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DC-Net Delivers Public Savings

Washington, DC, continues to operate an incredibly successful municipal network. Created in 2007, the municipal government’s 57-mile fiber optic network, DC-Net, provides connectivity to government buildings and community anchor institutions that are health or education based. DC-Net started providing public Wi-Fi hotspots in 2010. We covered some of the savings of DC-Net itself in our 2010 report, and we recently found a report from 2012 that details an example of public savings from the network.

In 2008, the Office of Personnel Management in D.C. needed to replace its aging phone system with state-of-the-art Voice over IP and a video conference system. These two telecommunication systems require a high capacity network. After a market analysis found that prospective vendors would cost more than the budget could handle, they had to find an alternative solution. That’s when they connected with DC-Net. The network kept costs down - the initial cost-savings from the project were about $500,000. 

DC-Net also provided more than Office of Personnel Management had originally anticipated: redundancy, more connectivity, and better coverage. With the added redundancy, the phone and Internet have had less outages. DC-Net then provided gigabit ethernet to the headquarters and Wi-Fi coverage. 

The total cost savings for the Office of Personnel Management over the first 6 year period (from 2008 to 2014) are estimated at $9.25 million. They came in at budget with more connectivity than they had anticipated by using a municipal network that was committed to meeting their needs. Sounds like a good deal to us.

New Fact Sheet: Community Broadband and Public Savings

We have already published a fact sheet on the critical role community broadband plays in job development. Now, ILSR presents a collection of how commnity owned broadband networks save money for local government, schools, and libraries while providing cutting edge services. The Public Savings Fact Sheet is now available.

Though schools, libraries, and other community anchors need access to faster, more reliable networks, the big cable and telephone companies have priced those services so high that they are breaking the budget. But when communities create their own connections, affordable high capacity connections are only one of the benefits. A community owned network offers the promise of self-determination -- of upgrades on the community's time table and increased reliability for emergency responders.

The Public Savings Fact Sheet is a great piece to share to mobilize other members of your community. Share it with decision makers and use it to start meaningful conversations. Distribute it widely and often.

We are always developing new resources. If you have an idea for a new fact sheet, we want to hear it.

New Videos From DC-Net and DC-CAN Highlights Benenfits All Over the City

We have brought you news about DC-Net before and have even highlighted the community network in our report, Breaking the Broadband Monopoly. Now we want to draw your attention to some videos they have produced.

Free WiFi hotspots all over town, secure indoor WiFi for government staff, and hundreds of miles of fiber throughout town are just a few of the advances DC-Net has made toward ubiquitous and reliable connectivity. DC-Net is a tremendous example of a publicly owned network providing the highest levels of performance for its subscribers.

DC-Net has released a video highlighting their advancements in DC and how their work has positively impacted the community.

The second video is from Don Johnson, Director of DC-Net, presenting some info on DC Community Access Network (DC-CAN) to a Ward 5 audience. DC-CAN is an initiative to bring broadband to the underserved areas in DC with middle-mile connections. From the DC-CAN website:

The DC Community Access Network (DC-CAN) will bring affordable, value-added broadband services to over 250 health, educational, public safety, and other community anchor institutions primarily in broadband underserved areas of the District. It also creates a high speed middle mile network for last mile service providers to deliver affordable broadband access to residents and businesses in underserved areas.

DC-CAN already has 67 miles of fiber laid as a backbone and four city MegaPOP sites are now connected to the 100G backbone. From Ciena, one of DC-Net's private sector partners:

With this new infrastructure in place, DC-Net has already connected 49 new Community Anchor Institutions to the network and upgraded 52 existing anchor sites. Community anchors include charter schools, health clinics and other health care providers, community-based training programs, after school and early childhood development programs, libraries, and public safety sites.

DC-Net anticipates having 291 of these Community Anchor Institutions connected to the DC-CAN infrastructure by June, 2013.

DC-CAN Ward 5 Town Hall from DCNET Multimedia on Vimeo.

Don Johnson, Director of DC-Net, gives a presentation about DC-CAN in Ward 5.


DC-Net Provides Access to Community of Hope

A story from Washington, DC, seems appropriate for Thanksgiving. DC's Community of Hope provides healthcare and housing to people in difficult situations. It needs Internet access for its medical work but also for computer labs where people can search for jobs and students can do homework. DC-Net is now providing their access:

“Internet service has been a critical requirement for our programs for some time,” said Victoria Roberts, Community of Hope’s Deputy Director. “Through DC-CAN we are now able to get seven times more bandwidth for the same cost we previously paid, and the fiber network ensures that connection is truly reliable, which has been challenging in the neighborhoods we work in.”

