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Chicago Aldermen Want to Explore Fiber Potential

Chicago is moving in the direction of using municipal fiber to improve connectivity for residents and businesses. According to the Chicago Sun Times, three Aldermen and the Vice Mayor recently introduced a Resolution calling for hearings on ways to use existing fiber assets for personal and commercial use. Text of Resolution R2015-338 [PDF] is now available online.

The City has flirted with a greater vision for its publicly owned infrastructure in the past, including Wi-Fi and fiber. In February 2014, the community released a Request for Qualifications for Broadband Infrastructure [PDF].

This time the City plans to collect information and educate leadership with hearings on ways to utilize the fiber that grace Chicago's underground freight tunnels. They also want to explore city-owned light poles and government rooftops as potential locations for wireless network equipment. From the article:

“These hearings would be a fact-finding mission to help the City Council fully understand the size and scope of Chicago’s fiber-optic infrastructure and explore how it could be shared or expanded to raise revenue for city coffers while making our city more competitive,” [Finance Committee Chairman Edward] Burke said in a press release.

Burke was joined by Zoning Committee Chairman Danny Solis, Economic Capital, Technology Development Committee Chairman Tom Tunney, and Vice Mayor Marge Laurino.

R2015-338 lists many of the communities we have researched as examples to follow, including Chattanooga, Wilson, Lafayette, and Scott County in Minnesota. In addition to exclusively municipal projects, the Resolution acknowledges partnerships between public entities and private organizations, regional projects, and statewide efforts. Clearly, Chicago is open to a variety of possibilities.

While creating more options for businesses and residents is a primary motivator, the City Council is also considering the potential for revenue:

“A Chicago broadband network would be an asset that could be monetized. During these challenging economic times, we need to examine all options to help balance the budget,” Tunney said in the release.

It is true that municipal networks often generate revenue in the long term. It is also true that they share one characteristic with private networks: it can take a significant number of years to reach that stage.

FCC Opens Spectrum; Creates Citizens Broadband Radio Service

On April 17th, FCC Commissioners voted unanimously to expand the use of spectrum previously reserved for U.S. Army and Navy radar systems. The FCC Report and Order creates the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) which establishes rules for shared use by licensed and unlicensed users.

This is a step forward to ensuring we are getting the most use out of the spectrum - by allowing different entities to share the spectrum when it is not being used in some geographic areas for the purpose it was originally allocated for. Milo Medin of Google explained this plan at Freedom to Connect - watch his presentation here.

According to the FCC Press Release [PDF], sharing will be managed with a three-tiered approach:

In addition to the protected incumbent tier, the Report and Order authorizes two commercial tiers of use in the Citizens Broadband Radio Service. The General Authorized Access tier, which allows any user with a certified device to operate without seeking any further Commission approval, will permit low-cost entry into the band, similar to unlicensed uses. A Priority Access tier will make geographically targeted, short-term priority rights to a portion of the band available through future spectrum auctions. One or more Spectrum Access Systems, operated by private commercial entities, will facilitate coexistence among the different user tiers.

Public Knowledge applauded the decision. Senior Vice President Harold Feld:

Today’s FCC’s actions lay the groundwork for changes in the very way we use wireless, allowing different levels of interference protection and network architecture that will make the wireless world of the future as radically different as the smartphone and the WiFi hotspot are from touchtone phones and the CB radios.

New America's Michael Calabrese, Director of New America's Wireless Future Project commended the FCC and pushed for more action:

"Today's bipartisan FCC vote to create a Citizens Broadband Service is a historic step that lays the foundation for spectrum sharing. While exclusive licensing will persist for many years, there is little left to be cleared for traditional auctions. There is, however, a potential spectrum superhighway of grossly underused federal and satellite spectrum that needs to be opened for low-power sharing by both unlicensed users and by priority access licensees who pay for interference protection. The Commission should move quickly to extend this new Citizens Broadband Service to other similar bands with immense fallow capacity, thereby ushering in a new era of wireless broadband abundance."

