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Falmouth Saves With Cape Cod I-Net

Out on Cape Cod, municipal networks are taking hold. Public buildings throughout the town of Falmouth, Massachusetts, experience great connectivity and the town saves $160,000 each year with its own Institutional network (I-Net).

Public Savings

The Falmouth Area Network, maintained by CapeNet, connects 17 buildings throughout the town for a total of $3,000 each month ($2,500 from the school; $500 from the town). Were the town to go through a private provider, it would cost $1,000 for each building every month or $17,000 per month. By saving $14,000 each month, Falmouth's annual savings add up to approximately $160,000 a year. That’s a lot of money to be reinvested in the community of 31,000.

Falmouth Area Network intends to reach even more institutional buildings in the next few years. The 17 that are connected now are the libraries, the schools, the town hall, the police stations, the fire stations, the harbormaster’s office, and a senior center. Soon the Gus Canty Community Center will also gain a connection. At the Annual Town Meeting last week, the town approved the Capital Improvement Plan which included $80,000 to upgrade the network, including hooking up the community center. There are also plans to add a new wastewater treatment plan to the network in 2017.

The Role of OpenCape

The Falmouth Area Network came about thanks to another community-owned network project, the nonprofit OpenCape. Recently featured in an episode of eSTEAMers, OpenCape provides much needed middle mile connectivity throughout the Cape. The middle mile network does not connect business or residential users, but instead focuses on serving as a backbone of connectivity for towns. County, state, and federal grants funded construction of the $40 million OpenCape, which launched in 2013. The Falmouth Area Network connects to OpenCape, and a percentage of the city's annual fees go to OpenCape. 

Falmouth has more buildings connected than any of the other 15 Cape communities. The town’s success in capitalizing on access to OpenCape’s network has inspired other towns, such as Mashpee and Provincetown, to model their own networks after Falmouth.

Doing a Thoreau Job on Broadband - Concord, MA

Concord, Massachusetts, has a strong literary history with famous authors like Thoreau, Emerson, and the Alcott sisters, but all puns aside, the town also has a long-standing community broadband network, Concord Light Broadband

Years ago, the community voted to build its own network from their electric utility, and they have just now transitioned to high-speed fiber optics.

From Electric to Broadband

Concord is one of only forty Massachusetts municipalities with an electric utility and in the early 2000s, their electric thermal storage system needed an overhaul. The technology, based on the phone system’s network, was becoming obsolete. The electric utility chose to overbuild the existing system with fiber optics in order to create a smart-grid to automatically read electric meters. Concord recognized the opportunity presented by a fiber network backbone spread throughout town.

It only made sense to look at broadband options; the only thing left to do was to build out the last-mile, the section of network that connects to the home or business. They estimated the cost for the smart-grid and last-mile to be $4 million and would finance it through municipal bonds. 

Once Bitten, Twice Shy of Big Incumbent Cable Companies

Large incumbent cable companies had not served the community well and the people wanted better connectivity. Massachusetts’ state law requires a town to vote at two consecutive town meetings to establish the authority to build a broadband network through the electric utility, commonly referred to as Municipal Light Plant or MLP. The MLP is the town department responsible for the transmission and supply of electricity to the residents and businesses in the town. As communities have started to develop their own municipal Internet networks, the MLPs have also taken on a similar role with regard to connectivity. After establishment of an MLP is approved, then the community votes again on funding for the initiative.

In 2003, the people of Concord began considering what they could accomplish with a municipal network, and they held the first vote at the Annual Town Meeting. The resolution passed by a 2/3rds majority vote. The second Annual Town Meeting was scheduled for April 2004.

In February 2004, the New England Cable & Telecommunications Association (NECTA) and the authors of the Beacon Hill Institute (BHI - Suffolk University) report organized a campaign against the proposed network. (BHI is better known for its misinformation campaigns in the area of clean energy.)

In response, a grassroots effort developed to counteract misinformation disseminated by NECTA and BHI. After an intense campaign (detailed in an American Public Power Association case-study), the town voted in favor of the network again. This time, it was an even more resounding "no" to big telecom -- only 12 people voted against the proposed network. 


The Network

After experimenting with a Broadband over Power Line initiative in 2007, Concord turned its efforts to a fiber optic network to obtain a more robust backhaul system. In 2010, Concord Municipal Light Plant (CMLP) issued $4 million in Bond Anticipation Notes, which are a short term way of financing a project. Eventually the town issued a municipal bond; the amount requested by the CMLP when bonds are issued are typically repaid through each projects' revenues.

