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Amherst, Massachusetts Exploring Fiber for Economic Development Downtown

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

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

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

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

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

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

Center for Public Integrity and Reveal Radio Get Into the Trenches of Local Choice

The Center for Public Integrity has followed the local choice debate closely. Their team has travelled to Tennessee and North Carolina to talk to lawmakers, visited communities seeking high-speed networks, and dug deep into the source of influential campaign funds. Allan Holmes and his team have assembled a collection of articles and audio that offers the right amount of history, backstory, and anecdotes to properly understand these issues.

Holmes published an article last August that took a deep look at telecommunications laws at the state level. Along the way, he spoke with State Senator Janice Bowling from Tullahoma. MuniNetworks.org readers know that the community is known for LightTUBe, the fiber network offering an oasis of high quality connectivity in an otherwise broadband desert. At the time, the Wilson and Chattanooga petitions were still fresh but Tennessee communities had long dealt with the problem of poor connectivity from incumbents. From the August article:

“We don’t quarrel with the fact that AT&T has shareholders that it has to answer to,” Bowling said with a drawl while sitting in the spacious wood-paneled den of her log-cabin-style home. “That’s fine, and I believe in capitalism and the free market. But when they won’t come in, then Tennesseans have an obligation to do it themselves.”

Holmes wrote about economic development in Tullahoma, a factor that seems directly tied to the presence of its municipal network:

Employment in Tullahoma lagged statewide job growth before theLightTUBe was turned on. Since the recession ended in 2009, two years after the city began offering broadband, the city has outpaced job growth in Tennessee. The city added 3,598 jobs from April 2009 to April 2014, a 1.63 percent annual growth rate, about double the statewide rate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

For perspective, Holmes visited Fayetteville, North Carolina, where community leaders have tried and failed to initiate community network deployment. Even though the community has a generous store of fiber assets, state laws prevent municipalities from offering connectivity. Local officials see the nonsense behind the law, pushed through by telecom lobbyists.

For Steven Blanchard, chief executive of Fayetteville’s Public Works Commission, prohibiting Fayetteville residents from using the fiber network that’s already there doesn’t make sense.

“Why shouldn’t we be allowed to sell fiber if it runs by everyone’s house?” Blanchard said. “They are already paying for the fiber to be there, so why not allow them use it for telephone and Internet and capture back a lot of the cost they put in to have it there?”

The article also provides an excellent resource for those curious to know how much North Carolina and Tennessee state lawmakers received from the telecommunications industry. Public Integrity's graphs paint an alarming picture of corporate influence on state policy. Unfortunately, it is easy to look at the graphs, purse one's lips, and think, "so THAT'S the reason why."

In a more recent piece Public Integrity's Jared Bennett interviews Holmes about his experiences reporting on the right for local authority. "Behind the municipal broadband battle" is a collection of brief interviews with people in the trenches. Holmes offers context for each interview.

In the Bennet piece, Holmes shares conversations he had with a number of business owners, residents, and community leaders in Tullahoma and elsewhere:

JB: In the past the president has framed this as a jobs creation issue. And that’s what it sounds like when you talk about companies like Agisent and Matt Johnson’s company, but is that what you found through your reporting?

AH: Yeah, you even talk to big investors, venture capitalists, about the importance of having broadband in a city and you find out that, yeah, Obama is right. We talked to Cameron Newton in Tullahoma. He was an investment banker in New York and for a very large bank in Charlotte, and now he’s a venture capitalist and we sat down in his office in Tullahoma to ask him about the importance of broadband to a city.

“Manufacturing in the U.S. is very, very different than it used to be, and it’s changing rapidly. And now you’re having much more automation. The next move in manufacturing is to additive manufacturing, which is 3D printing. None of that equipment is going to be isolated so in other words it’s all going to be connected. So if you don’t have broadband accessibility, if you don’t have fiber in your community, where are these manufacturing plants going to go? Well, they are going to go to areas that do have it.”

