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Ellensburg Considers Muni Fiber Network Expansion

Last year, we covered this central Washington city’s first foray into publicly owned fiber optics. The local incumbent, Charter Communications, began charging the city $10,000 per month for services it had been providing for free for a decade as part of its franchise agreement. Ellensburg officials did some quick math and realized that they could save money building their own network.

They ultimately awarded a contract for $960,000 to build 13 miles of fiber connecting various public facilities throughout the city including the police department and Central Washington University. Thanks to Charter’s high rates, the direct cost savings alone could pay for the entire project in about eight years, leaving aside all the other direct and indirect benefits of public network ownership. 

Now, with the original construction project not even quite complete, Ellensburg is already considering expanding to serve residents and the local business community. According to the local Daily Recorder newspaper, the city council has unanimously voted to issue a request for qualifications from contractors for a long term strategic plan.

“Typically, for this type of an activity, (a strategic plan) would include a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats analysis for the telecom utility,” city Energy Services Director Larry Dunbar said. “We would look at different business cases for different service opportunities like providing Internet access to perhaps commercial businesses, perhaps Internet access to the general public. A variety of other service opportunities are possible.”

The new strategic plan is expected to be finished before construction on the current institutional network ends. The construction plan for the institutional network was designed to be “future-ready,” with contingency funds set aside for possible later alterations or expansions. It seems those funds may be tapped sooner rather than later.

The Ellensburg Business Development Authority has been a major advocate of the city’s fiber network, pushing the city to expand it to new areas, offer service to businesses, and look into how it could compete with Charter Communications. As city councilmember Tony Aronica put it:

“It impacts Ellensburg at the business level but also at the consumer level, because there’s not really any other options,” he said. “I think it’s responsible of us to do this.”  

While nothing has been decided yet, Ellensburg’s discussion of expanding municipal network services is already turning envious heads in Spokane and other nearby cities. Ellensburg itself consulted with Tacoma, which has operated a city cable utility for years, in crafting its institutional network construction plan. It's always encouraging to see expertise and ideas spread from one local community to another, shortening the learning curve for small cities seeking to get out from under the local cable incumbent's thumb. 

North Carolina Town Saves Public Dollars With Its Own Network

On June 18 Holly Springs, home to approximately 25,000 people, started saving money with its new fiber I-Net. Last summer, the Town Council voted to invest in fiber infrastructure as a way to take control of telecommunications costs. Just one year later, the 13-mile network is serving community anchor institutions.

After exploring options with CTC Technology and Energy, Holly Springs determined that deploying their own $1.5 million network was more cost effective than paying Time Warner Cable for data services. Annual fees were $159,000; over time those costs certainly would have escalated. According to the Cary News, Holly Springs anticipates a future need for more bandwidth:

“And we wouldn’t have been able to actually afford as much (data) as we need,” [Holly Springs IT Director Jeff Wilson] said. “Our costs were going to be getting out of control over the next couple of years.”

Because state law precludes the town from offering services to homes or businesses, Holly Springs plans to use the new infrastructure in other ways. State law allows the community to offer free Wi-Fi; the town will also lease dark fiber to third-party providers. According to the News article, the town has already entered into a 20-year contract with DukeNet, recently acquired by Time Warner Cable. DukeNet may expand the fiber to the Holly Springs Business Park for commercial clients.

The community's free Wi-Fi in public facilities is approximately 20 times faster than it was before the deployment, reports the News:

When the town activated the network on June 18, “People told us they could tell the difference immediately,” said Jeff Wilson, Holly Springs’ IT director.

According to the News, the fiber network allows the city to expand free Wi-Fi to more green spaces. Cameras at baseball fields now stream live video of games; parents and grandparents can watch activities online if they cannot attend games in person.

For more on the community and the project, check out Chris' conversation with Jeff Wilson in episode #107 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

The Past and Future of Muni Fiber in Boulder - Community Broadband Bits Episode 108

Boulder is the latest Colorado community to recognize the benefits of using city-owned fiber to spur job growth and improve quality of life. Boulder Director of Information Technology Don Ingle joins us for episode 108 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

We discuss the many ways in which Boulder has benefited from community owned fiber over the past 15 years and the smart policies they have used to expand conduit throughout the community.

