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ECFiber Welcomes 600th Subscriber

The East Central Vermont Community Fiber-Optic Network (ECFiber) recently connected its 600th customer. The network continues to connect to additional homes and businesses, recently reaching Royalton. According to the Valley News, the network will extend to over 200 miles by the end of 2014, passing more than 2,000 homes and businesses.

The story notes that the Vermont Telecom Authority's Orange County Fiber Connector, a dark fiber project running through Orange and Windsor Counties, facilitated the expansion. From the article:

“In addition to offering us the possibility to connect more than 500 homes and businesses along the route, the (Orange County connector) will enable the interconnection of our remote hubs, allowing us to purchase more bandwidth and offer higher throughput to our subscribers,” said Stan Williams, chief financial officer and interim chief executive officer of ValleyNet, the Vermont nonprofit charged with operating ECFiber.

ECFiber sells tax-exempt promissory notes to local investors to fund the network. The coalition of communities that participate in the network now number 24. The Valley News also reports that the new CEO for ValleyNet will be Tom Lyons, formerly of Sovernet. Lyons replaces Tim Nulty, who recently retired.

Leslie Nulty, one of the network's champions, talked with Chris in episode 9 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. She described the ECFiber model and shared the history of the network.

New Hampshire's Bill Would Allow Munis to Bond for Open Access

A recent in-depth article from the Keene Sentinel updates us on the status of New Hampshire's HB 286, which would expand bonding authority for local governments. New Hampshire law currently restricts bonding authority for Internet infrastructure to towns with no access to the Internet, but nearly all communities have at least some slow broadband access in a few pockets of town.

We have been tracking this bill, most recently four months ago just before it overwhelmingly passed the house.

Unfortunately, the bill does not give many options to local governments. It settles to only allow bonding when the local government is not providing retail services, a business model that has only worked well when local governments have expanded very slowly. That said, New Hampshire already has a promising open access network called Fast Roads that would allow nearby towns to connect and access the four service providers already using it.

Connecting to an already-operating open access network is a much better prospect than having to start one from scratch, particularly in areas with low population density. Nonetheless, we continue to find it counter-productive for state legislatures to limit how local governments can invest in essential infrastructure. We know of no good policy reason for doing so - these limitations are a result of the lobbying power of a few cable and telephone companies that want to preserve scarcity to ensure high profit margins.

Kaitlin Mulhere's article, "Broadband access could be improved in NH through new bill," demonstrates the need for better networks in the granite state and notes that Fast Roads is starting to meet those needs in the areas it operates.

People often hear, for example, that 95 percent of the state has access to broadband, she said. But that’s only by including all New Hampshire Internet speeds, some of which fall below the speed considered fast enough to be broadband, which is 4 megabits per second (Mbps). Most of the state, more than half, doesn’t have access to speeds that meet the 4 Mbps threshold, she [Carole Monroe, Executive Director of Fast Roads] said.

...

So far, there are four providers on the network, which passes through 19 towns, including Fitzwilliam, Gilsum, Keene, Marlow, Richmond, Rindge and Swanzey. Now that construction is complete, FastRoads is working to add more providers to the list, as well as looking for ways to expand its network to more residential areas.

FastRoads also included two areas of “last mile” construction, enabling 1,300 residents and businesses in specific areas of Rindge and Enfield to connect directly to the FastRoads fiber, though a service provider has to bring the connection from the cable box on the street into the home.
So far, about 180 residents or businesses are using the network, Monroe said.

For Rindge resident Tim Wessels, the FastRoads network has made a “world of difference.”
Before it, he paid $130 a month for a satellite and two DSL circuits. Combining all three, he had a download speed of just over 3 megabits per second.

Now, Wessels pays $70 to one Internet service provider for 20 Mbps of download and upload speed.

Fast Roads was assisted with an award from the federal broadband stimulus programs.

OpenCape: Local Ideas to Maximize Fiber Infrastructure

The OpenCape Network launched about eight months ago to bring better middle mile connectivity to Cape Cod. Reporter Sean Gonsalves explored other possibilities for the 350-mile infrastructure in a recent Cape Cod Online article.

