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Decorah, Iowa, Considers the Future of MetroNet

Decorah, named an "All-Star Community" in part due to benefits from their internal fiber network, is now exploring new ways to utilize MetroNet. According to a recent Decorah Newspapers article, the six community anchor institutions (CAIs) that collaborated to deploy the network recently met with the city council to discuss the future.

The 11-mile network began serving CAIs and an additional 18 facilities in 2013. After a 2008 flood that knocked out communications, the city, county, and school district began planning for the network. Eventually, the project grew to include Luther College, the Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission, and the Winneshiek Medical Center. BTOP funds paid for much of the approximate $1 million deployment but contributions from participants supplied an additional $450,000.

According to the article, MetroNet supplies each institution with its own fiber, leaving plenty to spare. Decorah City Manager and Chair of the MetroNet Board Craig Bird says that the network has a "vast amount" of dark fiber available that is not being used. Members of the community have approached the Board about using the fiber for better connectivity beyond current uses:

Bird said the MetroNet Board has to decide how to respond to a grassroots petition committee of citizens “demanding access to the MetroNet and faster broadband speeds and fiber capacities” for Internet access to private homes and businesses.

“The MetroNet Board is now starting to look at the future and what the MetroNet holds for the six anchor members, but also for the community,” he told the Councils.

At the city council meeting, Bird discussed the possibility of creating a municipal Internet utility, creating a cooperative, forming a nonprofit, or leaving MetroNet as a service for the existing members and facilities. They also considered the option of leasing dark fiber to private providers.

Bird also told the council that the MetroNet Board has agreed to participate in a regional feasibility study to include northeast Iowa. The Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities has commission the study that will include a number of towns:

“The feasibility study is going to look at a lot of things. Basically, what our current capacities are and what assets we already have. We know what the MetroNet has, we know what (the other communities have), what impact does that have for Northeast Iowa and what would it take to connect these existing infrastructures together so that we can take advantage of the traditional economies of scale for purchasing. Some of these communities are already purchasing video. They’re competing directly with Mediacom,” Bird told Decorah Newspapers.

“Part of the feasibility study is how can we collectively come together and do that same thing with larger volume and more efficiency. There is power in numbers – not just for video, but for the triple play as it’s called in the industry – video, voice and data (television, phone and Internet),” Bird said. 

Waverly will also be included in the study. The town of 10,000 is commencing deployment of its municipal gigabit fiber network and expects to be serving the community in 2016. Whether Decorah follows the same path remains to be seen:

Bird said the process of determining the MetroNet’s future is just starting.

“It needs more discussion – there’s no question on that,” Mayor Don Arendt said.

“We can make a better decision once we know if forming a utility is what is best for us and what the other entities want to do,” Niess said.

San Francisco Looks to Expand Muni Fiber and Wi-Fi

San Francisco has long been considered a modern, glittering, tech capital. For years its leaders have struggled with ensuring residents and businesses actually had next-generation Internet access as AT&T and Comcast only provide the same basic services that are available in most cities. In a recent Backchannel article, Susan Crawford discusses how the City by the Bay is taking steps to develop its vision, its long-term plan, and hopefully a network that will improve connectivity in a city of over 800,000 8.5 million.

San Francisco has developed an Information and Communication Technology Plan, which still needs approval from the City Board of Supervisors. According to the article, the plan calls on the city to take an incremental approach on its path to improved connectivity. They plan to use a similar method as Santa Monica by connecting municipal facilities - many of which are already connected via fiber - and then shedding expensive leased circuits. By eliminating that expense, the city will cut $1.3 million for Internet access and networking services from its connectivity costs.

Last year the City also put dig once policies in place, a decision other communities attribute as one of the keys to a cost-effective deployment. Like Santa Monica, the City currently leases dark fiber to ISPs. They plan to entice more ISPs who want to bring broadband to residents and businesses by expanding that practice. San Francisco plans to streamline the process and work with developers on strategically linking new developments to Internet hubs with dark fiber.

As Crawford notes, the City has created free Wi-Fi in select areas of town with plans to serve public housing and commercial corridors. Miquel Gamiño, San Francisco's CIO, told Crawford they hope to make Wi-Fi available on a larger scale:

Gamiño’s dream is that San Franciscans and visitors will be connected to that service at all times: “I would love for people to come here, or live here, and feel as if they are just connected, woven into this fabric that exists in thin air,” he says. Consolidating the brand so that every public open network is labeled #SFWiFi will ensure that users perceive the city’s role in providing public WiFi. 

