The following stories have been tagged ohio ← Back to All Tags

An Increasing Call for Community Owned Networks

While Comcast focuses on increasing its market power rather than improving services in the communities it monopolizes, no one should be surprised that we are seeing a surge in interest for building community owned networks.

We've heard from many people who want to learn how they can start - more than we can always respond to, unfortunately. We are working on a resource to answer many of those questions, but it always boils down to 2 things: building a supportive network of people and getting informed. Get the word out - especially to local business leaders and anyone else who may be supportive.

There are many potential business models and financing opportunities, but some will work better than others in each community. That said, there are some basics that every community should be immediately considering.

The first is building a fiber network to connect anchor institutions such as schools, libraries, first responders, municipal facilities, and the like (see our Fact Sheet on savings from such networks). These networks should be constructed in such a way as to enable future expansions to local businesses, residents, and generally everything in the community or even beyond for rural areas. That means choosing the backbone routes carefully and ensuring that as much fiber is available as possible. Using conduit with channels and always leave at least one channel free to pull a future bundle (replacing a smaller count bundle that can then be removed to continue having a free channel).

Another smart move is to begin getting conduit and fiber in the ground as part of other capital projects, like street rebuilds, water main replacement, and the like. We will discuss how Santa Monica did this in an upcoming case study. In the meantime, there is no better resource than CTC Technology & Energy's recent report, Gigabit Cities: Technical Strategies for Facilitating Public or Private Broadband Construction in your Community.

We have additional resources organized in two places: on MuniNetworks.org and on ILSR.org. If you can't find a piece of information you need, let us know.

Of the recent voices calling for at least consideration of a publicly owned network in their community, two recent ones stand out. Lev Gonick, head of OneCommunity in northeast Ohio (our coverage of them here) recently called on the region to take its future into its own hands rather than waiting for Google.

logo-onecommunity-2014.png

City Halls across the land are asking how they can attract Google Fiber and extend the Google brand to their city. Of course, we can and should invite Google to the North Coast.

We can wait for Google or we can continue building our own future.

OneCommunity, with the support of our hundreds of forward-thinking public benefit organizations, has built and now manages the largest community fiber optic network in the country. Built right here, our $200 million network has become a reference model for national programs and communities across the country aspiring to take their future into their own hands when it comes to broadband.

It is worth noting that this is no slap across the face of Google. Google has said many times that it is not going to build everywhere and that communities need to be proactive - which means either making investments to build their own networks or finding worthwhile partners. This is a slap across the face of incumbent cable and telephone providers that are not meeting local needs.

In Massachusetts, some in Cambridge are also making the case for local investments in a fiber network. Saul Tannenbaum calls for a community network to meet the needs of everyone in the community. In his well-reasoned piece, he writes:

Cambridge does have an established method of tackling complex, controversial planning issues. It appoints an external body, composed of residents, experts, and stakeholders who engage in a public process. In cases where the City has neither the expertise nor resources to address an issues, this is accompanied by an appropriation of funds to employ consultants. That's what should happen next.

City Manager Richard Rossi should appoint a commission composed of experts, residents and scholars, the innovation community and the social justice community and charge them with developing a municipal broadband proposal for Cambridge.

Those who want to know how their community should proceed should read the final third of his post (though it is all worth reading). This is especially true for communities without municipal electric utilities.

Finally, stay tuned for next week - when we release a case study on Santa Monica, one of the most successful municipal networks to have been built by a community without a municipal electric utility.

Merit Collaborates With OARnet and Local Community in Hillsdale, Michigan

A recent press release from the Merit educational and research network in Michigan announces a new connection to its Ohio sister, OARnet. Member entities and local communities now enjoy better redundancy, expanded reach, and better services. Local communities continue to benefit from the presence of the middle mile infrastructure.

The network helps local Hillsdale College to cut connectivity costs; the Merit announcement quotes Hillsdale College leadership:

"Hillsdale College has been a Merit member since 1992," stated David Zenz, executive director of information technology services for Hillsdale College, "and it was always a dream to figure out some way to eliminate expensive data circuit costs to free up funds to purchase more bandwidth. In 2008 The City of Hillsdale, the Hillsdale Intermediate School District, Hillsdale College, and Merit figured out how to do just that."

