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Business, Education Call on Culver City to Invest in Muni Fiber in L.A. County

Last fall, Culver City hired a consultant to develop a design and business plan for a possible fiber network project. Recently, prominent business leaders and parents of local school children have publicly expressed their support for a municipal network.

Culver City, also known as "The Heart of Screenland" is situated in west L.A. County, surrounded primarily by the City of Los Angeles. Approximately 39,000 people live in this community that is beginning to draw in the tech industry. In addition to Disney's Maker Studios, Apple owns Culver City's Beats Electronic, known for high-tech headphones. Culver City wants to stay current to compete with Santa Monica, home to a number of tech businesses that connect to its publicly owned City Net.

The L.A. Weekly reports billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong, owner of NantWorks, has encouraged city leaders to move forward with the project. His specific request is that five business districts be included in the network deployment. NantWorks, located in one of those districts, provides cloud-based operating systems to support telehealth. According to the article, Soon-Shiong is rallying other business leaders:

Soon-Shiong has been encouraging other business owners in the area to support the plan, which is expected to come before the City Council sometime in October.

"He feels this is key," said Mike Sitrick, a spokesman for Soon-Shiong. "He’s talked to various city officials and told them how important he thinks it is, not only to his business, but to attracting additional businesses to Culver City."

Local elected officials report positive feedback as the city reaches out to determine interest in the project:

"We're still attempting to gauge the degree of interest," said Councilman Andy Weissman, though he added, "I'm confident it's going to happen."

The business community is not the only sector in Culver City seeking better connectivity. The Front Page Online recently published an op-ed from the group United Parents of Culver City. Regarding Soon-Shiong's statement about the importance of the project, the President of the parents' organization writes:

We agree.

We will take it a step further: This is key to the future of our schools, too.

...

Parents interested in technology issues are well aware that bandwidth limitations have created problems in our district. Those problems only will grow worse as technology becomes more integrated in the classroom environment and as online testing becomes more prevalent.

Exploring Santa Monica's Incremental Fiber Approach - Community Broadband Bits Episode 90

Just a few weeks after releasing our case study of Santa Monica's City Net, we have an opportunity to interview Jory Wolf, CIO of Santa Monica, and the chief driver of City Net. This is episode #90 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

We talk about how City Net got its start with a smart approach to the cable franchise negotiation. Adelphia built a number of fiber paths that Santa Monica would mange to connect anchor institutions. The savings from no longer leasing services provided the basis for expanding a network that would meet Santa Monica's needs long into the future.

They took that network and added on, eventually serving businesses with dark fiber and even some lit service. The model is applicable to any local government - financed by saving money and reinvesting that back into the network.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

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 previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Thanks to Valley Lodge for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Sweet Elizabeth."

Santa Monica City Net Case Study

Publication Date: 
March 5, 2014
Author(s): 
Eric Lampland
Author(s): 
Christopher Mitchell

Santa Monica has built a fiber network called City Net that has lowered its own costs for telecommunications, helped to retain businesses, and attracted new businesses to the community. Built incrementally without debt, it offers a roadmap any community can draw lessons from.

Unlike the majority of municipal fiber networks, Santa Monica does not have a municipal power provider – City Net is run out of the Information Systems Department. The vision for the network and its expansion was created in the Telecommunications Master Plan in 1998, standardizing the procedure that we now call “dig once.” Careful mapping and clever foresight laid the foundation for growth.

Santa Monica's Telecommunications Master Plan

In 1998, Santa Monica created a Telecommunications Master Plan that has guided it for the past fifteen years in building an impressive fiber network connecting all community anchor institutions and many business districts. We have just released a case study detailing this effort, entitled: Santa Monica City Net: An Incremental Approach to Building a Fiber Optic Network.

Below, you will find the original Master Plan and Exhibits. Santa Monica got it right - this document can still be a model today for communities across the United States. This document is particularly important for local governments that do not have a municipal electric department because it offers an alternative model run out of the IT department.

Santa Monica Named Among Top 15 Government Innovators

Congratulations to the city of Santa Monica, for adding another award to their long list. On September 18th, city leaders announced that InformationWeek 500 named the city to the 2012 list of technology innovators. Santa Monica is among the Top 15 Government Innovators.

The award specifically acknowledges the Advanced Traffic Management System (ATMS) that uses Santa Monica's fiber network to improve traffic safety. From a Santa Monica Daily Press Article about the recognition:

The ATMS connects traffic signals, cameras, controllers and wireless devices on transit corridors through Santa Monica’s fiber-optic network. The entire system is managed in one room where traffic is monitored and controlled in real time. Traffic signals can be adjusted on the fly to deal with shifting traffic patterns during peak travel times, holidays, special events and traffic accidents.