Crawford believes the City is on the right path by investing in more fiber throughout the community:

In the bigger picture, San Francisco will require fiber to businesses and homes. You can’t have a WiFi connection without a wire — that would be like having an airplane but no airports. And the WiFi connections used by both citizens and city infrastructure (“phoning home” via sensors about weather, water, air pollution, transport, energy use, and a host of other indicators of the city’s wellbeing) will be generating — uploading — mountains of data that will need wires on which to travel anywhere at all.

...

Fiber and WiFi are complementary, in other words. And that’s where long-term planning will be essential.

For more about Santa Monica's incremental approach, check out Chris's interview with CIO Jory Wolf in Episode #90 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. You can also learn about their strategy in our detailed report, Santa Monica City Net: An Incremental Approach to Building a Fiber Optic Network. 

Freedom to Connect - Long Term Muni Strategies

If you were not able to attend Freedom to Connect in New York on March 2 - 3, you can now view archived video of presentations from Chris and others.

Now that the FCC has made a determination that may change the landscape of Internet access, it is time to consider the future of municipal networks. In this discussion, Chris discusses passive infrastructure, including dark fiber and open access models as a way to encourage competition on the local level. Chris also looks at financing municipal networks in a fashion that takes into account public benefits created by fiber. He suggests steps elected officials can take now that will contribute to long term ubiquitous access in their communities.

You can also watch videos from other presenters including Joanne Hovis, Hannah Sassaman, and Jim Baller at the F2C: Freedom to Connect 2015 Livestream page.

Chris's presentation is posted here and runs just over 20 minutes:

 

Dark Fiber Option Coming to Arlington Businesses

Arlington is finally ready to open up its network to local businesses seeking better connectivity, reports local news WJLA. The county board recently voted unanimously to allow providers to lease dark fiber from approximately 10 miles of the 59-mile network. They hope to spur economic development and entice ISPs to provide better connectivity for residents via the network.

"The dark fiber, in the most simplest terms, is like a super highway. You're the only car on that highway and you can go as fast as the vehicle you've chosen can go," explained Jack Belcher, chief information officer of Arlington County.

We first reported on Arlington's network in 2012, after the community had dedicated about 2 years to the project. They took advantage of investments in the local Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) upgrades, improvements to the emergency communications system, and an electric power upgrade by a local electrical provider to deploy a next generation network.

The original plan was focused on schools, traffic management, and public safety, but last year community leaders chose to investigate expanding the network for economic development. We spoke with Belcher last May in Episode #97 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Below is local coverage:

Community Broadband Media Roundup - February 13, 2015

The FCC’s decision to change the definition of broadband continues to make ripples in the muni broadband world. With the speed increased from 4 Mbps down, 1 Mbps up, to 25 Mbps down, 3 Mbps up, 75% of the country is now classified as having either no service, or no choices for their Internet connection. The change also means more underserved communities may be able to access to grant money to build networks, it also highlights a more realistic view of the importance of Internet speed for economic development:

Shaming Cable Giants, FCC Demands Faster Internet Republicans complain that increasing the definition of "broadband" is meant to justify power grabs, by Brendan Sasso, National Journal.

DSL The New Dialup? by Bernie Arneson, Telecompetitor

Under New Definition, Comcast Claims 56% of All Broadband Users by Karl Bode, DSLReports

Getting up to speed on the Internet: An upcoming change in defining broadband is sparking debate by Julie Sherwood, Webster Post

 

Muni Regulatory Decisions

FCC on verge of killing state laws that harm municipal broadband: Chairman targets laws in Tennessee and North Carolina. 17 more states to go by Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica

FCC may kill state restrictions on municipal broadband, force ISP competition by Joel Hruska, Extreme Tech

FCC to vote on overturning two state laws limiting municipal broadband by Grant Gross, PCWorld

Senate renews plan to ban internet taxes forever by Jeff John Roberts, GigaOm

The Source: FCC Proposal Could Ease Cities’ Efforts For Municipal Broadband by Paul Flahive, Texas Public Radio

FCC's Plans to Extend Availability of Internet Access for K-12 by Navindra Persaud, Education World

Wireless & Cable Industries fight net neutrality with laughably misleading op-eds and video by Chris Morran, Consumerist:

At what point have consumers ever been “at the center of Internet policy”?

• Did consumers pay politicians millions of dollars to urge regulators to keep broadband classified as nothing more than a content delivery system? No, that was the cable and telecom industries.