Through a long term collaborative effort, Merit, the City of Hillsdale, Hillsdale Board of Public Utilities (BPU), Hillsdale College, and Hillsdale County Intermediate School District (ISD) came together to establish the Hillsdale Community Network. Each entity now benefits from lowered connectivity costs, better infrastructure, and improved opportunities. 

A 2009 story from Merit, describes the situation at ISD:

In 2006, Hillsdale County Intermediate School District (ISD) found that it was in desperate need of increasing its network bandwidth to meet the growing demands of its users. The District had 62 miles of fiber optic cabling strung around the county, but was looking for ways to increase its available bandwidth in Hillsdale without increasing its costs. This time, a partnership between the two organizations [ISD and Hillsdale College] and others in the area began to make sense. 

According to the article, Merit managed the project from start to finish. The City has cut costs and improved economic opportunity. Also from the article:

"We saw a cost reduction for the city," according to Eric Macy, contractor for the City of Hillsdale and Nonik. "We knew that we needed infrastructure for the future. We could have done a local network on our own, but we wanted to collaborate with others. If we had to do it all ourselves, it would have taken a lot longer to pull off." 

"We want to bill the city as a progressive place for economic development. As part of this project, we were able to provide some economic development." 

The expansion to bring OARnet and Merit together is part of the REACH-3MC project, funded by American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grants. We recently reported on Merit's completed segment expansion to rural Alpena, also part of the project.

Ohio Community Wants to Expand Use of Existing Fiber

In Springfield, Ohio, community leaders are looking for ways to use their share of a commercially owned fiber optic loop on the eastern side of town. The community hopes to secure a $50,000 Local Innovation Fund grant from the state to finance a feasibility study reports the News-Sun.

Approximately 60,000 people live in Springfield, located 45 miles west of Columbus. Advanced Virtual Engine Test Cell, Inc. (AVETEC) owns and operates a 19-mile fiber optic ring connecting downtown to its facility. The fiber route passes the Clark State Community College and at least one public school. Springfield owns 24 unused strands of the AVETEC network and wants to build off that asset to save public dollars, improve school connectivity, and encourage economic development.

From the News-Sun article:

“From an economic development standpoint, it’s definitely capitalizing on an amenity that’s already in the ground that we can use then to leverage as an additional incentive or perk to doing business in Springfield, especially business that’s proximal to that fiber in the near-term,” said Josh Rauch, the city’s deputy economic development administrator. “Then as it builds out, you get more and more connectivity throughout the city.”

“The goal is to take the fiber build-out we’ve got and look at other places you could build fiber,” Rauch said.

The Miami Valley Educational Computer Association (MVECA) is a regional nonprofit consortium of twenty-five local K-12 school districts. MVECA leases and maintains a fiber network for the Springfield City School District and other Clark County school districts. The Executive Director of MVECA, anticipating the need for 10 gigabit connections, hopes to see a collaboration with the City to bring the fiber to Springfield and area schools. He believes working together will reduce costs for local school districts and MVECA.

“With the continuously increasing technology demands that schools are placing on our network, finding more affordable ways and long-term solutions for really robust network connectivity is essential,” [MVECA Executive Director Thor] Sage said.

The next round of approved applications to the Local Government Innovation Fund will be announced in February 2014.

Hamilton, Ohio, to Expand Fiber to Businesses and Schools

A part of the Cincinnati metro region, Hamilton sits in the extreme southwest corner of Ohio. The community of 63,000 will soon expand its fiber resources to spur economic development and improve education opportunities. Eric Schwartzberg from the Journal News reports that the City Council recently voted to support the city-owned electric utility's proposal to create a broadband utility and build a data center. Hamilton is a full service community, also offering sewer, water, and gas.

Hamilton's municipal facilities have used the city's fiber I-Net for over nine years, reports Schwartzberg, and they believe it now makes sense to connect schools and local businesses while opening the network to independent service providers. 