Schools, businesses, and municipal government services acted as anchor tenants, ensuring that the new network, ConcordNet, would have business. In March and April of 2014, ConcordNet began pilot projects for the high-speed residential system which has symmetrical upload and download speeds.

The network is now citywide and serves over 400 subscribers about 7,600 residential subscribers out of the town's population of approximately 17,700. Unlike many other networks, ConcordNet does not offer triple-play, a bundled service of TV, phone, and Internet. Entering the video market seemed too difficult according to the Chief Information Officer Mark Howell. Instead, they chose to focus on data. They also collaborate on initiatives through the Berkman Center at Harvard to encourage cooperation among other municipal networks.

ConcordNet is accountable to the people that own it and is thus far accomplishing the goals of better connectivity and creating savings gained through the smart-grid. The community is benefitting and thinking ahead to find the next use for their fiber investment. 

In New England, Greenfield Votes For a Municipal Network Too

It wasn’t just Colorado cities and counties along with Iowa communities voting this week. Back east, Greenfield, Massachusetts also rushed to the polls to support local Internet choice.

Greenfield is planning to use a combination of fiber and Wi-Fi to deliver services - an approach that has had limited success in the past due to the technical limitations of Wi-Fi. 

The Vote

At Tuesday’s Annual Meeting, residents voted on the future of high-speed Internet access in the town. The referendum, the first step in creating a municipal broadband network, saw a landslide victory. 

The people gave a resounding message that they wanted to pursue a network: 3,287 people voted in favor; only 696 were opposed. According to the local paper the Recorder, this nonbinding ballot referendum allows the town to create a nonprofit to run the municipal broadband network. 

Currently there is a pilot program on two streets – giving residents a taste of community-owned high-speed Internet. This pilot program started in mid-October and provides free Wi-Fi on Main and High Streets. If voters had rejected the ballot referendum, the town would have ended the pilot program and only created an institutional network for the municipal and school buildings. Now, with the referendum passed, they can implement the plan for high-speed Internet access.

The Plan for Broadband

When the state built a middle-mile network running through the cities of Greenfield and Holyoke, the mayor contacted Holyoke’s municipal light plant to find out how to best utilize the opportunity. Holyoke is now the Internet Service Provider for City Hall and the police station. These will then serve as Internet access nodes for Greenfield’s new network.

The community's goal is to construct a 60-mile hybrid fiber-wireless network throughout the entire town by the end of 2016. The network will have a 10 Gigabit-per-second fiber backbone.  Now that the referendum passed, the project will go out to bid and construction will begin in early January. The total cost is estimated at about $5 million – the town intends to use revenues from the network to pay for the construction.

In an October, Mayor Martin described the community's initiative to replace the old infrastructure the community now relies on:

Martin said the goal of the project is to improve the business climate and quality of life in Greenfield. He said he wants everyone who wants high-speed Internet to be able to afford it.

We have yet to see a robust Wi-Fi network that actually sees meaningful adoption by households because the technology has such limited range and variable reliability. The result is that very few people are willing to pay for Wi-Fi connectivity, especially as they have come to expect higher capacity connections than a shared Wi-Fi network can deliver. We will be watching to see how Greenfield develops.

LeverettNet Meets Demand for Better Connectivity in MA

On October 2nd, a group of residents, business owners, and educators met with elected officials to celebrate the early success of LeverettNet. The municipal gigabit fiber network now serves 650 of 800 households in the Massachusetts town of 1,800.

This spring, the network began serving limited areas of town, offering telephone service and gigabit Internet access. LeverettNet's instant success is no surprise, considering a number townsfolk depended on unreliable, slow dial-up service over antiquated copper infrastructure for years. Some in town used DSL, satellite, and wireless devices; others had no Internet access at all. Telephone service was equally dismal - sometimes the community would lose service when it rained.

Leverett connects to MassBroadband 123, the statewide middle-mile network deployed by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute. Greenfield, Massachusetts Internet service provider Crocker Communications, is partnering with Leverett to offer gigabit service via the publicly owned infrastructure. 

The community chose to fund the network with a modest property tax increase and from revenue collected from subscribers. After they did the math, Leverett realized they could obtain better, faster, more reliable services for less if they built their own network. Take a few minutes to listen to Chris interview Peter d'Errico from Leverett's Broadband Committee and Select Board, in episode #113 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

At the celebration, d'Errico described the way the community came together:

“The project has been huge for the town and mostly undertaken by our volunteer broadband committee, which met weekly for four years to make it happen,” said Peter d’Errico of the Leverett Broadband Committee. “With each phase taken a step at a time we have managed to complete something we all thought was a dream when it was first conceived. Now that it’s complete, residents are thrilled to see what they can do at home on the Internet.” 