We finish with a discussion about the upcoming referendum that Boulder will likely place on the November ballot to regain local authority to use and expand its fiber assets to encourage job growth and increase residential options.

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 17 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 Waylon Thornton for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Bronco Romp."

Davenport, Iowa, Releases RFP for Feasibility Study

Davenport recently issued an RFP, hoping to hire a vendor to complete a feasibility study. The community wants to learn more about connectivity options that build on its current fiber assets.

According to a May 2014 Government Technology article by Colin Wood, the city has installed fiber throughout the community over the past decade. CIO Rob Henry told Wood:

“For years, residents and businesses have been asking us to do this,” Henry said. “We always knew we were going to get to this point.”

Henry goes on to note that current services from incumbents in Davenport are not sufficient for economic development. The first step will be to connect businesses then follow with fiber to each premise.

Davenport's population is approximately 103,000. During the 70s and 80s, manufacturing was the predominent industry but today tech firms are moving into the area. It is considered part of the Quad Cities region, midway between Chicago and Des Moines from east to west and the Twin Cities and St. Louis from north to south.

According to the article, government facilities began using fiber first, with schools, hospitals, and parks following. The network saves Davenport $400,000 per year because the city serves its own telecommunications needs rather than buying service from a provider.

Wood reported that the city has spoken to CenturyLink and Mediacom; Chris told GovTech:

It’s good that Davenport is trying to cooperate with local Internet service providers (ISP), Mitchell said, but it’s unlikely to produce much substance because, in some cases, ISPs will attempt to starve the municipality for customers. “Every local government at first tries to work with incumbent providers,” said Mitchell, adding that, “my thinking is the city is not going to get a whole lot out of trying to work with them.”

The feasibility study will include several components, including a business case needs analysis, an evaluation of Davenport's current fiber optic capabilities, and recommendations. Bids are due in mid-July; the RFP is available online [PDF].

Holly Springs Finds Savings with Muni Fiber - Community Broadband Bits Episode 107

Holly Springs, a town of about 25,000 in the Triangle region of North Carolina, has built its own network to connect community anchor institutions and has an interest in using it to spur economic development and other community benefits but a 2011 law pushed by Time Warner Cable makes some of that more difficult.

City IT Director Jeff Wilson joined me for episode 107 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. We discussed why they decided to build a municipal network and how they have just finished the actual build.

We also discuss the savings they anticpate from owning the network and how local residents were hopeful that the network could be expanded to connect homes and businesses before learning that state law restricted them from doing that.

Read our additional coverage of Holly Springs.

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 13 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 Waylon Thornton for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Bronco Romp."

Harford County Network Goes Live in Maryland

Harford County, a mixed suburban and rural area in northeast Maryland, flipped the switch in late May on its Harford Metro Area Network (HMAN). The network includes 160 miles of fiber bringing high speed broadband to 150 sites, including all area schools, fire stations, libraries, and county and municipal buildings.

The project required $13.8 million in general obligation bonds from the county's capital improvement budget to construct four main fiber optic loops, with lateral connections leading to local anchor institutions. Not all planned facilities are connected yet, but construction will continue throughout the summer, as will the development of a business plan to determine how best to offer connections to local businesses and residences. Connections in the more rural northern area of the county will be wireless, due to the higher cost of building out to each home in lower density areas.

County Director of Information and Communication Technology Ted Pibil estimated that the county will save approximately $1 million per year by owning its own network, allowing it to cut ties with Verizon and Comcast. All of Harford County’s 54 public schools will see benefits as well, with increases in bandwidth of 50-100 times.

Harford County Sheriff Jesse Bane emphasized the public safety benefits of having a reliable communications network built with multiple contingencies in mind:

"This is going to provide the sheriff’s office with redundancy. That’s something we do not have at this time. It is something we have always considered a very precarious situation to be in… this will move us forward.”

While HMAN is funded entirely by county bonding, it builds on the backbone infrastructure of the OneMaryland Network, a stimulus-funded project that connects every county in the state. The press conference announcing the start of network operations can be seen here.

Gainesville Plans Gigabit Ring for City and Businesses in Texas Town

The Gainesville City Council recently approved a plan to deploy a fiber ring throughout the Texas town of 16,000. The network will connect municipal facilities and offer gigabit connectivity to local businesses. Gainesville is located seven miles from the Oklahoma border in Cooke County.

