The following stories have been tagged open access ← Back to All Tags

Full Speed (and Price List) Ahead for the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority

After a rocky start and a long period of transition, the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority in Virginia is preparing for the years ahead. Hoping to snag schools, hospitals, government offices, and Internet carriers with their prices, the Broadband Authority just released its proposed rate structure. 

They expect to complete construction of five major sections of the fiber network by early March. Starting in mid-April, customers will have service. The proposed rates are as follows:

  • Dark Fiber: $40-$100 per strand mile depending on whether the institution is a nonprofit
  • Transport Service (requires a 2 year term): speeds between 10 Megabits-per-second (Mbps) - 200 Gigabits-per-second (Gbps) for $350 - $4,510 
  • Dedicated Internet Service (requires a 2 year term): 10Mbps - 1Gbps for $550 - $5,687 

The full preliminary proposed rate structure [PDF] is available from the Broadband Authority’s website.

The Authority will hold a public hearing on Friday, March 18 at 8:30 a.m. on the rate structure. After the public hearing, the board may request to adopt the preliminary proposed rates. Local news has the rest:

Grassroots Springing Up In Holyoke, Massachusetts

For years, the city of Holyoke, Massachusetts, has built up a treasure trove of fiber that the municipal buildings [and some businesses] use to connect to the Internet. Now, some residents want to share in the bounty. The newly-formed Holyoke Fiber Optic Group plans to drum up grassroot support for a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) project to bring high-speed Internet to the 40,000 residents of Holyoke. 

The group recently spoke with members of the city utility and are now on their way to the mayor's office in an effort to bring better connectivity to the city. The meeting with the mayor's office is scheduled for next Tuesday. The Holyoke Fiber Optic Group aims to form an exploratory committee of community stakeholders to dive into the possibility of a FTTH project.

Grassroots Effort

The group formed in November of 2015 and hosted its first meeting in early December. Members highlighted their frustration with the lack of access to high-speed Internet and pointed to the April 1999 Master Plan for the city. It specifically stated the need to capitalize on the fiber available.

Organizers maintain a Facebook group to discuss the issue in Holyoke and the latest developments in high-speed Internet. They call for an open access network to encourage competition and enable residents to pick their own service provider. The group now has over 200 members.

The group recently spoke with the manager of the city utility, Holyoke Gas & Electric. It maintains the fiber and provides telecommunication services to municipal buildings and other nearby towns. The city utility’s efforts to better connect communities was highlighted in a recent report from the Berkman Center (for more info check out our podcast interview with [David Talbot], a Fellow at the Berkman Center). On January 4th, the Holyoke Gas & Electric manager unexpectedly attended the group's meeting and explained how the city utility is continually considering this idea.

An Often Considered Possibility

Holyoke Gas & Electric has been contemplating the idea of a FTTH project for quite sometime. In our Community Broadband Bits podcast from 2013, Chris discussed the possibility with Senior Network Engineer Tim Haas:

"That's something that we have looked at for a long time here, Chris.  We've looked extensively at it for the past ten years, three different times -- probably every three years -- in depth.  And what the cost structure would be.  And it's one of those things where if we're going to deliver a service like that, to residences, it's -- well, we really have to deliver it to everyone.  And we've struggled with the return on investment of delivering fiber-to-the-home, and how we manage those services being delivered to the customer."

The Holyoke Fiber Optic Group, however, thinks that it’s now the right time to pursue FTTH. An organizer, Peter Palombella, explained in an email Wednesday to MassLive

“The Holyoke Fiber Optic group feels the city is ready to start exploring this issue and we hope to meet with Jim Lavelle [Holyoke Gas & Electric Manager] sometime in January to discuss forming an exploratory committee. … Not a full broadband committee with the power of a city agency, but a committee to explore the issue, in stages, with members from different stakeholder groups in the city."

Back in 2013, Senior Network Engineer Haas did say that Holyoke Gas & Electric has considered expanding to FTTH just about every three years. If the Holyoke Fiber Optic Group is right, perhaps 2016 will be the year for fiber to come to the homes of Holyoke.

