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Gilberts Voters Say No to Tax Increase for Muni

On April 7th, voters in Glberts, Illinois, chose not to raise taxes to deploy a municipal fiber network, reports the Daily Herald. According to the article, 81 percent of ballots cast voted against the proposal. Voter turnout was low, with only 682 ballots cast out of 4,002 registered voters in town.

As we reported last month, local developer Troy Mertz plans to deploy fiber to each structure in a new housing development, The Conservancy. His fiber company will also install fiber to nearby municipal and public safety buildings and the Gilberts Elementary School. The plan was to issue General Obligation (GO) bonds to finance a publicly owned network throughout the rest of the community. The proposal would have raised taxes approximately 1.8 percent or $150 per year on properties with a market value of $250,000.

For the developer the plan will remain the same:

Mertz still plans to go ahead and connect The Conservancy's planned fiber optic network to municipal and public safety buildings plus Gilberts Elementary School, saying it was built into his development plans.

"The goal of village was always to getting fiber to our industrial areas," said Gilberts Village President Rick Zirk. "As a community, we asked the rest of the village, 'Do you want the same service and the same options that the new part of town and the industrial park?' And it seems that they don't want to pay for it."

There is a definite lesson here for any other communities considering a similar plan - educate the voters and make sure they are excited about it! From what we can tell, there was little effort to make people aware of the plan and the turnout for the vote suggests that no one was particularly excited to make it happen.

Grand Junction Voters: "We Want Local Authority!"

Grand Junction is the latest Colorado community to vote to restore local telecommunications authority.

Much like the eight communities that decided last fall to reclaim that right, and Estes Park in February, Grand Junction voters spoke loudly through the ballot. Seventy-five percent of those casting ballots chose to restore authority.

Grand Junction community leaders have expressed a desire to work with providers to improve poor connectivity but have feared repercussions from state laws put in place a decade ago. They now plan to explore partnerships as well as municipal initiatives reports KKCO 11 News

“It’s an indication that people really want to see us have better fiber in this city so we'll step back as a city council and see what are next steps to go forward,” says Mayor Phyllis Norris.

The approval of Measure 2A reverses the effects of Senate Bill 152 that have been in effect for more than 10 years.

City and county leaders now have the power to negotiate with internet companies and explore options of how to share their broadband with citizens.

Rather than wait for the domino effect to make its way across the state, requiring millions to be spent on local elections, Colorado should simply repeal SB 152 and restore local authority to every community. Right now, the only beneficiaries of this barrier to local choice are the incumbent providers, who at the very least are able to delay needed investments in Internet infrastructure.

Small Illinois Town Will Vote On Fiber Investment in April

The Village of Gilberts, Illinois, will ask voters in April to authorize up to $5 million in General Obligation bonds to deploy a FTTH network reports the Daily Herald. GO bonds are rarely used for network deployment but often used for public works projects and other publicly owned assets. Due to the funding mechanism in Gilberts, the network would be publicly owned.

"It's something that is not readily available in other communities," Village Administrator Ray Keller said. "It would set us apart and put us on a path to better meet the needs of our residents and businesses as their demands and needs for technology grows."

The community, home to 6,800 people, has experienced rapid population growth since 2000. At that time only 1,200 people lived in this northeast Kane County village.

According to the article and January Board of Trustee minutes [PDF online], the bond issue would increase property taxes 1.8 percent on most tax bills. Properties with a market value of $250,000, which is most common in Gilberts, would pay an additional $150 per year or $12.50 per month to fund the infrastructure deployment. There are approximately 2,400 taxable properties in Gilbert today but as more properties are built, each property owner's share would decrease. 

This is the second time the village has planned for a fiber network to improve connectivity throughout the community. In 2013, Gilberts entered into an agreement with i3, a British company that eventually folded, to deploy fiber using sewers as conduit. In that plan, i3 would have owned the fiber network.

