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Shaker Heights Considers Expanding Fiber in Ohio

The Shaker Heights City Council is considering expanding an existing fiber network, reports Cleveland.com. The project would allow OneCommunity, the nonprofit managing a regional fiber network, access to the city's rights-of-way for 15 years.

OneCommunity, created in 2003, received a $44 million broadband stimulus award to extend fiber in northeast Ohio. The organization's network spans approximately 2,000 miles, providing connectivity for over 2,300 public facilities. Cuyahoga County, Medina County, and the town of New Brunswick are just a few communities that worked with OneCommunity to improve local connectivity for anchor institutions. 

According to the article, one commercial district in town, the Chagrin-Lee area, connects to the OneCommunity network. The Shaker LaunchHouse, a business accelerator, is the hub of Ohio's first "fiberhood." The LaunchHouse is also the first entity on the network offering gigabit speeds to the private sector:

"We work with a lot of start-up companies, and some of them are high-tech and having those higher Internet speed capabilities is key, " [director of entrepeneurial programming Katie] Connelly said. "We had more people coming in who are doing things like writing software, so our numbers have definitely increased." 

The City Council is seeking more information before they make a decision on granting access. Shaker Heights, home to 28,000 people, sits adjacent to Cleveland's eastern edge. A large number of buildings in Shaker Heights are listed on the National Register of Historic Places because the town started as a planned community in 1905. Shaker Heights adheres to strict zoning and building codes to preserve its historic feel.

According to the article, new retail, residential, and office space is coming to the community as part of a redevelopment project; the proposed expansion would service that area of town.

"Our goal as a city is to bring new development into Shaker Heights," city Economic Development Director Tania Menesse said. "For some companies, the availability of high speed Internet access could be a reason they decide to move their company across the country from an area where it's not available."

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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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.

Highland Schools in Ohio First to Connect to Medina County Fiber Network

Quite some time ago, we let you know about the plans and funding for the Medina County Fiber Network (MFCN). The network, owned by the Medina County Port Authority (MCPA) began construction in March, 2011, and is nearing completion. Jennifer Pignolet, reported in the Medina GazetteOnline, that the network just signed on their first customer, Highland Schools.

Apparently, the schools contract with its current provider, Time Warner Cable, is about to expire. While connecting Highland Schools now may be ahead of schedule, the county fiber committee can accommodate their needs. As an added bonus, the new relationship is more economical for the schools. From the article:

“Their situation needing to be addressed immediately certainly moved them to the front of the line,” [said Jim Gerspacher, chairman of the county’s fiber committee].

While the $14 million network is still months away from full completion, Gerspacher said there is enough infrastructure in place to get Highland online.

The school will have full Internet and phone service and will have all its buildings connected to one network.

Highland Technology Director Roger Saffle said the district will save close to $90,000 a year by switching from Time Warner to the Medina County network.

“It will maintain the access we already have with a cheaper cost,” Saffle said.

Highland Schools is moving from a $100,000 per year Time Warner Cable contract (or about $8,333 per month). The schools now will pay $1,500 each month to the MCPA and, according to Saffle, will be able to apply for federal grant funding to recover 40% of that monthly fee.

In 2008, OneCommunity and the MCPA began a partnership to plan and build the network. OneCommunity received a $44 million broadband stimulus grant in 2010 to extend fiber to 22 Ohio counties. MCPA received $1.6 million of that stimulus for their County network. The remainder of the $13.8 million project was covered by 20-year revenue development bonds issued by the MCPA.

OneCommunity will manage operations when the project is complete.

Telecom for Medicine: Public Networks Beat Monopoly and Duopoly

This is a good news/bad news story. The good news is, cable companies are starting to challenge telco dominance in health care communications. According to Bloomberg, they are “ramping up sales staffs to sell broadband access and related services to regional hospitals and doctors’ offices, trying to squeeze more money out of a network they used to use mainly for carrying TV signals.”

The bad news, of course, is that as we transition to digitized medical records, our medical system will be increasingly dependent on the cable/phone duopoly. All companies cited in the article anticipate substantial revenue growth from the health care sector in coming years. Unfortunately, increased revenues to the telecommunications providers means any efficiencies are unlikely to translate into lower health care costs.

