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Fifteen Fun Facts about NoaNet - Fifteen Years of Accomplishments

Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet) was just a dream back in 2000, but, fifteen years later, it’s one of the largest networks in the state of Washington. NoaNet is celebrating fifteen years of accomplishments, so we compiled fifteen fun facts everyone should know about this community network.

1. One of the first Open Access networks in the U.S.
Back in 2000, people in rural Washington watched as the dot-com and telecom boom passed them by. Frustrated that large ISPs refused to build infrastructure near them, the people created NoaNet and allowed anyone to use it through Open Access. This type of design encourages multiple service providers to share the infrastructure and local communities own the network.

2. Almost 2,000 miles of fiber
You know that amazing, next-generation technology that Google is rolling out in select cities across the U.S.? Yeah, people in Washington started using fiber optic cables fifteen years ago to bring high-speed Internet to their communities. Now, NoaNet extends almost 2,000 miles through both rural and metro areas.

3. It’s a giant Institutional Network
With all that fiber, NoaNet connects 170 communities and around 2,000 schools, libraries, hospitals, and government buildings. It serves as a middle mile network, connecting the public institutions of small towns to the greater Internet. 

4. 40% of Washington government traffic, by 2007
And that’s just within the first seven years!

5. 61 last mile providers
From NoaNet’s infrastructure, private providers bring connectivity the last mile to homes and businesses. Having publicly-owned middle mile reduces the capital costs of building last mile infrastructure - that means more providers can compete with one another and better prices for everyone. Currently, there are over 260,000 customers!

6. More than $130 million
BTOP stands for the federal Broadband Technology Opportunities Program. In 2009, NoaNet received more than $80 million to provide connectivity for unserved and underserved people throughout Washington state. In 2011, NoaNet received a second grant of more than $50 million to increase connectivity to educational, healthcare, and tribal facilities.  

7. NoaNet was featured on our podcast… Twice!
In Episode 159, Chris interviewed Dave Spencer, Chief Operating Officer of NoaNet. And then, Spencer returned in Episode 164 to answer more details about how the network operates.

8. First in the Northwest to have 100 Gigabit per second (Gbps or Gigs) backbone
Between 2013 and 2015, NoaNet upgraded from 1 Gig to 100 Gigs. It’s the high-capacity fiber backbone for the Pacific Northwest - so think big.

9. NoaNet live-streaming NFL
Nothing is better than football, except for maybe high-speed Internet. So imagine football and high-speed Internet together. In 2015, NoaNet live-streamed coverage of the NFL. 

10. 10 current members
The members of NoaNet are several Public Utility Districts (PUDs) - locally controlled and rate-payer owned nonprofits: Benton County PUD#1, Clallam County PUD #1, Energy Northwest, Franklin County #1, Jefferson County PUD #1, Kitsap County PUD #1, Mason County PUD #3, Okanogan County PUD #1, Pacific County PUD #2, Pend Oreille PUD #1

11. It’s technically a municipality...
These 10 Public Utility Districts came together through a very particular Washington law - the InterLocal Agreement - to create NoaNet. Basically, it’s a nonprofit mutual corporation and subject to the same opportunities and restrictions as the Public Utility Districts.

12. Statewide, but locally-owned
NoaNet reaches across the state but is attuned to local needs. Being controlled by local Public Utility Districts, the network doesn’t lose sight of its primary goal: rural connectivity.

13. Next-Generation Jobs
It’s reinventing what it means to live and work in rural areas:

“NoaNet's roots included creation of a virtual corporation, a new rural employment opportunity where we retain the most talented staff and let them live where they want.  NoaNet leadership and staff embraced remote telecommuting and use of the technology advances to execute NoaNet's vision-mission and purpose of building a regional non-profit telecommunications carrier.”
Rob Kopp, Chief Technology Officer

14. New Technologies
Unlike large corporate companies that often refuse to innovate in rural areas, NoaNet is investing in new technologies like data centers to ensure that rural communities don’t get left behind. 

15. Future-Focus
And NoaNet is not going to stop any time soon:

"In the early days, the NoaNet mission to bring affordable broadband to rural communities throughout WA was dismissed by many as dreamy-eyed with a short life expectancy. The success of NoaNet has been the fulfillment of hopes by its supporters for a better opportunity to achieve broadband parity with metro areas in formerly remote areas of the state. Rather than looking back on the many small communities literally connected to economic hubs, the NoaNetteam continues to focus on those still to be served. The mission is not yet complete."
Tom Villani, Special Accounts Manager

Sources: NOANet Timeline, Community Broadband Bits Podcasts, NOAnet BTOP funding

Island Community Builds Their Own Network: Coverage in Ars and Video From The Scene

Island living has its perks - the roar of the waves, the fresh breeze, the beauty of an ocean sunset - but good Internet access is usually not one of them.

