Steve Harmon, director of OPS, said there are between seven to eight test sites in the city that are basic residences receiving these services. Throughout the trial run, OPS will monitor what services are working efficiently and which ones have problems that need to be fixed.
“We’re getting feedback from those people and we are working on fine-tuning the system’s channel configurations,” Harmon said.
As this stage, test sites do not have telephone capability, which will be part of triple-play service from OPS. Harmon noted that service will not be offered until all issues are resolved. That being said, OPS expects launch to be in late spring or early summer.
“This is a most exciting time in the life of our community. Opelika is about to become the first city in Alabama to have fiber to the user. Very soon we’ll fully deploy smart grid along with telecommunications that include video (cable TV), ultra-high speed internet and telephone service. The future is bright for Opelika.”
This southwest Colorado community of about 17,000 contends with state barriers, but still makes the most of its fiber assets. We contacted Eric Pierson, Information Services Manager for the City of Durango, and Julie Brown, the City Finance Manager. The two shared some information on Durango's fiber network.
Currently, fifteen miles of City owned fiber run through town, providing connectivity for municipal and La Plata County facilities. Installation began in 1994 and the build-out continues. A combination of City capital improvement funds, grants from the State of Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DoLA), and funds from the Joint City/County Sales Tax fund have contributed to the $1.7 million network over the past twenty-one years.
Durango leases dark fiber to businesses and nonprofits to boost economic development and fund maintenance for the network. While dark fiber leasing could be far more lucrative, Durango's goal is to break even each year. According to Brown and Pierson, 2013 will yield about $10,000 to be shared with La Plata County and the Southwest Colorado Council of Governments.
Mercy Regional Medical Center partnered with Durango to install fiber as its primary bandwidth connection. Mercy is now an important anchor institution for a large medical office complex in what used to be an undeveloped area. In addition to the clinic, new businesses and residents continue to expand in the area.
According to Brown and Pierson, local ISPs that lease the fiber to serve residents and businesses have increased bandwidth for customers. A significant number of professionals that live in Durango work from home.
Even though Durango is not able to freely expand the network due to state restrictions that limit how it can use the fiber absent a costly referendum, community leaders found a way to optimize their network for residents and businesses. And should the state be wise enough to repeal this anti-competitive barrier, Durango will be well positioned to benefit local businesses.
Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller and Jennifer McCain, partner of the Motive Group discuss why this Alabama town is the first to build its own fiber optic network in the state.
In short, Opelika had long been fed up with the services offered by Charter Cable and Charter was not amenable to meeting the community's needs. They decided to build a FTTH network that would meet Smart Grid needs as well as delivering telephone, television, and Internet access. Due to state law, they had to hold a referendum to offer television services. Despite a misinformation campaign, the community overwhelmingly supported building a community owned network.
Toward the end of our discussion, Mayor Fuller offers some thoughts on what it takes for an elected official to commit to an expensive investment where one has to pay all the costs and stand for re-election before the benefits start to accrue. In short, it takes courage. And having the unanimous support of the City Council is helpful also!
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Earlier this year, we published a case study that examined the LUS Fiber network and its origins. In it, we noted that both Republicans and Democrats backed the plan but here we focus on their resolutions in support.
Back in early 2005, Lafayette was preparing for a referendum on whether the city owned utility should issue bonds to build a FTTH network. Though Cox cable and BellSouth (now AT&T) were running a fierce campaign to scare voters, both Republican and Democrat parties in the community came together to support the community owned network -- both found ways of incorporating this important investment into their political philosophies.
We, the members of the Lafayette Democratic Parish Executive Committee, believe the project will enhance businesses, enrich our lives, and prepare our children for the future. With proper planning, future generations will see profits generated by this project stay in this community and improve businesses and lives for generations to come.
Improving local communities has been the traditional purpose of the Democratic Party. With that in mind, we commend City-Parish President Joey Durel for his bold initiative to make this plan a success.
... Whereas, the “Fibre Optic to the Home” service would create the potential for new economic opportunity for Lafayette, and in our opinion far exceeding the financial risk,
Whereas, we believe the LUS Plan represents an investment in infrastructure as opposed to direct competition between government and private business, which would violate a basic principle of Republican Philosophy,
Be it Resolved this 10th day of March, 2005, the Lafayette Parish Republican Executive Committee (RPEC), endorses and supports the effort by the Lafayette Utility System to make “Fibre Optic to the Home” services a reality for the citizens, institutions of learning and business’ of the City of Lafayette and beyond as time and resources allow.