The Verge quoted FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler:

"Since they don’t make spectrum anymore, and since spectrum is the pathway of the 21st century, we have to figure out how we’re going to live with a fixed amount," said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said during Friday's session. "Sharing is key to that." 

In order to address the problems and challenges that may arise as spectrum is shared between public and private users, the FCC Order also calls for a public comment period. 

Our hope is that this step forward begins to allow more unlicensed technologies that will build on the success of Wi-Fi - allowing residents, neighborhoods, communities, etc., to build high capacity wireless networks. Wi-Fi works well within the home but this spectrum could be used to create similar high capacity networks in neighborhoods.

San Francisco Looks to Expand Muni Fiber and Wi-Fi

San Francisco has long been considered a modern, glittering, tech capital. For years its leaders have struggled with ensuring residents and businesses actually had next-generation Internet access as AT&T and Comcast only provide the same basic services that are available in most cities. In a recent Backchannel article, Susan Crawford discusses how the City by the Bay is taking steps to develop its vision, its long-term plan, and hopefully a network that will improve connectivity in a city of over 800,000 8.5 million.

San Francisco has developed an Information and Communication Technology Plan, which still needs approval from the City Board of Supervisors. According to the article, the plan calls on the city to take an incremental approach on its path to improved connectivity. They plan to use a similar method as Santa Monica by connecting municipal facilities - many of which are already connected via fiber - and then shedding expensive leased circuits. By eliminating that expense, the city will cut $1.3 million for Internet access and networking services from its connectivity costs.

Last year the City also put dig once policies in place, a decision other communities attribute as one of the keys to a cost-effective deployment. Like Santa Monica, the City currently leases dark fiber to ISPs. They plan to entice more ISPs who want to bring broadband to residents and businesses by expanding that practice. San Francisco plans to streamline the process and work with developers on strategically linking new developments to Internet hubs with dark fiber.

As Crawford notes, the City has created free Wi-Fi in select areas of town with plans to serve public housing and commercial corridors. Miquel Gamiño, San Francisco's CIO, told Crawford they hope to make Wi-Fi available on a larger scale:

Gamiño’s dream is that San Franciscans and visitors will be connected to that service at all times: “I would love for people to come here, or live here, and feel as if they are just connected, woven into this fabric that exists in thin air,” he says. Consolidating the brand so that every public open network is labeled #SFWiFi will ensure that users perceive the city’s role in providing public WiFi. 

Crawford believes the City is on the right path by investing in more fiber throughout the community:

In the bigger picture, San Francisco will require fiber to businesses and homes. You can’t have a WiFi connection without a wire — that would be like having an airplane but no airports. And the WiFi connections used by both citizens and city infrastructure (“phoning home” via sensors about weather, water, air pollution, transport, energy use, and a host of other indicators of the city’s wellbeing) will be generating — uploading — mountains of data that will need wires on which to travel anywhere at all.

...

Fiber and WiFi are complementary, in other words. And that’s where long-term planning will be essential.

For more about Santa Monica's incremental approach, check out Chris's interview with CIO Jory Wolf in Episode #90 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. You can also learn about their strategy in our detailed report, Santa Monica City Net: An Incremental Approach to Building a Fiber Optic Network. 

LUS Fiber Brings Free Wi-Fi to Airport

LUS Fiber is now sharing its municipal gigabit network with travelers at the Lafayette Regional Airport, reports KLFY News 10. According to the article, free Wi-Fi is available at the airport supported by LUS Fiber.

“Today’s travelers expect to stay connected when they are away from the office or home. With complimentary WiFi, guests can check important email, post to social media and browse the Internet,” said Steven Picou, Executive Director of Lafayette Regional Airport. “We recognize that to deliver complimentary Internet access contributes towards a positive customer impression of the airport, as well as Lafayette.”