Compare this to OneCommunity’s HealthNet, which is driving down costs for health facilities across Northern Ohio by providing affordable access to their gigabit network.

OneCommunity is a non-profit entity that owns and operates its own fiber infrastructure and also promotes interconnection among public and private networks in the region. Its own network is carrier neutral, meaning any service provider can lease access. It connects more than 1,500 entities in 22 counties, including some 65 hospitals. As we've written here, OneCommunity has created enormous cost savings by allowing health care entities to communicate directly with one another, avoiding Internet transport fees.

Photo by therichbrooks on Flickr - used under Creative Commons license.

Case Western Gig Network Releases Video of Case Connection Zone

Case Western Reserve University, one of the original partners in the OneCommunity Project, lit up a 1 Gbps network in a poorly served neighborhood near campus. This video explains some of the uses they have found thus far.

Video: 
See video

Medina County Bonds for Network in Partnership with OneCommunity

The Port Authority of Medina County, Ohio, has successfully bonded $14.4 million to take advantage of a broadband stimulus award to build a fiber-optic network connecting community anchor institutions and businesses with better broadband.

Bethany Dentler, executive director of the Medina County Economic Development Corporation, said Dec. 17 that a bond consultant had just completed sale of the bonds at an average interest rate of 5.96 percent. Cash from the bond sale was expected to be in the hands of the Medina County Port Authority by the end of the year and a fiber lighting ceremony to kickoff the construction phase of the project is planned for March or April.

Dentler said the port authority, which will own the network, plans to pay off the bonds over the next 20 years with fees charged to customers of the fiber network.

The nonprofit organization OneCommunity will build and presumably operate the network, which will be owned by the County. Being located in close enough proximity to work with OneCommunity appears to be a terrific advantage for communities who make investments in broadband infrastructure.

The $1.4 million in stimulus funds aiding this project were a part of the larger award given to OneCommunity as part of their efforts to better wire 20 counties in Ohio.

Intelligent Communities in US Invested in Community Networks

The Intelligent Community Forum has released their list of 2011's 21 smart communities.

The 2011 Smart21 ... highlights communities from 12 nations and includes 7 that appeared on last year’s list. Two communities, Issy-les-Moulineaux and Northeast Ohio, returned to the list after a 1-2 year absence. There were two Chinese, one Indian and one Australian communities on the list, as well as six from the USA, four from Canada and one each from the UK, France, Hungary and Brazil.

As usual, the list of US Communities that made the list is dominated by communities that have taken greater responsibility for their broadband infrastructure. Chattanooga was on the list (how could it not be?) with its 1Gbps community fiber network that we have covered.

Dakota County, Minnesota, is on the list and was a pioneer in county-owned fiber and conduit. For some reason, ICF is under the mistaken impression that the county has been well served by commercial providers… as my parents live in the County as well as a number of friends, I strongly disagree.

Danville, Virginia, has built an open access fiber network for local businesses and plans to expand it to residents (our Danville coverage).

[T]he city-owned electric utility launched the nDanville open-access fiber network to bring world-class connectivity to business and government.  Danville (a 2010 Smart21) developed the fiber infrastructure – now 125 miles in length – while leaving it to private-sector providers to deliver services.   With all government and school facilities plus 150 businesses on the network, it is now financially self-sustaining.  The city partnered with county government to develop a business incubator and with Virginia Tech to build a new research institute. 

Dublin, Ohio, has done quite a bit of public investment for their network infrastructure needs:

A strategic planning exercise led Dublin to install underground conduits to encourage fiber-optic deployment.  This became DubLink, a public-private fiber network for business, government and schools, which spurred aggressive roll-out of e-government services from digital filing of taxes to Dublin TV online video channels.  In partnership with the Ohio Supercomputer Center, DubLink has created a research network linking regional schools, universities and hospitals.  An all-Dublin wireless network has extended coverage to provide cost-saving service automation to the city and a platform for service providers to reach customers.  Dublin also uses the availability of dark fiber to attract employers like OhioHealth and the Online Computer Library Center, and drives innovation in partnership with a nonprofit that has accelerated the growth of 50 local companies. 

Elsewhere in Ohio, the OneCommunity folks have again been recognized for their good work (our OneCommunity coverage here).