Urban Renewal In Bozeman: Fiber Required!

Bozeman, Montana, continues to move forward toward a future of fiber optics connectivity. Last we checked in, the community had formed a nonprofit, Bozeman Fiber, to own and operate the community network, had started to secure private funding, and were well on their way to their end goal.

City leaders have now approved an update to the Downtown Bozeman Urban Renewal Plan to allow Tax Increment Financing (TIF) as a way to fund the project. This is an important step to ensure that the fiber infrastructure project maintains a sustainable funding source.

Amending the Plan

Ten years ago the city adopted an ordinance creating the Urban Renewal Plan and the TIF districts. The plan uses 9 principles to guide the development and growth of the community. City leaders approved amendments to the ordinance this past December to better prioritize the current needs of businesses and residents. The amendment in question would add the importance of fiber optics to the first principle, “Strengthen Downtown’s Economic Vitality.” Brit Fontenot, Director of Economic Development, described the necessity of the changes (from local news station KTVM):

"A lot of commerce happens downtown. It's not just art galleries and restaurants. We also have things like hardware stores and high-tech companies. In order to keep up with the demand downtown, we need infrastructure that can accommodate and, in this case, it's fiber optics." 

Tax Increment Financing

By amending the ordinance, the city can more easily use TIF funding for the construction costs of the fiber network. The idea behind TIF is that a community can borrow against the future increases in the property tax revenue of the area where the particular project will be developed. We’ve reported on this funding method before: it has been considered in Sanford, Maine, and Wabash County, Indiana.

The Proposed Network

Since early 2014, Bozeman city officials have actively pursued plans for a fiber network to encourage economic development for the community. Most recently, Bozeman Fiber secured $3.8 million in funding from a partnership of eight local banks. Check out Community Broadband Bits Episode 142 for more details on Bozeman’s plan for an open access community network.

Fifteen Fun Facts about NoaNet - Fifteen Years of Accomplishments

Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet) was just a dream back in 2000, but, fifteen years later, it’s one of the largest networks in the state of Washington. NoaNet is celebrating fifteen years of accomplishments, so we compiled fifteen fun facts everyone should know about this community network.

1. One of the first Open Access networks in the U.S.
Back in 2000, people in rural Washington watched as the dot-com and telecom boom passed them by. Frustrated that large ISPs refused to build infrastructure near them, the people created NoaNet and allowed anyone to use it through Open Access. This type of design encourages multiple service providers to share the infrastructure and local communities own the network.

2. Almost 2,000 miles of fiber
You know that amazing, next-generation technology that Google is rolling out in select cities across the U.S.? Yeah, people in Washington started using fiber optic cables fifteen years ago to bring high-speed Internet to their communities. Now, NoaNet extends almost 2,000 miles through both rural and metro areas.

3. It’s a giant Institutional Network
With all that fiber, NoaNet connects 170 communities and around 2,000 schools, libraries, hospitals, and government buildings. It serves as a middle mile network, connecting the public institutions of small towns to the greater Internet. 

4. 40% of Washington government traffic, by 2007
And that’s just within the first seven years!

5. 61 last mile providers
From NoaNet’s infrastructure, private providers bring connectivity the last mile to homes and businesses. Having publicly-owned middle mile reduces the capital costs of building last mile infrastructure - that means more providers can compete with one another and better prices for everyone. Currently, there are over 260,000 customers!

6. More than $130 million
BTOP stands for the federal Broadband Technology Opportunities Program. In 2009, NoaNet received more than $80 million to provide connectivity for unserved and underserved people throughout Washington state. In 2011, NoaNet received a second grant of more than $50 million to increase connectivity to educational, healthcare, and tribal facilities.  

7. NoaNet was featured on our podcast… Twice!
In Episode 159, Chris interviewed Dave Spencer, Chief Operating Officer of NoaNet. And then, Spencer returned in Episode 164 to answer more details about how the network operates.

8. First in the Northwest to have 100 Gigabit per second (Gbps or Gigs) backbone
Between 2013 and 2015, NoaNet upgraded from 1 Gig to 100 Gigs. It’s the high-capacity fiber backbone for the Pacific Northwest - so think big.