LUS Fiber and the city of Lafayette has recently attracted a number of high tech companies and understands the value of first impressions. The airport is the perfect place to dazzle visiting potential employers:

“We know that businesses choose to come to Lafayette for a variety of reasons and many have cited our 100% fiber-optic network as one of those reasons,” said City-Parish President Joey Durel. “As a gateway to Lafayette, we want visitors to experience the ultra high speeds of a Gigabit Internet connection, from the moment they arrive to the moment they leave.”

Mesh Networks: They Are Out There

There are probably more mesh Wi-Fi networks operating in the U.S. than most of us realize. They require only one hard-wired connection to the Internet and there are many industrious, tech minded people out there who have the skills to set up this self-healing technology, though they are still working out the kinks.

A mesh network allows devices to engage each other without going through a central point. If I want to use my cell phone to call the cell phone of someone standing 10 feet away from me, the signal may travel thousands of times farther than it would have to because a cell phone company wants to track minutes, collect data, and more. In a mesh network, the two devices would just talk to each other without intermediation. 

A recent Technical.ly article, explores a dozen communities that are using the technology to serve local residents.

The article provides some basic info on these local mesh networks:

We have reported on mesh networks in Poulsbo, Washington, and Ponca City, Oklahoma. An attractive feature for those communities was the ability to expand the network as needed with modest investment. As Technical.ly reports:

Mesh networks help people stay connected while avoiding traditional internet providers. Motivation around the country for creating community mesh networks ranges from a desire for social justice, improved information access during natural disasters or just the need to experiment.

Minnesota House Proposal to Kill Broadband is the Wrong Move for Economic Development

Representative Pat Garofalo’s (R-53B) proposal to cut funding for broadband grants is the wrong move for Minnesota. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) is absolutely opposed to any suggestion Minnesota should have two-tiered Internet access - a fast standard in urban areas and slower, less reliable access in Greater Minnesota.

Wireless technology and satellite Internet are not sufficient for homes and businesses in the modern economy. They certainly won’t lead to the kind of job creation or retention that Greater Minnesota needs. Modern jobs require modern connections.

ILSR has long fought the notion, often advanced by the cable monopoly lobbyists in Saint Paul, that wireless is good enough for people that don't live in the metro. Nearly 100 years ago, the United States wisely pursued policies to electrify farms and the boosts to the economy were staggering. Given the significant budget surplus, now is the not the time for the Legislature to turn its back on Greater Minnesota.

“It’s outrageous to us that a lawmaker who is supposedly in favor of needed job creation for our communities would turn around and slash the very thing that could support it,” says Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR). “Rural Minnesotans should not be constantly moved to the back of the line for 21st century connectivity. We can’t wait any longer for the kinds of investments that will carry our schools and businesses across the digital divide.”

In Windom, Minnesota, for instance, the community has seen strong job growth, including at the Toro Manufacturing plant, because it could get better Internet access from the small city's utility than it could get at Twin City locations. Those jobs would not exist if local employers relied only on wireless or satellite technologies.

More information:

ILSR published All Hands on Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access, a detailed report on how local communities across the state can improve Internet access for government, businesses, and residents. One of our policy recommendations from studying these 12 communities in depth was expanded, rather than reduced, state support for these efforts.

Carl Junction Partnering for Wi-Fi in Missouri

Carl Junction has been looking for a way to improve connectivity in its southwest corner of the state for several years. Plans for a fiber network did not come to pass, but the community has found a private partner to bring ubiquitous high-speed Wi-Fi to town.

The City Council voted unanimously to approve a deal with Aire Fiber, reports the Joplin Globe, for a basic plan that will offer service for $49.99 per month. Users will not be constrained by data caps, speeds will be up to 50 Mbps download and 10 - 15 Mbps upload, and the network will provide service to each address in town. Installation is $99 per address; rates will be the same for businesses and residences. There are no long term committments. The partners have launched their campaign to get signups online seeking 289 subscriptions to get the project off the ground.