We all have a unique opportunity together, to make a decision for our city and ultimately our region by voting in favor on the LUS Fiber To The Home & Business Initiative in the upcoming Bond Election.
While our committees came to our conclusions differently - BOTH parties agree that this opportunity is good for Lafayette. This decision is landmark and we have the ability to set our community apart and distinguish ourselves for many years to come as a leader in technology innovation and implementation.
Because Fiber To the Home & Business is truly a “tide that will lift all boats”, create competition, lower costs, and improve Lafayette’s technological infrastructure, we ask that you make a concerted effort to get out and vote “YES”, whether you are voting absentee, from Tuesday, July 5th – Saturday, July 9th, or at the polls on Saturday, July 16th.
The referendum passed by a 62% - 38% margin. The grassroots organizing in Lafayette was unlike anything we have seen anywhere else, which is why we so often return to stories about LUS Fiber (see related stories).
We have covered developments in the town of Indianola, Iowa, where the community decided to build their own network in 1998. The original purpose for investment was to use the network to enhance public safety and increase efficiency with SCADA applications. In 2005, however, the network began offering telecommunications services to local businesses. As of October, Indianola Municipal Utilities (IMU) began offering fiber-to-the-home to residents as it gradually begins expanding the use of its fiber asset.
You can now hear firsthand about the network, its history, and how the municipal utility navigated the journey to its next-generation open access network. Craig Settles interviewed Todd Kielkopf, General Manager of IMU, in an August Gigabit Nation podcast. The two discuss IMU's evolution since 1998. They also talked about the unique advantages that exist when a community considering network infrastructure investment already has a municipal utility in place.
Kielkopf tells how the driving factor for the fiber installation was to allow easier management and communication between utilities. When a 1990 franchise agreement with MediaCom was about to expire, the city investigated options. Hopes were that that the city could build a fiber network and MediaCom would offer services over that network, but that vision was never embraced by MediaCom.
Iowa law allowed the city to hold a referendum asking residents for permission to provide telecommunications services through the municipal utility's network. The referendum passed and they created a five year financial plan. Financing was with taxable and tax exempt bonds. The electric utility would build and own the network and a new telecommunications utility would license to a private partner that would offer retail services. Now, IMU and Mahaska Communication Group (MCG) have an agreement whereby MCG provides retail services over the network. While the agreement is not exclusive, no other providers currently use the network.
Kielkopf discusses three distinct phases in the development of the network's current status. First the network connected schools, libraries, government entities, and other anchor institutions. Next, IMU began connecting and serving businesses. Now, IMU is in the third stage of connecting homes. Along the way, says Kielkopf, the utility took its time and proved to the community that the investment was well spent and that IMU could manage the resource wisely.
Money saved on customers' telephone service, the willingness to work to finance installation, and treating customers well, contributed to IMU's positive reputation in the community. Accordingly, the community continues to support IMU's ambitions and goals for new uses of the network. The main objective for the network has been to provide a public necessity while paying off debt service and earning enough to maintain and improve the network. So far, IMU has met that goal.
In addition to cost savings and increased accessibility for Indianolans, IMU works with the local community college as part of an economic development program. Additionally, IMU is planning slow expansion and is committed to finding ways to simplify utilities and save energy for customers with the fiber network.
Kielkopf and Settles also discussed challenges from opposition to community owned networks and the search for local champions to lead efforts. Kielkopf notes that being proactive and knowing where hot button issues may exist before they ignite can make or break efforts.
He also stresses how Indianola has consciously tried to be different than surrounding communities as a way to attract talent and economic development. As one of many bedroom communities in the Des Moines area, Indianola competes with other similarly sized towns for new jobs, residents, and other resources. Kielkopf sees a direct connection between the network and what Indianola has to offer its residents, two thirds of which commute to Des Moines every day. Businesses (and now residents) can't get this caliber of affordable, reliable, and fast broadband in local areas served by the private sector.
Lastly, Kielkopf notes that successfully managing utilities depends on strong research, testing, and growth from an already existing knowledge base. He suggests that communities recognize strengths and weaknesses and capitalize on them both when venturing into the realm of broadband. The strategy has proved successful for IMU, its partners, customers, and the community.