9. NoaNet live-streaming NFL
Nothing is better than football, except for maybe high-speed Internet. So imagine football and high-speed Internet together. In 2015, NoaNet live-streamed coverage of the NFL. 

10. 10 current members
The members of NoaNet are several Public Utility Districts (PUDs) - locally controlled and rate-payer owned nonprofits: Benton County PUD#1, Clallam County PUD #1, Energy Northwest, Franklin County #1, Jefferson County PUD #1, Kitsap County PUD #1, Mason County PUD #3, Okanogan County PUD #1, Pacific County PUD #2, Pend Oreille PUD #1

11. It’s technically a municipality...
These 10 Public Utility Districts came together through a very particular Washington law - the InterLocal Agreement - to create NoaNet. Basically, it’s a nonprofit mutual corporation and subject to the same opportunities and restrictions as the Public Utility Districts.

12. Statewide, but locally-owned
NoaNet reaches across the state but is attuned to local needs. Being controlled by local Public Utility Districts, the network doesn’t lose sight of its primary goal: rural connectivity.

13. Next-Generation Jobs
It’s reinventing what it means to live and work in rural areas:

“NoaNet's roots included creation of a virtual corporation, a new rural employment opportunity where we retain the most talented staff and let them live where they want.  NoaNet leadership and staff embraced remote telecommuting and use of the technology advances to execute NoaNet's vision-mission and purpose of building a regional non-profit telecommunications carrier.”
Rob Kopp, Chief Technology Officer

14. New Technologies
Unlike large corporate companies that often refuse to innovate in rural areas, NoaNet is investing in new technologies like data centers to ensure that rural communities don’t get left behind. 

15. Future-Focus
And NoaNet is not going to stop any time soon:

"In the early days, the NoaNet mission to bring affordable broadband to rural communities throughout WA was dismissed by many as dreamy-eyed with a short life expectancy. The success of NoaNet has been the fulfillment of hopes by its supporters for a better opportunity to achieve broadband parity with metro areas in formerly remote areas of the state. Rather than looking back on the many small communities literally connected to economic hubs, the NoaNetteam continues to focus on those still to be served. The mission is not yet complete."
Tom Villani, Special Accounts Manager

Sources: NOANet Timeline, Community Broadband Bits Podcasts, NOAnet BTOP funding

Flipping the Switch in Santa Fe

In May, Chris introduced you to Sean Moody from Santa Fe's Economic Development Division, to explain how the community was investing in a new fiber link to better serve the local business community. With a little competition, Santa Fe officials expect more choice, better connectivity, and improved services.

CenturyLink controls the community's only connection to the Internet and the line bringing access to the web into the downtown district. Santa Fe's $1 million investment creates another path to encourage other providers to compete. Residents in Santa Fe pay approximately $50 per month for average speeds of 5 Megabits per second (Mbps) while nearby Albuquerque pays the same for 10 Mbps.

The situation may soon change.

On Monday, December 14th, the community will celebrate the investment as they "Flip the Switch and Connect Santa Fe to the Future." The event will take place at the Santa Fe City Offices and will begin at 9 a.m. Mayor Javier M. Gonzales will flip the switch at 10 a.m. to activate Santa Fe’s very first gigabit-speed Internet connection.

From the announcement:

Mayor Gonzales and the City’s Economic Development Division invite you to celebrate activating the first gigabit district in Santa Fe through Santa Fe Fiber, the City’s innovative broadband infrastructure project.

...

On Monday, December 14th from 9 until 11 AM Mayor Gonzales will be joined by special industry guests to flip the switch and experience first-hand the power and potential of gigabit-speed Internet delivered over the City’s newly completed fiber optic backbone. The community is invited to bring devices and try out the new speed!

Maine House Representative Pushes for Better Internet Access - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 180

Eleven months ago, we noted the incredible energy in the Maine Legislature around improving Internet access. Maine State Representative Norm Higgins joins us this week for Community Broadband Bits Podcast episode 180.