Gonsalves spoke with OpenCape CEO Dan Vorthems. The network was funded with $32 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grants and approximately $8 million in funds from the state, county, and private-sector partner CapeNet. It brings connectivity to 91 community anchor institutions from Provincetown as far west as Providence and Brockton. The idea for the network began with Cape Cod Community College and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Today, OpenCape is a non-profit with Board members from healthcare, higher education, public education, government, and the private sector.

Gonsalves and Vorthems touched on the high hopes for economic development that accompanied the network deployment. When the project began, the dream was to turn Cape Cod into a "Silicon Sandbar." The network is still in its infancy, but new jobs in the area are retail, service, and tourist related rather than high-tech. Residents of Cape Cod were hoping the network would bring better paying positions to meet the high cost of living in the area.

Gonsalves takes it one step further and proposes using the network for last mile connections:

Getting the Cape's big data users online opens up all sorts of possibilities. But [what] I wanted to know is when the Cape would get to the point where residential users could access this Internet autobahn capable of reaching speeds of a gigabit per second.

Once that happens, the Cape suddenly becomes a really attractive place for tech-savvy entrepreneurs, small business start-ups, and potential work-from-home employees who now spend hours commuting off-Cape. In the super high-speed tech world, they call that "the last mile."

Governor Patrick expressed his intention to bring better connectivity to underserved communities in his State of the Commonwealth address in January. There are a good number of underserved communities in Massachusetts, especially on the western side of the state, so Vorthems does not anticipate large amounts of state funding to find its way to Cape Cod.

There is a group working to optimize the asset that is already in place. From the article:

In the last few years, an ad hod group called Smarter Cape Partnership — comprising Open Cape, the Cape Cod Commission, Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, the Cape Cod Technology Council and the Cape Cod Young Professionals — have been working to establish plans to develop shared work spaces for technology oriented start-ups.

"We've been approached by a number of organizations who are interested in doing fiber-to-the-home projects here," he said. "It's a very exciting time."

New Case Study of Leverett, Mass, Muni Network

We first reported on Leverett in the spring of 2012. Leverett, a small town of 2,000, also attracted Susan Crawford's attention. Crawford and Robyn Mohr recently wrote a case study on the community's efforts to build its own fiber network. The Berkman Center for Internet & Society released the paper on December 16, 2013.

Readers will remember that Leverett, tired of being dismissed by large providers, decided to build a FTTH network to each home in town. Construction of the network, funded by a modest tax increase, is now underway.

The report, Bringing Municipal High-Speed Internet Access to Leverett, Massachusetts offers these main findings, as reported on Crawford's blog:

LeverettNet is a last-mile fiber to the home network that will be operated by a publicly controlled Municipal Light Plant entity. The MLP will operate independently of Leverett’s political infrastructure, but will be required by state law to charge subscribers no more than the cost of providing service.

The network will connect every household in Leverett. Although every residence and business will be linked to LeverettNet, individual homeowners will have the discretion to decide whether to subscribe.

LeverettNet was planned to take advantage of MassBroadband 123, a publicly funded fiber network recently built to connect towns (but not individual homes and businesses) in Massachusetts.

Long-term leadership, planning, and community engagement by Leverett’s public officials prompted the citizens of Leverett to approve a modest property tax increase in return for the long-term benefits of a FTTH network.

Although LeverettNet has opted for a tiered set of access plans, had it decided to deliver 1Gbps to every home and business in Leverett the cost of service to subscribers—including Internet access and phone service, state and local taxes, access fees, network operation fees, and maintenance fees—would have been $61.30 per household per month.

Burlington's Next Step: Become a Gigabit Community

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

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

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

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

1.    Develop Structure to Foster Applications-Driven Energy

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

2.    Create the Most Robust Infrastructure

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

3.    Embrace Technology Through Community Events and Hackathons

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

4.    Share Practices With Other Cities to Deploy Networks

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

5.    Tap into Federal Resources

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Hampshire FastRoads to Partner With Sovernet

New Hampshire FastRoads will soon be working with Vermont's Sovernet to bring access to southern New Hampshire. According to the Brattleboro Reformer, Sovernet is ready to begin offering data and voice service as soon as the fiber infrastructure is complete.

"It's really exciting because while we do some business in New Hampshire we have not been able to do anything to the extent that we will be able to do on this fiber network," said Sovernet Vice President of Sale and Marketing Peter Stolley. "Needs over the Internet are constantly evolving and this gives us a virtually unlimited amount of speed to get to people."