A November Ars Technica article profiles Orcas Island, located in Washington state. Residents of the island's Doe Bay chose to enjoy the perks of island living and do what it took to get the Internet they needed. By using the natural and human resources on the island, the community created the nonprofit Doe Bay Internet Users Association (DBIUA). The wireless network provides Internet access to a section of the island not served by incumbent CenturyLink. 

DBIUA receives its signal from StarTouch Broadband Services via microwave link from Mount Vernon on the mainland. Via a series of radios mounted on the community's water tower, houses, and tall trees, the network serves about 50 homes with speeds between 30 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 40 Mbps upload. Residents who had previously paid CenturyLink for DSL service were accustomed to 700 Kilobits per second (Kbps) download except during busy times when speeds would drop to 100 Kbps download and "almost nothing" upload.

Outages were also common. In 2013, after a 10-day loss of Internet access, residents got together to share food and ideas. At that meeting, software developer Chris Sutton, suggested the community "do it themselves." 

Island Self-Reliant

The talent to make the project successful came forward to join the team. In addition to Sutton's software expertise, the island is home to professionals in marketing, law and land use, and a former CenturyLink installer. The network went live in September 2014 and is slowly and carefully expanding to serve more people.

Doe Bay realized that they could solve the problem themselves. Ars quoted Sutton:

Just waiting around for corporate America to come save us, we realized no one is going to come out here and make the kind of investment that’s needed for 200 people max.

I think so many other communities could do this themselves...There does require a little bit of technical expertise but it's not something that people can't learn. I think relying on corporate America to come save us all is just not going to happen, but if we all get together and share our resources, communities can do this themselves and be more resilient.

In addition to the article that dives deep into how residents developed the network, take a look at this video for more on DBIUA from The Scene:

 

Another Washington Coastal City Considers Community Network

Out on the coast of the great state of Washington, community networks are making waves. Orcas Island residents recently made headlines with their homegrown wireless network, and Mount Vernon’s fiber network previously appeared in the New York Times. Now, the city of Anacortes is considering its options.

 

Anacortes: Fiber-to-the-Home?

The city is negotiating with an engineering firm to develop a fiber network that best provides connectivity for the 16,000 residents. The engineering firm is expected to present to the city council next on November 16th.

Public Works Director Fred Buckenmeyer estimates the cost of fiber optic installation at about $15 million. The city of Anacortes has applied for a $375,000 grant from Skagit County to help pay for the construction, but the city would likely need a take-rate (homes to subscribe to the network) of 35 - 40% to break even on the project. 

 

Mount Vernon: Open Access

Anacortes’ plan is rather distinct from that of its neighboring community Mount Vernon. The network in Mount Vernon is an open access fiber available to government and local businesses, not residents, in Mount Vernon, Burlington, and the Port of Skagit. 

Mount Vernon made the New York Times last year with the story of an information security firm relocating from Seattle to Mount Vernon thanks to the fiber connectivity available there. Currently, the network has 267 drops (locations with connections) throughout the three communities. In Mount Vernon alone, there are 185 drops with 37.3% being for government maintenance and the city of Mount Vernon. 9.7% are dark fiber leases, and all the rest are ISP service drops to businesses. 

 

What will Anacortes do?

We will have to wait to see the model laid out by the engineering firm next week in Anacortes. If the plans are approved, the city could start laying cable as early as next year. Bruce McDougall, an Anacortes resident who volunteered to lead the feasibility study, expressed hope that the project will be approved, saying: “small cities are good places for things like this.”

Fiber-optic Community Broadband Service in the Washington State Wilderness

The Spokane Business Journal recently wrote about the community broadband system in Pend Oreille County, long a favored destination for all seasons outdoor recreation.  Beginning in 2013, the Pend Oreille County Public Utility District (PUD) began providing residents and tourists with high-speed fiber to the premises broadband via a 573-mile fiber network.  The network was made possible by a $27 million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grant.