[Mark] Murray [a project manager for the city’s underground utilities] said the opportunity to offer broadband to businesses and schools is similar to what Hamilton does with the electricity it generates.

“If we were putting up poles and stringing wires and only providing that to city institutions or city buildings … why wouldn’t we offer electric to businesses?” he said. “Well, that’s the same question that’s being asked of our fiber optic network. We’ve made great use of it here within the city, but why not take this asset and offer it as a service to the businesses?”

...

“When you start to see this type of facility go in, it’s not unusual for regional or national start ups to want to take advantage of the opportunity to tap into our fiber network,” [Murray] said.

In January of 2012, the City's We Connect People Sub-Committee began investigating how best to use the City's fiber. They hired Magellan Advisors who estimates the project costs at $4.3 million to expand the fiber network, purchase equipment and build the data center, and to use for future capital improvements and maintenance. Murray said positive operating revenue would be expected in 2017 and 2018 would very likely show net income.

In addition to serving local business, the utility also hopes to establish the Hamilton City School District as a community anchor institution. Murray noted that the utility is not interested in providing phone, video, or data to the school; they will build the infrastructure for private providers. 

Medina County Offices Will Connect With Community Network

The newly completed Medina County Fiber Network (MCFN) in Ohio will soon add Medina County government as the next customer.

The Medina-Gazette reports the County Commission recently voted unanimously to enter into a five-year agreement with MCFN and drop Armstrong Cable. County Administrator Chris Jakab says the county will save $600 per month. Currently Medina County pays $3,300 per month and the new monthly fee will be $2,700 per month.

Apparently, Armstong Cable did not take the news well. At the County Commissioners meeting, Armstrong questioned the decision:

Minutes after the commissioners unanimously approved changing service providers, Armstrong’s General Manager Karen Troxell disputed Jakab’s figures.

Troxell said the Armstrong bill is made up of a $2,474 fiber-optic lease and an $826 Internet fee. She said the new agreement only covered the fiber-optic lease. She said the county still would have to pay for Internet access, which would bring the total bill to more than $3,500.

“I think this decision needs to be rethought,” she told the commissioners. “Or I need an explanation as to why you’re willing to pay more money for these services.”

Jakab said Troxell was mistaken, saying the fiber network’s $2,700 fee includes a $300 fee for Internet access.

The community recently celebrated completion of its 151-mile network, owned by the Medina County Port Authority. Last summer, the Highland School District connected to the network when its contract with Time Warner Cable ended. The move saves the school district approximately $82,000 in annual connectivity fees.

Business and community leaders began planning for the network 10 years ago as a way to spur economic development and create a more competitive telecommunications environment. A Port Authority revenue development bond issue and a stimulus grant administered by OneCommunity paid for the $13.8 million project. 

Medina County, Ohio, Celebrates Fiber Network Completion

Community leaders in Medina County, Ohio, recently celebrated the completion of the Medina County Fiber Network (MCFN). Loren Grenson of the Medina Gazette reported on the celebratory breakfast event where officials proclaimed, “The monopoly is dead. Long live the fiber loop."

Local businesses already rave about the county owned MCFN, which offers Internet access, data tranport, and dark fiber leasing. From the article:

Automation Tool and Die in Brunswick is one of 20 entities already tied into the fiber network. The network provides better service to the company’s four buildings in Brunswick’s Northern Industrial Park, said Jacob Mohoric, company IT manager.

“It’s a blazing-fast Internet connection at all four of our buildings at an effective cost,” Mohoric said.

Company co-owner J. Randy Bennett said the network provided the first decent bandwidth for his company since it moved to Brunswick in 1983.

“We had no good bandwidth source and we paid through the nose for what we did have,” Bennett said.

Last July, the Highland School District was near the end of an expensive contract with Time Warner Cable. The network was not complete, but enough MCFN infrastructure was in place to connect the schools for Internet and phone service. Highland Schools now pay about $82,000 less per year for connectivity.