Developer Troy Mertz is spearheading the project. His company is investing in a new housing development that will eventually include an additional 985 new homes. As part of that development and independent of the municipal fiber project, Mertz is installing fiber to each structure at his own expense. His company, iFiber Networks will also run fiber to nearby municipal and public safety buildings and the Gilberts Elementary School. According to the Daily Herald, iFiber is not charging the city for bringing fiber to its facilities or the school.

Mertz said it's hard to quantify how much additional money he's spending on granting access to village buildings and the elementary school, but it's something he's doing because it will benefit everyone, he said.

"It's a mutual success type of thing," he said. "I hope that by bringing these services into the village, it benefits not just my community but the community as a whole."

The housing development, called The Conservancy, was originally conceived prior to 2007 but the original developer filed for bankruptcy before the project could get off the ground. There is already some street infrastructure in place and the proximity to the elementary school makes the location attractive, says Mertz. Adding fiber to the new homes will make them more attractive and, according to a 2014 FTTH Council study, increases the value of propoerties up to $5,000.

In order to reduce the cost of the deployment, the Gilberts network will piggyback the iFiber network along the iFiber route.

Using GO Bonds will keep the interest rate down because the community pledges its full faith and credit to pay back the investors, resulting in very little risk. A benefit of tying the bonds to property taxes is that the investment increases the property value. Thus, if a homeowner moves out of town, the cost of paying back the bonds stick with the property that was improved with the network, not the homeowner him or herself. 

On the other hand, incumbent cable companies will often argue that this allows local governments to borrow at lower cost than the private sector providers can. Whether or not this is even true is hard to say give the incredible cash flow of these de facto monopolies that raise prices on an annual basis. Additionally, the benefits of having built the original cable networks as part of a government sanctioned monopoly are hard to quantify, so there is little reason to suggest that using GO bonds is actually unfair when compared to the many advantages of entrenched incumbent providers.

The referendum is set for April 7th.

Isleboro, Maine, Will Vote to Bond for Municipal Network in May

Isleboro, the Maine island community of 566, will decide in May whether or not they want to bond to build a municipal fiber network, reports The Working Waterfront. The network will be owned by the town who plans to partner with GWI to operate and manage it. 

Currently, about 2/3 of residents on the island use DSL from Fairpoint. While a few locations can reach 15 Mbps download, most residents pay from $20 - $70 for around 3 Mbps download. Upload speeds are much less. GWI also offers point-to-point wireless from the mainland and one side of the island has cellphone.

The firm estimated costs to cover the island to be between $2.5 and $3 million, which would include construction and leasing of poles from Central Maine Power (CMP).  Community leaders will ask voters to approve a municipal bond to fund the project:

The $3 million bond would raise property taxes on a house assessed at $300,000 by about $13.77 per month ($164.25 per year). As a per-month cost, with both the pay-back on the bond and the standard service fee for Internet, the resident of a house valued at $300,000 would pay $48.77, according to [Arch] Gillies, [chairman of the Board of Selectmen]. (This appears to be for the lowest level of service.)

In 2012, the community formed a Broadband Working Group to dig deeper in to the state of broadband on the island and search for ways to improve it. The community hired a consultant to do an assessment and make recommendations. Traditional large scale providers do not find the community ripe for investment with its small number of households.

After reviewing the recommendations, community leaders decided it was in the community's best interest to deploy a network that would be owned by the public. They then engaged in a Request for Information process and received responses from three vendors. Eventually, they chose to work with GWI, in part because it is a local company. Fairpont and Time Warner Cable also responded, but their proposals did not stipulate that the infrastructure would belong to the town. There were other inferiorities in their proposals.

Community leaders have determined that they will need approximately 50% of the community to subscribe in order to cover the operating costs. They also hope that, with more subscribers, they can reduce the prices below the proposed rates. At this time, they anticipate offering service at $35 per month for 3 Mbps/1 Mbps, $75 per month for 500 Mbps symmetrical, and $125 per month for gigabit service. 

If voters approve the bond issue at the annual town meeting on May 9th, they will be asked to commit to a level of service in order to accurately assess the project's viability. If there is not a 50 percent commitment, the town may not proceed with the bond issue. If the bond is approved and sign-ups suggest a favorable future, construction would begin in the fall.