Private companies commonly say that such rural areas are not densely populated enough to justify investing in high-speed broadband infrastructure, leaving many rural communities on the disadvantaged side of the digital divide.  High-speed community broadband systems like the one in Pend Oreille County cancel out this potential problem as they allow tourists, residents, and businesses alike to be closely connected with nature while staying connected for business demands. Indeed, as the website for Pend Oreille County’s Economic Development Council makes clear, the community broadband service is at the core of the county’s ambitious plans to attract people and businesses to the area.

In our recent report, ”All Hands On Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access,” we wrote about rural communities in Minnesota like Cook County where the tourist industry is a large part of the local economy. As in Pend Oreille, insufficient Internet negatively impacted resorts, lodges, and outfitters that depended on customers who needed more than dial-up Internet access. To solve their problem, they invested in a municipal fiber network.

Local community and business leaders report that they have also started to see people and businesses relocating to the county, encouraged by the area’s combination of fiber-optic broadband and outdoor recreation offerings.  

Alex Stanton, an IT executive whose company is stationed near the banks of the Pend Oreille River in the small town of Newport, confirms the positive impact of the network:

“Today, because of access to high-speed Internet structure in Newport and Pend Oreille County we run a full half of the team out of Newport, and we’re in the process of moving the entire remote support and network operation to Newport,” he says. “We’ve been able to build a local team of people who live and want to work here. Fiber has made that possible.”

Another anecdote comes from a man explaining the pivotal role the fiber-optic broadband service in Pend Oreille County played in convincing him to relocate to the area: 

"My wife and I both work primarily from home, and we have spent the last year and a half trying to find the spot that would allow us to experience nature while still being able to pay for it!  We have searched all over the USA and have discovered that this type of internet access is almost always reserved for large cities.... My wife and I look forward to calling Newport home…"

Kitsap County Asks Residents Where to Expand

The Kitsap Public Utility District (KPUD) is turning to residents to plot the course for expansion, reports the Central Kitsap Reporter. In order to find out where the greatest interest lies in municipal fiber connectivity, KPUD will be using the COS Service Zones survey system.

“Since this is a public network, we do not feel comfortable relying on anecdotal data to determine the next phase for broadband expansion,” said Bob Hunter, Kitsap PUD General Manager. “What’s most appealing with the COS Service Zones is that it enables us to let the gathering and push come from the citizens. We want to be sure the residents are driving this.”

We have reported on the KPUD, mostly as it related to other stories. The publicly owned open access fiber network in Kitsap County Washington began providing wholesale only service in 2000. The goal was to provide better connectivity to public facilities and improve emergency communications and the KPUD has reached that goal.

Readers will remember Seth, who almost had to sell his Internet-less dream home due to mapping errors and the general failures at Comcast. When he approached the KPUD, they found a way to bring him an Internet connection. An increasing number of residents have asked the agency to find a way to serve their homes. Currently, PUDs in Washington are prohibited by state law from offering retail service, which can limit financially-viable investments, but Kitsap is trying to get a sense of the size of the interest.

The COS Service Zones system will help KPUD plan for any potential buildout by determining where customers are most likely to subscribe. The system will also allow the public to see where the KPUD plans to expand as a result of the survey.

Kitsap County residents can go to the website kpud.servicezones.net to fill out the online survey.

More Details on the Northwest Open Access Network - Community Broadband Bits Episode 164

Just a few short weeks ago, we interviewed Dave Spencer, the Chief Operating Officer for the Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet) in Washington. We offered a good overview, but got some requests for more details so Dave returns this week for a more focused discussion in episode 164.

We discuss the specific services that are available and how the retail service providers access them as well as NoaNet's enlightening approach to peering so its service providers have the benefits of low cost, high quality Netflix videos, as an example.

We also discuss the legal status of NoaNet as a nonprofit municipal organization. Finally, we discuss the other services that NoaNet makes available and how some of the fees are structured.

Read the transcript for this episode here.

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

This show is 23 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 other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Thanks to bkfm-b-side for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Raise Your Hands."

NoaNet Touches Every County in Washington State - Community Broadband Bits Episode 159

The Northwest Open Access Network in Washington has a long history of expanding high quality Internet access into rural areas and now reaches into every county in the state. NoaNet is a nonprofit organization originally formed by local governments and now operating over 2,000 miles of fiber.

This week we talk with Dave Spencer, NoaNet Chief Operating Officer, about the history of NoaNet, how it has impacted the state, and what the future holds for this organization.

We also discuss the NoaNet expansion enabled by the federal broadband stimulus, how their open access fiber network has led to improved wireless connections in many rural areas, and what it takes for a nonprofit organization to thrive in an industry that can be very competitive despite often having very few competitors.