The Center for Public Integrity also produced this Reveal Radio story, "Duking It Out With Telecom Giants." Host Al Letson presents Holmes's journey into money in state politics, threats from incumbents, and the power of the telecom industry.

Bozeman's Public-Private Approach In-Depth - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 142

In Montana, local businesses and the city of Bozeman have been working on a public-private partnership approach to expanding Internet access that is likely to involve the city building an open access fiber network. We discuss their approach this week with Brit Fontenot, Economic Development Director for the city of Bozeman; David Fine, Bozeman Economic Development Specialist; and the President of Hoplite Industries, Anthony Cochenour.

Bozeman has long been known as a city with opportunities for outdoor activities but it also has a significant tech presence though like nearly every other community in the United States, many recognize the need for more investment in better options for connectivity.

A group of citizens, local businesses, and city staff have been examining their options, how they might finance it, and how to encourage the existing providers to work with them in improving Internet access.

Read the transcript from this episode here.

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

This show is 22 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 previous episodes here. 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."

Mount Vernon Mayor: Local Authority Has Been Good For Our City

As the time approached for FCC Commissioners to choose to allow Wilson and Chattanooga to serve surrounding communities, leaders from municipalities with publicly owned networks shared their experiences. Jill Boudreau, Mayor of Mount Vernon, Washington, published her community's experience with their muni in GoSkagit.com. 

As in the recent testimonial from Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller, Mayor Boudreau described how Mount Vernon's network has created a quality of life where high-tech has enhanced local medicine, encouraged new businesses, and created and environment rich with competition.

Mount Vernon's open access network provides infrastructure for nine service providers. Some of these providers offer services only to businesses, while others also serve government, retail providers, and specific industries such as the medical community. Hundreds of public and private customers receive fast, affordable, reliable connectivity through these providers and the city's publicly owned network.

We first introduced you to Mount Vernon in 2013. The community began deployment in 1995 and have added incrementally to the network to serve nearby Burlington and the Port of Skagit. Government facilities, schools, hospitals, and businesses save millions while utilizing top-notch technology. Businesses have relocated to the area to take advantage of the network and enjoy the high quality of life in the relatively affordable area with its abundance of outdoor recreation.

Mayor Boudreau recognizes that Mount Vernon's success may not be easy to come by for every community but believes each should have the ability to decide that for themselves. She writes:

When it comes to community growth and prosperity, next-generation Internet is vital infrastructure just like a road or sewer pipe. Though what we’ve built in Mount Vernon may not work in every city, each community should have the choice to pursue fast, affordable and reliable broadband in the way that works for them.

Yolo County, California Ready for Better Broadband

The Yolo County Board of Supervisors in California voted unanimously recently to accept consultants' recommendations to take steps improve broadband in the county. Some of those recommendations included investing in infrastructure to improve both urban and rural areas in the northern county. 

The Davis Enterprise reported on the meeting from February 24th:

With its diverse mix of rural and urban areas, the county has communities where little or no broadband service is available. And even in urban areas with greater access to service and providers, many residents complain of slow and unreliable connections, according to the Yolo Broadband Strategic Plan, which also provided direction for county officials on closing the divide in the coming years.

The strategic plan, commissioned in 2013, notes that in some areas residents must rely on dial-up or satellite:

“Residents are generally limited to low-speed connections that prevent these users from accessing the majority of online content,” reported John Honker of Magellan Advisors LLC, which prepared the report.

“Using the Internet for anything but simple Web browsing is challenging in these communities,” he said.

The situation is especially critical for farming communities in the county, reports the study:

Yolo's agricultural populations are also challenged by poor access to broadband, especially in the farming and seed technology industries. Yolo farms are often unable to keep up with the technological advancements in the agricultural field that would allow them achieve greater productivity and better management of their natural resources.