The new residential service from IMU and its partner MCG includes triple play service of 25/25 Mbps Internet, unlimited local calls, and 105 of the most popular digital television channels for $99.95. For an additional $10, residents can upgrade to 100/100 Mbps. Stand alone Internet service is available for as low as $39.95 for 25/25 and double play packages (data and phone) are also available for as little as $49.95. MCG provides a broad range of bundling variety and 25/25 is available for as little as $5 per month in some packages.
We sometimes fail to communicate the great lengths to which big cable and telecommunications companies will go to intimidate and scare voters into opposing a community broadband projects. They have deployed a variety of dirty tricks and we have done a poor job of cataloging them.
But a recent phone call with John St. Julien in Lafayette, Louisiana, reminded me of a push poll that an alert citizen recorded back when Cox, Bellsouth (now AT&T), and/or other opponents of the municipal broadband project commissioned a "push poll" to scare voters into opposing a referendum on whether the City should build its own network. We tell the full story about this campaign in our Broadband at the Speed of Light report.
But in anticipation of our interview with John St Julien tomorrow, we thought we should make sure our readers/listeners had a chance to hear this 30 minute call. In it, a pollster is asking a series of questions commissioned by opponents to the community broadband network and responding to it. The audio is sometimes hard to make out, but well worth it as the person recording it has some pretty funny responses to some of the questions being posed.
This is just one of the reasons that referenda are a poor tool for measuring community support of a project. While the big companies can dump unlimited funds into their self-interested "vote no" campaigns, the city itself cannot encourage voters to go one way or another. And local groups supporting a community broadband network have far fewer resources.
For instance, when Longmont, Colorado, had its first referendum, Comcast blitzed the community with something like $250,000 in ads and misinformation (setting a local record for expenditures) -- resulting in a pretty significant majority for the "nay" voters. After citizens realized they'd been had, they clamored for another vote. Two years later, Comcast dropped $400,000 on Longmont but the grassroots successfully out-organized the cash-dump.
If you want to know more about how your community can win a fight like this, read more about Lafayette and listen to our conversation with John St. Julien tomorrow (the first of several).
The tenth episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast features Vince Jordan, Telecom Manager for Longmont Power and Communication in Colorado. We have long followed the trials and tribulations of this community as they fought through two referenda against Comcast's deep pockets. Now they are expanding their network to connect businesses and residents.
You can learn more about Longmont's approach on its website for the project. Our interview discusses some of the history behind the network, reflections on referenda, and the interesting approach Longmont has taken to avoid getting involved in the cable television business while still making sure everyone can view the content they want.
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In an unsurprising result, voters in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, chose not to build their own FTTH network. The margin was 58% against, 42% for. According to that article, the opponents (bankrolled largely by national cable company Cox) outspent proponents by 3:1.
We previously covered this plan and were concerned that the number one reason identified for proposing the network was to diversify revenue for the local government. Quite frankly, that is a poor reason to go head to head against massive companies like Cox and CenturyLink.
The biggest benefits of community networks tend to be the hard to quantify -- aggregate savings to the community from lower prices from all providers in a competitive environment, increased economic development, better customer service from a local provider, etc. These networks are built to be financially self-sufficient, but we caution against expecting them to be a piggy bank for the local government.
Unlike the successful Longmont approach, where those advocating for the community network engaged others who had been through similar fights elsewhere, it seemed like Siloam Springs preferred not to ask for help. Meanwhile, Cox tapped its nationwide resources to oppose the network, with misinformation like this:
Communities that want to build community networks should engage the wider community of community broadband supporters and be prepared for flyers like this one. And when seeking local support, make sure you find messages that resonate. Make sure you read about the grassroots movement in Lafayette in our recent report or how Chattanooga had hundreds of community meetings to explain its plan.
These networks face stiff opposition from entrenched opponents that want to be the sole gatekeepers to the Internet -- ensuring a real choice means doing real organizing.
Recently, we let you know about the situation in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, population 15,039. The town is now investigating the possibility of building their own fiber network. They have had several community meetings and a "vote of the people" is set for May 22, 2012.
Pamela Hill is investigating the twists and turrns in a series of articles about the vote. In one of her articles, Hill looked into another Arkansas community, Paragould, home of the annual "Loose Caboose" Festival. This community, located in the northeast corner of the state, has successfully operated their own cable network since 1991. Unlike Siloam Springs, the people of Paragould weren't focused first on generating new revenue for the local government, they just wanted to be able to watch tv for a reasonable price.