Leverett residents are already using their new network to work from home, explore educational opportunities for their kids, and discover ways to make the gig work for them. At the October event, a number of elected officials in attendence recognized that fiber networks give small towns an edge that can draw in more businesses and more people:

State Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, observed that 13 of the 19 towns he represents in the Legislature are either unserved or underserved.

“You’re the first. You’re blazing a new trail here,” Kulik said.

But he cautioned that it might give people impulse to buy property in Leverett if their own towns don’t make the investment.

“If they don’t do what you do, they’re all going to move to Leverett,” Kulik said.

Tiny Mount Washington Pursues Muni in Massachusetts

Mount Washington's 167 residents will not let their small size defeat their big plans for a municipal fiber network. The community is seeking permission from the state legislature to finance, own, and operate a municipal Internet network. The bill granting Mount Washington the authority to do so, S1978, recently passed in the Senate and then moved to the House to await review.

"The Town Among The Clouds" sought special legislation to avoid being bound by the state's requirement that communities establish a Municipal Light Plant (MLP). The MLP is a separate department responsibile for municipal electricity and broadband service. Town leaders believe an MLP would be an administrative burden for such a small community; the State Senate agrees.

Many other communities in western Massachusetts have signed up to work with the WiredWest broadband cooperative to improve local connectivity. Mount Washington residents feel they can complete the project sooner on their own. 

Mount Washington, sitting in the Taconic Mountains, is the westernmost and southwesternmost town in Massachusetts and the smallest town in Berkshire County. Mount Washington State Forest and Mount Everett State Reservation cover much of the town creating a forested, sparsely populated area.

According to the Berkshire Eagle:

[Selectman Chair Brian] Tobin said Internet access in Mount Washington is nearly non-existent. Some residents have satellite dishes and other have long-distance Wi-Fi service, "but to my knowledge, no one has dial-up service."

All of these options, he said, are slow and at times unreliable.

Residents consider the project necessary infrastructure:

Tobin said the town opted to push forward on funding and building its own infrastructure because the plan will allow the community to pay for it the same way as any other town project, such as roads and buildings.

"It's something we have to do as a town," he said. "And we have the support for it."

Video on OpenCape: How Cape Cod Created a Fiber Network

Almost ten years ago, Dan Gallagher, a technology director at Cape Cod Community College, could not get the bandwidth the college needed from incumbent service providers. After communicating with others in the areas, it soon became clear that a number of others shared the same experience.

“We asked anyone who thinks this is a problem for their business or entity here on the cape to come to cape cod community college to talk about it and a hundred people showed up.” - Dan Gallagher in eSTEAMers

The community formed non-profit OpenCape, and created a 350 mile fiber optic network and a colocation data center with $40 million in combined BTOP grants, state grants, and private funding. Completed in late 2012, the project proved to be well-worth the wait. Three large entities almost immediately became customers on the network: the Joint Base, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, and Hydroid, Inc, a private company.

Now the senior consultant for OpenCape, Dan Gallagher describes the project in depth in this episode of eSTEAMers by Cape Cod Community Media Center.

New Video Series on Better Broadband in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Cambridge, Massachusetts has established a Broadband Task Force and is looking for ways to better its local connectivity. In order to educate the public about the advantages of broadband, the local community CCTV channel will televise presentations and sit-downs between local leaders who can describe how it will impact Cambridge.

The first episode of Cambridge Broadband Matters recently aired and is now available to view. It runs approximately 30 minutes long and features Georgiana Chevry of Cambridge Community Learning Center, Susan Flannery of Cambridge Public Library, and Jay Leslie of the Cambridge Housing Authority.  

One of the topics they address in this episode is the connection between broadband and adult education and workforce development. The issue is critical in Cambridge and many communities as we transition to an information based economy.


Holyoke Success Spurs Interest in Mass Muni Networks - Community Broadband Bits Episode 162

A few weeks back, we noted an excellent new report on Holyoke Municipal Light Plant in Massachusetts published by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. This week, we discuss the report and lessons learned from it with David Talbot, Fellow at the Berkman Center.

David gives us some of the key takeaways from the report and we discuss what other municipal light plants are doing, including how Holyoke Gas & Electric is using the state owned middle mile network to partner with other municipalities like Greenfield and Leverett.