Voters Resoundingly Approve Broadband Measure in Estes Park, Colorado

On February 3rd, voters in Estes Park voted 92 percent to reclaim local authority to establish a telecommunications utility. The result follows a greater trend in Colorado where eight communities made similar decisions last fall. Each of these elections has happened during Comcast's merger review, which may have discouraged them from their usual tactics to oppose competition.

The Estes Park Trail Gazette reports that a series of meetings will be scheduled to inform residents and businesses and to obtain feedback for planning. The community is working with a consultant to determine the next step.

As we reported last November, the community has struggled with communications infrastructure since 2013 flooding wiped out private networks that served residents and businesses. Estes Park wants to make better use of its share of the fiber optic network deployed by the town and the Platte River Power Authority in 2004. Before the town can take any action, state law dictates an election.

"The Town of Estes Park is happy with the results of this election," said Estes Park Town Administrator Frank Lancaster. "Broadband service is critical for any community moving into the future, and technological challenges are greater for a smaller community like Estes Park.

"This will allow us to look at a number of alternatives that can improve the service to residents, guests and businesses as well as allow the town to partner with our local internet providers to help them become more successful and to provide a higher level of service to their customers."

Missouri Bill Creates New Barriers to Community Networks

Republican State Representative Rocky Miller began the new legislative session with a bill designed to yank authority from local communities that need better connectivity.  Even though the state already preempts local authority to sell telecommunications services and requires a referendum for cable, there is a current exemption for "Internet-type services." HB 437 [PDF] removes that exemption and would make it all but impossible for a local community to ensure they had access to the same types of services now available in Kansas City.

The bill prohibits communities from offering services if there are any private providers with no regard to the type or quality of those services. There can be no mistake that bills such as these are aimed directly at communities contemplating building their own gigabit networks because the existing service providers have refused to invest in the needed infrastructure.

Cities like Columbia, Nixa, and Carl Junction have taken proactive steps to encourage investment economic development growth that this bill would prevent. In Springfield, the city would have more than 1,000 fewer jobs without the city-owned SpringNet, which we have covered multiple times.

The Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC) released this statement about the bill:

The state of Missouri is the latest legislature to attempt to erect barriers to the deployment of broadband networks that are critical to the future of its local economies and the nation, via House Bill 437. High-bandwidth communications networks are the electricity of the 21st century and no community should be stymied or hampered in its efforts to deploy new future-proof communications infrastructure for its citizens – either by itself or with willing private partners. It is ironic that while the International CES show in Las Vegas spotlighted hundreds of new devices and applications that require big bandwidth, legislation would be introduced in Missouri that would impair the development of networks that enable that bandwidth.

The hundreds of communities, companies, and private citizens that make up the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC) urge the Missouri legislature to reject this ill-informed effort to tie the hands of Missouri’s own communities.

Over the past year, the community of Columbia contended with incumbent CenturyLink's efforts to block its attempt to improve connectivity for local businesses. Consultants recently found that 84% of local businesses do not get the Internet speeds they need. While Columbia Water & Light now offers dark fiber, the consultants suggested developing an open access fiber network for commercial customers.

Miller's district includes Jefferson City, one of the communities where CenturyLink announced it would offer limited gigabit services.

HB 437 is not scheduled for a hearing yet, but we are watching and will post relevent updates.

Update: Missouri removed the referendum requirement for municipal cable in 2010. It is unclear but cities do not appear to have the authority to offer cable services in any circumstance presently.

Estes Park, Colorado, to Ask Voters to Reclaim Authority in February

The recent Colorado elections in Boulder, San Miguel County, Yuma County, Rio Blanco County, Wray, Yuma, Red Cliff, and Cherry Hills Village have inspired Estes Park. According to a recent Trail Gazette article, the northern town will hold a special election in February to ask voters to reclaim telecommunications authority. Approximately 5,800 people live in Estes Park.

The local Estes Park Economic Development Corporation (EDC) adopted a resolution in August urging the town council to take the issue to the voters reports the Trail Gazette. The council voted unanimously to support that idea.