Emergency vehicles can also trigger green lights, helping them move quickly through the city. The number of parking spaces available in city-owned lots and structures is also monitored and displayed on signs and on City Hall’s website. There are also Wi-Fi equipped parking meters that take payments by credit cards and cell phones.

A special website — smconstructs.org — provides the latest information on development projects, as well as road closures, detours and other impacts on traffic, according to the press release.

The city also runs parkingspacenow.smgov.net, which allows users to find a place to park their vehicles and provides information on all things parking related.

For a slideshow on Santa Monica and the other Top 15, visit the InformationWeek Global CIO website.

Santa Monica Receives Another Award for City Fiber Network

Santa Monica has received yet another award for its publicly owned broadband network, not too long after it received award from the Ash Center at Harvard University.

Santa Monica’s broadband initiative was nominated for the network’s ability to provide speeds of 10 Gigabits per second, achieve a 67% cost reduction, and the economic and technological growth opportunities that result from supporting companies along Santa Monica’s Tech Coast with a leading-edge broadband infrastructure.

...

The City of Santa Monica leases dark fiber and offers lit fiber to local businesses for affordable broadband at 100Mbps, 1Gbps, and 10Gbps speeds. Santa Monica's broadband model results in a reduction of construction costs for new broadband service, an increase in purchasing power of connected local businesses, and a broadband market expansion for Internet service providers that now may offer service to small, medium and large commercial buildings. The city also recently received honors as one of the Top 25 Innovations in Government by the Ash Center at the Harvard Kennedy School and a Significant Achievement Award from the Public Technology Institute (PTI) for the broadband initiative.

We try to keep track of the many awards the community networks have won so don't be afraid to alert us of community networks winning awards.

More Details from the Incredible Santa Monica City Net

Santa Monica's approach to building community owned broadband that puts the community first has been wildly successful. They have not focused on providing residential connections, and likely will not in the future, focusing instead on meeting their municipal needs and businesses to spur economic development.

They can deliver up to 10Gbps to businesses that need it and they have connectivity throughout the City for whatever projects they choose to pursue. This includes free Wi-Fi in parks, controlling traffic signaling (prioritizing mass transit, for instance), and smart parking applications. On top of all that, their investments have saved more than a million dollars that would have been wasted on slower, less reliable connections provided by leased lines.

In the matter of controlling traffic signals, Santa Monica wants all intersections with fiber-optics.

Arizona Avenue, the Mid-City area and the city's office district will all be getting makeovers if the City Council approves two contracts that will connect 40 signalized intersections to City Hall's centralized traffic control system.

The work represents the fourth phase in a five-phase effort to connect all of Santa Monica's intersections using fiber optic cables. Some signals will need to be fully replaced, while others can get by on smaller upgrades, according to the staff report.

Don't miss this hour long interview between Craig Settles and Jory Wolf, the brains behind Santa Monica's success.

Listen to internet radio with cjspeaks on Blog Talk Radio

Around 45 minutes into the interview, Jory Wolf talks about the ways the free Wi-Fi network promotes local businesses in partnership with a Buy Local campaign. I was thrilled to hear this as a colleague of mine at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance is a great friend of buy local campaigns because they are proven to help the small, independent businesses that contribute so much to communities.

If you want to learn more, particularly about how Santa Monica's approach has created many new jobs (that's right, smart public investments in broadband create jobs!) check out .

For more information about Santa Monica, check out this article from Broadband Communities Magazine.

-Though the city provides Internet access directly, it also makes the network available to third-party providers on an open-access basis. “The incumbents have chosen not to use our assets,” Wolf says, explaining that larger providers are often reluctant to operate over networks where they cannot control the user experience and that their marketing and support organizations are not geared to using other companies’ networks. 


However, other ISPs have shown interest in the network now that it is becoming successful. Currently, two ISPs offer services generally over the network, and other ISPs serve the Santa Monica offices of businesses that they deal with in other locations. Wolf says, “We have the opportunity to handle the business any way they prefer. … We’re not an obstacle; we’re an enabler. We don’t see ourselves as competitors, but as filling a void.” 


City Net’s revenue from current business customers totals about $300,000 per year, enough to fund network operations and maintenance and to support an extensive system of free Wi-Fi hot spots throughout the city. Wi-Fi is now available at parks, beaches, libraries, public buildings and other open-space areas. On any given day, about 2,000 of Santa Monica’s 87,000 residents use the 27 Wi-Fi hot spots. 


The city also has $190,000 of its capital funds remaining, which it uses as a revolving capital improvement project account. This account funds construction for network expansion, which is repaid by customers as the network is extended to their premises. 


An indirect benefit of City Net is that it has forced competing networks to lower their prices. Wolf’s office estimates that nonparticipating providers have lowered their bandwidth prices by 20 percent or more, making bandwidth generally more affordable throughout the city. “If that’s all we had accomplished, we’d feel that we’d done what we intended,” Wolf says.