Aire Fiber will also provide free Wi-Fi to select locations in town such as the Community Center.

Steve Lawver, Carl Junction City Administrator, told us that the city will receive 10 percent of the gross revenue from the network. The city will purchase the equipment and provide facilities on which Aire Fiber will mount the equipment. Air Fiber will handle installation, management, and all technical aspects required to keep the network up and running.

If the network picks up 10 percent of the market, both partners will break even. KOAM reports that the system will cost from $400,000 - $450,000 to deploy. City officials expect to have it serving the community by mid-summer.

Even though AT&T and MediaCom both have a presence in Carl Junction, neither serve the entire community. City leaders told KOAM they hope to create better consistency of service throughout the community with this partnership:

"We think this is a big step forward for the city — now high-speed broadband Internet connection will be available to all citizens of Carl Junction, no matter what their address is.''

Lawver said Media Com, the city's cable television company, does not offer Internet service in all areas of the town. AT&T only serves parts of the city, he said.

Carl Junction Mayor Mike Moss said, "Reliable, effective and affordable broadband connection throughout the whole city will put us on the same foothold as other cities of our region and the state. It is what will keep us competing with other cities in the 21st century.''

Local media has reported on the project:

Video: 
See video

Amherst, Massachusetts Exploring Fiber for Economic Development Downtown

The Amherst Business Improvement District (BID) recently hired a firm to prepare an engineering study aimed at bringing fiber connectivity to its downtown reports MassLive. 

In 2007, the community began offering free Wi-Fi downtown after receiving a grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) to build a wireless mesh network. The city worked with UMass Amherst, DARPA, and NSF to deploy the system. In 2013, the city invested in upgrades which increased speeds and extended the network's geographic coverage area.

Community leaders feel Amherst needs fiber to boost economic development now and in the future. Sean Hannon, Amherst Information Technology director, told MassLive:

"Fiber is needed because it's the only medium that can support those speeds at the distance we need.  It also should support new network equipment 20 to 30 years from now."

The study will examine optimal routes, methods, and cost estimates for deployment.

The Amherst BID is a nonprofit economic development organization whose members include local property owners, business owners, and residents. Their focus, as defined by the community's 2011 Improvement Plan, is to improve the downtown area through economic development, events, marketing, beautification, and special projects.

Community Broadband Media Roundup - March 14

Whether You’re Red or Blue, You Should Love the FCC’s Internet Plan: This Tea Party guy gets it. Why don’t DC Republicans? by Susan Crawford, BackChannel

He said (paraphrasing), “I want my freedom and I can’t stand the idea of government messing with our lives, and that’s why I like the Tea Party. But I also can’t stand that there’s a company that can tell me what kind of Internet access I can get — I can’t run my business from my home because I can’t buy the connection I need here.”


FCC Ruling

FCC order allows EPB to expand Gig service to outlying areas
Dave Flessner, Times Free Press

"We're glad that a growing number of state lawmakers are supporting proposed legislation that would remove the territorial restrictions that currently prevent municipal utilities from extending fiber services to neighboring areas," he said. "This Tennessee-driven approach is the best near-term option for serving more of the people across our state who are currently underserved or poorly served with broadband connectivity."

Here's The FCC's Ruling On Municipal Broadband
by Karl Bode

The FCC's taking aim at North Carolina and Tennessee protectionist laws first, with the hopes that other states and cities will petition the FCC for help down the line. While the FCC's net neutrality rules tries to protect consumers in the absence of competition, the municipal broadband ruling is an effort to actually create a little additional competition.

Local governments should make broadband choices
By Christopher Mitchell, Guest columnist

When Comcast announced plans last year to invest hundreds of millions in theme parks in Florida and California, its customers may have wondered why the cable giant wasn't using those funds to deliver a faster or more reliable Internet connection. While Comcast's Universal Studios faces competition from Walt Disney World, most people don't have a real choice in high-speed Internet access.