• Did consumers sue the FCC — and then invest millions in a four-year legal fight — to gut the 2010 net neutrality rules? No, that was Verizon.

• Did consumers demand that Internet Service Providers be allowed to create “fast lanes” so that Verizon, Time Warner Cable and others could charge a premium to large companies for better service? Nope, wasn’t us. Must have been the mammoth telecom and cable companies that can benefit from it.

So when Powell says that “consumers” should be at the center of Internet policy, he actually means “Verizon and other NCTA members.”

Net Neutrality’s Biggest Deal: Proposed FCC Rule Would Keep Internet Open by Matt Wood and Candace Clement, Flagler Live

 

Opinion

More and more editors are coming out in favor of local choice for municipal networks. Here is a rundown of the opinions, editorials, and blog posts in which these networks are featured.

Tying The Fibers Together: Bits, Bandwidth, Georgia, And The FCC by Nathan, Peach Pundit 

Our View: Regulating Internet could ease digital divide by Portland Press Herald Editorial Board: Lower costs could ignite educational and economic access for those now disenfranchised.

OUR OPINION: Need for Internet means its status should be utility: The change would allow FCC to manage broadband providers more effectively, by Central Maine Kennebec Journal Morning Sentinel Editorial Board

Community Fiber Networks: Bringing Competition and World-Class Infrastructure to American Cities by Mitch Shapiro, Quello Center

Dark fiber should fill residential broadband holes: More existing dark fiber should be provisioned for residential use to thwart incumbent ISP service problems and price increases. by Patrick Nelson, NetworkWorld.

 

Muni Letter

Dozens of municipal networks came forward this week to sign a petition opposing Title II reclassification on the advice of cable lobbyists from the American Cable Association (represents smaller cable companies). Some media picked up on the story, saying that the muni world is fractured and weakened. Matt Hamblen’s article in Computer World does an excellent job of laying out the story. 

Muni broadband providers clash over Title II net neutrality reforms by Matt Hamblen, Computer World 

43 Muni-Broadband Communities Say They Oppose Title II by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

 

States and Cities:

There are about as many different ways to bring local choice to communities as there are communities themselves. Because each town or city can learn so much from successful approaches, we like to feature what different cities are doing, and where they are in their path toward fast, reliable, affordable Internet service.

Alabama:

Alabama Expanse Gets Upgraded to a Gig by Jason Myers, Light Reading  

Colorado:

Grand Junction to vote on broadband improvement by Lindsey Pallares, KKCONews

Louisiana:

Lafayette, La. to join FCC's anti-municipal broadband fight by Sean Buckley, FierceTelecom

Lafayette May Petition FCC For Muni-Broadband Help by Karl Bode, DSLReports

LUS gets another shot at Lafayette school system Internet contract: The school system is now reopening its call for proposals for an Internet provider. by Marsha Sills, The Advocate

Maine

Maine’s headline this week was all about a luxury trip paid in full by Time Warner Cable. Pine Tree Watchdog’s Naomi Schalit and Blake Davis first broke the story.

Time Warner Cable's lavish plan to stop city-run Internet in Maine By Eric Gelle, Daily Dot

Feckless thug alert: Time Warner Cable’s lavish plan to stop city-run Internet in Maine by UK Progressive

Maryland:

How an Internet Startup with Registrar Roots Plans to Take On Municipal Broadband by Nicole Henderson, Whir

Minnesota:

City council agrees to broadband Internet study by Edie Grossfield, Rochester Post-Bulletin

Mississippi:

Cable One increasing rates, shifting focus to broadband by Lauren Walck, Sun Herald 

New York:

Move over, Google Fiber. Hello, Brooklyn Fiber by Matthew Flamm, Crain’s New York Business 

New Jersey:

Tech for All: Senator Booker’s Plan to Increase Tech Engagement and Access for People of Color by Charlyn Stanberry, Politic365

North Carolina:

FCC could knock down state law, open door for Fibrant’s expansion by David Purtell, Salisbury Post

Wilson had fiber while the rest of N.C. was waiting for its page to load by Billy Ball, IndyWeek

Newspaper: FCC chair supports municipal broadband plan by WNCN Staff

FCC Chair Supports Wilson's Petition: Vote set for Feb. 26 as national precedent looms by Jon Jimison, Wilson Times

Ohio:

City of Fairlawn Issues Request for Proposals for FairlawnGig by Business Wire

Oregon:

Google Fiber or not, Hillsboro to study building a municipal fiber network by Luke Hammill, The Oregonian

 

Comcast Is Who We Thought They Were

 Comcast calls customer an ‘A–hole’ on cable bill by Post Staff, New York Post 

A customer was shocked after the cable giant called her husband an “a- -hole” on their cable bill, apparently in retaliation for canceling service. A Spokane, Wash., resident named Lisa Brown said after she called Comcast to cut her bill, her husband’s name was changed from Ricardo Brown to “A- -hole Brown.”