"This resolution resulted from an extensive investigation into how to achieve a key goal in the Town's 2014 strategic plan: 'to encourage optimal use of the Platte River Power Authority's and Town's fiber optic infrastructure,' " [EDC's David] Batey said.

"We must take back the Town's right to decide the best way to provide competitive broadband," Batey said.

"Like electricity a century ago, broadband is a foundation for economic growth, job creation, global competitiveness and a better way of life," stated the EDC.

The town and the Platte River Power Authority (PRPA) share ownership of a fiber optic network between Estes Park and nearby Loveland. The ring was installed about 10 years ago for operation of the PRPA Transmission and Substation Electric System. Flooding in 2013 eliminated the other telecommunications infrastructure connecting Estes Park to the outside world, so there is no redundancy.

The City leases several of its fibers to Level 3 for a little over $1,600 per month but connectivity in town varies. Some areas rely on dial-up while others have DSL. There are also several smaller Wi-Fi providers working in the area.

Estes Park is well known as a tourist destination and like other rural areas we have reported on, resort areas often do not have access to fast, reliable, affordable networks. As visitors increasingly expect to be connected 24/7, remote and geographically challenging regions need to rely on themselves to bring better connectivity to businesses, guests, and residents.

The community received a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration. The purpose of the grant was to help the flood disaster area develop a economic diversification and industry job retention and recovery strategy. Part of that strategy involves developing better connectivity - a key to expanding beyond tourism as an economic base.

Thusfar, the community has earmarked $80,000 for a broadband study and $50,000 to develop a technology incubator co-working space.

Community Broadband Media Roundup - November 10, 2014

Several communities in Colorado are the community broadband champions of the week. Jon Brodkin covered the decision by voters in the state to consider building their own networks.  

Voters in five cities and three counties voted to restore local authority for municipal networks. It’s significant for several reasons, including the large margin by which the measures passed

The success of the measures in these communities can give other communities hope, writes Sean Buckley. 

“This is a big blow to the state's largest telcos and cable MSOs like CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL) and Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA), two of the largest opponents to the municipal broadband movement.”

FindLaw’s Technologist weighed in on the votes as well. Mark Wilson, Esq. analyzes some of the bogus reports that are frequently used by interest groups to discredit muni networks. 

“It's hard to imagine why you wouldn't want municipal broadband, but Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and their lobby groups insist that public broadband and wireless networks are a waste of taxpayer money and are anti-competitive. That's according to a 2005 report from The New Millennium Research Council, a lobby group which was created by Issue Dynamics, a P.R. firm utilized by telephone and communications companies.”

Several news publications came out in favor of the measures days before the election. Erica Meltzer with the Daily Camera, Timothy E. Wirth and Ken Fellman of the Denver Post were among them, along with KUNC in Denver.

Stephanie Paige Ogburn continued the coverage after the election. 

Many Colorado towns have struggled to get affordable high-speed Internet, a service which has become a necessity almost akin to electricity or water, particularly for rural areas seeking to attract businesses in the service economy.

'There's so many stories of, I would love to move to Red Cliff, but you don't have a good internet connection. And so it is hampering our ability to grow as a town,' said Red Cliff mayor Scott Burgess, who is working to provide better broadband in his rural town."

Chris Welch of The Verge writes that the steps these communities made this week are not the end of the road.

“The successful vote doesn't require or guarantee the projects to get off the ground, but Colorado is sitting on "miles" of unused fiber, so the technology and resources are at least partially there.”

And Jason Meyers of Light Reading ties it all together:

"The Colorado developments are a win for proponents of municipal broadband, and for the overall development of Gigabit Cities, but the local measures in these communities are only the beginning. Now begins the task of evaluating business models for potentially building out fiber-to-the-home networks -- which could hinge on the facilities of municipal utilities, or involve public/private partnerships with commercial providers -- and the probable onslaught of responses from irate competitive providers."

In other words, here comes the fun part.