Sovernet managed a similar project to New Hampshire Fastroads in Vermont, but in Vermont Sovernet installed and manages the fiber network.

FastRoads' open access model will provide infrastructure on which independent ISPs will offer service to community anchor institutions, businesses, and residents in underserved areas. The $7.6 million project is about 98% finished after a year-long installation period. New Hampshire Community Development Finance Authority, Monadnock Economic Development Authority and 42 towns in New Hampshire comprise the FastRoads collaborative effort.

Carole Monroe, New Hampshire FastRoads Executive Director told the Reformer:

"This project was done to reach the most rural and least served communities in this part of the state," Monroe said. "Up to now there has been no way to bring fiber to these homes and this is a great opportunity to get them that big broadband. We think that as more people come on board it will entice growth and allow us to expand our footprint to reach more businesses and homes."

We spoke with Monroe in Episode #36 of the Broadband Bits podcast. She shared a history of the challenges facing the collaborative and how the network was already bringing benefits to the community, even before launch.

Winchester, Massachusetts, Defeats Plan for Town and School Technology Fund

Winchester, Massachusetts, recently offered voters the chance to create a special fund earmarked for school and government technology infrastructure. The question came during the special election to fill an empty Senate seat vacated by Secretary of State John Kerry. The technology fund proposal, to be funded by taxpayers, did not pass but offers an interesting approach for communities seeking to ensure community anchor institutions have the connections they need.

Wicked Local Winchester reported on the "technology stabilization fund:"

Under the proposal, the fund would receive $350,000 from taxpayers in fiscal year 2014. That figure would increase by 2.5 percent each year. Each Winchester household would pay approximately $50 in taxes into the fund in the fiscal year that begins July 1, according to the proposal.

The fund cannot be used for any end-user devices, including computers, laptops or classroom technology like smartboards. Instead, the fund will cover upgrading and maintaining the town and school computer network.

Opposed community members criticized a lack of detailed plans for the fund and challenged whether it would save public dollars. In the days before the vote, some council members publicly questioned the need for technology improvements.

The proposal failed 54 percent to 46 percent on June 25th. Wicked Local Winchester noted that several voters they met at the polls did not know about the proposal before the election. Support seemed strong from those voting yes:

“I think if we’re going to have an excellent school system, we need the technology to support it,” resident Anne Poskitt said after voting at the Jenks Center.

Resident Patricia Shea expressed similar sentiments after voting at the Lynch School, saying that she feels strongly about the importance of technology because she has three children who attended Winchester schools.

“If this is what we have to do to [improve technology], I support it,” she said.

Also from Wicked Local:

Selectman Jim Johnson, who proposed the technology stabilization fund, was disappointed.

“I thought this was a good way to address the [infrastructure] issue, but it didn’t work,” he said. “We’ll have to come up with Plan B.”

Coop Status for Burlington Telecom? Maybe.....

Burlington Telecom may be headed for some changes. Due to the mismanagement of the prior Burlington Mayor Administration, the network took on an unsustainable amount of debt and damaged its reputation. Some of the plans to make the network sustainable again involve privatizing it. Unfortunately, as we have seen with public power privatizations, such an action typically results in worse services and higher prices due to the loss of local control.

Operating under the name Keep Our Telecom Local, a group of local residents and business leaders want to ensure BT remains owned by the community by turning it into a cooperative. At a December 13 public meeting, the group of about 50 volunteers gathered and talked strategy. According to a Burlington Free Press article on the meeting, attendees broke into smaller groups to discuss specific issues and plans.

The next step will be efforts to increase publicity for the movement and the creation of a business plan. Currently, a committee is forming to determine the best way to file for a Vermont Certificate of Public Good. Another committee is looking into formation of a board of directors.

Most municipal networks do not have to contend with the problems that have plagued Burlington Telecom. But even with all of the problems faced by this publicly owned network, the community still sees great value in rescuing it rather than abandoning it. The Burlington community appreciates the incredible value of keeping their broadband resource local. From the article:

Don Schramm, one of the organizers of tentatively named Green Mountain Broadband Fiber, said it makes sense to pursue a Third Way.