Community leaders began working on the project over ten years ago. After years of planning, the Medina County Port Authority (MCPA) secured $14.4 million in bonds and a $1.4 million stimulus award. The stimulus funding is part of a 2010 grant to nonprofit OneCommunity, charged with extending fiber to 22 Ohio counties. OneCommunity will manage the network.

The 151-mile asset belongs to the MCPA but the entire community considers itself an "owner." Bethany Dentler, executive director of the Medina County Economic Development Corp., also spoke at the celebration:

Dentler said the 151 miles of line through Medina County are a source of pride for the community and a unique collaborative investment in infrastructure.

“The best part is that this network belongs to all of us,” she said. “Not just the Medina Port Authority, not just the Medina County Economic Development Corp., but it’s a publicly owned network that belongs to the entire Medina community.”

OneCommunity Helps More Ohio Towns Take Advantage of Fiber

In Cuyahoga County, OneCommunity is leading the effort of upgrade the County's networking ability. With a special focus on improving pubic safety, the project is estimated to save the county $10 million over the next 5 years. From the OneCommunity blog:

The project provides high-bandwidth connectivity and secure video conferencing to more than 60 county offices and public safety locations; will provide wireless high speed Internet to the Justice Center, Courthouse, and Administration Building; and will equip County employees with mobile wireless access.

In addition, the Cuyahoga Regional Information Services (CRIS) emergency system is now available in public safety vehicles, enabling law enforcement officers to pull up criminal records while out in the community.  Cuyahoga Community College benefits from this public safety broadband connection as emergency personnel can use CRIS to help coordinate response efforts.

In Mayfield Village, a new network is being installed by OneCommunity in a city-owned office and industrial area. Mayfield Village anticipates this new resource and its high capacity will bring new businesses to its facility on Beta Drive.

Mayfield Village Planning Development describes the service:

The Mayfield Village fiber optic network is a new facet of our Beta Drive commercial district. The network is intended by the Village to save our businesses substantial amounts of money on their internet and other IT costs. Mayfield Village not only partnered with regional dark fiber organization OneCommunity to install the fiber, but the Village and OneCommunity have teamed up to offer very competitive internet service prices to companies wishing to connect to the network.

New Fact Sheet: Community Broadband and Public Savings

We have already published a fact sheet on the critical role community broadband plays in job development. Now, ILSR presents a collection of how commnity owned broadband networks save money for local government, schools, and libraries while providing cutting edge services. The Public Savings Fact Sheet is now available.

Though schools, libraries, and other community anchors need access to faster, more reliable networks, the big cable and telephone companies have priced those services so high that they are breaking the budget. But when communities create their own connections, affordable high capacity connections are only one of the benefits. A community owned network offers the promise of self-determination -- of upgrades on the community's time table and increased reliability for emergency responders.

The Public Savings Fact Sheet is a great piece to share to mobilize other members of your community. Share it with decision makers and use it to start meaningful conversations. Distribute it widely and often.

We are always developing new resources. If you have an idea for a new fact sheet, we want to hear it.

Brunswick, Ohio, Uses County Fiber to Drive Economic Development

Last summer, Medina County Schools announced a savings of almost $90,000 a year by switching from Time Warner Cable to the new Medina County Fiber Network. Scheduled for completion in late November, the network consists of a 151-mile loop and will provide bandwidth to government facilities and businesses. The project is mostly funded by the Medina County Port Authority, which will own the loop, and receives support from a stimulus broadband grant administered by the NE Ohio nonprofit, OneCommunity.

Loren Genson reported on local businesses' enthusiasm as the network makes its way to Brunswick, where fiber will pass through the Brunswick Industrial Park. Genson attended a meeting to update the community. From the article:

LeHotan, who owns All Construction Services on Industrial Parkway North, said improved fiber-optic broadband speeds will keep business in the industrial park and recruit new businesses to the area.

...

Brunswick Economic Development Director Tim Smith said he promotes the fiber-optic network when talking to businesses interested moving their operations to Brunswick.

“I see leads that come in, and one of their requirements is high-speed broadband,” Smith said. “Our industrial park is right on the throughway. … Now we have this to offer as well.”