Other reporters were interested in what the Colorado votes could mean nationally

“'Cities and towns across the U.S. have already begun to make these changes and hundreds more are evaluating similar actions to provide better Internet service for their residents,' Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance Director Christopher Mitchell said.

Mitchell believes thousands of towns understand the goals, and while they are not yet committed to the push for faster Internet at affordable prices, they are thinking about joining the national effort."

Arielle Pardes of Vice took some time to chat with Chris this week about why her Internet is “so damn slow.”  

Robert Cooper wrote for US News this week, citing three ways the rules need to be changed, and unsurprisingly, he finds that the FCC’s role is crucial in promoting Net Neutrality, removing roadblocks to community networks, and stopping the mergers of mega telecom corporations. 

“The FCC finds itself in a rare position. Circumstances have placed before it the opportunity to ensure that the Internet continues to thrive as an engine for innovation and economic growth. To seize this opportunity, the commission need not impose a heavy-handed regulatory regime, nor become the 'Internet cop' that opponents of any action hyperbolically prognosticate. All it needs to do is exercise its authority in a smart and targeted way to ensure that content providers and consumers will be able to access one another without being subject to the unchecked whims of broadband ISP networks.”

Republicans and Democrats Alike Restore Local Authority in Colorado

Yesterday, Colorado voters in three counties and five municipalities were asked whether they want to restore local government authority to build or partner for broadband networks. A 2005 law, lobbied for heavily by incumbents, prevents local municipalities from offering telecommunications services, even if they already have the infrastructure in place.

According to the law, local communities can ask voters to reclaim local authority to establish a telecommunications utility. We have seen Longmont, Montrose, and Centennial take action in prior years. In Longmont, the community has successfully established a telecommunications utility and the community is loving it.

An interesting wrinkle in Colorado is the wide support across the state - communities that vote heavily for Democrats supported local authority for municipal networks in similar numbers that those in areas voting heavily for Republicans.

In Yuma County, where approximately 85% of voters supported the GOP Senate candidate, the measure to reclaim local authority passed with 72% of the vote.  Yuma County overwhelmingly voted for the Republican candidate for Governor and every race in Yuma County went to a Republican candidate. The cities of Yuma and Wray within the County also had their own ballot initiatives to reclaim local authority; those ballot measures also passed by 72%.

Rio Blanco County's numbers were very similar to those in Yuma County. The only exception was that their ballot question 1A on reclaiming local authority passed with 76%. Again, every race went to a Republican candidate in Rio Blanco County.

Boulder, with considerable fiber assets already in place, decided to take the possibility of using those assets to the voters this year and the voters said yes. Much like the voters in Yuma, Wray, Yuma County, and Rio Blanco County, Boulder voters approved their measure 2C by a high 83.6%. Unlike the voters in Yuma, Wray, Yuma County, and Rio Blanco County, Boulder chose to support Democratic candidates in every race. Many of those races were not close.

Approximately 80% of San Miguel County voters, another region supporting Democrats in this cycle, chose to reclaim local authority on ballot measure 1A [PDF].

If we see communities described as strongly supporting either Republican or Democratic candidates also supporting municipal network authority, it is logical that communities with mixed support of both parties would also support local authority initiatives. 

Cherry Hills Village in Arapahoe County and Red Cliff in Eagle County each presented similar ballot questions to voters and both passed. Red Cliff's results are not official as of this writing but are projected at about 60-70% and Cherry Hills Village results are around 80%. Arapahoe County voters elected a mix of Republican and Democratic candidates with some races very close. Eagle County voters also chose mixed representation.

Yesterday's election in Colorado showed us that supporting local government authority to build or partner in fiber networks is popular across the political spectrum. Regardless of their party affiliation, they agreed that those smart decisions should be made at home, not by legislators in Denver. And if they were going to give advice to the new Congress in DC, it would probably be to restore and preserve local decision-making on this issue.

Boulder and Yuma Turn to Voters to Reclaim Authority

Two more Colorado communities will be deciding whether or not to reclaim local telecommunications authority this fall. Colorado State Bill 152 took away local authority in 2005 but voters in several areas of the state are taking it back. Readers will recall Centennial voters passed the measure 3:1 last fall and Montrose voters approved a similar measure in the spring.