DC-Net is going beyond just providing access to their locations by setting up Wi-Fi access points for the neighborhood to use as well.

DC-Net was created as a muni-owned fiber-optic network connecting schools, muni buildings, and libraries but has gone on to connect some federal agencies. The network has proved incredibly reliable -- far beyond what was provided by the incumbent or other national carriers. And now it is finding ways of delivering services to the people who may need them the most but have the least ability to pay.

DC-Net Looks to Expand

Following 9/11, Washington DC built a muni fiber network for government use.  We wrote about it Breaking the Broadband Monopoly -- noting its strong record of success.  The Washington Examiner has noted that DC-Net is looking for expansion opportunites.  

The city invested $87 million into D.C.-Net to get there. It now has 350 miles of fiber optic cable connecting city agencies at 355 locations in all eight wards. More than 33,000 District employees use it every day, and it handles calls to the emergency 911 call center and the city's 311 information line. The District also hasn't spent a dime on it since 2007. Instead, the network runs on a surplus, which is reinvested into its infrastructure, officials said. Now, the city stands to earn millions by leasing access to the network out to federal agencies.

While private companies constantly claim that local governments have no capacity to run fiber broadband neworks, DC-Net has proven not only can munis run these networks, they can offer faster speeds, lower prices, and better reliability.  Now DC-Net has a $1.6 million contract with US Office of Personnel Management.  

DC-Net Expands with Multiple Stimulus Grants

DC-Net, the muni-owned and operated fiber network connecting hundreds of community institutions (schools, libraries, local government buildings), is expanding in scope and mission following three broadband stimulus awards.

But first, to introduce DC-Net, I am excerpting a few paragraphs from my comprehensive report on community networks - Breaking the Broadband Monopoly: How Communities Are Building the Networks They Need."

In 2007, DC-NET began with service to 135 sites, a number that has more than doubled to 280, including 140 school buildings alone. The network also provides connectivity for libraries, public hospitals, community centers, and some Wi-Fi networks.

DC-NET staff designed, installed, and have maintained the overwhelming majority of the network. As is common with all these networks, some operations are contracted out (e.g. fiberoptic construction and some aspects of maintenance, such as fixing fiber cuts).

DC-Net controls the locks and determines who has access to any part of its network, including key electronics on site in the buildings and elsewhere in the network, providing a high level of security.

On the critical issue of reliability, DC-NET has proven impressive. The network has more layers of redundancy than one typically finds with a commercial carrier and the uptime shows it. In the first year of operation, it tallied an impressive record – with only four buildings briefly losing their network connection in three events – an average of 15 minutes of interruption per site for the year. This is far better than the industry standard – in DC-NET’s first year of operation.

DC-Net is also more responsive to the needs of its subscribers. Though private companies like Verizon may require a month or even two to connect a new subscriber, DC-NET can do it in as quickly as a week to as long as twenty days. As for the services available, DC-NET will provide service from 2 Mbps -1000 Mbps, allowing subscribers far greater freedom to select the speeds they need than commercial providers offer.

This publicly owned network saves DC some $5 million/year compared to the costs of duplicating functionality using leased circuits. Even then, it would not be nearly as reliable due to limits in redundancy from leased lines. However, this impressive network can only be used for public agencies. Because DC-NET has used fiber conduit and pole attachment agreements from agreements with Comcast, RCN, and Verizon, DC-NET is currently limited to providing services to public, educational, and government entities only.

Fast forward to late summer, when DC received a grant to use the network to increase digital inclusion (quoted from article linked to above).

A $4.2 million grant from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, coupled with $1.5 million in matching funds, will be put toward an Internet and computer skills education program offered at Washington, D.C.'s public libraries and community college campuses. The program will target underserved individuals, including low-income residents, seniors and residents who speak English as a second language. The six-month classes, called DC Broadband Education, Training and Adoption (DC-BETA), may start as soon as October, and will continue for two years. Washington, D.C., hopes to train a total of 3,400 residents, Sivak said. After graduating, participants will receive a free computer, tech support and six months of free Internet access.


Beyond this education component, two other grants awarded earlier by the NTIA address the cost and public availability of broadband. A $17.4 million grant will extend the district's high-speed fiber-optic network, called DC-Net, which is currently available to schools, libraries, public housing and other institutions. The money will grow the 330-mile fiber-optic network by 50 percent, Sivak said, connecting the network to 220 additional anchor institutions. Officials hope that Internet service providers will connect to Washington, D.C.'s lower-cost backhaul and in turn offer consumers lower-cost broadband than what's currently available.

When the community owns an impressive asset like DC-Net, it has much more power to develop innovative programs to benefit the community.

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.

See video