FCC decision gives counties hope of blazing Internet speeds 
by Charles Taylor, County News

Electric Co-ops as a Vehicle for Bringing Fiber to Rural Areas
by Mitchell Shapiro, Quello 

I recently listened to an interview with Randy Klindt, General Manager of Co-Mo Connect, a rural electric co-op building a gigabit fiber network in Central Missouri. It reminded me that the nation’s rural electric co-operatives can be effective vehicles for deploying advanced communication infrastructure in relatively high-cost and underserved rural areas.

...

As Klindt points out, member owned co-ops like Co-Mo have a different perspective than private companies when it comes to investment horizons. While the latter tend to prefer payback in a 3-5 year timeframe, co-ops view both electricity and communication networks as long-term infrastructure investments with payback timeframes in the 10-20 year range.

Recent FCC Proceedings Highlight Importance of Equity, Local Control
By Nicole DuPuis, Public CEO

These decisions speak to the basic tenets of democracy and equity. The internet, which is one of our country’s most sound economic engines, has also developed into a carrier of social good. It protects our right to free speech, broadens our access to information, and enables us to communicate across physical boundaries. Policies that view and protect these services as institutionalized goods to which the public should have unrestricted access reflect democratic ideals and a spirit of equality among all citizens.

FCC Chooses 12 New Rural Broadband Experiment Winners
by Joan Engebretson, Telecompetitor

 

Alabama

FCC ruling may allow Opelika to expand fiber network
by Pierce Ostwalt, The Plainsman

“I’ve been mayor for 10 years [since] last October,” Fuller said. “In my first three or four years, the most complaints I got about anything was Charter. Sorry customer service, outages all the time, pricing was going up and there was no competition.”

Fuller’s comments fall in line with many of the points made by FCC chairman Tom Wheeler before the FCC’s Feb. 26 ruling.

 "Broadband access providers have the technical ability and the economic incentive to impose restrictions on Internet,” Wheeler said. 

Idaho

Local Schools Make PLans for Own Broadband
by Chelsea Brentzel

"I think it's just something we do in the spirit of collaboration, and I think that's always important because when we talk about the school district and the city it's all the same people, and so anytime we can keep costs down it benefits everyone involved," Kirkham said.

She said the IEN crisis puts a focus on local government.

"This is always an argument for local control so whenever you have local control, then you aren't at the mercy of the decisions being made higher up the ladder and so this is one of those instances where you see that being played out," Kirkham said.

Rural schools find faster Internet at cheaper prices
by Michael H. O’Donnell, Idaho State Journal

If there is a silver lining to the mess involving the state of Idaho’s broken contract to establish the Idaho Education Network, it’s the realization that local Internet providers might be able to provide better service to small school districts for less money. 

Kentucky 

Mayor seeks companies to boost Internet speeds
City issues Request for Information as next step of Gigabit City project

New Mexico  

Rancho Santa Fe Association moves forward with plans for ‘fast, reliable’ fiber-optic network
by Karen Billing, Rancho Santa Fe Review

Norther Carolina

From Hollywood to Wilson, NC - a broadband move
By Allan Maurer, Special to WRAL TechWire

After 16 years in Los Angeles, the founders of ExodusFX moved their video special effects business to the East Coast three years ago, finally choosing the Eastern NC City of Wilson because of its gigabit municipal broadband network… 

... In LA, it would cost from $1,5,00 to $3,000 a month or more to get the necessary high speed broadband connections if you could find them at all, he says. By moving to Wilson, the company helps keep much work from going to India or China by reducing its production costs, including cost of living as well as the much less expensive bandwidth it needs. In Wilson, they pay $150 a month for their dedicated fiber hookup. 