According to City Manager Barry Sullivan, the planned route will provide access to 95% of local businesses. Sullivan told KXII:

"That is key to economic development now. People used to look at streets, water and sewer. Now the first thing a lot of companies look at is the communication infrastructure because that is more limited than streets, water and sewer in most communities," said Sullivan.

The project will cost $525,000; the City will pay $425,000 and the Economic Development Board will contribute the remaining $100,000.

Watch the news video or read the story for more information.

Wisconsin Local Governments Collaborate for Schools, City, and County

Sheboygan County, the City of Sheboygan, and the Sheboygan Area School District (SASD) plan to collaborate to deploy a fiber network. According to an article in the Sheboygan Press, all three entities seek cost savings and higher capacity connections.

Approximately, 49,000 people live in the City of Sheboygan; there are 10,000 students attending SASD. Over 115,000 people live in the County located on the western shore of Lake Michigan.

The County, the City, and SASD will split the cost of constructing the ring, approximately $1.4 million. Each entity will then pay for laterals to connect its facilities to the ring. The total to construct the ring and connect each entities' facilities will be approximately $3.58 million. 

To build its laterals, SASD will pay $865,000. The District will save approximately $220,000 per year on connectivity fees, paying back the total investment ($1.4 million + $865,000) in about 10 years even without putting any value on the considerable benefit of much high capacity connections. When factoring in the reality that their connectivity fees would undoubtedly increase signficantly under the status quo arrangement and the much higher capacity connections, the payback period will be even shorter than 10 years.

The district is already providing a device for each student and its current connection is struggling to meet the demand. The state has a program, TEACH Wisconsin, which subsidizes the high cost of leasing connections from existing providers but given the high rates often charged by a company like AT&T, it can only go so far.

Wayne Eschen, information services coordinator, said the district pays about $220,000 per year for its online capacity...

“(TEACH Wisconsin) is limited,” Eschen said. “If you go beyond that, you pay full retail for it. We’ve exceeded the base that’s available to us and we’re now paying retail as well. As the need continues to increase, the retail cost goes up substantially.”

Meanwhile, the County now pays approximately $29,000 per year for just 25 Mbps Internet access. They estimate they will pay $9,000 per year for gigabit connectivity via the new infrastructure. We do not know how much the County currently pays for connectivity beyond Internet access but it will pay approximately $455,000 in one time fees to connect laterals to its 13 - 14 facilities.

The City has plans for its faster connections:

“What we want to do is look at different ways we can get them connected with high speed and yet have it cost-manageable,” [IT Director David] Augustin said. “If we go with those avenues (the current system), we’ll still never get the speed capacity that we would with fiber and yet we’d still have to pay the monthly charge.”

One thing the city is especially interested in is conducting some fire department training by video conference, which would require much faster speeds than they now have.

The City expects to pay approximately $664,000 to establish connections to a future network.

Apparently, a road project has inspired the partners to move forward this summer. They have determined that burying conduit as part of that project will reduce the costs by $400,000. They hope to have the network completed and lit by 2016.

Illinois' Monticello Local Partnership Leads to Big Savings - Community Broadband Bits Episode 102

Following up on Lisa's in-depth story on Monticello, Illinois, we asked Vic Zimmerman to join us for episode 102 of the Community Broadband Bits.

We talk about how rural Monticello started by reaching out to the existing service providers, only to be stalled for months and then years. Eventually they realized they would have to take a stronger hand in making sure community anchor institutions, including the schools, would have the fast, affordable, and reliable connections they need.

Local public entities began working together and partnered with a private firm building a fiber line through town to get in the trench with them. That was the beginning of an impressive network that now connects community anchors and ideally will lead to more investment for connections to businesses and residents.

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 15 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."

Monticello Public Partners Light Up Fiber in Illinois

Kids in the Monticello Community Unified School District #25 (CUSD #25) are now enjoying a new publicly owned fiber optic network. The School District is one of four public partners that collaborated to install the network and share the $306,000 in deployment costs. The City of Monticello, Piatt County, and the Allerton Public Library began the project a year ago with the School District to execute a plan to improve local connectivity.

Approximately 5,000 people live in Monticello, the Piatt County Seat, located in the center of Illinois. The City operates water and wastewater services but not an electric utility. CUSD #25 includes approximately 1,600 students.