Rep. Norm Higgins, a newcomer to the Legislature, pushed hard for legislation to encourage municipal open access networks as well as removing barriers to increased investment including a tax on the Three-Ring Binder project. He was part of a large majority that moved some key bills forward despite fierce opposition from Time Warner Cable and others.

We talk with Rep. Higgins about the various bills, including LD 1185, which would have created planning grants for community owned open access networks but passed without any funding.

Read the transcript from this episode 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.

You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Warm Duck Shuffle."

What's Next For Southern Tier Network?

With construction of a major community broadband network behind them, local leaders in New York State’s Southern Tier region are now considering the potential for the recently completed dark fiber network.

Since becoming operational in 2014, the Southern Tier Network (STN) is already serving over 100 industrial and government service entities across the region. STN is a not-for-profit, local development corporation that built, owns, and manages the network for the region.

Jack Benjamin, president of economic development organization, Three Rivers Development Corporation, explained the value of the network to the region in a July Star Gazette article:

This backbone fiber that we've got here is a huge benefit for us going forward. As this technology piece continues to be even more important in the future, because it's going to be changing all the time, we will have the base here that allows us to change with the marketplace. Part of our thought process here is we want to keep what we've got in terms of businesses and provide the infrastructure that allows them to stay here and be competitive.

Building Out for the Future

When we wrote about the STN in 2011, the planned backbone of the network included a 235-mile fiber-optic ring stretching across Steuben, Schuyler, and Chemung counties. Glass producer Corning paid for $10 million of the initial $12.2 million cost to deploy with the remaining balance paid for by the three counties where the network is located. The STN is now 260 miles total, including strands that run to city centers and select business areas in the tri-county area.

Additional expansions on the network are pending, including a 70-mile extension to neighboring Yates County. Thanks to a $5 million award from New York’s Regional Economic Development Council, the STN will also expand the network into “targeted business development areas” in Broome County and Tioga Counties. The network connects to the existing Axcess Ontario, another nonprofit fiber network in neighboring Ontario County.

Businesses Waiting for Fiber

Despite the network’s early success, major city areas continue to lack fast, reliable broadband connectivity because connections are happening slowly. Mike Mitchell owns multiple businesses in an Elmira industrial area in Chemung County, New York, where lit service is not yet available. Mitchell, who owns other businesses in neighboring counties, is eager for better connectivity to his business properties in the STN region. He described his frustration with his current poor service to the Star Gazette: 

It's very, very slow. It's hurting our productivity. We hear complaints from our tenants and all the other businesses on this side of the street. We have 15 employees here, and they're all on the Internet probably 90 percent of the time. If we can increase our productivity, obviously, it would be better for our business and better savings for our customers.

Closer than They’ve Ever Been

Community leaders are envisioning ways the network will improve the region’s economic development. George Miner, president of Southern Tier Economic Growth, Inc., a private not-for-profit organization aimed at economic development in Chemung County, sees growth potential in large industrial and governmental entities because they need to frequently and efficiently transport large data files.

Other community leaders see STN as a tool to serve residents in ways other than through economic development. Steve Manning, chief executive officer of STN, notes that home property values hinge today on broadband access. Prospective homebuyers see a fast, affordable, reliable broadband connection as essential as other utilities. Manning also points to a more holistic community service role for the STN. Again, from the Star Gazette:

Why was this done? It was done for public safety reasons. It was done for education and healthcare, for the community, developing fiber capacity that we didn't have. It's a civic utility. That's really what this is.

Local Internet Improvement Districts in New Hampshire - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 179

Local governments in New Hampshire are quite limited in how they can use public financing to invest in fiber optic networks, but Hanover is exploring an approach to create voluntary special assessment districts that would finance open access fiber optic networks. Town Manager Julia Griffin joins us for Community Broadband Bits Episode 179 to explain their plans.

Though New Hampshire does not have any explicit barriers against municipal networks, the state has not authorized local governments to bond for them, which has certainly limited local authority to ensure high quality Internet access.