In the more urban areas, such as the City of Davis (home of UC Davis), residents complain they cannot get the service they need in households with multiple devices. In those cases, the bandwidth they need is just too expensive if it is available. These same communities complain of unreliable networks.

Almost a third of Yolo County residents who responded to the study survey reported that they use satellite or dial-up for Internet access, 35 percent said they use AT&T DSL, 18 percent reported they use Frontier DSL, and 18 percent reported they use mobile Internet. Eighty-five percent of respondents reported download speeds of slower than 6 Mbps, reports the Yolo County profile from the study.

“Yolo County is on the wrong side of the digital divide,” [Honker] told county supervisors. “The more devices we’re using, we’re taxing our connections more, creating demand for the services and the networks can’t keep up.”

International Media Covering NextLight Strides in Longmont

Longmont's NextLight is well known in the municipal networks space; now other media markets are starting to notice the most recent network in the Centennial State. CCTV America profiled the network recently, highlighting its importance to local businesses.

CCTV spoke with a local tech business owner who had recently connected to the municipal network:

Jon Rice is a web developer for whom a reliable computer connection is critical.

“Our entire business is basically predicated on having fast, easy access to the Internet,” Rice said.

Like many other modern households, Rice describes how their home hosts multiple devices. NextLight's $50 per month gigabit tier is a necessity for both his residential and business needs.

"It's a no brainer for us; the faster the better," says Rice in the video.

Demand is high in Longmont, where the community chose last fall to bond in order to speed up FTTH deployment. In a USAToday article from last November, Tom Roiniotis, Manager of Longmont Power and Communications, described how the utility was struggling to keep up with the requests for service:

"It's a good problem to have, scrambling to keep up with demand," Roiniotis said. "This is something we're doing locally and it's a big source of community pride. The money stays locally and if you have a problem you can just drive 2 or 3 miles down the road and come talk to us. People realize it's just as important ... as reliable energy and clean water." 

Thanks to Jon Rice at the Longmont Compass who alerted us to this video and the story:

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Dark Fiber Option Coming to Arlington Businesses

Arlington is finally ready to open up its network to local businesses seeking better connectivity, reports local news WJLA. The county board recently voted unanimously to allow providers to lease dark fiber from approximately 10 miles of the 59-mile network. They hope to spur economic development and entice ISPs to provide better connectivity for residents via the network.

"The dark fiber, in the most simplest terms, is like a super highway. You're the only car on that highway and you can go as fast as the vehicle you've chosen can go," explained Jack Belcher, chief information officer of Arlington County.

We first reported on Arlington's network in 2012, after the community had dedicated about 2 years to the project. They took advantage of investments in the local Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) upgrades, improvements to the emergency communications system, and an electric power upgrade by a local electrical provider to deploy a next generation network.

The original plan was focused on schools, traffic management, and public safety, but last year community leaders chose to investigate expanding the network for economic development. We spoke with Belcher last May in Episode #97 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Below is local coverage:

Dakota County Considering Expanding to Open Access for Businesses, Residents

In a recent meeting of the Dakota County Administration, Finance and Policy Committee, Dakota County's Network Collaboration Engineer David Asp provided an update to Commissioners on the status of their broadband plan. Dakota has saved millions of dollars with their network through collaborative efforts, innovative dig-once approaches, and specially deveoped software.

As part of its long term strategy, the county is now considering ways to offer connectivity to local businesses and residents via open access infrastructure. Blandin on Broadband's Ann Treacy attended the February 3rd meeting and, thanks to Asp, posted the PPT from his presentation.


We spoke with David Asp in Episode #117 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. In 2011, Dakota County was named one of the Intelligent Community Forum's 21 Smart Communities. 

We learned while developing our case study on Dakota County that their efforts to coordinate excavation, including specialized software they developed themselves, has reduced the cost of installing fiber by more than 90 percent. We estimated the County has saved over $10 million in fiber and conduit deployment costs.