Finally, David offers some insight into how the municipal light plants that have not yet engaged in expanding Internet access think about the challenges of doing so. You can listen to (or read the transcript of) episode 65, where we interviewed Tim Haas of Holyoke Gas & Electric.

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 20 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 other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Thanks to bkfm-b-side for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Raise Your Hands."

Holyoke Case Study from Berkman Center Explores Massachusetts Muni Fiber

A few weeks ago, Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society released a report that documents the achievements of Holyoke Gas & Electric (HG&E) Telecom, a municipal electric utility that now provides fiber-optic broadband Internet to local businesses in several western Massachusetts towns. The utility’s move into fiber-optics has led to municipal savings for the City of Holyoke, as well as increased high-speed access in neighboring cities, and driven economic development. We interviewed Holyoke's Senior Network Engineer, Tim Haas, in a previous episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Because the state of Massachusetts has no barriers that prevent the creation of municipal Internet networks, HG&E has been able to compete on a level playing field with incumbent ISPs Comcast and Charter. HG&E is among 12 MLPs (Municipal Light Plants) out of 41 in the state to offer fiber Internet services. Researchers at the Berkman Center believe that MLPs could play a large role in expanding Internet access and business opportunities throughout the state as electricity revenues experience diminishing returns and data needs grow. For example, HG&E’s fiber connection was a factor in the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center’s decision to open a $90 million data center in Holyoke. 

HG&E is a somewhat unique municipal network in that it offers services not only in Holyoke, but also in nearby Chicopee. It also assists Leverett and Greenfield with their own networks. In Chicopee, the utility provided fiber access in a collaboration with 35 local businesses. In Leverett, it is managing the municipal network, with services provided by a local private company. As for Greenfield, HG&E now serves as the ISP for City Hall and the city’s police station, both of which will function as Internet access nodes as the town looks to create a fiber and wireless network that extends into homes and businesses. 

Unlike in North Carolina and Tennessee, where public interest groups had to petition the FCC to strike down a law preventing cities from extending fiber into neighboring municipalities, in Massachusetts cross-municipal collaboration can happen at the drop of a hat. The authors of the report write: 

These deals provide modest revenue streams and also illustrate how a MLP telecom division can extend its offerings far beyond the usual geographic boundaries of electricity service.

Though HG&E currently only offers municipal fiber optic services to business and community anchor institutions, the next step for other MLPs is the provisioning of fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) services. The report highlights Westfield’s plans to use its public utility to roll out an FTTH offering: 

The offering will include optional phone service, but no TV bundle. WGE [Westfield Gas and Electric Department] had rejected the idea of residential service several times over the past 10 years because it would have meant providing TV content. Now, however, on-demand video services are becoming popular. 

The Berkman Center report, which runs 21 pages, illustrates both the shifting demands for broadband access, as well as a collaborative method for addressing these needs. The hope is that reports of this nature can contribute to an ever-increasing wealth of knowledge with regards to the variety of municipal approaches in play for expanding high-speed, reliable Internet access.

Cambridge Broadband Advocate at the Summit: "We Are the Perfect Testbed"

In April, Chris spoke at the Broadband Communities Summit in Austin. If you were not able to attend, Saul Tannenbaum's article gives you a taste of what it was like. Tannenbaum is a member of the Cambridge Broadband Task Force, recently set up by the city's City Manager to investigate the possibility of municipal broadband connectivity.

Tannenbaum describes his experience there and some of the typical discussions he encounters while investigating a muni network. What role should the local or state government play in bettering connectivity? What is preventing the U.S. from excelling at ubiquitous access for all income levels? Why a municipal network? For Tannenbaum, and other residents of Cambridge, those questions are especially significant because the town is historically a place of technological innovation. Gigabit connectivity may be the gold standard, but in a place like Cambridge, it is the minimum:

Cambridge has companies and institutions for whom high capacity, high speed networks are mission critical. MIT, Harvard, the Broad Institute, Google, Microsoft, Biogen-Idec, Novartis, and many others who are not yet household names, move large amounts as part of daily work. With partners like those, Cambridge can become a true testbed for the network of the future. Cambridge, where the Internet was invented, can be where the next Internet is developed.

We encourage you to read the entire article, which also offers up some great resources, but Tannenbaum made the case for his home town:

[Cambridge] pairs a legacy of being on the frontiers of social justice with an economic sector whose future health requires a free and open Internet. It is a rarity in Cambridge politics to find the interests of our innovation community and our social justice community to be so closely aligned.