Clearly, current and potential Medina County employers recognize the value of the network. Dave LeHotan, owner of a local construction company, spoke at the gathering:

“It’s like a garden hose: You can only get so much water out of it, so much use at a time,” he said. “But this is like a fire hose, much more powerful.”

LeHotan said getting the upgraded infrastructure will help attract more businesses not only to Brunswick but all along the two loops that connect the entire county.

“This is really necessary even for small companies,” LeHotan said. “You can form a small company and all of a sudden the next thing you know you’re shipping 1 million products and only 15 percent of them are nearby.”

This is just one of many examples of community broadband networks allowing local businesses to thrive -- we have documented many more examples on our Community Broadband and Economic Development Fact Sheet.

Ohio Legislation Threatens Rural Landline Phone Service

Once again, consumers must fight to preserve their landline telephone service. This time, the Ohio General Assembly is pondering legislation that can end traditional service for up to 1 million Ohio residents.

Our readers know about the efforts of ALEC and AT&T to drastically reduce their obligation to provide landlines across the country. Up to now, telephone companies were required to serve everyone, but those requirements are under attack, state by state. Bills have emerged in Mississippi, Kentucky, New Jersey and California.

The very real fear is that Ohio's Senate Bill 271 (SB271) will increase telephone prices, reduce service quality, and cause many to lose access to reliable 911 service. Many of those who still depend on landlines, include senior citizens. From an article on the Public New Service:

AARP Ohio State Director Bill Sundermeyer says, besides preserving social contact, land-line phones are needed to protect seniors' health and safety. For instance, some seniors use the phone line to transmit routine health information from equipment in their home to their doctor's office, he says.

"They can make an evaluation of a person's heart and how's it working, of their lungs, etc. That information would be very difficult to transmit over a cell phone."

(on a personal note, I can attest to this….my father routinely uses his landline telephone to send data to the clinic about his pacemaker to make sure it is functioning correctly)

The Office of the Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) also expresses concern with the bill because it would allow telephone companies to stop providing local service in places labeled as "fully competitive." In the SB271 Fact Sheet (read the PDF, which offers a map of the qualifying areas), the OCC explains the problem with this definition:

Ohio Consume Council seal

To be considered “competitive,”
 a telephone company has to show that only two other companies provide service somewhere in the exchange, but not necessarily everywhere in the exchange. The other companies might not provide basic service, their services might not be comparable in price to the telephone company’s basic service, and their services do not have to be available to all customers within the exchange.

Although this test was designed for 
the single purpose of giving telephone companies limited flexibility in pricing customers’ basic service rates, SB
271 would give that competitive test
 an entirely new purpose. Telephone companies would be allowed to declare their entire service territory “fully competitive” if they have shown that all of their exchanges have passed this minimal competitive test—and then could begin withdrawing telephone service from customers in July of 2013 or 2014.

The bill would also allow telephone companies to use the cometititve test to avoid complying with current minimum service quality standards. If companies are exempted, they are not required to adhere to consumer protections regarding billing, repairs, and disconnections.

SB271, like similar legislation in other states, specifically limits Public Utilities Commission of Ohio's (PUCO's) authority to act on behalf of Ohio consumers. Under SB271, PUCO can no longer require a telephone company to serve any particular customer or group of consumers.

This is not the first strike at telephone regulations in Ohio. Two years ago, the Ohio General Assembly passed SB162. That bill allowed telephone companies to raise prices by as much as $1.25 each year for basic telephone service in exchanges that met the competitiveness test. One saving grace in SB162 was the requirement that a Select Committee be established to review the effects of SB162.

Whether or not that Committee will have the opportunity to meet and review the current environment is questionable. SB271 passed the Senate and is now under consideration by a House Committee.

[The coordinator for the Rural Broadband Policy Group, Edyael] Casaperalta says no new telecommunication matters should be introduced until that committee is formed and its report is complete.

"We should not even be considering another deregulation bill without first learning about what type of impact and assessing the impact of that first deregulation bill in 2010."

The Rural Broadband Policy Group is part of the National Rural Assembly, which works on a wide range of issues affecting rural America.