"The public wasn’t happy with Cablevision’s service or rates,” Davis said. “We took it to a public vote and did it.”
Prior to Paragould's decision to build their own network, the City had a nonexclusive franchise agreement with Cablevision. The town was dissatisfied by the service they received and, in 1986, Paragould voters approved an ordinance authorizing the Paragould Light and Water to construct and operate a municipal cable system. Three years later, there was a referendum that authorized the city to issue a little over $3 million in municipal bonds to finance the system.
That same month, Cablevision filed suit alleging antitrust violations, breach of contract, and infringement of first and fourteenth amendment rights. The district court dismissed the antitrust and constitutional claims and Cablevision appealed unsuccessfully. The case attracted attention from lawyers and business scholars across the country.
By 1998, the City had purchased Cablevision's remaining service and began offering Internet service. The City has continually upgraded their investment, which now consists of fiber lines that run to nodes throughout the city. Coaxial cable delivers signal and data from nodes to homes.
Paragould Light, Water, and Cable now serves approximately 11,000 retail cable television customers, and 6,550 retail Internet customers. Their fiber infrastructure is over 50 miles in the town of 26,113. From the Hill article:
Davis said the city does still run a debt for the cable and internet systems. The $3.2 million bond issue for cable in 1989 has been refinanced and increased over the years. It should be paid off in 2014, she said. But the system has been paying for itself since the sixth year of service, according to Davis.
During the first five years, the city increased property taxes by $100,000 a year to help make payments. The extra taxes amounted to $1 to $2 a month for most households and still allowed customers to get cable “way cheaper” than what they paid the private company, Davis said.
Paragould customers can get cable television for as low as $14.30 per month and Internet access varies from as low as $24.95 for residential service to $62.95 for business class.
Not long ago, we told you about Leverett, Massachusetts, the small town of 1,851, that has been discussing the possibility of building a community network. Residents and businesses currently use a combination of satellite, dial-up, DSL, and wireless, and about 6% of the population has no Internet access at all. People are tired of lost opportunities in a town strategically situated near several colleges. The town just approved the proposal to invest in a municipal network.
Last Saturday, April 28th, the measure to build the network was approved at Leverett's Annual Town Meeting. The needed two-thirds vote came easily, with 306-33 in favor, at the packed meeting at the Leverett Elementary School auditorium. Enthusiasm and expectations are high. From a Fran Ryan article in the Gazettenet.com:
For many, the lack of adequate Internet access has created problems with work, school and even the ability to sell their homes.
"Right now we have hopeless telephone service, useless cellphone service, and no internet service," said resident Raymond Bradley. "This will completely change our lives,"
The current plan is to borrow $3.6 million to create a fiber-optic network that will connect every home and provide triple play services across town. As you may recall from our earlier article, Internet access is only part of the problem - Leverett has had longstanding difficulties with telephone service due to decaying infrastructure. The situation is so bad, the State Department of Communications ordered Verizon to make repairs in over 100 towns in western Massachusetts. With this vote, however, Leverett has decided to take control of its own fate.
Leverett received a $40,000.00 planning grant from the Massachussetts Broadband Institute and benefited from the expertise and efforts of the Wired West group. Leverett's last mile project will connect with MBI's middle mile project.
Savings on monthly phone and Internet bills would exceed the increase in taxes needed to build a high-speed network, according to the committee's projections released this week. A homeowner with the median property value of $278,000, would annually pay $300 more in taxes under the plan.
But residents who receive Internet and phone service via satellite would pay $888 less annually by switching from private to town telecommunication service, according to the committee. A Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) customer would save $426 annually on their service, and those who receive wireless Internet service via a signal transmitted by a telecommunication tower would save $768, according to the committee's figures.
No doubt, cost and cost savings were an important factor in the town's decision. The next step will be taking it to the people for their decisions on funding, addressed in the article:
Peter d'Errico, a member of the Select Board, said, "The next big piece for this will be the debt exclusion override which is on June 2. For that we will need a majority vote" to exclude the cost of a broadband network from the restrictions of Proposition 2½. "We will be holding one or two more informational sessions to continue talking with the community about the issue," he added.
The vote to borrow the money to build the system was overwhelmingly popular but the town now has to vote to increase property taxes by more than the 2.5% maximum allowed by law per year to make sure it can pay the debt incurred by the system under their preferred approach.