For more on this network, download a copy of our case study that includes the stories of Dakota County and eleven other Minnesota communities: All Hands on Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber internet Access.

Thank you, Ann, for attending the meeting and sharing your videos:

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City Council Moves Forward on Muni Project in Ellsworth, Maine

The Ellsworth City Council voted on February 9th to proceed with the first steps to developing yet another municipal fiber network in Maine. Community leaders plan to develop open access fiber infrastructure. Five ISPs have already expressed an interest in working with the city to provide services via the network.

Ellsworth is home to approximately 7,500 people and is located along the south not far from the central coast.

The Ellsworth American reports that council members decided unanimously to lease a parcel of land on which to place a headend facility. The Ellsworth Business Development Corporation (EBDC), which also obtained a $250,000 grant to expand high-speed Internet in Ellsworth, will lease the property. The grant came from the Northern Border Regional Commission in 2014.

The Council also agreed to commit $28,445 in tax increment financing (TIF) funds toward the project. Those funds will be used for the headend building and to install a two mile stretch of fiber to tap into the community's abundant fiber resources. Community leaders want to create options for local businesses and the numerous home based businesses in Ellsworth.

“You have the superhighway already,” said Andy Hamilton, an attorney with Eaton Peabody who serves as legal counsel to EBDC. “But you need the off-ramp and the local roads to take you to the office buildings.”

Indeed, a report from Portland-based Tilson Technology Management said Ellsworth is located at “an information superhighway crossroads” and that it has a lot of fiber optic infrastructure — “more than most Maine communities.”

The network project is being developed in conjunction with a business incubator project in Ellsworth. Biotech and health science related businesses are abundant in the region and city leaders want to make the city attractive to the industry.

Council members are also considering the long term:

Lili Pew, a real estate agent who heads the EBDC broadband committee, pointed out many people have home-based jobs or businesses. She said the number one question she hears from her clients looking at Ellsworth is, “Do I have access to high-speed broadband?”

Running fiber lines to every residence in Ellsworth would be cost-prohibitive — in the range of $8 million to $12 million, according to Tilson — but there are other ways to reach parts of the city that Pew said are “in the black hole of technology right now.”

“This is more important to have in the city than natural gas, right now,” he said, referring to higher-speed Internet. “This is a utility that is really going to help us get ahead.”

Rochester Pursues Business Case Study for Muni Network in Minnesota

The Rochester City Council recently voted unanimously to move forward with a study on the possibilities of publicly owned broadband in this southeastern city. Rochester will then decide whether to move forward with bids to form a public-private partnership for a network, or pursue another path.

After receiving dozens of calls from his constituents, City Councilman Michael Wojcik is asking his colleagues to consider a municipal network. Rochester’s area holds a population of about 110,000, and is home to the world-famous Mayo Clinic

According to the Rochester Post-Bulletin, Charter Communications operates its cable TV and Internet services under a franchise agreement with the city. That agreement is up for a renewal on March 31.

Wojcik said his constituents have been angered over issues such as digital box fees, but most of the complaints are about broadband service, which Wojcik said is essential. He said Charter's recent price increase for stand-alone broadband from $55 to $60 per month makes the service unobtainable for a percentage of area families with children in school.

"Broadband is key for information for a lot of people, particularly younger generations, and going forward, it becomes more and more critical," he said.

In 2010 Wojcik asked the council to investigate options for publicly owned infrastructure, but the measure did not advance. Wojcik says he hopes that citizen outrage with poor Charter service and contract negotiations will encourage city council members to take action.

The Council invited Chris to offer expert opinion. KIMT TV covered the decision and spoke with him after the meeting: 

“I think it’s a necessary step for the Rochester City government to get involved, because over ten years of experience suggests that the private sector alone is not going to solve this problem, that if Rochester needs higher quality internet access it may have to do it itself.”

Here is vide of KIMT TV's coverage: