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Alabama City Exploring Fiber Options for Local Business

The people of Huntsville recently decided to delve into the possibility of deploying a fiber network. According to AL.com, the City Council approved funding for a feasibility study to look at ways to better use existing fiber assets.

Huntsville, with 180,000 people is located in Madison County in the extreme north central region of the state. The county seat, known for generations as a cotton producer, later became known as "The Rocket City." In the 1950s, the U.S. army developed missiles at its facilities there, setting the stage for our space program.

A recent unscientific poll by AL.com revealed that a countywide high-speed network is a high priority for locals. The online poll suggested potential projects for the community; 40% of respondents ranked a network at the top of the list.

Huntsville Utilities offers electric, water, and gas services to the community. The municipal utility owns a small amount of fiber for its own data purposes. At this point, local leaders want the study to focus on the possibility of expanding that network to serve the business community. 

Mayor Tommy Battle said it is crucial to take a serious look at citywide, high-speed, fiber-optic Internet service, whether it is provided by Huntsville Utilities or a private company. Dozens of U.S. cities are already wired for speed, including Chattanooga and Opelika.

Battle called high-speed fiber "the infrastructure of the future" and said it will eventually be as important as roads, water and sewer lines.

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."

"Connect With the World" in Mount Vernon on October 9

Plan on spending Thursday, October 9 in Mount Vernon, Washington. Chris will speak with three other experts on creating a local environment attractive to the tech industry. 

The "Connect With The World" event will occur at Skagit Valley College's MacIntyre Hall from 10 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. PDT. Other speakers will be:

Mark Anderson: One of FORTUNE's “100 Smartest People We Know,” Mark is a frequently sought after speaker around the world. His long- running weekly newsletter, Strategic News Service (SNS), counts a stellar readership, including the likes of Michael Dell, Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer.

Susannah Malarkey: Executive Director of the Technology Alliance, a statewide organization of leaders from technology businesses and research institutions dedicated to Washington’s long-term economic success.

Craig Settles: Municipal broadband expert for journalists at CNN, the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Time Magazine and a host of business, technology and local media outlets.

Mount Vernon's municipal open access fiber network serves public entities and businesses within the City, in nearby Burlington, and in the Port Skagit area. The community began the project in 1995 and developed the network incrementally. We spoke with Kim Kleppe, Information Systems Director, and Jana Hansen, Community & Economic Development Director, in episode 38 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

For more on the event, contact Jana at (360)336-6214 or email her at:  janah@mountvernonwa.gov.

Westminster Budgets for Open Access Fiber Network

On Monday, May 12, Westminster moved another step closer to deploying its open access citywide fiber network in Maryland. The Common Council approved a FY15 budget that includes $6.3 million for an FTTH network. The Carroll County Times reported that the $64.8 million budget was adopted 5-1. The opposing Council Member voted no on a different issue.

Last summer, the community launched two pilot projects; they installed fiber in a local retirement community and in the Westminster Technology Park. Community leaders decided to expand the pilots to the Air Business Center. They are already seeing results, with a women's fashion distribution center that decided to move from New York City to Westminster for the network.

We touched base with Dr. Robert Wack, Westminster Common Council President and the person spearheading the project. Dr. Wack told us businesses have been clamoring to get fiber service. Connectivity in the area is so bad, "they are desperate."

Community leaders want to connect 9,000 homes and 500 businesses. Dr. Wack told us the community expects to break even in 3 - 5 years; the build out should be complete in 2 years. Westminster expects to release an RFP for construction within the next week. They will release an RFP for a network operator in June.

Another Carroll County Times article described the basic plan for the project:

Westminster’s fiber network will be a “last mile” project, with the city paying to install “dark fiber” to the door of every home and business in the city and connect to the county’s fiber optic backbone, the “middle mile,” according to Wack.

Dark fiber is fiber optic cables which are connected but not in use, or “lit,” he said.

Wack compared the network to roads, explaining that 10 years ago — though fiber technology existed — if Westminster had laid the cables they would have been useless, similar to constructing roads in the city with no connection to the outside world.

Once the infrastructure is in place, a third-party service provider will install the necessary electronics and run the network, according to Wack.

Westminster's pilot project fiber is located near the Carroll County Public Network, allowing an easy connection to a more extensive infrastructure. From the Times article:

“We see the need and we’re ready to spend the money to get it done,” Westminster Common Council President Robert Wack said.

Charlotte Media Eyes Salisbury's Fibrant

WSOC TV in Charlotte recently looked at Salisbury's four-year-old Fibrant network. Reporter Tenikka Smith investigated what a municipal network could do for Charlotte. Charlotte is also one of the communities working with Google in hopes of having it expand to them. That interest has led AT&T to consider updating its comparatively pathetic DSL services as well.

Smith spoke with a Salisbury small business owner who switched to Fibrant in 2010. Rick Anderson-McCombs of the Sidewalk Deli noted fast speeds and high quality voice service from Fibrant. According to Anderson-McCombs' mother, Angenetta Dover, the deli also saves $30 - $40 per month compared to past service with the local incumbent. Dover also uses the service at her home and notices a significant improvement:

"Even (the) lowest speed and slowest speed is super compared to what we used to have to do," she said.

Robert Van Goen from Rowan County's economic development coalition, Rowan Works, believes a municipal network could be a smart investment for Charlotte. The network tells potential job creators that a community is "prepared to do business for the next 10, 15, 20 years and compete in the global marketplace."

WSOC TV compared prices; they found Time Warner Cable and AT&T offered basic triple-play bundles - up to 6 Mbps download - for $79 per month. Upload speeds, the real test for businesses, are typically much slower. Fibrant's lowest tier triple-play bundle offered 20 Mbps symmetrical service for $97 per month.

Saving money for better service is always a winning strategy. Local businesses often consider other benefits from municipal networks; Anderson-McCombs told Smith his motivation reached beyond financials:

“The main reason I got Fibrant was not so much to help my business, but help my town because I think it's very progressive of Salisbury to include Wi-Fi and Internet service in our utilities."

Below is an ad Fibrant created with local businesses describing the superior service of Fibrant phone. Though residents may be less enthusiastic about phone service, it is the lifeblood of many local businesses.

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New York Times Covers Fiber and Economic Development

In a recent New York Times article, reporter Kate Murphy shined a light on fiber's increasing role in economic development. Murphy discussed several of the same networks we have followed: Wilson, NC; Chattanooga, TN; Lafayette, LA; and Mount Vernon, WA.

Murphy acknowledged that successful companies are moving from major metropolitan areas to less populated communities out of necessity:

These digital carpetbaggers aren’t just leaving behind jittery Netflix streams and aggravating waits for Twitter feeds to refresh. They are positioning themselves to be more globally competitive and connected.

Murphy notes that countries where governments have invested in critical infrastructure offer more choice, better services, and lower rates. She also points to successful local initiatives, often in less populated communities where large private interests have not invested:

Stepping into the void have been a smattering of municipalities that have public rather than private utility infrastructures. Muninetworks.org has a map that pinpoints many of these communities. They are primarily rural towns that were ignored when the nation’s electrical infrastructure was installed 100 years ago and had to build their own.

Murphy spoke with several business owners that moved from large metropolitan areas to smaller communities because they needed fiber. For a growing number of establishments, fiber networks are the only kind that offer the capacity needed for day-to-day operations. Information security firm, Blank Law and Technology, moved to Mount Vernon to take advantage of its open access fiber network. It helps when customer service representatives live in your neighborhood:

“We investigate computer malfeasance and have to sift through terabytes of data for a single case,” Mr. Blank said. “The fiber connection is the only reason we are in Mount Vernon and the customer service isn’t bad because all you have to do is walk down the street and knock on the door at City Hall.”

Voters Approve Local Telecommunications Authority in Montrose, Colorado

By a 3,982 in favor and 1,397 opposed, the voters in Montrose decided on April 1st to take back local authority for telecommunications services. The state revoked the community's ability to establish a telecommunications utility in 2005. 

Jim Branscome covered the election results in the Daily Yonder. Branscome, a resident of Montrose, knows the local broadband situation:

Internet service here is currently a hodgepodge. Some of us depend on broadcast towers, some on DSL from CenturyLink and some on cable service from Charter. Service is generally at less than 10MB. It’s expensive, and customer service is erratic.

Community leaders state that they want to encourage fair competition and ensure every one has the opportunity to fast, reliable, affordable connectivity. 

In addition to ensuring that local businesses are in a position to compete with any large corporations that might attempt to establish a major share of the market, Turner said the city also wanted measures to enable lower income households to benefit from the advantages of gigabit speeds and capacity. “We don’t want to create two levels of society here, those who are connected and those who are not,” he said.

While Montrose is a long way from getting every person connected, the community is discussing the idea of financing a network with revenue bonds. 

This election result demonstrates Montrose's desire to be in control of their own connectivity. They understand the need to think of the future. From the Daily Yonder article:

It used to be that if a town wanted to prosper, it needed a river, then a railroad, then an Eisenhower Interstate highway, and then a cell phone tower. Today it needs to be a “gigabit city.”

Crain's New York Business: New York City Conduit Jam Packed

Crain's New York Business recently published an article on the crowded conduit under New York City. The article complements the April 7 edition of This Week in Crain's New York podcast, hosted by Don Mathisen.

Empire City Subway (ECS), the crumbling subterranean network of conduit for telephone wires constructed in 1888, is so crowded underground construction crews regularly need to detour to reach their destination. Routes are no longer direct, adding precious nanoseconds to data delivery - a significant problem for competitive finance companies.

Verizon owns ECS and, according to the article, does not operate with competitors in mind:

But businesses that lease space in the ECS network for their own fiber-optic cable say that Verizon doesn't worry about keeping the system clear for others. Conduits are filled with cables from defunct Internet providers that went belly-up after the dot-com bust in 2000. Verizon itself left severed copper wire in lower Manhattan ducts after installing a fiber-optic network following Superstorm Sandy. (The company says the cables could be easily removed, if needed.)

Stealth Communications spent an extra $100,000 in March to re-route its fiber from Rockefeller Center to Columbus Circle. Conduit was so congested along the planned route, the independent ISP needed to go 6,500 feet out of its way. The re-route added almost two weeks to the project.

Crain's contacted Chris Mitchell from ILSR:

"It's foolish to think that we can just leave it to the market to use this limited space under the street efficiently," Mr. Mitchell said. "The fiber needs are tremendous, and if New York over time can expand access to a lot of fiber at low cost, we'll see all kinds of [innovation]."

He added that New York might be best served by the public-utility model embraced by Stockholm and Santa Monica, Calif., and under consideration now in Baltimore, in which the city builds a fiber backbone. Internet service providers lease access to that fiber at low cost and compete to offer specialized services as part of the "last-mile" connection to the home or business.

Possible solutions being considered include municipal fiber to lower income neighborhoods, requiring changes from ECS, and stringing fiber along aboveground transportation tracks. The ultimate goal is to create conditions that will increase competition

But something must be done to improve ECS, industry veterans say; otherwise, the conduits will only become harder to use. "The more you have to get around, the more cable you put in the street," said Brad Ickes, president of independent provider Optical Communications Group. (OCG and Verizon have been locked in a legal dispute since 2008.) "And then everything gets more congested, because everyone is going that way."

Gothenburg Considering FTTH in Nebraska, Survey Responses Needed

As the "Pony Express Capital of Nebraska," Gothenburg understands the value of speed. City leaders are now investigating the possibility of bringing a FTTH network to the community. Initiative leaders are asking the town's 3,500 residents to complete a broadband survey before April 15th.