According to a Piatt County Journal article, the partners will equally share the annual $12,000 maintenance costs. They will also divide fees for managing the system, estimated at $5,000 - $10,000 per year; the partners will hire a third party to handle network operations. In the future, the School District may manage the network themselves to eliminate that expense.

We connected with Vic Zimmerman, Superintendent for CUSD #25 to find out more.

Until now, the District depended on a patchwork of T1 lines and DSL to connect their five facilities. The schools used four lines to obtain 170 Mbps bandwidth for which they paid $3,500 per month. According to Zimmerman, CUSD #25 rarely received speeds faster than 50 Mbps.

The school has added wireless access points to its five schools to enable Wi-Fi, but lacked the necessary bandwidth to run the system efficiently. Student smartphones on the guest network exacerbated the problem. Zimmerman and CUSD knew they needed more bandwidth to handle future technology demands; they needed fiber.

Piatt County, the City of Monticello, and the Library suffered similar problems. When they approached incumbent providers Verizon and Frontier, they were told fiber would be brought into the area but neither knew when.

Approximately two years ago, Metro Communications (Metro) was deploying a fiber network to service cell phone carriers. The planned route went directly through the center of Monticello. 

The partners approached Metro with a proposal. They would pay for half of the deployment costs for the section that went throught town. In exchange, Metro would bury an additional conduit and allow the partners to access some of the fiber. Metro ran fiber to the edge of properties lines of each entity.

CUSD #25 was the first to connect their facilities. Zimmerman expects the other three partners to be connected and lit by the end of the summer. Once the Library, the County, and the City connect the facilities, the total number of facilities on the network will be 20 - 25.

Through their intergovernmental agreement, the County paid for Metro for the total and each if the entities will reimburse one fourth of the cost. None of the entities bonded or borrowed.

The fiber network will allow the District to purchase 200 Mbps of bandwidth for $1,750 per month. Zimmerman notes that a bump up to 750 Mbps would cost about the same amount they paid when leasing four T1s. With the new infrastructure, CUSD #25 will be able to increase bandwidth in the future; speed between facilities reaches 1 Gbps.

Savings

The District used Capital Improvement funds for their share of deployment. When factoring in CUSD #25's total costs for monthly access, estimated maintenance fees, and estimated operating costs, CUSD #25 will save $16,750 per year on the new network. In other words, the district's investment will pay for itself in 4.5 years. This calculation only considers direct cost savings and does not take into account indirect savings. CUSD #25 will pay about half as much for four times as much capacity.

Technology staff at the District, spoke to the Piatt County Journal:

Todd Wiegel, a school district technology assistant, said it sets up the district for having the ability for all students to log in with a device at school.

“We could not handle that amount of machines on our (previous) infrastructure,” said Wiegel. “It was like trying to fit an elephant through a garden hose.”

...

“The speeds have definitely stabilized,” added Wiegel.

When the remaining partners begin using the network, all four will share bandwidth from Metro and reimburse the School District, reducing costs even further.

Earlier this year, a private buyer approached the joint committee charged with planning and executing the project. A February article described the situation:

A preliminary meeting with the potential buyer showed the company was not interested in providing the faster fiber optic speeds to residential customers, which did not sit well with Monticello City Superintendent Floyd Allsop.

"I just want assurances that they would work something out with somebody on residential so that we're meeting our goals," said Allsop. "And you would think they would want to do that, but we don't know they want to do that."

Selling the system would relieve local entities from the cost of maintaining the fiber, but Keith did not think it made sense to do it this soon.

"Once we sell it, we've got no say over it, where if we hire an outside company to maintain it, we've still got a say," said Keith.

As the network is fired up, the partners are considering future uses. Eventually, they hope to expand the network to a ring structure to improve redundency. They intend to lease dark fiber to a private provider to spur economic development and possibly provide residential services. The partners do not want to become and ISP:

It may be a while before businesses and homes can hook into the fiber, but it is on the committee’s radar. A plan that would lease extra fiber – the entities will likely use just 20 of the 78 thin fibers that were installed – in exchange for maintenance was discussed, but that plan fell through.

Now the plan is to take bids for a company to lease or purchase fiber with the intention of eventually providing commercial and residential service.

Image of Piatt County Courthouse used under Creative Commons license, courtesy of Dual Freq.