“Keeping our telecom locally owned means that the jobs stay here, the money spent stays here, the profit stays here — and most importantly, the control stays here,” Schramm said. “We will have a broadband cooperative responsible to our community needs, not the profit wants of out-of-state owners.”

We applaud the community for recognizing the value of this great asset, the importance of local control, and their efforts to keep BT local.

Leverett, Massachusetts Approves Broadband Funding

We brought you news of Leverett, Massachusetts and their decision this spring to pursue a municipal fiber optic network. In April, voters approved a measure to develop the initiative, and this past weekend took the last step toward building the network. The town of 1,851, voted to raise their taxes to pay for a fiber-to-the-home network. The result was a resounding 462 for and 90 against.

The GazetteNET.com covered the story:

"We're expecting everyone in Leverett to have access to this network by 2014," said Peter d'Errico, a member of the town's Select Board and a leading supporter of the municipal fiber-optic system."

"This was clearly a mandate to proceed," said d'Errico. "There was vigorous discussion at every stage of the process and it's a sign that community is ready to take charge of its own services."

The Proposition 2 1/2 debt exclusion override ended in an 83.5% vote to support the project. The result satisfies the 2/3 majority requirement for a planned tax increase, as required by state law.

A little more than 39% of the town's eligible voters cast ballots. According to the assistant town clerk, D'Ann Kelty who monitors voter activity, the turn out was large for a single issue election.

The funding strategy is a 20-year bond measure and is expected to increase property taxes by 6%. Supporters note that a 6% hike in property taxes is less than what households will save in telephone and internet bills. They will be paying less for something far better than they now receive. According to residents, telephone service has been spotty for years, due to old copper wires that have not been replaced by providers. In a recent GazetteNET article before the vote:

"Beginning in 2009 or so, high speed providers decided that they weren't going to upgrade their landline cables in rural areas," said Richard Nathhorst, a member of the Broadband Committee and one of the drafters of the proposal. Though the state issued a court order last year to Verizon Telecommunications, the owner of the current lines, to improve service to rural areas, dissatisfaction remained high in town over frequent service outages and insufficient bandwidth access for many residents.

"We can't rely on private companies to support cutting-edge digital access in sparsely populated areas like ours," said Peter d'Errico.

A private company will install and run the network, which will belong to the town.  Some homes still use dial-up, others have unreliable satellite, and some have no access at all. Each home in Leverett will be connected to the ftth network.

"Right now, we're paying for services and maintenance that we aren't getting from the private sector," [d'Errico] said. "Municipal networks aren't a new thing. This is a well-known strategy that we're using to get our costs down, even by the conservative estimate that we used in the proposal."

"We think of the Internet as a consumer device, but in fact it adds so much value as a professional tool and a creative tool as well," said Peter d'Errico. "There are a lot of people in Leverett who move information or market their artwork for a living, and they need this resource available to them. We're going to be able to attract them and keep them here."

"Lighting Up New England" Workshop Set for June 13

We want to let you know about an upcoming one-day workshop that looks to be a good opportunity to learn more about FTTH networks. "Lighting Up New England" will be June 13 in Westford, Massachusetts, at the Westford Regency. The workshop will be hosted by the Fiber-to-the-Home Council and is part of the 2012 NEFC FiberFest.

Here are specifics from the announcement:

Fiber, Fiber Everywhere - a discussion panel covering the latest technologies that require more fiber to operate effectively - including fiber for wind farms, solar energy and for greater wireless reach using fiber to the antennae and to the cell tower.

Monica Webb, Executive Committee Chair, from WiredWest will be speaking about working with state and local organizations in Massachusetts as they build their own fiber optic networks. We have been seeing impressive results from the work of WiredWest and their group of 40 communities. Also speaking will be leaders from the FTTH Council, the American Cable Association, and analysts with expertise in FTTH and the fiber optic broadband industry. From the 2012 NEFC FiberFest website:

There will be a special focus on the trends in FTTH technology and equipment, as well as a focus on what network operators are doing to leverage fiber to the home into their strategies for success in the telecommunications market. This workshop is an outstanding learning opportunity for anyone who is interested in next-generation broadband -telecom service providers, consulting network engineers, manufacturers of optical access equipment, or anyone else who wants to get the inside scoop from the front lines of the all-fiber revolution.

You can register for the workshop here and visiting the exhibit area free.