According to a recent article in the Gothenburg Times, local schools will soon be surpassing the community's current telecommunications capabilities. The school district is considering a one-to-one Chromebook initiative:

Angie Richeson, an integrated technology integration specialist and Dudley Elementary librarian, said current telecommunications infrastructure has a glass ceiling.

“We can’t get bigger or faster without changing the infrastructure,” she said. “And speed is an issue in our community.”

Community leaders also want economic development benefits that flow from a fiber network. Four Fortune 500 companies operate in Gothenberg. CenturyLink, currently providing last-mile connectivity, has no plans to upgrade.

Nathan Wyatt, Chair of the Fiber Infrastructure Committee of the Gothenburg Improvement Company (GIC) recently told the Times:

"Right now the infrastructure that exists in Gothenburg is like the dirt roads. We don't have the fastest most direct infrastructure available that would give us the fastest speeds available. And as websites get more complex. We're going to need more data and more broadband to give our residents a better experience and we also need it to recruit businesses," said Wyatt.

GIC is a coalition of local businesses working to recruit new commerce to Gothenburg. Wyatt told the Times in another article that a local provider would be ideal:

“Can you imagine calling a local number to get service on your Internet, phone and cable?” he asked.

Wyatt said the GIC doesn’t want a call center but someone that people know and recognize in the community who would service the network.

Initiative leaders have already launched an aggressive grassroots campaign, "Get Up to Speed Gothenburg." The campaign Facebook page includes pics of information sessions, quotes from business owners, and promotional videos. Wyatt told the Times:

“Now we’re going 35 mph and with fiber optics, we could go 100 miles per hour,” he said. “As a community, soon we will need to drive 1,000 mph and new infrastructure will prepare us for this reality.”

Nebraska law makes many forms of municipal ownership difficult but we hope they are able to meet their local needs and wish the state would get out of their way.

ConnectArlington to Offer Dark Fiber Services to Local Businesses in Virginia

We last reported on Arlington County, Virginia, in the summer of 2012 when they were into phase II of their publicly owned fiber network deployment. At the time, the community planned to use the dark fiber network for public schools, traffic management, and public safety. That plan will now include local businesses.

ARLnow reports that ConnectArlington will work with a third-party consultant to manage dark fiber leasing to multiple service providers. They will also dedicate a portion of the dark fiber for government use. The County expects the project to be complete by early 2015. From the press release:

Additionally, the County will work directly with property owners and various businesses to ensure they have the opportunity for this high-speed and secure fiber line via direct access to buildings. Arlington universities, research centers, government buildings and Federal agencies will also be connected – providing additional collaboration opportunities at unprecedented levels of speed and security.

When the Arlington County government developed the network, they installed additional conduit for future use. A public safety initiative to connect several radio towers allowed ConnectArlington to expand the anticipated footprint. An Intelligent Traffic System (ITS), funded with a federal grant, required street excavation so the county installed additional conduit and fiber. Arlington County also took advantage of an electric power grid upgrade, co-locating dark fiber along the grid placed by the local electric provider.

Other communities have taken a multi-faceted long-term approach, considering their own needs with an eye on economic development. Capitalizing on unique opportunites can reduce costs, speed up a deployment, and allow the local community to better manage their projects.

Sandy, Oregon and Mount Vernon, Washington have maintained smart conduit policies for years. Developers are required to install conduit to reduce later costs. In Santa Monica, City Net began as a way to meet the needs of government and now offer lit and dark fiber to businesses. (Learn more about Santa Monica in Chris' interview on episode 90 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast or download our report.)

As smart communities realize broadband's increasing role in economic vitality, they explore local options. Arlington County takes a gigantic step forward as it opens up ConnectArlington to the business community. Also from the press release:

"World class cities are not only creating fiber networks to meet their own enterprise needs, but are also making dark fiber available to high technology companies to keep or attract these companies to their communities,” said Professor Joseph Pelton, Chair of the Arlington County IT Advisory Commission.

Jack Belcher, CIO of Arlington County's Department of Technology Services Leadership Team, sums it up:

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