Our previous stories about NoaNet are available here.

Read the transcript from our discussion here.

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

This show is 20 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 other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Thanks to bkfm-b-side for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Raise Your Hands."

Seattle reporters interview Chris Mitchell about broadband feasibility study

With the release of the city of Seattle's community broadband feasibility study, media outlets turned to ILSR and our own Christopher Mitchell for context, and to help uncover what can be done to help improve connectivity for all Seattleites. 

The same week, Christopher was invited to the city by Upgrade Seattle to help launch their initiative. Below are some selected publicity highlights from Seattle. 

KUOW's "The Record" with Ross Reynolds. How can Seattle get affordable broadband Internet  

KEXP's "Mind Over Matters" with Mike McCormick. Video is below. "What is Seattle's Next Step?" You can also listen to the Audio version here.

GovTech: Colin Wood interviewed Chris for his June 12 article Muni Broadband Goes Mainstream.

“You don’t just want better Internet access,” Mitchell said. “You want to know for whom and at what cost. Is your problem connecting low-income populations? That requires different thinking than if you’re just trying to attract some high-tech businesses to your town.”

CrossCut.com: Amelia Havenec covered the lunch & learn conversation between Chris and Upgrade Seattle organizer Hollis Wong-Wear. Following setbacks, municipal broadband supporters continue urging action

“The focus should be on the people who are not connected, the people who are left behind,” Mitchell responded. “Low income people pay $10 a month for Comcast. But you can only connect one device per household. To make sure everybody has a basic connection at home, there’s a $5 million budget to bring one-gigabit, fiber-to-the-premises internet access to tens of thousands of single-family homes in Beacon Hill, Central District, and Queen Anne. With all the transportation planning right now, it’s a good time to identify a fiber conduit in the ground.”

GeekWire: Taylor Soper interviewed Chris as well. The two talked about how the debate over municipal broadband echoes the debate over whether to electrify cities in the 20th century. Municipal broadband in Seattle? New group lobbies city for public Internet

“The big electric companies had formed into giant monopolies, not unlike the monopolies we deal with today with Internet,” Mitchell said. “They repeatedly claimed that local government could not operate a municipal electric grid and said it would end up in failure and disaster. As you know in Seattle, that’s not true. We’ve seen local government take technology of the day and craft it so everyone benefits from it.”

Video: 
See video

Municipal Networks and Economic Development

Economic Development and Community Networks

When a community invests in a municipal broadband network, it often does so because it hopes to reap economic benefits from the network. Much has been written about the positive relationship between municipal Internet networks and economic development, including a White House report published in January 2015. Municipal networks create jobs by serving existing businesses and attracting new businesses to local communities, increase productivity by allowing individuals to telecommute and work from home, support advanced healthcare and security systems, strengthen local housing markets, and represent long term social investments in the form of better-connected schools and libraries. They also create millions of dollars in savings that can be reinvested into local communities. 

When municipalities choose to deploy fiber networks, they introduce Internet services into the community that are not only significantly faster than Digital Subscriber Lines (DSL) and cable, but more reliable. With fiber connections, businesses and individuals are far less likely to experience temporary blackouts that can harm their ability to provide services to customers. And because these networks are locally-owned and operated, business owners do not have to spend hours on the phone with an absentee Internet Service Provider like AT&T in the (albeit unlikely) event of a problem. 

Community Broadband Networks and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance have catalogued numerous examples of economic development achievements that have occurred as a result of cities and counties deploying a municipal broadband network. Below, you can find a wide range of articles, studies, blog posts, and other resources that speak to the economic successes enabled by municipal networks, organized by topic:

* Job Creation

* Attraction of New Businesses

* Expansion of Existing Businesses

* Home-based Productivity 

* Healthcare, Education, and Research

* High Tech Industries and Entrepreneurship

* Savings 

* Property Values 

* General Resources

Upgrade Seattle on Need For Better Access - Community Broadband Bits Episode 153

We were excited to begin writing about the Upgrade Seattle campaign back in January and this week we are presenting a discussion with several people behind the campaign for episode 153 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

We are joined by Sabrina Roach, Devin Glaser, and Karen Toering to discuss what motivates the Upgrade Seattle campaign and the impact it hopes to have on the community.

We discuss their strategy for improving Internet access, how people are reacting, and how Upgrade Seattle is already working with, learning from, and sharing lessons to, people organizing in other communities for similar goals.

Read the transcript from our discussion here.

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

This show is 25 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 other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. 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."