Rural Colorado Internet Access and Mountain Connect - Community Broadband Bits Episode 137

Last year was the first year I attended Mountain Connect, an event in the Rockies west of Denver that discusses approaches to improving Internet access. Historically, they focused on rural communities but as co-chair of the event Jeff Gavlinski notes in our discussion this week, they are expanding it to include more urban issues as well.

Mountain Connect is growing in many ways and I am excited to return to it in early June.
As Jeff and I discuss, it is focused on all solutions to expanding access - whether private sector, coop, muni, partnership, etc.

Colorado has a lot of activity from munis and especially munis that are looking to partner, but also has a state law that requires a time-and-energy consuming referendum before the community can really do any planning or take action to improve its situation.

Read the transcript from this show here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 18 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 Persson for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Blues walk."

Howard County Fiber Encourages New Jobs, Competition in Maryland - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 133

While at the Broadband Communities Economic Development conference in Springfield last year, I had the good fortune to catch a panel with Chris Merdon, the CIO of Howard County, Maryland.

Howard County has become an Internet Service Provider, not just to itself, but to private firms as well. To improve Internet access for businesses, it is both leasing dark fiber to existing providers and directly offering services to businesses and buildings.

We are grateful that Chris could join us for a Chris2 interview! We discuss how and why Howard County chose this strategy and how it is benefiting the community.

Read the transcript of our discussion here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 19 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 Persson for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Blues walk."

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.

ECFiber Continues to Grow; Plans to Expand in 2015

In early December, the East Central Vermont Community Fiber Network (ECFiber) announced that it is once again expanding, bringing the network to 200 miles by the end of 2014. According to the press release, the network will reach into an additional 8 towns in 2015, in part due to dark fiber deployed in cooperation with the Vermont Telecommunications Authority.

From the press release:

 “We’re pleased that residents of these areas are now able to enjoy the benefits of locally grown, full time, state-of-the-art real broadband,” said Irv Thomae, Chairman of ECFiber and Governing Board delegate from Norwich.

Over 400 households have invested in the network thus far, but Thomae goes on to note that the consortium will pursue larger scale funding in 2015 in order to obtain the necessary funds to expand at a quicker pace. Currently, local investors fund the network by purchasing tax-exempt promissory notes.

Subscribership has continued to climb. Last spring, we reported on the 600th sign-up but now ECFiber is at nearly 1,000 customers. There are currently 24 member towns in the consortium. 

Metronet Dark Fiber Network Expanding Education in South Bend, Indiana

In South Bend, the Trinity School at Green Lawn recently connected to the Metronet Zing dark fiber network thanks to a grant from Metronet and nCloud. According to Broadband Communities Magazine, the new connection has brought new opportunities to teachers and students at the high performing school.

The Metrolink Fiber Grant program, new this year, awards grants to schools to encourage innovative approaches focused on outcomes improving broadband capacity to implement innovation. To receive the grants, schools must have a specific plan, an implementation strategy, a way to measure success, and an accountability plan. Schools must also demonstrate that there will be adequate training and that staff will remain supportive and committed to the plan.

Like many other schools, Trinity at Greenlawn had to limit technology in teaching because its capacity was so poor. In classes where students exchanged information for projects, they often emailed from home where connections were better or exchanged flash drives.

Bandwidth is no longer an issue. From the BBPMag article:

Danielle Svonavec’s seventh-grade students study music composition using online software. A year ago, just half the class could be connected at a time. Even with that limited number, slow connections meant wasted time as students waited for the software to store and process their work. This year, all students are online. Response is seamless. Instead of being frustrated by computer issues, students work without distraction. The class is able to take full advantage of the software and learning is enhanced as students hear their compositions played back instantly as they work.

Trinity also has campuses in Minnesota and Virginia and are making plans to use the network for distance learning opportunities with students at all three campuses.

We introduced you to Metronet Zing in 2013. The dark fiber open access network provides connections through South Bend, Mishawaka, and St. Joseph County. The non-profit serves government and education while its for-profit sister entity, St. Joe Valley Metronet, serves commercial clients.