Ohio

Progress continues on Fairlawn’s municipal Wi-Fi project
By Sean Patrick West Side Leader

“We’re the first city in our area — really, the State of Ohio — to do something like this,” he said. “We’re creating not only Wi-Fi, but also fiber for broadband. It will be a utility for residents and for businesses, so I think it’s pretty exciting.” 

Rhode Island

Chippendale: Homes Without Internet Access Leave Students Unable to Excel in School
GoLocal News

“But, there is a catch - and it’s a big one,” explained the representative. “There are approximately 232 Foster homes that have no means of accessing Broadband Internet. The students in those households want to do their homework – but they can’t. They have the high tech equipment - which taxpayers have paid for, but the technology is rendered useless in the students’ own homes! This is why I introduced House bill 5488. We must bring access to Broadband Internet to those Foster residences ASAP so these students can do their schoolwork and complete their homework.”

Tennessee

City backs TUB in broadband expansion efforts
by Andrea Agardy, Tullahoma News

The board of mayor and aldermen has officially voiced its support of the Tullahoma Utilities Board’s (TUB) bid to offer its LightTUBe Internet service outside the current limits of its coverage area.

Brian Skelton, TUB’s general manager, was among those praising the FCC’s decision.

“I am happy with the FCC decision,” Skelton said. “Municipal broadband expansion is certainly one of the answers to help get high speed broadband to more unserved and underserved Tennesseans. While I respect the concern of the state having their laws overridden by the federal government, this decision should ultimately be made at the local level, and many states, including Tennessee, have passed laws prohibiting a local decision.”

Federal authorities are not alone in taking another look at the issue. A bill to lift the restrictions on municipal Internet providers, sponsored by Sen. Janice Bowling [R-Tullahoma] and State Rep. Kevin Brooks [R-Cleveland], is currently pending in the state legislature.

Virginia

Broadband: Connecting rural Nelson County poses trials

“What is important about the NCBA’s ‘open access’ network is that businesses and residences that decide to obtain Internet are not locked into having service from only one ISP,” Carter said.“… It is the authority’s objective for additional ISPs to contract to use the NCBA network so that there will be more choice through competition for services, and that increased competition will also result in improved and expanded services.” 

And finally,

How small cable companies say they get screwed by their larger rivals: Small cable operators have to pay the big ones for access to TV programming
by Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica  

Small Cable Ops Beg FCC For Help in Battling Cable Giants
by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

Tech Blog GigaOm Abruptly Shuts Down
by Ravi Somaiya, New York Times

When Gigabit Communities Go Rogue
Jason Meyers, THE GIGABOT

A gigabit network deployment in Pelican Bay, Fla., provides a good example of what can happen when fed up (or, perhaps, underfed) broadband consumers take matters into their own hands -- and should serve as a wakeup call for broadband service providers that may not be paying enough attention to the needs of their niche customers. 

Why America's Internet Is So Sh*tty And Slow
Adam Clark Estes, Gawker Media

You may have heard that the internet is winning: net neutrality was saved, broadband was redefined to encourage higher speeds, and the dreaded Comcast-Time Warner Cable megamerger potentially thwarted. But the harsh reality is that America's internet is still fundamentally broken, and there's no easy fix.

Boulder Uses New Found Authority to Offer Free Wi-Fi

Just two months after voters passed ballot measure 2C, the City of Boulder is solidifying plans to offer free Wi-Fi throughout the downtown Civic Area, reports the Boulder Daily Camera.

Boulder was one of several Colorado communities that reclaimed local authority last fall. They had no specific project planned but knew they needed to create an environment rich in opportunity. Colorado's state law is so restrictive, there was little Boulder could do with the fiber resources they already have in place:

"Before, we were technically breaking the law by having wi-fi at the library," [Boulder IT Director Don Ingle] said.

Ingle told the City Council at it's January 26th meeting that the project was estimated to be less than $100,000 and that they hope to have it completed by March, weather permitting.

You can listen to Chris interview Don Ingle about the situation in Boulder in Episode 108 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.