See also a webinar hosted by Broadband Communities [Cisco WebEx] where Jory discusses Santa Monica and nearby Long Beach talks about a similar approach they are using.

Finally, check out a recent segment of Santa Monica Update that discusses Santa Monica City Net (fast forward to 9:20 in the video to skip right to it).

Video: 
See video

Santa Monica's City Net Recognized by Ash Center at Harvard Kennedy School

We have frequently encouraged communities to learn more about Santa Monica's approach to incrementally building a publicly owned fiber-optic broadband network, which has just received another award. The Ash Center at Harvard's Kennedy School selected Santa Monica as one of their top 25 Innovations in Government.

The program was selected for this award in the economic development category for the network's effectiveness in attracting technology companies to the city and supporting existing Santa Monica businesses with a leading edge broadband infrastructure, city officials said.

Santa Monica City Net's model is being replicated by the cities of Burbank and Long Beach, and is in review by Chicago and Calgary.

As we explained in Breaking the Broadband Monopoly, Santa Monica started with an I-Net on which they could not run commercial traffic and slowly built their own network that had no conditions on how it was used. In the past, this network has received the "Significant Achievement Award" from the Public Technology Institute (PTI).

This press release recaps some details from their network:

The City created a telecommunications master plan and built a fiber optic network that connected 59 buildings used by the City, Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, and Santa Monica College. Savings realized by this project enabled the City to construct its own municipal fiber optic network, Santa Monica City Net, to support traffic cameras, security cameras, real-time parking advisory systems, a traffic signal synchronization system, and real-time mass transit signs. The City also leases dark fiber and lit services to local businesses for affordable broadband.

The results of Santa Monica's advanced broadband initiative are a reduction in construction costs of new broadband service, an increase in purchasing power of connected local businesses, and a broadband market expansion for global Internet Service Providers that now offer service to small, medium and large commercial buildings. The program also supports an environment for local businesses to compete in the global economy with cutting edge network solutions.

The PTI is a national non-profit technology research and development organization based in Washington, DC, representing local governments. The PTI Technology Solutions Awards is a national program recognizing local governments that use technology to increase revenues, improve service to their community, save tax dollars, or improve management. 


Presentation and Panel Discussion about Community Broadband

Craig Settles kicks off this event with a 45 minute presentation discussing what community networks should do to succeed financially and how they can go beyond simply making broadband access available to more people.

Bryan Sivak, Chief Technology Officer of the District of Columbia; Joanne Hovis, President-Elect of NATOA and President of Columbia Telecommunications Corporation; and Gary Carter, Analyst at City of Santa Monica Information Systems Department responded Craig Settles' presentation.

One of the key points is something we harp on here: if community broadband networks run in the black according to standard private sector accounting procedures, that is great. But it is a poor measure of how successful a community network is. Community networks create a variety of positive benefits that are not included in that metric and those benefits must be considered when evaluating such a network.

Video: 
See video

Publicly Owned Fiber Connects Hollywood Studios

We've previously noted the successes of the Santa Monica approach to leasing dark fiber, but a new article reveals that Los Angeles, Burbank, and Anaheim also lease city-owned fiber assets.

In fact, Burbank generates substantial net income for its general fund through leases, including to major Hollywood studios.

Burbank first laid its fiber in the late 1980s and began leasing in the mid 1990s, said Robert DeLeon, a senior electrical services planner in Burbank. It currently leases to 15 studios, such as Warner Brothers and Disney, or studio-related businesses, like post-production companies. Like Santa Monica, Burbank's main goal in leasing its dark fiber was to attract business. But at $200 per strand per mile, Burbank is currently making approximately $1 million that is being put back into the general fund.

Santa Monica's revenues from leases have been more modest, but the benefits of leasing go far beyond regular payments. The network increases economic development and improves the quality of life with free Wi-Fi in a variety of public areas. Further, the city no longer has to overpay for the data connections it needs for municipal functions.

Santa Monica is also leasing to 15 businesses that include hospitals, entertainment companies and new media outlets, among others, but is only making $270,000. It was never Santa Monica's intention for the leasing of dark fiber to be a major source of revenue, Wolf said.

Santa Monica - UCLA Medical Center uses city-owned fiber because the city has better customer service:

Though there are other options for obtaining a fiber optic connection, such as AT&T, Kacperski said the hospital decided to lease from City Hall because hospitals are community based and because City Hall has better customer service than private carriers.

As we have often maintained, locally owned networks win on customer service (and often reliability). Community networks may not always win on prices because massive incumbents can engage in predatory pricing by cross-subsidizing from non-competitive markets, but they can win on providing a better experience for subscribers.

Moving forward, Santa Monica is starting to go beyond simply leasing dark fiber to actually providing lit services to businesses who would prefer not to manage their connections.

Photo from public domain