Boulder is home to the Boulder Research and Administration Network (BRAN), a fiber network that currently serves the city, the University of Colorado, the U.S. Department of Commerce, and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. A conduit network is already in place and an I-Net connects dozens of municipal facilities. Community leaders decided last summer it made good sense to re-establish the authority needed to make the most of existing resources. The Daily Camera recently spoke with a ballot measure 2C supporter:

"This allows the city of Boulder to determine what to do with a resource that already exists and is already paid for," said Timothy O'Shea, a member of the Yes on 2C steering committee who has worked with Boulder start-ups.

"It will not be the City Council determining that we'll have municipalization of those services," O'Shea said. "Yes on 2C is not about that. It's about the beginning of a dialogue and getting out from under a state law that prevents us from innovating with our existing resources."

Boulder's ballot measure [PDF] reads:

Shall the City of Boulder be authorized to provide high-speed Internet servicès (advanced services), telecommunications services, andior eable television services to residents, businesses, schools, libraries, nonprofit entities and other users of such services, either directly or indirectly with public or private sector partners, as expressly permitted by çç 29-27-i01 : to '304,' "Competition in Utility and Entertainment Services," of the Colorado Revised Statutes, without limiting its home rule authority?

The Boulder Chamber of Commerce and the Boulder Weekly support the measure. 

Yuma County Colorado

Voters in Yuma County, the city of Yuma, and the Yuma county seat of Wray will decide a similar ballot question during this election. Each community will decide similar language for measures 1B, 2B, and/or 2C [PDF]:

WITHOUT INCREASING TAXES, SHALL THE CITIZENS OF YUMA COUNTY COLORADO RE-ESTABLISH THEIR COUNTIES' RIGHT TO PROVIDE ALL SERVICES AND FACILITIES RESTRICTED SINCE 2005 BY TITLE 29, ARTICLE 27 OF THE COLORADO REVISED STATUTES, DESCRIBED AS "ADVANCED SERVICES," "TELECOMMUNICATIONS SERVICES," AND "CABLE TELEVISION SERVICES," INCLUDING PROVIDING ANY NEW AND IMPROVED BROADBAND SERVICES AND FACILITIES BASED ON FUTURE TECHNOLOGIES, UTILIZING EXISTING OR NEW COMMUNITY OWNED INFRASTRUCTURE INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO THE EXISTING FIBER OPTIC NETWORK, EITHER DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY WITH PUBLIC OR PRIVATE SECTOR PARTNERS, TO POTENTIAL SUBSCRIBERS THAT MAY INCLUDE TELECOMMUNICATIONS SERVICE PROVIDERS, RESIDENTIAL OR COMMERCIAL USERS WITHIN THE BOUNDARIES OF YUMA COUNTY?

According to a comprehensive story by Gavin Dahl for the Boulder Weekly, Yuma County leaders recognize the key role connectivity plays in economic development:

Local officials like Yuma County Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Darlene Carpio say the lack of investment from the private sector has hurt their communities.

“We just don’t have what we need here — the speeds, affordability, reliability,” she says. “The first hurdle is that Senate Bill 152 precludes us from being able to consider all options.” 

Yuma County is located on the northeast border of the state, and is home to approximately 10,000 people. A little over 3,500 live in the municipality of Yuma and about 2,300 live in Wray. Like Centennial, Montrose, and Boulder, community advocates have no specific plans to develop a municipal network at this early stage, but recognize the need to open up possibilities. The Better Internet for Yuma County website states:

There is not a “one size fits all” model that can work for every community. Yuma County formed a Broadband Task Force in 2014, hosting monthly meetings with stakeholders to address the broadband challenges. This dialogue will continue and will help us determine the right way to reach our goal. We will evaluate those models that other successful cities have used, but in the end our system should be tailored for our unique needs. We will also engage with telecommunication providers that are currently operating in our communities in an effort to develop a successful business model to address the long-term needs of our county. Developing this business model is expected to take several months.