But Hanover is one of several communities around the country that is exploring special assessment districts (sometimes called local improvement districts) that would allow residents and local businesses to opt into an assessment that would finance construction and allow them to pay it off over many years. This approach is well suited to Hanover, which has access to the Fast Roads open access network.

Read the transcript from this episode 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.

You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Warm Duck Shuffle."

Self-Financed EC Fiber Continues to Grow - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 177

Carole Monroe is back on Community Broadband Bits for Episode 177 this week, to discuss the East Central Vermont Fiber network and its unique financing model. Carole is now the General Manager for EC Fiber. She previously joined us for episode 36 to discuss Fast Roads in New Hampshire. And we previously discussed EC Fiber with Leslie Nulty in episode 9.

Years later, EC Fiber is approaching 1,200 subscribers in rural Vermont and is growing much more rapidly with some open access dark fiber connections created by the state in a specific effort to enable last mile connectivity.

We discuss the impact on the community, how much people in rural regions desire high quality Internet access rather than slow DSL, and also a brief mention of some progress in New Hampshire to expand the Fast Roads network.

Read the transcript from this episode here.

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

This show is 21 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Warm Duck Shuffle."

Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority Moving Forward

After multiple delays, the much anticipated Roanoke-Salem fiber network in Virginia has its feet on the ground. The network has secured an executive director who will provide greater project oversight and find Internet service providers (ISPs) to operate on the open access network.

Now that the project is under way, it is moving at a rapid pace. The Broadband Authority already secured a contract for $2.9 million to lay the conduit for the fiber optic cable, and crews are already at work. By year’s end, the project should finally be complete.

Two years ago, a completion date seemed far-fetched. The cities of Roanoke and Salem and the counties of Roanoke and Botetourt met to discuss the growing problem of poor Internet access in the region. The area had the reputation for being in a "doughnut hole" - too large to qualify for federal grants but too sparsely populated to attract investment from large telecom providers. The city of Roanoke, for instance, ranked 409th out of 429 US metropolitan areas for basic Internet access.

Officials knew the situation was bad for economic development. Affordable, reliable broadband access could help grow, and keep, local companies in the region and attract new businesses and institutions - especially the important textile and manufacturing jobs that had driven the local economy for generations. The two cities and two counties came together to fund a $50,000 study. The study recommended the creation a Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority and a 60-mile, $8.2 million, open access network.

After the initial stage, disagreements between the entities complicated the project. Botetourt County already had open access fiber managed by Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation and felt additional redundancy from another fiber line was not worth the investment. Botetourt County Administrator Kathleen Guzi:

“We don’t believe we need the redundancy yet.” 

In Roanoke County, officials were hesitant to fund the network. Each government entity had agreed to provide $2 million to the project, and that presented a budget concern for Roanoke County. The county board also saw it as government encroachment on the private sector, distinct from an infrastructure project. Eventually, both Roanoke and Botetourt Counties withdrew from the project.

The cities of Roanoke and Salem expressed disappointment but acknowledged that they would move forward without the counties, according to Salem City Manager Kevin Boggess:

“If whatever we decide to do ends up going into a community that’s not fully participating, it’s still open access broadband for whatever business happens to be there. We’re not going to restrict anybody’s access to it. That’s the whole idea of this. We’re going to create something that’s open to every potential provider, every potential customer. It’s open access. That’s what it’s there for.”

After Botetourt and Roanoke counties withdrew, Roanoke and Salem entirely revamped the project. Scaling back the network to just 47 miles, they cut down the cost to less than $4 million. Salem's Municipal Electric Department uses existing fiber that can be integrated into the project, so the majority of the new fiber will run through Roanoke. Some of the fiber will still extend into parts of Botetourt and Roanoke counties.

The Virginia Resources Authority has issued a $6.2 million bond to cover the network’s construction and any unforeseen costs. Both cities have committed to repaying the debt on the bond until the network generates enough revenue to cover network costs and debt service. 

From philosophical disagreements to changing plans, it has been a long road for the fledgling Roanoke-Salem network. Now with an executive director and a $6.2 million bond, the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority should complete the 47-mile, open access network by the end of 2015.

Roanoke Valley map from Foundation For Roanoke Valley