

We recently did a podcast with Longmont Power and Communications Broadband Services Manager Vince Jordan and a local citizen campaigning for the referendum. Listen to that show here.

Read the rest of our coverage about Longmont here.

ECFiber: Significant Expansion in the Vermont Crowd-Funded Network

The East Central Vermont Community Fiber Network (ECFiber) continues to grow, tripling in size in just the past year. We reported last summer that the community owned network had raised the funding for an expansion. Fundraising and reach surpassed the original expansion plan and the network now boasts 180 miles. 

The Valley News recently reported that:

Next year, ECFiber plans to focus on connecting customers in unserved parts of Royalton, Strafford, Norwich, Tunbridge and Sharon.

ECFiber is seeking additional investment during this quarter to finance the work next year, and has set a goal of having more than 1,000 customers connected by the end of 2014.

ECFiber seeks funding by selling tax-exempt promissory notes to local investors. There are 23 member towns in the ECFiber consortium, including Montpelier. For detailed maps of service area and planned expansions, check out the ECFiber's Where Are We Working page.

The article goes on to note that Tim Nulty is planning to retire from his position as CEO of ValleyNet, the nonprofit behind ECFiber. Nulty will take on the role of board Chairman. Leslie Nulty will also shift from project coordinator and will continue as a ValleyNet board member. 

Leslie visited with Chris in the Broadband Bits podcast episode #9. She shared ECFiber's history and the two discussed the community owned network model that is ECFiber.

Rates Approved for Opelika Community Fiber Network

We have followed happenings in Opelika, Alabama, for three years as the community investigated the benefits of a fiber network. They contended with a Charter misinformation campaign and voted yes on a referendum. Construction began in 2012, Opelika Power Services (OPS) tested the network, and recently the Opelika City Council approved proposed rates. 

OANow.com now reports that the FTTH network and smart grid project is ever-so-close to offering triple play services to the city's 28,000 residents and local businesses. 

OPS offers three standard bundled plans, but customers can also customize. All three include voice:

  • Essential - $99.95 - 75 channels, 10/5 Mbps data
  • Choice - $139.95 - 132 HD & SD channels, 30/30 Mbps data
  • Ultra - $154.95 - 207 HD & SD channels, 30/30 Mbps data

Data offerings for customized plans range from 10/5 Mbps for $34.95 to 1 Gbps symmetrical for $499.95.

Voters approved the plan for the $41 million network in 2010. The project included a $3.7 million network hub that houses all OPS offices. The smart grid will help approximately 12,000 OPS electric customers save with efficient electric usage.June Owens, manager of marketing at OPS said it well in an August OANow.com article:

“Fiber is going to put Opelika on the map like never before,” Owens said. “Opelika should be very proud. Nobody in the state is doing a project like this. And there is not much outside the state of Alabama like this. This is 100 percent fiber to the home. Fiber to the house doesn’t require the electronics in the field – this eliminates problems in the field that you might have with other types of systems. It is truly state-of-the-art equipment at its best.”

While this project is certainly a landmark in Alabama, it is curious to see a community owned fiber network offering assymetrical services on the standard tier - with 10 Mbps download and 5 Mbps uploads. Though many community owned networks offer assymetrical packages, the vast majority were built more than 5 years ago. Most modern fiber networks have launched with the same upstream capacity as downstream.

Additionally, we have been accustomed to seeing community fiber networks launching with a faster standard tier in order to clearly differentiate themselves from competitors using older technologies like cable and DSL. Cable, and DSL to a lesser extent, can compete with 10/5 packages.

But we don't know the situation on the ground - it is not hard to believe that Charter's services are so bad that a reliable and affordable 10/5 will be warmly received by many households. We are curious to see how the marketing war plays out in Opelika and wish them the best as they roll out the network.

For more about Opelika's project, listen to Christopher interview Mayor Gary Fuller and Jennifer McCain from the Motive Group in Episode #40 of the Broadband Bits podcast. In addition to the story of the network, the two discuss the political challenges that inevitably accompany any large publicly funded project.

Hilarious Video Compares Fiber to the Home with Fiber to the Node

Another great video from Australia makes many salient points regarding the debate over their national broadband network. One key point to take away is that it is possible to talk to non-technical normal people about this subject without overwhelming them or boring them.

Another is that FTTN = fiber to the nowhere, not fiber to the node.  

When it comes to building infrastructure, we should make smart long term investments. That said, we are strongly supportive of locally owned, fiber networks. Local ownership trumps national ownership because proximity lends itself to accountability.

Video: 
See video

Longmont Prepares to Vote on Fiber Bonds - Community Broadband Bits Episode #68

As Longmont prepares to vote on November 5, we are paying special attention to question 2B, which will authorize the city utility to issue revenue bonds to finance the FTTH network already being built. The successful referendum from 2011 gave the City authority to build the network and this referendum, if successful, will finance a rapid expansion rather than the present incremental approach that will take decades.

We have a double interview today, with Vince Jordan rejoining the show from Longmont Power and Communications. He previously spoke with us on episode 10 but today he just gives us the facts about the network and scenarios of what will happen depending on how the city votes.

The second interview is with George Oliver, co-founder of the grassroots group Friends of Fiber that is advocating for people to vote yes on question 2B. George explains the benefits of passing this debt, namely that area residents and businesses will gain access to a world class networks without increasing any taxes.

Friends of Fiber is on Twitter and Facebook. Read our other stories on Longmont 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 30 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 Break the Bans for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

Iowa Municipal Utilities on Gigabit Nation

We were glad to hear our friend, Curtis Dean of the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities join Craig Settles on his Gigabit Nation Internet Radio show. Listen below to learn more about what local utilities are doing to help their communities thrive in the digital age.